AMY GOODMAN: And how did that title come to you, The Color Purple?
ALICE WALKER: Because when I was writing the novel, I lived way in the country in Boonville, California, and I went walking through the redwoods and swimming in the river and noticed that in nature purple is everywhere. And it’s interesting because we tend to think that in nature you would see more red, yellow, white, you know, all of those colors. But actually, purple is right there. And in that sense, it’s like the people in the novel. You think that they are unusual, that what’s happening to them is unusual, but actually it’s happening somewhere on your block almost every minute. All the trouble, all of the trials and tribulations of Celie are happening to people all over the planet right now.
(From the Interview with Alice Walker on 30th Anniversary of “The Color Purple”)
I think there are two slightly different stories behind racism in America. Let’s analyze the problem of racism in a story/solution format.
Story: I’m not a racist but I don’t like personality and national traits of some immigrants
Couple days ago, I had a short talk with my mom’s first employer in America, a 80 year old Russian grandma who immigrated here 20 years ago from Moscow and is now retiring in frightening solitude in a shitty little apartment in Chinatown, SF. This fragile woman complained to us for half an hour that nowadays it’s hard to meet a descent white human being (read: white pure Russian). Russian Jews are bad because they view themselves superb than Russians. Armenians and Georgians and all darker skin Russian speakers – what right did they have to come to the US and steal the jobs from the “pure” Russians? Then followed Chinese, African Americans, Mexicans. Wow.
This was an important revelation that I was indeed born and raised in a country where racist statements like these are quite a norm. As much as I love my dad, he has always been a racist. His biggest nightmare was that he would have half African American grandkids – which in the end was close to happening twice, by the way. He ended up accepting my Asian partner though – probably because Russia and China has always been somewhat ideological friends.
To be honest, getting rid of racist thinking has been a long journey for me, and still partially is. No, I don’t think that white “pure” Russians, or Americans are any better that any other race. I always felt embarrassed for my dad’s racist comments when we traveled the world, and I still can remember this yucky feeling of being disgusted with your own parent. However, what turned out to be a hard distinction to me is not the judgment of someone being white or black – but rather a judgement of some personality traits that could come with a particular nationality and race.
For example, from what I’ve observed after living in the Silicon Valley for the last ten years is that lots of (not all of them, of course) immigrants come here with a mentality they are not willing to change or at least – to challenge. Russian grandma is just one example. Pointing fingers to a specific nation with a specific “national mentality trait” made people think that I was a racist (even though racism is exactly what I’ve been criticizing with these statements). At the same time I just couldn’t get one thing – there is a problem in American society that needs to be addressed, me expressing this problem would make me a racist, so how do I talk about it then?
The simple answer that emerged later was – using general statements and avoiding pointing fingers on a particular race or nationality. The problem is not with a specific race but with human nature in general.
Also, trying to understand what society and culture immigrants are coming from. People raised in extreme poverty, violence and social inequality have a very different background than those born and raised in the US. Do they have free will to chose their upbringing? Of course they don’t. Do they have free will to change their attitude once they leave their countries and move out here as adults? They do. But in reality – and I’m speaking from my own experience – it’s a very difficult task. It involves stepping out the familiar reality and acknowledging the fact that they live in a different country the rules of which they have to respect. And that might take another generation. Demanding some people to change is like demanding a 80 year old Russian grandma to understand that she has the same right to live here just as any other “non-white” Russian. It probably won’t happen in her lifetime. Just like African Americans won’t increase their college completion rates in just one or two generations after slavery abolition.
Story: Non-white people are not “real” America
During a talk with a Lyft driver, a guy who came to CA from Luisiana, he mentioned his home state is so racist that he often felt embarrassed to be a white man. His father and him owned a retail business in Luisiana, and being a white business owner back there, he says, almost automatically means you are a racist. Many shoppers would come and start talking racist trash, and his father would get very upset and kick them out screaming, “I would not allow racism in my store!” They left, shocked.
Welcome to real America, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve been dreaming of visiting New Orleans for a long time but going there with a transexual Chinese wife and a baby, seems like a form of social suicide. “It should be…um..safe but I wouldn’t go there if I were you,” noted a Lyft driver.
The belief that a white man is somewhat a hub of American universe is one of the most bizarre beliefs that have been propagating here for centuries and now is allegorically presented to us through the absurd figure of Donald Trump. It feels like one of the strongest and civilized countries in the modern world should at a bare minimum feel shitty for killing thousands of Native Americans and kicking them out of social life to reservations. Quite the opposite is encouraged, actually. We continue glorifying a white man and treating immigrants and Americans of color as a second kind, forgetting that America is built on immigrants – immigrants wrote the Constitution, immigrants built the cities we live in, immigrants are contributing to the US economy. About 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their kids. Apple (Steve Jobs, whose biological father was an immigrant from Syria), eBay (Pierre Omidyar, France), Google (Sergey Brin, Russia), Yahoo! (co-founder Jerry Yang from Taiwan) – the list can go on and on.
Every single human being living in the US is a “real” America. This country was built by immigrants and is made for immigrants. Would any other nation in the world would grant asylum to an average of 24,500 individuals each year for the last ten years? Because this is the very core of what America is. And if almost half of American population is uncomfortable with it, well, it means that they themselves are not a “real” America. These coming elections might put an end to a glorious “white man” story, and that’s what we, as a nation, really need to do to fight racism. Watching the clown candidate who represents racism being defeated, and the time of a “white man” finally migrating into the history books.
The fact that Trump vs Hilary race is so close to being 50/50 illustrates our mental health as a nation. If Trump wins, we might be thrown for decades back, and racism will only skyrocket. If Hilary wins, we might still have a chance.
Lies is inevitable in politics. But if some lies of Hilary are more important than raising our kids in a racist country, then I guess this is – sadly – what America and Americans have evolved into. In this case, we deserve a president like Donald Trump. Maybe we need to be strongly shaken out of our bubble dream. And I’m speaking as a person who lived in two dictatorships and knows what clowns are like first hand. Just one caution though – once it’s shaken, we might never get back to the same comfy bubble.
On this note, I would like to share a video with you that I think should go viral.