25 Nov 2014

What if Friedman wasn't American? A Patronizing Editorial On America

A few weeks ago I read a great book by an insightful author, entitled the Black Swan. The book deals mainly with the issue of the rare black swans in a world dominated by white swans, clearly a thinly-veiled metaphor for race-relations in America. As many things, from taking a taxi ride to chewing gum do, it got me thinking. What is the problem with America? Why can’t it be like the rest of the world and why does it still have such inequalities more than two hundred years after its independence?

One could be tempted to blame Americans themselves, and I have met many of them over the years, enough for me to speak authoritatively about what’s wrong with this country that has so far failed to fulfil its potential. Americans like John Smith, the young hotel receptionist I met last summer in New York. Over the three-minutes that it took to check me in, I learned enough about the world view of this young black man to see the world through his eyes.

And what I saw wasn’t pretty. Young black American men and women are marginalized by a system that a number of specific years after the abolition of slavery still fails to make them feel part of this nation. The young black woman who sold me a book next morning emphasized this perception. Our encounter was brief, but nevertheless allowed me to see the world through her eyes. Why hasn’t the success of the civil rights movement allowed her to feel part of America?

We could blame Americans themselves of course for those failures, and the unjust system that allows only a tiny elite to control the resources of this huge but failing state. But the reality is we haven’t done enough ourselves. We must adopt a stick and carrot approach to helping America become a pluralistic democracy and put its unjust past behind. We must play the role of the midwife that delivers a new America from the womb of the old decaying America.

A few weeks ago, I was playing chess with my friend Garry Kasparov and we were debating the problems with America and how we could solve them. It was when I was staring at the chessboard when the answer hit me. It wasn’t anything that Garry said, much like me he tends to speak in generic platitudes that are great in theory but not very useful. No, it was the neat way in which those black and white squares were arranged on the board. What we need is a non-segregated America in which black and white Americans live together and not lead separate lives.

Not many people would get that from looking at a chessboard, but not many people have my unconventional way of looking at things. But how can we ensure that this new chessboard America is created, what is our role? And why do I get paid to ask those questions? And what about Hispanics and other minority groups, do they go in the white or the black squares or do we have to create a new chessboard with more than two colors? Clearly we’re not going to solve all those problems today, but we have before us a roadmap towards American democracy and an equal society.

Obviously the role of the general-purpose columnist is to throw a light on the problems facing all of us, and his or her role is hindered by their general lack of knowledge or detailed understanding, but it’s this fresh approach that allows us to have these deep epiphanies and to share them with the world as syndicated content. To compensate for these lacunas of knowledge, it’s useful to throw in some popular culture references to distract the readers.

Somehow I have arrived at the end of this column without using the words ‘empower’ and ‘educate’ which usually help me set the right patronizing tone when I am solving the problems of other nations. But it’s not too late to suggest that we should embrace and engage with white Americans. They must not be allowed to feel that the success of black Americans will be at their expense. We must hold their hands and whisper gently in their ears that we will be there to make sure everything is fine. After all, we don’t want to them to feel like new black swans.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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