It's not as truly hostile about Americans as say "Born in the U.S.A.": it's merely sardonic. I was traveling in Java when [its] first McDonald's went up: it was like, "for fuck's sake." The invasion by any homogenised culture is so depressing, the erection of another Disney World in, say, Umbria, Italy, more so. It strangles the indigenous culture and narrows expression of life." - David Bowie about "I'm Afraid of Americans."
The 4th of July is a very emotional holiday for me. I've perched upon many rooftops, budding a new relationship or had have some romantic moment with the fireworks pop pop popping in the distance. My idea of this holiday is not so much about the United States but family, love and celebration. Enjoying. When I look out at New York City's parade of lights, I want to hug the panorama and say, "You, I live with you. And I don't want to change that."
I was walking home, markedly elated about my evening. With much goading, my friend convinced me to come out for the holiday. My original plan was to sulk, alone at home with a cold bottle of seltzer and video games (another post for another day). I had my bbq’d meats, ooh’d and ahh’d at the fireworks display in the distance; descended from a rooftop. America, the beautiful, indeed! I’ve poked fun at patriotism through the year with my “America” shirt but it doesn’t say anything meaningful about my beliefs. Beliefs are sticky for diplomatically balanced people like me. I agree with life, liberty and especially the pursuit of happiness. But I’m never outwardly declarative about my independence or particularly proud (or conversely, embarassed) of the country I live in.
Last night, on the 4th of July, my balance teetered:
“Hey, Japanese girl! I like that!”
“Excuse me?” I stop in my tracks.
“I like Japanese girls. I like what's going on here.” He repeats several times.
“I’m not Japanese.” His friends who had been previously laughing at his drunkenness, had stopped. Probably stunned because of my sobering response.
“What? I’m just saying that I like Japanese girls! Hey Jap girl! Love ‘em” A couple more times as he leered.
Visibly bothered, I let out a terse “Fuck off.” His friends told me to ignore him.
Then he exploded, “Fuck off? You racist cunt! Fuck you, you motherfucking bitch! Japanese bitch!” Few more bitches, lot’s of fuck yous and a threat to hurt me as his friends restrained him and pulled him the other way, practically spitting at my back as I turned.
As I walked away, I could hear him echoing off the scaffolding down Meserole Avenue. I was shaken up. The other people who had seen the entire thing watched me walk by without a word. I was even more upset that no one came over to me to check if I was ok, they watched.
First of all, he was objectifying me as a woman. Something to be looked at, almost owed. He was motivated enough by my appearance to let me know that he likes Japanese women, that’s weird. I’m not in a store window for you to pick and choose. To state the obvious, he was confused. In his rage, I think he knew he was being racist and mistakenly started accusing me of being so.
This was far worse than the catcalls that I get in my neighborhood. The usual “Good morning, pretty” and “God Bless” are met with “Thank you” or depending on the context, a smile with “Have a good day.” But the turn from last night’s altercation was aggressive, edging on predatory. People who address me with vulgar statements like “I wanna eat you right here” or “I’d hit that” receive an exasperated huff, “Come ON.” or “Excuse me?” and “Does this really work for you? Tell me.” I rarely curse, but this was special case. I was being verbally assaulted on many levels.
Furthermore, I was born in San Francisco. I am American. It upset me to be hailed as something outside of that because of my appearance and skin color. I’m not so mad that he identified me incorrectly, but that there was no chance of conversation. Sure, I’m happy to correct an innocent mistake and I could tell him about my recent trip to The Philippines, but it was neither the time; nor the place. It was more like “You have to listen to me talk at you this way.” This guy isn’t the gatekeeper to the Americas but it made me feel like an outsider. The violent turn at the end of the exchange was also pretty unsettling.
My life, liberty and happiness have been threatened. It’s easy to dismiss this guy as a drunk asshole on a holiday, but he can’t be the only one that acts like this. That scares me. That is why I am writing this. It’s doesn’t need to be law but self- regulated. Maybe if enough people read this, they will re-think how they talk to people. Maybe we need to tell our friends to STFU. Stand up and say “That’s not cool.” or “You’re wrong, this is why.” Best case: it sticks and your friends do think twice before saying awful things to strangers in the street. They may say it impedes on their freedom of speech, but it impedes on the pursuit of happiness for others. Since when did one inalienable right bear more weight than another?
I know it’s a pretty low priority in the grand scheme of things when there is war, poverty and disease in the world. Perhaps it was my emotional height from the holiday, but this is not the first time I’ve felt this way. This is a rare time where I will wholeheartedly opine. I’m not happy about the way people are treated with regard to race, gender and sex in the United States of America. It's hard to say I’m proud of where I live when it’s not easy to feel like I belong here.