China Observations – “Somewhere safe in America”
This is an interesting one… I get asked this a lot. “Where is ‘safe’ in America?”
“It depends on your definition of ‘safe’.” I usually say (as my aunt does in her article).
I actually did a whole podcast on WORRIES….. But, when it comes down to it— All of our fears is just (oh.. what’s the old cliche saying?) FEAR ITSELF!
As many of you know, I tutor three children on their English reading, writing, and speaking skills. Today’s lesson was not one that I ever expected to have.
When I first sat down, fourteen year old ‘Tina’ said, “I have a very important question to ask you. What would be a very safe place to live in America?” I asked her what she needed to be safe from? Earthquakes? Floods? Hurricanes? Tornadoes? Mosquitoes? (Just kidding.)
She explained that she wanted to finish out her high school years at a boarding school in America, but did not want to be: 1) COLD (Minnesota is out of the question), 2) BORED (she wanted many malls and shopping opportunities), and she did not want to be 3) AFRAID.
“Afraid” didn’t have to do with being in America, speaking English 24/7, or making new friends. “Afraid” referred back to “very safe”.
She spent the winter break (Chinese New Year) in America visiting schools in Cincinnati, New York City, Washington, and Philadelphia. She declared that she hated Cincinnati. “It’s so small”. (You know, when you live in the densest city on the planet, everything else SHOULD feel small. She’s just too young to even realize that.)
So I dug deeper. No, she loved her host family. She loved the shopping outlet malls. She even loved the restaurants. But she was deathly afraid … of black people.
Okay. Wow. I didn’t expect the lesson plan to go in this direction today, but it did. So here we go.
I asked her why she was afraid of black people. She couldn’t really explain, and just squirmed. I asked if she had ever met any black people? She looked completely shocked that this question would even be asked. No! She had never even spoken a single word to a person of color. Not even while she was in America.
So, why her utter fear of a culture she had never met or spoken to? Movies. Everything she knows about black people (and black men, in particular) comes from the American film industry and it has terrified her into (possibly) not wanting to study in America.
I asked her what she thought of Mr. Obama. Nope – this line of reasoning was not going to work. The President of the free world was not going to mug her.
I talked to her about genetics. Skin color. Eye color. Hair color. Straight hair versus curly/kinky hair. I explained how those physical characteristics don’t matter at all when it comes down to who you are as a person, and how you think and behave. Whether our ancestors came from the darkest parts of Africa or the palest parts of Scandinavia, we are all human beings.
And I realized that it didn’t matter at all what I said to her. The only way she would overcome this irrational fear was to run toward the problem instead of away from it. She would never overcome her prejudice by avoiding meeting and making friends with people of color.
Over the past five months ‘Tina’ and I have talked about many things. Things she would not dare discuss with her father, and things she was even reluctant to speak about with her mother. Things like boys, secret séances, cheating on tests. Correcting her grammar and sentence structure is a piece of cake compared to helping her find her way around prejudice.
I promised to go home and research some American Art Schools that might suit her fancy. I found a wonderful one – outside of Boston – too cold? And I found two in sunny, southern California between LA and Palm Springs. Warm. Lots of shopping. And all of them had lots of students from many different countries.
‘Tina’ will just have to learn that most people are friendly and warm-hearted, and it is very easy to feel safe around them. The thing to watch out for is the San Andreas fault.