Race in America

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Race in America is rarely far from any talk about the United States. So news from The Washington Post that Mitt Romney is performing very, very well among white voters came as no surprise. Accordingly, recent polls show him winning this group by more than any GOP presidential candidate since Reagan, the newspaper went on to assert. ‘Why do you think Romney has such a lead among whites?’ they asked. The obvious race baiting question reminded me of the last time I passed through America–on my way to somewhere else, thankfully.

Race in America

It’s minus 10 degrees outside a couple of weeks away from Christmas with ice on the ground. I am at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, North Carolina, waiting for my connecting flight to Jamaica, and the boarding gate is filled with Americans, both black and white. Over the ninety minutes that I am sat waiting beside an old black man on a church convention for a week in the sun, I see not one white person in polite conversation with any of the other passengers travelling to Montego Bay.

It feels weird to me. If I were in England in a similar situation this Waiting Area would not be segregated by race or colour. There would be friendships across the different racial/ethnic backgrounds and, of course, we would see a number of mixed-race couples flying out to the sun, none of which is in existence here.

As if to highlight the point, a very cute black boy of about four years old is running around boisterously playing with his slightly younger sister. A ‘White’ woman standing with her boyfriend watches intently, as the sister has her hair cornrowed by their mother, a rather strapping young woman in sandals at this time of year. Noticing the woman staring, the young boy smiles at her, and she instinctively smiles back.

The boy moves closer. Behind a belted partition, he pauses for a moment, pulling a small toy car from his pocket and wheeling it across the carpeted floor toward the woman, where it stops at her feet. Her expression immediately changes. The eyes of the world in this small room are upon her now, and she knows it. The mask of civility slips from her face and she stands deadly still as if petrified by fear while the child crawls across the floor to retrieve his toy.

Returning to the same spot behind the makeshift barrier, the small boy tries once more to entice the young white woman in play, shoving the toy car toward her again, but she deliberately turns her back to him this time and stares vacantly into space. I nudge the old man sitting beside me. “Did you see that?” he whispers.

I can barely believe it myself. I cannot imagine a similar situation happening in England as bad as it can be. A white English woman would never have responded in that way, I’m certain. She may have gently kicked the car back to the boy, but she would never have dismissed him in that callous ‘don’t come near me’ kind of way. After all, he is only a child.

“But you could feel the prejudice, couldn’t you?” the old man says in hushed tones. “That’s what it’s like in this here United States of America. And I believe that it’s got worse since we’ve had a black president.”

By the time we’ve landed on the tarmac of Sangster International Airport, the white Americans on-board have donned sunglasses and are smiling broadly, each obviously looking forward to their Caribbean getaway. As for me, I can’t wait to see the back of them.

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