“An example of an American Sense of Privilege and Entitlement”.
Just last week my friend Phil and I stopped into a tavern restaurant in Alton, Illinois on a rainy afternoon for a beer and a bite to eat. It helps to know that Phil is of Greek/Scottish stock and I am an African-American, or whatever we’re calling ourselves this week.
Two guys were at the bar looking ‘at home’, and after saying hello to them, we introduced ourselves and engaged them in conversation. We were keenly aware of being on a different turf, as Phil and I were city dwellers and I had never lived in the rural US, although I had lived in Europe and for thirty five continuous years in Canada. We knew better than to let the conversation drift into US politics, but we did talk about our Christian faith connections, COVID-19 and how divided people are in the US. although I had lived in Europe and for thirty five continuous years in Canada. We knew better than to let the conversation drift into US politics, but we did talk about our Christian faith connections, COVID-19 and how divided people are in the US.
My friend Phil, Christian, Arborist, cartoonist and lover of people from all kinds of places, cultures and backgrounds had recently discovered the plight of virtual slaves in Pakistan who worked-sometimes for generations- in brickyards in that country, unable to pay back their nominal debts to the Brick masters. The debts are not exorbitant by US standards, but keep whole families in bondage for decades so that their children and even grandchildren are born into slavery at the Brickyard’s, working an average of 10 hours a day 250 days a year, and earning the Brickyard owners hundreds of thousands of dollars, over the family’s lifetimes.
Phil had recently traveled to Pakistan where, with the help of Christian language interpreters he was able to hear the stories of those in bondage and with his own money and some contributions from other Americans, was able to buy thirteen families out of bondage at one particular brick yard.
I thought that a discussion about a philanthropic effort that took the discussion away from US politics and US anything was a good way to direct the conversation and would keep things somewhat neutral with our new acquaintances. I was wrong!
We will call the guys Bob and Rob. Bob in the baseball cap and Rob with no cap at all had spent much of the time talking to the young waitresses at the counter using the F word and other four letter vulgarity’s so often that Phil, the young ladies and I, became Anesthetized by (if not comfortable with) their raw discourse.
When we brought up the subject of Phil’s humanitarian work in Pakistan, and I stupidly suggested that Phil show Bob and Rob on his iPad some pictures and video of people he had freed in the brick yards, Phil and I became quickly aware of the extreme discomfort that our new friends were displaying-they were far more uncomfortable than we had been because of their foul language.
Bob physically Stiffened and was so repelled by the pictures that he looked away. Rob seemed strangely embarrassed and both became offended that Phil had even told them about his efforts to help people in Pakistan. Bob was so turned off that he wanted us to leave and said so with veiled threat in forced humor. The Christian element of our conversation was bad enough, but the suggestion that there were people in other places whom we considered worthy of identifying with and worth helping was far too much for both of them.
Unable to take it any longer, they tried to explain to us that we are all Americans: we have a good life; other people in other places don’t have what we have and that’s just the way it is. They could not deal with the suffering in this world and the idea that Phil was trying to alleviate others’ plight left them offended, in excruciating mental anguish and completely turned off. Their spoken or conveyed message to us was: “We don’t care and why are you suggesting that we should? And why do you think that it is within our power or responsibility to make things better for people in foreign lands who don’t look like, talk like or think like us; and who don’t really deserve better than what they have—and certainly don’t deserve what we have —because, after all, we are Americans and they are not! Why you get it!
As Barry Pugh and I were driving back to our homes from the tavern on the River Road in Grafton Illinois that night, I told him of the area of southern Illinois that Barry Tonsor lives in, and that few, if any of the towns folk have a black friend. I shared something with black Barry that happened to white Barry, who having come close to dying, could have made him the most racist white guy on this side of his side of the Missippi. It is something that white Barry purposefully does not share. And yet he is among the least racist ones in rural town USA.