I’m not sure when it first hit me: the moment my professor announced that she agreed that Muslim women in the UK should have to remove their veils, or later, when she looked directly at me and told me that postmodernism doesn’t exist—that my American education had essentially mislead me down a path of ignorance. Wait, no—maybe it was Tony Blair’s speech on the need to assimilate if you want to live in Britain. Ah, who can keep count… Regardless, it’s been hard to ignore the fact that perceptions on race and nationalism here in the UK are not nearly as advanced as many would like to believe.
As an American living abroad, I expect to become the effigy at times of all things evil. Bush has managed in the last six years to not only reduce the value of our dollar, but to create a stereotype of Americans that is deeply disturbing. And, to be honest, the anti-Americanism I’ve experienced thus far living in Scotland has not been too bad. They’re subtle things, like the gentleman that heard me speaking to a friend the other day and pointed, courteously enough, saying: “You—back home.” What I don’t expect is to see it in academia. Academia is supposed to be advanced. We’re supposed to be more aware, more socially conscious than the layman; more respectful of other cultures, especially if we are working in the humanities. (The very root of the word suggests cultural openness.) But what I’ve discovered here is the exact opposite. Race is suppressed, pushed to the margins and ignored.
“Is there really such a thing as a month for black people?” one Scottish lad asked me. He thought Philip Roth was taking creative liberties in The Human Stain. “Why are American’s always whining about race?” another one complained, as if all American’s were constantly lying on the couch moaning over their childhood. “Surely, colour is not the first thing someone uses to assess a person,” a nice girl from Essex commented. I have to admit, the knuckles were white and the face red when I listened to these people, whom to this point I had considered friends, rant about the inferiority of Americans. Though I had my say, including pointing out the fact that the only “people of colour” in Glasgow are either Indians or highlanders and so race is simply not an issue that anyone has to address, it was a sad reality that diversity is rather poor here. And as a consequence, any discussions on race are easily pushed to the side and trivialized as belly-aching. In the wake of the Don Imus comments, I have to give the US some props. Though it is a tension, though it is still atrociously an issue in our culture, at least, once in a while, we let it sneak out of the closet and address it. The fact that people reacted to Imus’ idiotic remarks is a positive sign in the wake of immigration changes and Big Brother’s constant hovering.