I asked Reggie, my American cousin in all but bloodline, why Americans are responding with such fear and suspicion to Syrian refugees.
He responded that I should not be so surprised considering how America treats its minorities already resident there.
Why, I asked Reggie my ebony brother, was there so much violence against black folks in America?
It seems every time I turn on the telly there is yet another story about white cops shooting black folks.
It seems a young black man with a knife is considered so dangerous that it requires over a dozen bullets to keep America safe.
It seems that even a black child wielding a toy gun is justification to kill.
Per capita there are more black people in American prisons than other races even though black folks are less than 40% of the American population.
I cannot claim that my fellow Canadians have moral superiority over our American cousins, because historically our treatment of minorities, especially the Original Peoples, has not been entirely free of bloodshed, discrimination or inequality.
Canadians have just been quieter about it.
Each time I meet Reggie I try to understand his perspective of being born black in America.
He is one of the most honourable men it has been my privilege to know and I am saddened that he sometimes feels more at home and respected away from his homeland than in it.
My mind cannot conceive what it is for many black folks in the US to be unwelcome descendants of slaves ripped away from their African heritage.
I cannot comprehend segregation days when the colour of your skin would determine if you could enter a diner, where you could sit on a bus, whether you could get quality health care or education, how you would be buried or even remembered.
Some folks say that segregation never really ended in America, that it just changed its form.
Black folks still receive subpar education, still struggle to find equal employment and equal respect.
With limited opportunity comes limited perception of oneself.
US President Barack Obama in a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention said that “there is not a black America and white America and Latin America and Asian America – there is the United States of America”.
It was a good speech, but many Americans still feel that “is not/is” should be written “should not/ should be”.
They are still waiting for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.´s dream that a person be not judged by the colour of his skin but by the content of his character.
So even the President of the United States, a man trying to act honourable in dishonourable times, is labelled a black man, though he is the child of both a black man and a white woman, as if being a black man is somehow different from being a white man, as if his mother were somehow less important in the perception of the President than his father.
The President is no less black than Rosa Parks, no less white than George Washington, he is simply a highly-qualified, highly-educated person of great intelligence and charisma who aspired and rose to become President as some forty-four men did before him.
Certainly the President has made his share of mistakes and there are some things he has done that remain questionable, but these are all questions of character not colour.
“On almost every single socio-economic indicator from infant mortality to life expectancy to employment to home ownership, non-whites continue to lag far behind their white counterparts.
To suggest that our racial attitudes play no part in these disparities is to turn a blind eye to both our history and our experience – and to relieve ourselves of the responsibility to make things right.”
(Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope)
There is no denying that racial profiling exists in Switzerland, for I witness it on a regular basis by Swiss and German border guards, who use the 13 November Paris attacks as blanket justification for their prejudical behaviour.
And this kind of behaviour is the black person´s burden in America.
Security guards follow the black person first in department stores.
White folks often assume menial jobs rather than administrative jobs are the jobs that black folks do.
Police pull over black drivers for no apparent reason, because “driving while black” is considered suspicious behaviour.
The miracle remains how much anger at this injustice the black American has been able to suppress.
The other miracle has been how nonetheless not all black Americans are cynical or despairing.
It never fails to amaze me how patriotic many black Americans are in spite of how poorly they have been treated and how deeply religious many of them are despite how God´s mercy has not been always present.
It strikes me as odd how whites often use national adjectives to describe themselves: I am a Scottish Canadian, I am an Irish American, etc.
I am a Canadian resident in Switzerland, so where I grew up defines me, so why should I call myself an Irish/Scottish/English/American Canadian because of my accident-of-birth ancestry of having an American mother, an English grandfather, an Irish grandmother and a great-great grandfather from Scotland?
What they did or did not accomplish is nothing I did, so why identify myself accordingly?
And why are Hispanic-speaking Americans not as eager to be labelling themselves as Spanish Americans or using national adjectives from other Spanish speaking countries?
Why are black folks “African Americans” and not Ghanians or Nigerians or some other national origin from one of the many countries on the African continent?
Whites call “heritage” things hundreds of years removed from their personal experience and take pride in this far-removed history.
But could/would/should black Americans do the same?
Whites have taken black music and created Elvis Presley.
Whites have taken African art and created Picasso.
Does anyone even know their history and heritage?
Would it be un-American for a black man to yield respect to Kenya because his great-great grandfather was captured by slave traders and taken to America?
Is a person less American if not born on American soil?
I think Americans need to redefine exactly what it is to be American and rediscover a patriotic pride that all its residents can embrace regardless of race, religion, language or birthplace.
Or even consider the revolutionary idea that a common humanity with the entire globe, a brotherhood of mankind, is far more rewarding than a fractured national identity used to bolster a government´s tax collecting capacity.
A brotherhood of man…
Now that´s worth living for, worth dying for.