My cab driver this morning was a friendly, talkative Nigerian man. I asked him if he was going to vote tomorrow, and he frowned and shook his head: “I cannot because I won’t get my citizenship until next year. I’m sorry to be missing this election because I believe it to be very important. This country is so divided right now–a house against itself.” I asked him if he had a favorite candidate, and he was quite vocal on which candidate he thought was most trust-worthy, who most clearly is in touch with the poor, and who won’t abuse his power. He went on to express his anticipation of becoming a US citizen, and how excited he’d be to have the privilege to vote in 2016. “I never really understood human advancement until I came to this country. In my country, if there had been this much ideological conflict, there would be bodies everywhere. Corruption is pervasive and death would reign. Here, we argue and fight and then life goes on.”
I quieted as I listened to him speak. I’ll admit that I believe I am lucky to be a citizen of this country, and in large part, what he says is true (at least for me, a white, middle-class woman). But I get antsy and nervous when someone begins declaring this the greatest of all nations, particularly when that someone is from another land. I looked at his face in the rear view mirror and noted the scars running across his dark cheeks: a tribal ritual declaring his manhood.
I hesitated then finally offered this: “You are right: there are some places in the world where political differences end up in a blood bath. Guns run rampant, and disagreements are settled with weapons. But here I think the violence is more insidious. Here, we kill people through neglect by our trickle down theories. We assume that markets will right themselves. We are Darwinian in our handling of social problems–we watch the poor die slow deaths in food deserts: deaths of diabetes and cholesterol related illnesses. We wring our hands in astonishment and murmur to ourselves about the respect for life as we watch folks on the south side kill each other in gun fights, gang fights, and drug deals. Yet we don’t see how our latent racism contributes to the lack of self-respect and respect for others. No sir… we don’t have politicians wielding armies or raising weapons over their heads, but we do have violence in our streets. Violence that is too easy for white middle-class Americans to ignore. And when we vote so that an election only benefits a certain portion of the population, we are killing people slowly, in our own insidious way.”
He took a long look at me in the mirror and said “God knows you speak the truth, sister.”