The Country As A Child

September 4th, 2017

This morning, I read a powerful quote on Facebook, from Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945):

Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.”
– Richard Wright, born 4 September 1908
from BLACK BOY (1945)

It got me wondering. Well, America is some seventy years older now, but I agree to some extent with my Facebook friend’s comment. She likened the U.S. to an impulsive teenager, veering from one extreme to the other, trying to work things out as he/she goes along, making mistakes over and over again. A noisy teenager, looked down upon and barely tolerated by his/her more mature siblings (Europe, for example) but charging along regardless, doing his/her “own thing.” You have to take a teenager like this at face value, and hope he/she will grow up soon.

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And yet, if America is a teenager, how would we describe our own country – little Jamaica, dragging the baggage of its history along with it? As an independent country, it is younger than the U.S., but has already endured so much bitterness and confusion in its past. Perhaps Jamaica would be a “pre-teen,” teetering on the edge of responsibility but nervous about taking it on. Moreover – it is a pre-teen that has been terribly abused, and is struggling to emerge from a period of darkness and pain. As a result, it often lashes out at others and tears itself apart internally. It shouts a lot, but its self-esteem is low. It reacts angrily to anyone from the outside who dares to criticise it. It is still nurturing its own hurt, and it blames anyone and everyone for this. It is in need of a whole lot of love.

Perhaps I am taking this analogy too far; you may not agree with it, but it may be worthy of consideration. Now, when I look back at the country of my birth, England, it seems solid, staid, even rather pompous at times. Yet, with the Brexit crisis (yes, I would describe it as a crisis) it appears to be going through some mid- to late-life drama of its own. No one is perfect. No country is perfect. We all have our crosses to bear.

Indeed, teenagers can be quite endearing in their vulnerability – whatever they are “frightened” of, in Richard Wright’s words – and often have moments of great sweetness. I have seen this many times – during my own son’s teenage years, at the family level. I have also seen this in many Americans whom I have got to know, who have shown incredible kindness to me. I am prepared to accept humans with all their faults.

It’s a difficult world out there. We look at other countries and point out all their faults, as they do ours, lumping us all together as one. Yet, we are all humans, and all impulsive at times. Obstacles there are, however:

“Impulse arrested spills over, and the flood is feeling, the flood is passion, the flood is even madness: it depends on the force of the current, the height and strength of the barrier. The unchecked stream flows smoothly down its appointed channels into a calm well being.”

That’s a quote from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a remarkably relevant (and prescient) novel that is well worth a read.

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4 Responses to “The Country As A Child”

  1. Yuhzimi says:

    I agree. I don’t think you’ve taken the analogy too far at all. Perhaps what we need is to have a little grace with ourself as a nation. The hand wringing and self condemnation certainly hasn’t work [even though it may provide some level of…comfort (?)….release (?)…in the moment]

  2. EmmaLewis says:

    You are right. The hand-wringing doesn’t work, and we are so quick to denigrate ourselves. Yes – grace is a wonderful thing, and very appropriate. Thank you for your wise comments!

  3. Gene b says:

    Insight,and food for thought and contemplation,the challenge the US faces is a lack of knowledge of their history,and past actions and when the reaction comes of age,and acts,the elders have amnesia.the media need to start talking about world history.In Ja we need to know our history and look at corruption.what a surprise

  4. EmmaLewis says:

    Yes… It seems to me that some “younger” nations have more problems knowing their history, for some reason. The elders did not do a good job of teaching us. I am reminded of that quote by Marcus Garvey about being aware of one’s roots…