My friend Robyn and I had dinner at a fancy steakhouse in Phoenix on Thursday—my gift to myself for completing the 365 days of writing (which had grown to 367 by Thursday). We thought we were in America but halfway through dinner it became apparent that we’d slipped into ‘Merica, that mythical land of, by, and for white folks. It probably shouldn’t have shocked me. But it did.
Two retirement-age, straight, white couples sitting next to us started talking about someone they knew: “She’s Indian,” one of the men said. I didn’t hear any malice in his voice, more wonder that no one else had this information. But his companions didn’t quite grasp it, so he explained further: “She comes from India.”
“Oh!” This information surprised the woman with him. She said, “Gosh, she’s so well-spoken.”
My hands flew to my mouth and stayed there until I was sure I woudn’t make a scene. Robyn and I sat in stunned silence. It was like a car wreck on the highway: I wanted to hear the rest of their conversation, and at the same time, I’d already heard more than enough.
The second woman at the table took on the air and posture of an expert, spreading her arms like a politician on the stump as she said: “This is America; we need to be the best.” Okey-doke, no doubt about her political allegiance. I coudn’t tell whether their Indian acquaintance was acceptable to the expert—seeing as how the Indian woman was so well-spoken and all—or whether her presence within our borders somehow prevented Americans from being “the best.”
Eventually the shock passed and Robyn and I resumed our conversation. For the record, we are both well-spoken too.
Elsewhere in ‘Merica
Earlier in the day, as my fellow conference-goers and I finished up our boxed lunches, the sound system, which had been set to “annoying pop” for days suddenly started playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Loudly. A flag waved in closeup on the flatscreen monitors flanking the stage as an older man with a microphone instructed us to stand because we were going to sing the National Anthem.
I stood to the side, gaping in disbelief. A guy I’d eaten lunch with sidled up to ask what was going on. I said perhaps we were about to start playing baseball.
Do you want to guess what the man onstage did after he finished bleating out the National Anthem?
He tried to sell us something.
The Anthem was nothing more than a gimmick to silence the crowd and get their attention. And of course it worked. But it also generated a ton of ill-will among the true patriots there. People who see the National Anthem as more than an aid to making a quick buck. But that’s life in ‘Merica, too.
I’ll bet the Indian immigrant has more respect for the rituals of American life than those older white dudes. But in ‘Merica, white men get to decide what (if anything) constitutes decorum, which traditions they will honor and which they will flout.
You know what would make America “the best”? Let’s deport all the ‘Mericans. I know just who to start with. We can get along just fine without them.