Sunday, June 6, 2010

Another reason not to move to the US

Just as I was wandering around sunny Bellevue, Washington, thinking life is easy here...I could be happy here...people are so friendly here...SO friendly...I was reminded that behind those large, crown-laden smiles, lies a values system to which I simply can't relate on any level.

As I went to cross Bellevue Way, I looked both ways to see no traffic on either side of the street. This was an important gesture since I was not at a crosswalk. Just as I stepped up onto the other side, a guy in a silver Mercedes sped by, rolled down his window and offered up some friendly Washington advice..."Use the crosswalk, you fucking faggot!". Now I am rarely, if ever, even remotely moved by angry epithets from people I have somehow inconvenienced. I normally feel a slight victory that I have unsettled them in some way. But this man's expression actually hurt me on a couple of levels. First of all, I am quite sure I don't wear my sexual orientation on my shirtsleeve. I have not really experienced open angry homophobia like that and it was genuinely painful to feel. But on second thought, since I can't figure out how he might have drawn any conclusions about me the person, maybe he just used the term fucking faggot as a generic expression of derision, disturbing in its own right, as he clearly thinks it is insulting to be called gay. I find myself wondering if he would have used different words had I been wearing an Islamic skullcap, or if I was black, or an orthodox Jew. Perhaps not, perhaps he calls everyone faggot when he is angry.

Then I got to pondering why the angry display. Had my behaviour caused this guy some inconvenience, forced him to slam on the brakes and scare his child, his reaction would have been completely understandable. But I had looked carefully to ensure there was no traffic before I crossed the street. This guy was nowhere to be seen, nor was anyone else. So I am left to conclude that the object of his rage was simply my decision to not use the crosswalk, nothing more. WTF??? This may sound like an hysterical assertion but, when I allow my mind to reflect upon the foundational values system that would drive such a reaction, I can't help but think of Nazi Germany.

The rules for the sake of rules mentality is one thing. Canadians, too, are famous for waiting for the crosswalk sign to change to walk even if there isn't a car in sight. Nothing offensive or sinister about that. What makes these Americans different is the under-current of rage directed at the people who don't play by the rules...not just someone who jaywalks....a man carrying a purse, or wearing a yarmulke, a white man holding hands with a black know the drill.

My American friends are all quick to point out the generalizations are not fair or accurate. But I am a firm believer in the adage "I do not believe in prejudices, but stereotypes don't rise out of a vacuum". My jaywalking experience is simply a symptom of a deeply entrenched, and deeply dysfunctional and toxic, values system that, at the other end of the slippery slope, says its okay for police to harass Mexican-looking people in Arizona, or for a progressive president to oppose same-sex marriage, or for virtually an entire society to sanction the death penalty, or to be unwilling to extend heathcare to 31 million of their fellow citizens. Even as I write this, I know that some of my American friends will read each of these examples and think "that's me and what's wrong with it?".

THAT is yet another reason why I will never live in the US.

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