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Pride, it's a tricky thing!

November 30, 2019 — 4 Comments

America has just celebrated Thanksgiving, an important day in my adopted land. It is a day wherein the country is a moving mass as people try to get home, often battling inclement weather, to celebrate the pilgrim’s first harvest.

I have enjoyed every national or festival day in whichever country I have happened to be living. All twelve of them. From Loi Krathong in Thailand to Chinese New Year in Singapore to the Ganzenhoedster Festival in the small Dutch town of Coevorden. Or maybe Deepavali in Malaysia. And don’t let’s forget Hogmany in Scotland. I admire the national pride that keeps these traditions alive.

I name these countries, these festivals, as a precursor to this piece. Not only have I lived in many countries, I have also been employed by multinational corporations to help employees and their families understand the idiosyncrasies prevalent in countries in which they might conduct business, or indeed live. 

In every place I have been fortunate enough to call home, whether for a year or a number of years, I have made an effort to learn a little of the language, to understand and recognise, if not always embrace, the culture. And to engage in local activities, whether as a foot soldier or a board member. 

My peripatetic life began at a month old which, in essence, means I have spent my life ‘not quite fitting in’. It’s not something that has ever concerned me, as I consider it a privilege to be a guest in another country and do my best to be respectful of that culture.

And so the past few days, having been accused of cultural insensitivity, have been spent wondering “what could I have done better?”. The details are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how carefully I worded the email that started the firestorm. It doesn’t matter that the recipient found issue with subjects not addressed in that letter. It doesn’t matter that I apparently provoke “a bad taste in my (his) tongue”. What matters is that somehow, and I have searched my words, conscience and intent, I have caused great offence. Enough to make the man write, “I will not allow someone from else where come to my homeland and talk to me however they would like, I am proud Crucian and I stand with pride for what I do in my community.

That is the sentence that rankles. No, actually it hurts. Because I do not know how this chap got to that place of intense dislike from my actions or, indeed, my words.

Then I started thinking about words like identity, ego, pride – all of which, if used with a dose of reality, are important words for defining who we are. It’s when the dosage gets out of the kilter that things go pear-shaped. It can happen with tyrants of tin-pot regimes, wannabe dictators of western countries, and lesser mortals. The common denominator being that all have lost the ability to recognise the world works best when we are able to feel humility, to admit to mistakes, to accept guidance. It is these people who manufacture threats from without their immediate sphere of influence. Their hubris becomes a crutch behind which they cover inadequacy, incompetency and sometimes a lack of intellect. And every culture is littered with those whose ego is easily dented. 

As I consider the past few days, and give thanks for the island on which I spend most of my time, I reflect on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If. He too was an expatriate, having grown up in India before returning to England then emigrating to America. 

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

The words might appear dated but they resonant as I try and master my anger and disappointment. If I can do that, I shall be on my way to being a stronger woman.

I shall also contemplate Kipling’s other masterpiece, The Jungle Book. Because juggling different cultures and sensitivities can make it feel it is a jungle out there. But maybe, if I work hard enough, next Thanksgiving I can truly focus on what makes me thankful for being on this beautiful island.

There it is. I am playing the colour card. Not something I’ve ever felt the need to do. 

For many years I was, in whichever country I happened to be living, involved with supporting women of any ethnicity on their nomadic adventures. Whether as an accompanying spouse and mother, a corporate woman, a single woman with the courage to take a leap into the unknown, or a woman native to whichever country was my home at that particular time.

I am angry because of the nonsense being written about ‘angry black women’. Why is there a need to qualify an angry woman? Does it make her anger any more potent if it is black rather than white? We can be strident or shrill, but angry is still angry, regardless of colour. Why are angry men not so defined?

And as I’m writing about an angry white woman, let me give an example of something that does really anger me. The word ‘expatriate’ used incorrectly to denote privileged white people swanning around the world on a corporate expense account. The word is believed by some to be archaic. Maughamesque, perhaps. 

Used correctly, ‘expatriate’ means to live outside one’s native country. Regardless of one’s colour. Now there’s another taboo word – native. But first ‘expatriate’. According to Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, in a blog first published on SiliconAfrica.com and picked up The Guardian in Britain, ‘expatriate’ is the word which “exclusively applies to white people”. Mr Koutonin goes on to say, “In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else. One of those remnants is the word ‘expat’.” His diatribe continues with the suggestion that Arabs, Asians, Africans are all considered immigrants but that Europeans are always considered expatriate because, “they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for ‘inferior races’.” The blog ends with a call to arms, “If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue.”

Perhaps if Mr Koutonin had bothered to look further than Wikipedia for a definition, he would have a greater understanding of both the word and the differing terms used, and changed, as status changes. For example, when I first relocated to America I was an expatriate from my birth country of Great Britain. Whilst still technically an expatriate because I live “outside my native country”, I am also now an immigrant, having decided to emigrate on a permanent basis. Following this reasoning, when I lived in Equatorial Guinea in West Africa, I was an expatriate on a short-term visa. I never had any intention of either emigrating or immigrating – both leading to a permanent residence outside said birth country.

A native-born, black, British citizen asked to relocate for work to an African country would be considered an expatriate by the corporation or NGO sponsoring such a move. He or she would only become an immigrant if the decision was made to change visa status and become a citizen of that country.

And so I come to ‘native’.

I am, again technically, a native of one country, England, that of my paternal Anglo-Norman heritage. I do though have a loyalty to Australia because it was my mother’s native land, though she was not of Aboriginal descent, and also the country in which I was educated. I swore an allegiance to the United States when I became a citizen. And before anyone shouts I should have foresworn all other fealties when I took the oath, might I just point out the proliferation of societies, and ethnic affiliations, to which many belong in these still great United States, despite many never having set foot in their ‘other’ so-called country of loyalty? But for those of us with a different birth country, or who may have lived in many countries, as I have, it is difficult to give up those slices of our heart that have been left in each place called home. We carry a little of their soil in our souls, forever.

Like any word in the English language, and maybe others, it rather depends on the context in which the word is used as to whether or not it is offensive. Neither ‘expatriate’ nor ‘native’ are derogatory words. Neither should ‘black’ or ‘white’ be considered such. 

Yet here I am, an angry white woman. Made angrier by the farrago that was the US Open Tennis Women’s Final. What double standards! What a shame, for both Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. One a great champion, one a nascent champion. Think of John McEnroe, Nick Kyrgioss, Jimmy Connors, Ile Nastase – none of whom could be called gentlemen players on court. Did ever a chair umpire have so little respect for them? And as Ms Williams continues to be called ‘an angry black woman’, what I wonder would Ms Osaka be called, should she be the one to lose her cool in a tense match? Would a woman of Japanese Haitian ethnicity also be called an angry black woman? Why can’t we just be angry women?

My list of personal adjectives grows longer. I am an angry, English native, expatriate, immigrant woman and proud to be one! Does it matter what colour I am?