Shithole America?

ralph bunch
Ralph Bunche — Not good enough for Bronxville

Well… it’s official.

Both the liberal NY TImes editorial board and many Republican politicians in Florida agree: the president of the United States is a racist.

Almost 50 years ago, my parents decided to emigrate to the United States.

We ended up in Bronxville, a lily-white, wealthy bedroom enclave, 30 minutes by train north of Manhattan.

I was 16; but was enrolled in 9th grade, instead of 10th, because my English was deemed substandard by the powers that be at Bronxville High School.

Luckily this lasted only a month or so, when they realized that the new, somewhat swarthy Egyptian student was not that inferior after all.

Despite this I worked tirelessly on improving my English skills, and vowed that, by the time I graduated, I would show them a thing or two about mastering English.

Many nights I trudged to Yonkers Sprain Brook Library (for by then we had moved to Cedar Knolls), and methodically went through the list of the top 100 Great Books of all time and wrote down on a 2×4 card any word I did not know on the front of the card, its definition on the back, and memorized these cards each night.

I joined the staff of the school paper. By the end of 11th grade, I was contributing half of the copy for the Bronxville Mirror.

My English teacher was Ms, Linda Miller, who encouraged me in my emerging dreams to pursue a literary career.

That year, I took the SAT test, and scored in the low 700s in English, mid 600s in Math, 5 on the English AP test, 790 on the SAT French subject test, and aced the NY Chemistry Regents exam.

By the time I graduated, I had written a play, several short stories (that were graded A+), and dozens of songs that I performed as my final project for an advanced Humanities class open only to Seniors with top grades and excellent potential.

When I graduated, Ms Miller was instrumental in my receiving the Creative Writing Award for the 1969 graduating class at BHS, and wrote a letter of recommendation for me for college.

But all was not as rosy as that.

I can recall a teacher named Lane Pettibone who taught various classes, including Driver’s Ed.  It still pains me to recall the first time I  drove down winding Pondfield Road from Rt. 22 toward BHS. Because of the road’s steep incline, the car sped up before I had a chance to apply the brakes, and Pettibone found it appropriate to state:  “I guess you’re more used to driving camels where you come from, huh?” I will never forget the disdainful twitters of my classmates sitting in the back seat, laughing at the dumb, off-the-boat A-rab at the wheel.

I also will never forget that, despite my contributing every major story that was published in the BHS Mirror between 1968-69,  the job of Editor-in-Chief did not go to me, as I expected. Instead, it went to someone named John Patillo, who had not written a single article for the paper.

When I asked Bob Schaeffer – the Mirror’s faculty advisor — why, I was told that, after all, John Patillo was applying for Yale, and needed this extra curricular credential on his CV. This was the first time I knew for sure that the fix was in for me as an Arab in America.

Finally, what I will never forget my college application interview by a certain Miss Sullivan, who was a BHS guidance counselor at the time.

I had entertained the idea of going to an Ivy League school, but Miss Sullivan said to me, and I will never forget this, why don’t you apply to trade school?  That would is probably more suited to someone like you. More suited, to someone like me.

Today this woman would be sued in a court of law for blatant racism, among other things, in the performance of her job — but those were different times.

I did end up applying to Columbia University, but was rejected after an interview with a Jewish grad student who worked in admissions, and asked me loaded questions about the 6-day Arab-Israeli war.  This on a college admission interview, whose purpose was presumably to discuss my High School academic record.

edward said
First edition cover

I regret to this day never having the opportunity to study under the great Edward Said, who was probably already writing early drafts of his 1978 opus, Orientalism, but alas it was not meant to be — because after all, I came from a shithole African country.

Today, as a penniless immigrant who arrived in this country with uncertain formal English skills  (yes, I spoke English, but it was of the Arabish variety), who studied diligently to get “A”s for two years straight in English class, and who somehow produced impressive SAT / AP test results (when these exams were harder, I came out in the top 2% for my graduating class), and who committed himself to pronounced extra curricular engagement in the High School paper, I probably would stand a decent chance to gain an outright scholarship to most any Ivy League school I chose to attend.

But academic admission standards were very different in 1969 than today, and places like Bronxville and its High School were still havens for racial intolerance:  I graduated in a class of 100 than did not have a single black student, one Hispanic, and no Jews (after Tommy Edelman left). Was that mere coincidence?

After all, Bronxville refused to allow the Nobel laureate Ralph Johnson Bunche to buy a house there, though the town eventually hired its first black cop in 1972.  His name was  Waverly Nall, and he served on Bronxville’s police force for many years.

My point is this.

I have personally experienced racism and ethnic hatred in small town America from the moment we emigrated to the United States.

This experience is nothing different from that which other minorities have survived when trying to get a slice of the American dream.

And I, too, survived, and lived and worked for decades in Manhattan, where I experienced a much less overt form of racism in the corporate world.

Today we have a racist President who embodies the vile attitudes that roughly a third of the United States population still hold.

But their time is now ending.

Many of Silicon Valley’s software engineers are from shithole countries like Pakistan, India and China.

In Manhattan, a place I have lived in most of my life, few today care much about what religion or ethnicity you belong to:  Wall Street, especially, is primarily interested in hiring talented, well-educated candidates on the basis of their potential  impact on the bottom line — an entirely legitimate criterion.

Even Florida, where my wife and I have a house, is changing.

I remember back in 1968 that I went on the Spring Break to Fort Lauderdale, and attempted to get served in a bar that had sign on the door that read “No dogs or niggers allowed.” 

Forty years later, Florida went to vote twice to elect President Obama.  

Today, the vile racist now occupying the White House can try to fudge or recant his racist pronouncements, but the truth is now plain for all to see:  he, and many (but not all) who support him, are nothing more than frightened, antediluvian racists, whose loathsome views are out of sync with an increasingly diverse body politic.

I hope, come November, that my fellow Floridians remember this day, and the days like this that have come before it, and the many days like it that are sure to come, and vote in a manner that punishes the Republican party for enabling a vile racist in the White House.

Without a majority in both houses in Congress, the vile racist would most certainly become nothing more than an irrelevant, pathetic old fool, spouting foul-mouthed hatred and ignorant nonsense, until he is finally removed from office, whether as result of the Muller investigation, or ousted in the 2020 Presidential.

Only then will America have any chance to be — yawn — great again, if, indeed, it ever truly was.

leaving america


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