The America That Is Not For Me: Part 4
Those who claim America has reached a post-racial stage in its social, moral, and political development are in fact Nietzschean nihilists and apocalypticists, professional spillers of crocodile tears, ravenous devourers of Harry Potter.
Highlife lovers of utopian grandiosity and grand philosophical loquacity, these oily optimists who self-identify as post-racialists come across as unrelenting enemies of existential truths in the heart of hearts of the American body politic.
Black Lives Matter.
The Prison Industrial Complex.
The Klu Klux Klan.
The Southern Strategy.
All these are antithetical to the expedient claims of privileged post-racialists.
What’s more, post-racialism is an unmitigated falsehood, a delicious fantasy that serves the purpose of psychological or mental anesthetic for some.
The revolutionary idea that Barack Obama successfully managed to slip through the interlocked fingers of the hangman’s noose in the White House is neither especially phenomenal nor bluntly sensational, to say the least.
“Obama’s meteoric and momentous rise in the jungle of American politics may represent a patent anomaly in the Biblical sociology of America’s racial politics,” an American professor of political science once reminded me.
For America still remains trapped in the claustrophobic claws of racialized stasis.
“And black folks didn’t suddenly begin to enjoy universal respect because Obama was installed as king in the hidden vaults of the White House,” some say.
Black folks have never enjoyed universal respect at any point in the tortuous and torturous journey of the American body politic, a telling journey geared toward the unpredictable destination of racial equality and social justice, a trying journey of which my own American experience instantiates.
Evidently, Obama has stolen his kingship entitlement from the narcissistic personhood of Donald Trump. Or should I say Obama, in retrospect, usurped the powers of kingship from Trump, our narcissistic Prince Charming? For if not, why the screaming pervasiveness of white rage then―in the age of Trumpian-driven alternative lies and falsehoods and outright fabrications, the sheer ordinariness of political expediency whereby white rage dictates the color of the face that graces the façade of the White House?
Trump eventually won, I lost.
And we lost, he won at least.
We Obama, that is.
Bitter, like the juice of an unripe lemon.
Obama’s crashing lost and Trump’s sweeping wins have come to define the character of the epic battle of race relations, one equally at home on the wavelength of unequal dichotomy. Let me say this, the emotional drama of unequal dichotomy reinforces racial discrimination and the second-class citizenship of black folks in the sweltering heart of the American body politic.
I have found myself several times in this sweltering heart, for Obama’s win didn’t make a dent in my life. I continued to wallow in low-paying jobs and misery in spite of his epic win. On another plane, this sweltering heart presents itself as a widely shared phenomenon because it underpins the social philosophy of race relations across the political geography of the United States. This observation is true in my situation.
Indeed one of the assuring platitudes my brother managed to convince me with, in order for me to move to Colorado, was the notion that Colorado was not New York, that Colorado treated minorities far better than New York, a well-meaning statement I later found to be entirely untrue as I settled into the state and began to experience its political geography firsthand.
The unexplored context of my first job interview in the State of Colorado, a subject I briefly introduced in Chapter 2, underscores my point. During the said interview, I produced all the original documents the human resources staff asked for, with convincing assurances from him that my varied, extensive educational backgrounds in science, mathematics, engineering, accounting and the humanities increased my chances of securing a job with his employer, a view my brother also shared.
In reality, it was my brother who had first suggested to me that I put every single piece of educational information I had on my job applications to enhance the spectrum of my job prospects, a strategy I had tried many times in New York though it never produced any useful outcome in terms of job security or employment prospects. For instance, in New York my Ghanaian educational documents got me employment instantly―of course mostly low-paying and dangerous jobs―but I never experienced the American Dream whenever I applied for jobs in New York with my American educational documents.
This was why I went back to school for a graduate degree in engineering at Northeastern University, Boston, where I studied Operations Research―an interdisciplinary course of study encompassing the departments of Manufacturing Engineering, Mathematics, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Operations Research, and Industrial Engineering. I took classes in optimization, applied statistics and probability, computer programming, probabilistic operations research, statistical quality control, deterministic operations research, advanced network flow and linear programming. I studied project management, stimulation, management, industrial and market psychology, machine learning, leadership skills, basic accounting principles such as inventory control analysis, as well as using probability theory to model and address queuing problems in industrial and institutional contexts.
This program virtually ate into my savings, an amount in the neighborhood of twenty thousand dollars.
In terms of employment opportunities, however, absolutely nothing useful has come out of this rigorous and expensive education―to date.
I have suffered the same fate after obtaining a Specialist Certificate in Computerized Accounting (SCCA) from the City University of New York (CUNY).
Likewise, my Advanced Level Certificate in Science and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics have never made marked dents in my life in terms of employment opportunities.
My autodidactic investments in several academic disciplines and intellectual pursuits have meant absolutely nothing to employers―either.
I went back to school again and took several liberal arts and science courses.
I won’t even dare open the stinking can of worms on my woeful and objectionable New York living circumstances while pursuing my education in the American Empire of New York. For the avoidance of doubt, however, I should like to mention a few exemplars of these objectionable situational contexts:
I lived in rodent- and cockroach-infested apartment.
I lived in affordable but crime- and drug- and gang-infested neighborhoods.
I slept on trains and buses after school and work while they sped past my expected destinations, my abodes.
I slept two or three hours a day while working full time and schooling full time.
I went to school directly after my overnight shifts without taking showers in between.
I stood on my feet as a security guard without breaks, carried and hauled luggage and opened doors for tenants as a doorman, developing cankles in the process.
I skipped nutritious foods because I simply couldn’t afford them.
Let me drive the point home with this statement, “For all intents and purposes, it was not my choice to live in these unattractive, dangerous neighborhoods and apartments. It was a forced, inescapable choice, the kind of choice that allowed me to save a little so I could be in a position to defray some of the direct and indirect expenses associated with my education and living conditions by buying by own textbooks, by paying my rent as well as paying for my bus and train fares, and buying food without compromising my dignity as I’m not one to identify with mendicancy or to live on welfare. I love to work.”
Needless to say, financial aid did eventually flow in but getting it approved in the schools became an uphill battle for reasons that remain unclear to me even to this day―inexplicable reasons that taxed or put immense stress on my emotional and psychological resources. I nonetheless took comfort in the knowledge that taking full responsibility for my indirect expenses and living within my means meant that I didn’t have to take any unnecessary loans―and for this reason I refused to take loans to underwrite my indirect expenses. I shouldered the responsibility alone with grace and dignity but it wasn't easy.
Sure, something's got to give. And it did. I therefore stayed far away from any temptation that smelled of predatory lending practices in these undergraduate programs―when I had the choice to do so, thanks to the fact that I wasn’t a spendthrift. Still, the Financial Aid Office came up with one farcical excuse after another to deny me aid each semester but I prevailed on each occasion. These reasons drained my patience. Elsewhere I describe some of the complex bureaucratic encumbrances and unnecessary challenges I've had to encounter while trying to secure financial aid.
About my objectionable living conditions, I’d say I also went many years without replenishing or replacing my wardrobe because there was just not enough left in my anorexic vault of disposal income to enable me buy new clothes. Because of my protracted financial handicaps, I ended up wearing the same clothes over and over again until I literally reduced them to a threadbare existence.
My diet also suffered in that it hardly included vegetables and fruits. I couldn’t afford them in those difficult times and as a consequence some of my teeth began to rot in their seemingly firm rootedness while my vision, which was just fine when I arrived in the US, began to deteriorate. The State denied my applications for Medicaid on the basis of my income at a time when I was barely surviving on a meager income. Neither did my employer offer any such benefits to its hardworking employees. So I managed to make do with the little I had.
And as if that were not enough, the insomniac shadows of Frankenstein took advantage of these difficult situational circumstances by stealing my presence of mind and turning the skeletal scaffolding of my whole being into an inebriated cracked wine-bottle, locking me into a fetal position of outright hopelessness in the richest country of the world, the richest country in the history of human civilization.
As things stand today, it’s only my prying sense of Cartesian mind-body dualism that can reveal these untold secrets to the outside world―as it is only they, the unknown depths of the marriage of convenience between my mind and body―namely, the insufferable instruments of my conscious being―which harbor this rich history of human suffering, of pain, and of bitterness, are the only ones that can betray the psychological scars I have hidden from the rest of the world.
Of course, no chain of degrees and certificates and educational experiences can eloquently tell these behind-the-scenes inventories of human suffering with absolute, unadulterated clarity―if at all, other than my psychological scars. It just happened that this undeniable fact was totally lost on the juicy plumpness sitting at the other end of the desk directly across from me―ready to interview me for a job I was more than qualify for, the kind of job that most people with eighth- or ninth-grade education could do with relative ease. I’m referring to my first and only formal job interview in Colorado before going to nursing school.
Furthermore, the job description for this position didn’t even require the kind of mental capital expected of one in possession of secondary education. But that was all America had for me, a hardworking and educated black man who has been an exemplary law-abiding citizen during the many years he has lived and worked in this beautiful country, his adopted country, a country he calls home but one built on the backs of enslaved Africans, his aggrieved and longsuffering forebears. How’ll my aggrieved and longsuffering forebears feel when they learn that I’m not benefitting from the vast wealth they left behind in the hands of the managers of the American body politic, a question Obama’s epic win and presidency couldn’t answer for me and the Trump presidency couldn’t care less about?
We continued the job interview nonetheless. The static silhouette of the juicy plumpness shook his bulkiness in a fit of mindless stupor, showering me with unsolicited grins. I forced a smile in response to his awkward grins. After clearing his throat in the manner of an intimidating storm of wakeful stertorousness, of the two of us exchanging formal greetings and pleasantries for what seemed an eternity, he bellowed at me with a straight face: “Did you bring the original documents I asked for?”
“Yes.” I brought out all the documents and laid them out on the desk. “Here they are, all of them!”
He hesitantly bent over his gravitational bulkiness and retrieved the documents anyway, one after the other as though he had all the time in the world. He brought each of them close to the hanging bridge of his bulbous nose, closely examining them in microscopic detail―and with the surgical precision of forensic punctiliousness. The two of us looked like David and Goliath in the White House where I heard the screaming voices of Ice Cube, Yo-Yo, Kam, Dr. Dre, and MC Breed on the George Clinton song “Paint the White House Black” ring cacophonously in my ears but I quickly ignored them and instead settled on the issue at hand, the interview.
It didn’t take long before I saw his hoarded vapor of suspicion begin to escape through the tegumental pores of his cold, incredulous gaze.
Suddenly he couldn’t look me in the eye, like before. He began to sweat in a drench of hail―but with his feathery wings clipped and unable to fly away to the excruciating embarrassment of his cocooned comfort, he reluctantly resigned to his fate and handed me the documents, all of them―one by one with the paralyzing apprehension of his shivering hands. Reality had struck a defeating blow to the cord of obduracy and unhealthy skepticism. No elegant feints, just plain tasteless realities arising from incontrovertible evidence spread out before the prying panorama of the human eye.
“Those documents l-o-o-k genuine!” he thundered.
His unexpected drawl caught my attention. “Look?” I thought instantly. No wonder he handed them back to me as if they were soiled toilet paper. Of course he didn’t grin when he said this. Neither did I. Then an element of leprotic detachment seemed to grip his exhausted bulkiness, forcing him to sit upright. We sat there like famished scarecrows, but then a long stretch of silence hijacked the physical and emotional space between and around us as he gobbled down his ego and pride. “Congrats,” he said.
“Can I have your high school diploma?”
He made a copy for my files and then returned the original to me. There was silence again. I couldn’t allow myself to be consumed by the dense silence so I asked reluctantly, “How about the other documents?”
“I don’t think we need them.”
That innocent-looking response came as a big surprise to me. Why did he ask me to produce those documents when we first met? This didn’t make sense to me until he launched into an autobiographical lecture. “Like you, I also attended college,” he said. “I went to college to study engineering and worked for this employer as a maintenance staff while I attended college. Just so you know, I went to college for eight years but never graduated. But Francis, here I am as the human resources manager of this company. Interesting Francis, don’t you think?”
I didn’t respond. I merely turned his shocking revelations over in my head. I’d later find out from a reliable source that he was there in his managerial capacity on the strength of his high school diploma alone. That’s not all, however. My immediate supervisor and her immediate supervisor in turn, the manager in charge of all the company’s residential facilities, didn’t have degrees. Both were holders of high school diplomas.
Well, I ended up working with and under the supervision of these three individuals, and to make matters worse, they earned huge salaries while I, on the other hand, earned the same wage as other low-level employees with high school diplomas.
It was as though my formal education and autodidactic investments constituted impenetrable barriers to a sustainable existence fed by the loving kindness of gainful employment, my useless diploma and certificates and degrees behaving as fitful doppelgangers of my living obituaries.
My education and my living or dead self, my longsuffering self, had become mortal enemies to my existence to the extent that I am constantly haunted by the vast investments I made in my education. Money and time gone to waste!
Mr. Yaw Danso, a New York-based Ghanaian with whom I worked for the same employer, worked directly under a holder of a high school diploma, an American. Mr. Danso earned his subordinate office under his American supervisor with a Master’s in French from France and a Master’s in Education from CUNY. A billboard of animal husbandry, the widely read Mr. Danso, has become.
Mr. Danso, who is currently doing well in the grasscutter-farming business in Ghana, left America for Ghana when he finally came to the stark realization that he could no longer take the humiliation. Here in America, he had kept their office and department from virtual implosion by doing most of the paperwork as his technical proficiency in English and writing allowed. On the other hand, his alcoholic supervisor instead chain-smoked outside the facility when he should be assisting his colleague―Mr. Danso. Mr. Danso in effect became the natural supervisor, leader and technical embodiment of the office he shared with his lazy boss―but without the respect and remuneration that should have accompanied his education and the vast experience he had in the field in which we both worked.
In other words, Mr. Danso’s salary was not commensurate with his education, clinical instructorship, and background experience in the field. In fact he earned far less than his supervisor. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying education is everything, or that education necessarily makes people socially smart, intellectually efficient, functionally and professionally competent, and emotionally intelligent. Ironically in some cases, education has turned the genome of certain human beings into unthinking robots and lazy birds of paradise while making incorrigible fools out of others. Education does however make a big difference in terms of the standards of employee behavior, productivity outcomes, occupational advancement and preferences, and standard of living. Education in effect runs the engines of national economies. My personal position is that institutional infatuation with academic inflation and credentialism in popular culture partly contributes to some of the unfair practices and contradictions we see at the workplace.
Is America a paradise then, that promising paradise which has failed me, my friend Mr. Danso and countless others?
For first-generation Americans like me, America is a social and psychological prison of sorts. “Life really is war in America, unwinnable war it seems,” a friend tells me. “But I am tired being part of this attrition warfare.” This is not to say I can’t make the best or most out of my “economic imprisonment” in America―far from it. But Colorado was already closing its doors on me even before I could muster the courage to say its name right on my maiden tongue, to formally introduce myself into its open arms.
What do I do with the pain that doesn’t seem to go away?
The unrelenting bitterness?
The unrelenting suffering?
The unrelenting humiliation?
Even more importantly, what does America do with an engineer it trained, an engineer who also is a well-respected expert in wiping the behinds of others, an expert in cleaning up the vomits and soiled selves of his fellow human beings in exchange for his forced baptism in the roaring bonfires of wage slavery, bitterness, suffering, humiliation, and pain?
“How can we ease the pain?” singers Beres Hammond and Maxi Priest ask.
How do we deal with his seemingly permanent psychological scars from racial discrimination and constant humiliation?
But I dare ask again, of the American, what has a good and hardworking and law-abiding person like me done to deserve this classic fate of unending humiliation and psycho-emotional abuse? Are we saying the vast possibilities of blackness are a curse? Is this what we really are saying?
Sad to say, the promising America that I have adopted as my new home and grown to love has become a living hell for me!
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."
Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.