I installed a house-sitter in my flat and went to New Jersey. I’m there now, in a hotel in Trenton.
I’ve visited the US many, many times and I always forget what it is like and there is always something new to surprise me.
Nothing is real.
I always forget this. Lordy lord. I am writing this in a hotel room and the air isn’t real, it is air-conditioned air. The windows don’t open, it’s obviously unreasonable of me to want to open a window. When you go outside it is hotter and more humid than Florida so the real air isn’t particularly comfortable but even so. I’m used to London. We don’t have air conditioning in our homes. We take the air quality as it comes. Other things that aren’t real: creamer. What an abomination that is. What the fuck is ‘creamer’. I drink a lot of coffee okay and I need actual milk or cream or something that came out of a cow, unless I’m drinking it black. Creamer is a packet of carcinogenic white powder that changes the colour of your coffee without really altering its texture or flavour. Similarly, there is no sugar in my hotel room, just ‘sugar substitute’. I can live without sugar, which is good, because I’m not touching ‘sugar substitute’. Still more things that aren’t real: the hotel shop (there isn’t one, you can see where there used to be one because there are two empty vending machines, if you call that a shop) and the restaurant (serving lunch from 11.30am! proclaims a proud notice in the lobby, except it isn’t true and they don’t open until four). I had to order in some lunch, a chicken salad. When it arrived, there was enough food for at least two days. If only I had a fridge in my room. Oh, wait …
White is a colour.
Oh my gosh. Okay, you would have to be a visitor from another planet to avoid knowing that there are racial tensions in the US. There have been shootings in Dallas and Indiana in the last few days and there are more to come. Everyone knows this. You don’t find such a high degree of race based tension in London – there are most certainly pockets of prejudice amongst poor white people who don’t like Muslims or Poles (usually) but the vast majority of Londoners aren’t racist and this is hardly surprising when you consider that the vast majority of Londoners are themselves immigrants – from every country in the world. Every country is represented. My friends, neighbours and workmates include people from Colombia, Ukraine, Syria, Nigeria, Morocco, all over Europe, everywhere I can think of. In many US cities, the first thing I notice when I arrive is that people are either Black or White and that is that. And the second thing I notice is that the Black people work in service jobs, like they are housemaids in hotels, and the White people are disproportionately powerful. Not that there are no poor white people, of course, but also there isn’t a Black Donald Trump.
Something rather shocking happened today. I was standing outside smoking and minding my own business and this old white man strolled over to talk to me. I was very polite to him, in a very British way, and let him chat to me for a few minutes. It was clear that he wasn’t quite all there mentally, his train of thought was a bit faulty and he was unwashed and smelly. Although not homeless. He told me he had an apartment ‘over there in the bad part of town’. THEN he told me this shocking story. It was a story about how someone had mugged him outside a grocery store. He’d been doing his shopping and as he came out of the store, a young woman mugged him and stole his wallet. He’s old and frail and clearly not able to defend himself. He said he cried because she took all his money and his ID and I could see why he would cry. He’s very vulnerable and not mentally well equipped to replace the things he’s lost. He said ‘I could smell crack on her breath’. Okay, so far, so believable. A very sad story but not in itself remarkable. THEN he said ‘she was a dirty black girl’ and repeated it several times. A bit rich coming from someone who smelled that badly of urine. But in his mind, it was totally relevant. I’ve honestly never heard the word ‘black’ used in that context before, like it means the same thing as ‘dirty’ and ‘drug-addicted’. I was embarrassed for him. Then I was embarrassed again when I went back inside and dealt with the very handsome, very disengaged and uninterested African American man who was working on the front desk who looked at me like I was a problem. He could have been in a bad mood for any number of reasons, obviously, but I felt tainted by the conversation I’d just had where this old man assumed I felt just like him because I look like him. White is a colour, isn’t it. Not a very attractive colour. Even my polite British accent did not do much to melt the ice with the guy on the front desk – usually Americans of colour are nice to me when I break out my polite manners and BBC accent, not that I particularly deserve it, but they sort of pardon me for the crimes against their people that they see as inflicted on them by white Americans. He was a handsome guy, too. I totally would have flirted with him if he had been in a better mood.
African-Americans – I am sorry. I am really, really sorry you are putting up with this shit. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I wish I could make it better. I guess all I can do is keep being exceptionally polite. I feel I want to apologise on behalf of the old man I met this morning. He is objectively dirty. He has no business calling other people dirty, even if they took his wallet.
Meh. USA. Photos in due course.