Thank you to Tiara Darnell.
As a volcanologist, I was brought to work in many different places. I have been exposed to many cultures, people, habits, languages... Hopefully this has opened my mind. At least I used to entertain that idea...
I spent a lot of time in a city that became my home away from home: Portland, OR where I worked in the nearby volcano observatory. I always enjoyed the place as being the city of the real opportunities. Where everybody is welcome, can be oneself, without judgment, and where "quality of life" has a meaning.
Black Lives Matter
And then I read this article written by Tiara Darnell in Portland Monthly Magazine, and it struck me like a lightning bolt. Tiara Darnell is right. Sad to admit it. But boy, she's so right. And I'm thankful to her to have the guts to deliver such a piece, such a slap in the face. To awaken us.
The very fact that such a brilliant essay still has to be published today in the XXIst century is an admission that, as a society, something is pretty screwed: we failed.
Portland has been the scene of Black Lives Matter for weeks now, but does that make this place right? Clearly not.
First, many persons, including African Americans consider Portland as a blue island in a very red state, that is why the racists hate the City.
Second, even if it's a blue island, I was stunned to learn that it's almost an all white city, with only 6% of African Americans. 6% ? Wow!
Third, the Black Lives Matter movement has often been abused by many persons, even with good intentions at heart, unbeknownst to them, because they/we are all prisoners of clichés and our educations.
Coming from Switzerland, it's difficult to understand those numbers. We have 4 different cultures: german-, french-, italian-, romansch- speaking cultures. That certainly helps.
Because, unlike in the USA, France, Italy and some parts of Germany, we all live together in my country. There are no ghettos. Sure, some neighborhoods are representative of social differences, but we don't have latino districts, black precincts, we're all mixed together. Not that there are no racists in Switzerland, there are, but mixing everybody is standard and it helps sharing between cultures. We don't even think about cultures, we're just us.
A little background
So why do I speak about BLM matters myself? Am I exempt of any fault? Certainly not.
Am I free of that white heritage bias? Definitely not, I'm even its prototype. I'll talk about that later.
But there is one thing that makes me maybe a little bit luckier that the John Does around about that question. As said, I'm a volcanologist. Worst part of that is that there are many mountains but zero volcanoes where I live.
As a member of the Humanitarian aid, I was led to travel a lot. I mean, a lot !
And I realized something: my idea was to bring something to populations through my volcano studies. I hopefully brought safety to some villages with my volcano monitoring software, brought comfort to victims I met. I hope I did, no question about that.
Giving is rare and it feels good. Everybody should try it.
But in the end, I was the winner: I got more from the people I met than I gave myself.
I'm so rich
Today I'm rich. I'm very rich. I don't have a plumpy bank account. I'm rich because it's easy for me to go to people, I'm not shy. That's how I became rich: because I met those persons, so many persons.
Humanitarian Aid led me to travel, not as a tourist, but in close contact to populations, cultures, different ways to look at the world, different languages.
The Diversity Gift
Through Science, my studies in Geophysics and Software Engineering, I was blessed enough to have an amazing life. Not everybody has that chance. But I'm absolutely convinced that, through those contacts, those exchanges, the society is the sum of all parts, not a patchwork of parts away like a scrambled puzzle.
I am the sum of all the people I met in the course of my life, the nice ones as well as the ugliest. I'm enhanced by them, not reduced or lowered!
And still, Tiara Darnell is right.
Being a White Prototype
Even though I'm from a mixed heritage, born to a Greek mother and a Swiss father, I'm the prototype of the white guy. I'm even blue-eyed. Believe it or not, but blue eyes open a lot of doors, and bring a lot of smiles. People are inclined to like you and trust you right away. Try to understand.
And thanks to that, I never felt threatened when entering a restaurant. Nowhere. It could be Guatemala, Rwanda, Alaska, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines.
Being the non-local, being the pale "colored-one" myself in some of those places, I never felt hostility against me. I never had fingers pointed at me.
Probably first because I had the "right color", the dominant one in this world, which is already a biased privilege.
Can I say the same about my friends from African heritage? In their own hometowns? Can they walk into any place without that hostility feeling? Absolutely not.
Tiara Darnell is right. And this is appalling.
It means that we didn't do enough (if we actually did anything), and we can make even more.
Do we have any clue about what African Americans go through? Even with our best intentions. No! Because we are spared. We SHOULD make more.
As President Obama stated in his brilliant "A More Perfect Union" speech in 2008 in Philadelphia, everyone has to understand that it requires all of us "to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams".
Isn't everyone entitled to dreaming and having a chance to achieve those dreams? At any level, in any society, anywhere, in any country, any culture, without question and without asking ? It should be granted to anybody. The pursuit of happiness.
You might say I'm pretty naive to believe in such a thing: improving, lifting the society up rather than pulling it down which is easier. Maybe. But it's worth a try. It's actually mandatory. And it feels good to be that naive. But feelings are not enough.
On second thoughts, Tiara Darnell article is not a slap in the face or a mega quake.
In a way, it's a love letter. To humanity, to us. She shakes us up to wake us up. For this we should be grateful. That means she still has a little hope that things could improve, she still has a little trust in us. That's generous of her. That's why we can't disappoint her.
And I hope that someday, Tiara Darnell will not have to write about that again. I hope that her talent will enlighten us on other matters than our own mediocrity and limits.