human behavior

So far from home

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, The Expatriate Life by humanb on October 18, 2009
View from my bathroom window, Sydney

View from my bathroom window, Sydney

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with traveling.

I wanted to go to the place furthest away from my town, to meet the people most different from me.

I wanted to know if people in other countries saw the world differently.

I wanted to know how the vocabulary of their languages determined the range of their conscious feelings.

I wanted to know which of my actions were just human behavior, and which were quintessentially American.

I wanted to know if I would see myself differently if I were in a different place.

I’ve done a bit of a travel, but not much. I’ve been to 6 out of 7 continents, but can count on both hands the number of countries I’ve visited, and still have free fingers to wiggle. In traveling, I’ve welcomed the challenge of confronting different ways of seeing, thinking and doing.

But sometimes, you really don’t feel like being challenged by the foreign. You just want to be comforted by the familiar.

If you migrate to the U.S., Britain or Australia, you’ll find a multitude of ethnic diasporas: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Lebanese, Irish, Greeks, Italians, the list goes on. So you can find the familiar. But you don’t find diasporas of black Americans outside America. Everything is always foreign, all the time.

A Jewish Australian doctor at my hospital was talking about his Persian roommate wanting to find a nice, cute Persian boy to date. He appreciated her desire for the familiar. I said, “Yeah, I really miss black people,” to which he replied, “Oh, you mean you consider yourself as having an ethnicity?”


I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who didn’t consider black America as having a distinct culture.

I just got sent a video of a relative of mine recording a live concert with The Hallelujah Train in North Carolina. My cousin is a professional bassist – mainly jazz – but recently gospel. From an article on the performance:

The Hallelujah Train stopped at the Hayti Heritage Center Sunday night and for two hours Louisiana Pastor Brady Blade Sr. pranced and danced, growled and yowled in the stirring culmination of a Duke University-sponsored gospel project…. The performance was a live concert recording, backed by a 35-voice choir from Blade’s Shreveport Zion Baptist Church…

The 70-year-old minister, commanding in a dark pin-striped suit and waving a black towel, had the packed audience in his hands from the moment he walked on stage. “Lord,” he shouted out in a voice made a bit gravelly by age but still remarkably powerful, “keep my body strong. Lord, I know, I know.”

The audience, which included several busloads of parishioners from Shreveport, met the gospel songs with rhythymic clapping and frequent shouts of “all right, all right.”

“This is the music I grew up with,” said Tyrone Jones, who lives in Durham. “This is the real thing. This is what music used to be like.”

Watching this video, as I sit in my flat with harbour views, in an upper middle class, ethnically homogenous neighborhood in Sydney, Australia, I realize how far away from home I really am.

Is this enough ethnicity for you?

Give it 3 minutes to get a feel for the thing. It’s classic stuff.

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2 Responses

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  1. Ron Pauline Hanson said, on October 19, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    I didn’t know Al Sharpton could sing like that.

  2. Condor said, on October 21, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Great post!

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