The encounter with Ghana continues to echo on in so many ways. In one of many fascinating conversations with my friend Kofi’s brother, Prosper, I was talking about how the media had implanted its distorted view of life in Africa and asked him what images he had of life in America. He answered “Three things.”
1) People stay inside all day long and when they leave their house, they get into their car to get to the next inside place.
2) People go to work in small cubicles and don’t say hello to each other.
3) If someone disagrees with you, they take out a gun and shoot you.
Well, isn’t that interesting? I told him there was a partial truth in all those perceptions—life in L.A., a scene from The Office, open carry in Texas—but at least in my San Francisco life, lots of people (including me) are out walking or riding bikes, we greet each other warmly each day in school and I never have had (knock on all available wood) anyone take out a gun in my presence.
It would be an interesting international survey to find out how the rest of the world views us and where those images came from. It wouldn’t be surprising that 95% of it would come from the shoot-‘em-up movies or TV shows or news coverage of the latest school attack more than reading Walden, Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, The Fire Next Time or the collected poems of Mary Oliver.
So this makes me wonder: What images do we export? Which do we deserve? If you had to pick five movies and five books to represent the best of who we are to show the world, what would they be? Ah, there is some food for thought.
Sorry that I’ve missed the chance to ask that question of the people I meet traveling, but not too late. Next week, folks from some 20 countries will gather at The San Francisco International Orff Course and I will ask them the same question, with a follow-up. “How has your experience actually being in America changed your view?”
That should be interesting. Stay tuned.