Racism at the bank

So I went to the bank again this afternoon. Ahead of me in line were people of all colors and ethnicity, again. The man directly in front of me was in what I presume to be in native garb from somewhere in North Africa, a simple white robe and a well crafted skull cap of sorts.

An American man got into line behind me. He had a young Latino next to him with whom he spoke fluent Spanish. Apparently the American, from what I could tell, was helping this man open or withdraw from a bank account.

Africans at a bank in the Midwest.

In this particular Wells Fargo branch there is a large antique scale. The American told the Latino to go see how much he weighed. As he went to discover that he weighed a slight 120 pounds, the man escorting him said to me under his breath, “Too many of them here. Too many of them too,” he continued while pointing to the African man in front of me. “They’re taking over.”

I had to restrain myself from replying to this blatant racism, though in my mind I formulated a response, something to the effect that “I appreciate the cultural diversity that’s come to the Midwest.” He’d just come in and I didn’t really know how much of a conversation I wanted to have in line at the bank, a conversation of that nature. So I said nothing and looked ahead.

As the line was fairly long and slow we did end up exchanging a few more words, mostly to discuss our weight, the pens in the bank which never write and how Fridays are always the busiest day to make a deposit. It became somewhat obvious this man was pretty unhappy in general, or at least liked to complain. I wondered if he was harboring some sort of bitterness that poured into all aspects of his life, including impatiently waiting in line at the bank.

I know this is a fairly common prejudicial sentiment, but what I don’t understand at all is how people get there. I grew up in a very, very Caucasian Midwestern community. There were a lot fewer Latin immigrants (legal or otherwise) then than now, and very few black people in the town.

The one black kid I remember in school, in my grade, was a bully. He was a leader and had a cadre of people around him that didn’t respect anyone else for the most part. My first life experiences with an African American were negative, and yet I’m somehow not harboring any ill feelings towards him or people of any color.

How is it then that so many Americans, perhaps particularly in the Midwest, find and foster such feelings towards people of other ethnicities? Is it thanks to media reports that talk about crime in the poorer neighborhoods where immigrants end up living? Did they have parents who instilled specific prejudices instead of compassion, respect and love for other people as themselves? Or did they have bad experiences like I did as a child that they couldn’t work through?

Last weekend my wife and I were thinking about patriotic American holidays and church. We were wondering if the patriotism often worked into Sunday morning services on or near certain holidays — which my wife and I don’t really appreciate — would be lost on someone not born in the United States. Other’s pointed out, though, that these people might have a greater appreciation for America and feel right as rain celebrating the country (in lieu of celebrating God, which is the problem we have with such services).

And this makes sense in most cases. So how do so many Americans end up so down on these people who so love their country? Isn’t it flattery for people to try and get into your country for the freedoms and opportunities it affords?

I’ve heard the arguments against immigration, so spare me your pat rhetoric in response to my deeper apolitical inquiry. And understand that I’m not condoning the illegal crossing of borders here. The man in question at the bank this afternoon should know better than to assume all or most immigrants are illegal. The Africans in line were almost certainly not illegal. They were probably refugees.

How can so many Americans have so little sense of their personal history? How can they forget so easily that this country is a country of immigrants (my sincere apologies to the Native Americans)? I’m grateful for my own family’s interest in their history. I’m glad that I’m regularly reminded by my parents and grandparents of our Danish, Swedish and German heritage. Apparently there’s a little bit of French in there too somewhere. Do other families not talk about their roots? Doesn’t someone in their clan have an affinity for genealogy?

My best guess as to why people find and foster this kind of hatred is that they’re scared. Scared of the reported crime, whether or not it’s an accurate representation of the immigrant community as a whole. Scared of losing jobs I suppose, even though we all know the immigrants generally take jobs a lot of us Americans aren’t willing to do anyway (though I suppose this economy may have changed that to a degree). Scared of the unknown.

Really I just don’t understand, as I said before. I’m not perfect. If we’re honest with ourselves we all know that we harbor some bias, some prejudice. But aren’t things like love for one’s neighbor still basic cultural values in America? Do we not hold to the truth that all men are created equal?


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

2 Responses to Racism at the bank

  1. sojournwanderer says:

    I don’t know what’s wrong with people. I wish I had anything more insightful, but I really don’t.

    • pcNielsen says:

      Yeah. That’s pretty much where I’m at if you couldn’t tell, despite the lengthiness of the post. Fear? Selfishness? Ethnocentricity?

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