Copernicus was the guy


The place where we grow up has a huge impact on how we see ourselves in the world. I know it's common sense, but before I came to Japan, I had a pre-Copernican view of the universe. Just in case some of you don't know who that is, Copernicus was the guy who first tried to popularize the idea that the earth revolves around the sun instead of the sun and the rest of the universe revolving around the earth. No matter where we are from, we think that everything revolves around us or our individual cultures. This thing is particularly true when it comes to being American. Everything we see of the world is seen through that lens. We Americans also carry a feeling of superiority that has been indoctrinated into our subconscious from birth. “America is the greatest country on earth” is a phrase that we hear over and over again. So, when we step outside of America, we often judge everything we expereince from the perspective of what we think the standard should be. We scoff at the sizes of foods and drinks in restaurants, for example, and talk about how small they are. We never talk about how large portions are in the States and how much food is going to waste as a result of it or how fat people have become. We are taken aback by the subdued seasoning in food and complain about how it doesn't have enough salt or sugar instead of noticing how overly salted and sugared foods are in the US and how that has led to a high prevalence of high blood pressure and diabetes. We look at Japanese people and we say to ourselves, “why are they so shy?” It never occurs to us that we might be too loud.


I cannot stress this enough. I do not mean that all of these things that I'm mentioning are bad. I love American abundance, I love sweet desserts, and I love how bold and confident many of my fellow Americans are. That's not the point. The point is that when we point to others and notice differences we tend to point to those differences as being something inferior or abhorrent without looking towards ourselves to find fault. It means that we judge things by our tribal instincts rather than by seeing ourselves as one human among many.


One of the things I learn from traveling to Japan was how to see the world and people from a more neutral perspective. This is ironic since Japanese people are just as guilty of this pre-Copernican viewpoint as we are. However, after living in Japan I can now see myself from outside of my American self. I am no longer trapped within the narrow definition what it means to be American or even African American. I am still both of those. I love being both of those. But, I am also much more and can better see my position in the world.


I also learned that everybody doesn't have to be like me in order for me to get along with them or be friends with them. George Bush once famously said, “If you're not with me, you're against me.” I paraphrased it a little bit but basically the essence of the message is there and it is a very American message. We hear it all the time when people talk about the flag, or making America great again, or how this person or that person is or isn't black. It is “greatness” or “blackness” as defined by a very narrow American understanding of it.


I know this is pissing some people off. No American likes to hear that they're being arrogant or that they have tunnel vision. If what I've written has made you angry or has made you hate me, I'm very sorry. That wasn't my intent. Even if you hate me because of my ideas, I'm pretty sure that I still love you. However, if you walk away from me, I won't chase you, though I will be sad to see you go. We all have to process the world as best we can and live in it as best we can. If for some reason the way that I am offends you to the point of believing that you cannot stand being around me, then I can respect that. I'll be here to welcome you if ever you change your mind.



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