Chicago Sun-Times
Discussions across the racial divide

Road Trip

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I'm in Toronto attending the International HIV/AIDS conference.

Thanks to the Black AIDS Institute, I've been given an opportunity to spend the next three days with medical professionals, activists, advocates and policy-makers from all over the world.

Because of the heightened terror alert, getting out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport was a real challenge. But people took the intense screening in stride, and I learned that I could really get by with one suitcase and no carry-on bag.

Toronto looks so much like Chicago that Hollywood has passed it off as Chicago in several movies. I've been here a few times and there's a noticeable difference between the people in Chicago and the people here. They are a lot friendlier.

Instead of jumping in a cab, I decided to take public transportation from the airport to the hotel. I wanted to see for myself how Toronto's public transportation system compares to CTA. Besides, the cab ride would have been about $55, compared to $2.75 for the bus and subway.

Needless to say, I had a dazed look on my face when the bus deposited me at the Kipling Subway station. But a white man in a business suit who was going my way assured me he wouldn't let me get lost. After pointing out the transit map (that goodness I can read one), he talked and I listened. He wanted to know where I was from and why I was in Toronto. He was just returning home from a business trip in Nova Scotia.

Two stops a later, a black man sat down between us and struck up a similar conversation. He’s from Jamaica, and makes his living as a painter. He was quite proud of that, and went into his bag and pulled out a photograph of his brightly-painted home in Jamaica. He talked about how great Toronto is, although he said that the terrorist threat had changed things. He also told me not to worry--he wouldn't let me get lost.

People of all nationalities--Muslim women in head scarves, Indians in long Saris, Asians, blacks, whites, people who sounded like they were from someplace in the Caribbean all traveling in the same direction.

When my stop approached, both men motioned me toward the exit. The Jamaican, who had been telling me how he always looks out for black people, got the attention of a young black woman across the aisle and asked her--no, he told her, she had to make sure I got on the Northbound train.

She looked surprised to be getting orders from a stranger, but she led me up the escalator anyway. I lost her in the throng of commuters and ended up taking the wrong train anyway.

That meant I had to drag my over-stuffed bag down a long, long flight of stairs in order to the other side of a platform. A young dark-skinned man, possibly from the Middle Eastern background, asked if I needed help. I said no. He asked again. I relented even though he was already carrying a large bag.

He picked up my hefty suitcase and hauled it down the stairs. I said thanks. He said, "You're welcome," and went about his business.

Here, Chicago seems like the foreign land.

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I think chicago is a great city to live in and I also think that this city is the greatest city in the world. However, being that chicago is a city that is divided you are going to experience people with "bad personalities". I haven't been to canada but I sure it is different because it is a totally different country. As an African american, I don't pay attention to people with bad charateristics but I just try to focus on the task at hand and that is going to school, going to work and so forth. Each town is different but overall every one is the same.

I am always thrilled whenever I leave the USA. There has not been a time where I have truly WANTED to return to the USA. The US is a great place, but when you talk of the hospitality of strangers, the mixture of people, I long of leaving the USA once again. When I was in Europe, I took lots of pictures of the public transportation, public facilities, the streets. Because they were so clean, that I knew my family would never believe me if I told them how clean everything was in a big city. The public transportation is so efficient and affordable that there's no need for a car.

And you know what? When I'm in other countries, the people there don't see me as a black lady. To them I am an American. I was amazed that without me saying a single word or wearing anything that could possibly identify my nationality, that they would know I was an American. So one day while in Berlin I asked someone how they knew. And they said that I don't look African, so I couldn't be from Africa, I don't look like I have parents of 2 different races, so I couldn't be European, and I don't look Hispanic. So I had to be American. While in Switzerland, I spoke with a guy from the Caribbean and he pointed out that the genetics that I possess are a uniquely American thing, seeing as while my skin definitely says African, I also possess strong European and Native American genes in my gene pool. That's how come everybody knew I was an American. I was amazed.

And Mary, I loved that when I was not in the USA, my description was "The American lady" and not "The Black lady". I hate that in America, I'm not seen as an American, but by my skin color. I hate that in America because of my skin color people make assumptions about me and don't bother to go any further to find out the truth.

It seems that what doesn't change is that no matter where I go, it's like I represent every black person in America whenever I travel. In some cases when I go outside of the US I may be the only black American person these people will encounter in their whole lives.

Outside of the US, I got asked about various stereotypes, especially while traveling through Germany because I was the first American they had met who was black and they wanted to know if the things they saw on TV were true: were black men in America really all drug dealers? Did I live in a ghetto? Did I know who my father was? Do I have the same parents as my siblings? You name the stereotype, and I got asked it. Some might have been offended especially when being asked such things from Germans of all people, but it didn't offend me at all. (But then again, I do love Germany) This was a chance for me to educate people who were honestly curious and did not know the truth, but wanted to LEARN what the truth was. And at the end of these conversations, the people would always say, "OH, YOU'RE LIKE THE COSBY SHOW!" I found that quite amusing, but at the same time very sad. Because out of all the American tv shows and movies they were exposed to in their country about black Americans, there was only ONE that showed a positive black family experience that wasn't a bunch of stereotypes.

If chicago feels foreign, stay in Toronto. Send us columns after you learn what it's like to pay taxes there, try to go to the doctor, start a business, hire employees etc... When you feel the true downside of too much liberal policy, maybe you will once again feel proud to be American!

Not in my Chicago...

Nope, won't happen. We're too busy being angry at each other to care what's going on with the human race in Chicago - or anywhere else for that matter. Some of us might be better off in the streets of Baghdad, Iraq or Kandahar, Afgahnistan with the way we treat each other sometimes because at least we know the powdwer keg is gonna blow sky high. Instead, we walk on eggshells and look at each other and anyone else who is different with complete and utter discontent. Powder keg? What powder keg?

Mary: I'd call the movers and send for your stuff and hang out up there for a while. It sounds like you have real, true to life human beings up there where you were/are. I've been to Canada also, to St. John's, Newfoundland and Gander. I got the same treatment - as a black man from Chicago, just passing through. It seems that racism is THE thing going on in Chicago, and that's what I'll always remember when I visit in the future. We're the greatest and strongest nation on the planet but we can't get past this racism thing. Richard Pryor said it best in one of his standups: "racism? That's bad news jack and I hope one day America gives that s*** up." Divide and conquer - find the source and stamp it out, or be condemned to repeat the ignorance of the past. You can get with this or you can step back because not knowing any better in the 21st century is no excuse. Food for thought - like turkey on Thanksgiving, seconds anyone?

I liked London, Canada as well. I visited there a few years ago,and I found the people there to be friendly. I don't know why America is so hostil. Maybe it's the water.

Indians. what the f- mary you are so considerate talking about race your ignorance astounds me. Indians walking with long dressess . I beleive they are Hindus just because their country is India they are not Indians and they are not from Indiana


My daughter-in-law is from India. She isn't Hindu. She's not offended. You're not the one to call someone ignorant.

Christina, just nosy, when you where in Germany did you ask them if they liked paying $6 a gallon for gas? Did you ask them if they enjoyed there near 12% unemployment rate? And if I asked you if its true about blacks being drug-dealers, etc. you would accusing me of profiling , stereotyping, and being insensitive. Am I right?

Mary, remind Martin that yes Hinduism is the largest religion in India, but that India has the 2nd largest Islam (behind Indonesia) population in the world, a huge Christianity base, a large Sikh population, and the largest middle-class in the world. And last year they graduated more engineers than America did.

I want to comment on the article you did on the Toronto AIDS conference which neither Jackson, Bond, the new lady at the Urban League, Sharpton attended. I went to high school with Phil Wilson of the California Black AIdS Insitute. I just want to say that WE ALL have dropped the ball on this! It's such a shame, I remember writing all of you about this scourge and its potential
f-i-v-e years ago -yet you all ignored save for a patronizing article here or there - most magazines continued to focus on stupid stuff like "how tokeep your man satisifed" when we were dying in droves all across the nation - hardest hit in the South. Now you're quite satisfied to roll the statistics off your tongues so easily as if they are NEW. I am a secretary yet I wrote independently to you, Oprah, Susan Taylor, Hermene Hartmann, saying that I thought EVERY black newspaper,periodical, magazine, all that - needed to be running blurbs on this disease. The politicians, the clergy, the journalist, the everyday black man and woman are guilty of silence when this thing has the potential to render our people extinct. Why can't we demand condoms be provided in the prision industrial complex? We know the link between the communities and prision. My Goddaughter's (16) and mine (49) dating pool is now at 50% HIV positive! I can do abstinence, soon she won't be able to probably. What should I hope for: that she turns gay or dates exclusively outside her race? Black Women 63% of all new cases - we knew that 5 years ago! Kill the seed, no seed, no race. Why don't we get on the ball - we've got to save ourselves -no on else will do it for us. This is NOT a (new) epidemic. Stop trying to act like it is - we better start talking and acting. After I finish my school paper (I'm a student at Roosevelt) I'm circulating a petition for signaytures for condoms in prisons. I feel I have to continue to do something. Like the Africans - we're almost lost and we're ALL to blame for not speaking out but for shame. When will we rise out of this collective low self-esteem and try to help ourselves - Blood on our hands from Katrina, blood on our hands for lack of action with AIDS. As James Brown says "Get up" "Get on the scene".

Savoya Epps
Hyde Park, Illinois

Ms Epps, I understand your angst, but it is mis-directed at the wrong people this time. Many times I have dump on these same individuals you mentioned in your post, it is NOT their fault if others will NOT HEED the WARNING! The bells were ringing LOUDLY!

Also, I agree with your assessment of fluff articles which were being written in mainstream newspapers, African-American centered newspapers and magazines, about other issues instead of droning over and over the exploding AIDS\HIV epidemic within our communities. But too many of us, especially African-American men, kept an 'Urban Myth', this dreaded plague as being a Gay White Man's Disease!

Ms. Epps, sadly while this was being stated, we kept the same sexual lifestyle, and did not vigilantly protect ourselves. This is ONE TIME white people paid attention, and took the initiative to keep AIDS\HIV in check in their communities, if that can be stated.

While many white parents clamored intiially to banned Ryan White (1984) from school, so as not to attend with their kids he eventually became THE poster child for AIDS\HIV awareness. I think we went into denial because it seemed to only affect them at the time. This happens when under constant assualt daily. We simply DID NOT want to believe it could or was happening to us.

Understand one thing Ms. Epps, Black Americans are under attack from all sides that simply waking up, and getting the children off to school and home safely, while making it to work than back home every day is a BLESSING.

We still must be vigilant in gaining knowledge in every endeavor of the larger societial ills and issues, because eventually it trickles down to the poorest people of this nation, but will NOT HELP THEM as they help their own!!

Ms Epps, as another poetic Afro-centric lyricist named Gil Scott Heron stated, "The Revolution Will NOT Be Televised!"

We don't have to watch another Hurricane Katrina's happen right before our eyes, when all HELL is breaking loose right outside our front doors.

It was interesting to read

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