A Turk Talks Atlanta: Another Perspective of Race and America

Weary Self-Portrait 2

Wear Self-Portrait 2 (Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

On Wednesday, September 10, 2014, I boarded the MARTA train here in Atlanta heading home from teaching a morning class and having a brief meeting with a professor. When I entered the train station, the humidity was overpowering. A man in a business suit that appeared to me to be either Arab or Turkish, pulled off his jacket. He looked at me and smiled and said in a thick accent, “HOT-LANTA is not just a nickname, eh?”

We laughed and began to exchange pleasantries about the weather and the city. He informed me that he has to travel all around the United States quite a bit, but he said something that struck me.

He said rather seriously, “Your young people, the students and the school children, are so much more polite and friendly. They are nowhere near as noisy or ill mannered as I have seen in so many other cities around the country. I like Atlanta, except for these humid days.”

We laughed as we both boarded the southbound train. I asked him where he was from. He was originally from Turkey. Then I asked him why he thought Atlanta students were so much quieter. He said that in some places around the world, people consider Americans to be rather loud or at least that is the general stereotype. “In fact,” he said, “I saw a restaurant once with a sign that said, No Loud Americans, please.”

He saw a look on my face that suggested to him that I had another question. He said, “I am always flying in to the Atlanta airport and taking your train to downtown, and almost all the kids and young people I see are Black and polite. Some of them dress funny, but all have been friendly and rather quiet compared to what I have seen elsewhere.”

I had to scratch my head. For while I deal with large numbers of respectable, hard-working young Black students all the time, the perception from many quarters of Atlanta and throughout the United States is that to be in the company of young Black people means you will be constantly annoyed by loud music and loud conversation. Truthfully, I have encountered loud and rude behavior from young folks of all races and ethnicities right here in Atlanta, but it has not been nearly as severe or as often as some people might think.

This Turkish man taught me something about perspective and why I am glad I now strongly insist that my students and friends read foreign news reports as often as possible. The view from some place else is not the same as when you routinely see the same folks all the time, even when those folks are your own people.

Importantly, this Turkish man decided to look at Atlanta and Black people with eyes and ears that have not been trained to only focus on the disasters that are regularly reported on the six o’clock news. He has been observant enough to notice that when people encountered Americans overseas who were loud, that the loud American—stereotype or not—was not a racial stereotype, but a national one.

In the weeks and months ahead as we Black folk all process so much of the bad news about domestic abuse, gender discrimination, racial profiling, violence and war, I hope that we remember that perspectives about who and what we are as a people are not always as negative as the pundits would have us believe.  I hope we also realize that the constant worry about our image is unnecessary.  People here and around the globe are either intelligent enough and informed enough to form a reasonable opinion or they are not.  No degree of sugar-coating or covering up anything will change perspectives in the United States or abroad.

Yet, I also hope we remember that the perspectives of people who are on the outside looking in, who do not live with us constantly, have much to tell us if we bother to listen to and look for those perspectives. Yet, the only way to listen to those perspectives and look for those other opinions abroad is to make sure we are not the loud and brass Americans that only think our perspectives matter.  Peace.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen & is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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4 thoughts on “A Turk Talks Atlanta: Another Perspective of Race and America

    • Hey, I agree Brother Michael. Yet, I want our brothers and sisters to start paying more attention to folks on the other side of the globe in the same manner as they pay attention to us! We have allies that we have not tapped yet!

  1. Joy, Thanks, I needed this. My brother and sister-in law experienced something similar in Paris about two years ago. Again, thanks. Judi

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