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.

Saying Goodbye to Gayleatha

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I learned late on Monday, 17 June 2013 that one of my Aunt Minnie Belle Veal’s protégées passed this April 2013.  She was Ambassador Gayleatha Beatrice Brown (June 20, 1947 to April 19, 2013).

A Howard University alumna, “Gay,” as I called her, was the first person I knew that worked for Randall Robinson’s TransAfrica, the first person who wore braids before they became popular. In her usual “I-will-not-have-any-of-it” style, my “Aunt Beh Beh” (Minnie Belle Veal) drove from Edison, New Jersey, all the way to Gay’s graduate school, the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, after someone there mildly suggested that Gay, a Black girl from a working class family in New Jersey, should not seriously consider a career in Foreign Service.  And then—with the hell-and-be-damned-with-you that is the best of Black America—she became a diplomat and later an ambassador.

I remember her as someone who loved my Aunt Minnie Belle more than life.  The book she gave Auntie in 1969 was The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.  I ended up reading the copy of the book she left for my Aunt.  I remember Gay as someone who liked her eggs scrambled hard, like me.  I fixed them several times for her and myself on one of the extended visits to Atlanta that she took with my Aunt Beh Beh.  The last time I saw her both of my parents were still alive, but my Aunt Minnie Belle had just passed and Gay had arrived for her funeral.  Now, all of them are gone. 

In the usual routine of graduate students and, I guess, members of the foreign service, Gay and I lost contact with each other due to moving around.  She quickly went from being a U. S.  Diplomat in France to her later years when she served as Ambassador to two countries on the continent of Africa, Burkina Faso and then later Benin.

I received an email earlier in the day from a former female student of mine.  This student was about to embark on studies that are not so traditional for women in general, to say nothing of Black women.  Later in the evening I decided to look up Gayleatha on the Internet.  I had found her before and quickly forwarded the hyperlinks.  This time I found her again, but what came up first was her obituary and the Funeral Service for Gayleatha Brown, which I did not expect.  I thought about my Dad, who has been gone now for twenty-six years, who was as proud of Gayleatha as he was of his sister Minnie Belle.  As my head raced, my first impulse, in the wee hours of the morning, was to call Mama to tell her that Gayleatha was dead.  It dawned on me, as I reached for the phone, that Mama was also gone.

With the exception of a few cousins on my Dad’s side of the family, most of the people that I knew whom Gay’s passing would upset, have already passed on themselves.  I would tell you how I am holding my chin up, trusting in God and all of the usual stuff that people say at a time like this.  However, I have had about as much death as I care to take in one year.

I lost Mama, a beloved cousin; and while I have two loving families, I had a couple of family members who decided that I made a good emotional punching bag since they could not vent their dissatisfaction with themselves on anyone else.  Additionally, someone who I thought was a friend proved to be anything but one.

Now, I know that I have not earned this and that I have no control over any of this.  And in spite of how truly bad I feel, late Monday into the wee hours of Tuesday morning were not completely awful.  After all, I heard from a former student who is planning to study and do great things; and I made a quick acquaintance of a Vassar College Professor who likes my blog and who does his own bit of social commentary.  I just wish that the day had ended on a better note.  Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that I learned of her passing, I remain grateful to have known Gay.

So, all I ask is that you pray for the family of the late Ambassador Gayleatha Beatrice Brown.  Pray for my students and for all young people who desperately need her example to do the kind of work we all need them to do.  As for me, I am, right now, not much in the mood for anything.   And I make no apologies.  That is just the way it is, for now.

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

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Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and 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 stated as the author.