The first time I saw David Bowie, Trent Reznor was chasing him.
Not in a for musical glory sense but literally.
The guy was chasing after Bowie like some 90’s thriller.
Fitting since it was 1996.
Through a Buzzworthy Track on a MTV that still baked the majority of its bread from music videos, David Bowie was being stalked and chased by the Nine Inch Nails frontman.
Needless to say, the catchy bleep blops that rhythmically punctured the song—this was the popular Reznor Photek version and not Brian Eno’s original—and the head scratching chorus of “I’m Afraid Of Americans,” had me both perplexed and hooked.
When a 12-year-old black kid whose family was rooted in the Southern COGIC Religion hears the words “ God Is An American,” his naive religious tension rises.
“I’m going to hell for listening to this,” I cried.
That remains to be seen.
I wish I could say that it’s the passing of Mr. Bowie that has me reminiscing about the song. And make no mistake, his death is still a razorbalde Jolly Rancher that’s hard to swallow. But honestly “I’m Afraid Of Americans” has been playing in my head on repeat because 20 plus years later, I find myself neither frightened at the prospect of hell due to controversial thoughts in a Christian Home.
I’m actually afraid of Americans.
Forgive me for pulling an “not all men” defense here, but when I say Americans, I don’t necessarily mean all Americans. Saying that would also mean that I’m afraid of myself.
I have a range of feelings concerning myself, most of them somewhere between, “Hey, I’m an alright fella,” to “Oh you blundering ogre idiot.”
Fear isn’t in that range.
It thrives within another.
When it comes to Americans, there’s a specific kind to pinpoint.
These Americans are usually white.
They are usually archaic in either age or their ideals.
These Americans drive with their SUVS, Hummers, and big ole white Pick-Up Trucks, sporting a Trump Bumper Sticker, Jesus Fish, or just the an entire American Flag.
They wear their supposed patriotism not on their sleeves but completely smother themselves within it though the very fabric may be tattered and torn with nationlism and paranoia for those that don’t look like them.
Their eyes glare at anyone who would dare take a knee instead of place their hand over their heart during the high school football or soccer games their kids play in.
These Americans say brother to their black coworkers or church members while hissing nigger at their pants-sagging nappy haired children.
Their children absorb and manipulate other cultures while decrying those very same cultures as inferior on social media.
These Americans are too tuned into Fox News or worse, their Facebook New Feeds rather than actual legit or at the very least, reputable news sources.
These citizens look at protests like Black Lives Matter or the Women’s March not as fights for equality or fights against a system that brandishes injustice, but rather see them as troublemakers, whiners, and people who should be grateful for the status quo.
These Americans defend against punching Nazis.
And finally, these Americans that I speak of, that to me are truly my own personal boogeymen look at the recent actions of their president not as rocket ship towards Facism or World War III but as safety and loyalty.
To paraphrase Bowie I’m Afraid of Americans. And I’m afraid I can’t help it.
I’m afraid of anyone who brandishes our American Flag now because it only reminds me of anyone who brandishes the southern flag.
I’ve spent years hearing of that flag’s defenders here say that it isn’t a symbol of hate but of rebellion and tradition despite it already being tainted with the blood of countless Blacks and Native Americans.
It’s messed up as technically, just as I am a southern, I’m also an American. And just as there are things about the south I adore—the concept of Southern Hospitality, the food—there’s so much to love about this country. But just as with the area, I’m not meant to be the prime recipient of all that’s supposed to be great. Ironically, to many, mostly white folks, I’m targeted as a reminder of what’s wrong.
Or maybe I’m just a constant reminder of what their ancestors did wrong.
No one likes to be reminded of the past when it’s filled with guilt mind fields, especially America.
I’m often told that dwelling in the past gets in the way of swimming towards progress. However no one seems to keep in mind that stubbornly moving along without addressing the anchor will only cause you to sink no matter how hard you swim.
The proclamation of Freedom of Expression and the right to rock certain symbols and Flags is always invaded any hint of protest from me and probably every other person of color having to deal with racism’s multi-layered forms.
Because let’s face it, Racism is a rotten onion often thrown at our heads.
But for every declaration or admitted bondage to “Da 1st Admendment,” you never hear important variables that need to be dissected.
Your Right To Free Speech is fine and dandy on paper, but what if that speech includes hate?
And what if a symbol that started off as a romantic ideal instead became perverted by the actions of those who still drape themselves in it like a well worn blanket?
This is my problem with the American Flag currently. A cloth I’ve been indoctrinated to pledge allegiance to since I was five.
It is supposed to be a symbol of what makes America so great. But the fine print to that is that whatever greatness it contains, I’m not meant for it. But the burden of gratefulness for its existence and how it’s supposed to correlate with my own existence in this country even though it fails me in that regard, is still placed upon me.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire what it was supposed to represent. What it was supposed to mean. And to those that rock it because it has a deeper meaning for them devoid of hate, I respect.
That being said instead of looking at someone’s bumper sticker of the flag, or if they’re so bold, placement of the cloth in the back of their pick-up truck, my immediate thought isn’t “Oh, this person loves their country.” It’s “Oh, this person probably detests me.”
I shouldn’t think that.
I shouldn’t have to at all.
But when you’re constantly reminded just how meaningless your life is in this country, how no matter the quality of your actions or character, that you are seen as less than human, I have to think that way.
I have to be wary.
I have to survive.
And if I’m lucky enough, figure how to evolve that survival into living, because there is a key difference between the two.
It feels as though I have to be afraid of Americans because I don’t have a choice.
I don’t know how Bowie would feel about me relating his song to this personal fear. I mean, when he wrote it, the tune was more of a comment on the invasion of American ways, culture,and corporatism to the rest of the world.
I would like to think given how sharp of man he seemed, if performing now, he’d realize that the song can have a completely different yet relateable meaning.