Monday, July 29, 2013

"Bourgeois Blues," by Jake Lamar

Jake Lamar has an infectious smile, a way with words, and a million creative ideas.  That's what I felt when I met him earlier this year in a little Paris cafĂ©.  Through my work at Africa Regional Services, an office of the State Department based in Paris, we'd been trying to recruit Jake to travel to Africa to do programming through our U.S. Embassies.

Meeting Jake, and finding him so interesting, I decided I'd better learn his work.  What better way to start than with his first book, "Bourgeois Blues:  An American Memoir."  Jake's book takes us back to his early childhood years, and makes the mom in me wish that I could have thrown my arms around that kid and held him tight when he was intimidated by so many of those around him.  It also rekindled my own uncertainties about how we white people treat those around us who are not white, but not just that, also how we treat people of different social and economic standing, the disabled, and the list could go on and on.

As a white woman who loves Africa and wants to keep working on African issues and learning more about the continent in all its diversity; and as someone who grew up in a fairly homogenous town, with even more homogenous roots, I've often grappled with the same issues that Jake brings up, but that he, naturally, approaches from a different perspective.

I felt that a lot of the tension from these unanswered questions was aptly illustrated in this excerpt of a conversation between Jake and his white ex-girlfriend.  "Kate started talking about her new boyfriend.  He was someone she'd gone out with years earlier, and after being reunited for several months they were getting serious.  She told me about taking Jim to a beach she and I used to visit. 'We were looking for a good spot,' Kate said, 'and I kept thinking, Something's different here, something's weird.  Like there was some aspect of being at the beach that seemed... I don't know... absent.  Then I realized what it was:  Nobody was staring at us.'  

I laughed. 'That must have been a relief.'  
'Actually, I kind of missed it.'"

Race is complicated, a fraught issue that is so sensitive and pushes people's buttons so quickly that we're usually afraid to talk about it.  But recent events make a little self-examination even more necessary, and I'm grateful to Jake Lamar for giving me an interesting story as a context from which to launch further introspection.