Andi Osho on Saturday Live (Dec 20 ) talked about how people of colour are often stereotyped not necessarily in a bad way but with little room for individuality. I’m writing my memoir and I recalled this incident from 1980 when Atam and I had a sabbatical in the Mid -West at Champaign /Urbana .The twin-town appeared well integrated so the story I tell now came as a big surprise to me.
Atam invited two black professors to dinner, Professor James (Jim) D. Anderson and a much older colleague who had been given the opportunity to go to university after fighting in WW2. Our little flat was only part furnished. We had supplemented it with a few garage sale purchases but I felt I should apologise to them.
‘I’m sorry the surroundings aren’t elegant. If you ever come to Oxford I’ll make up for it.’
Their response shook me,
‘You shouldn’t apologise. You are the first white woman to invite us to dinner.’
Jim gave us a copy of a break-through just published book called Drylongso: A Self Portrait of Black America. I came to understand how black people were rarely seen as individuals – but were nearly always stereotyped. In the UK, people of any colour can face prejudice but in the USA it was different. It became clear to me that Atam would find fewer obstacles than in England. The reality for black people in the States was in an altogether tougher league. The country had not and has not, even now, rid itself of the legacy of slavery. Unless it takes a lesson from Bishop Desmond Tutu and has a commission for truth and reconciliation, I’m not sure it ever will.