This past week, I was having a Coke with my friend, Prosperity. He is educated, employed, Anglophone and thoroughly modern. He is also openly curious about American life. Whenever we get together we usually discuss politics and culture. One conversation led to him detailing how he has heard that America is very violent, that if he was to go there “I should fear taking a bullet at any moment.” I pointed out that I think Cameroon is just as crime ridden or worse, the difference is that the government doesn’t report on it. And if they do, the numbers are only a weak reflection of reality. I followed that up by explaining how increasingly prideful I am of Americans because when we don’t like something, we collectively or individually do something about it, reflecting on the riots in Ferguson over the killing of Michael Brown or the countless volunteers delivering water to people who are going without in Detroit as the city government takes drastic measures to balance it’s debts. As Americans, we do something about it when we don’t like a situation. We have hubris.
Inscribed on Cameroonian governmental signs, after the name or function of the building are three words that translate roughly into “peace, work, patriarchy”. This is their mantra, their motto. After a year of living here, I can attest to the “peace” part. Cameroonians have one of the longest running histories of peace in Africa, guns are very tightly controlled here, and I do not see men fighting here. Sure, they yell and wave their hands enthusiastically, but they seldom outright hit eachother (note: this excludes family members. Cameroonians still apply corporal punishment among family members, wife or child). When I meet Cameroonians, one of the first things they bring up is their pride in how stably peaceful the country is. To counter that, things are not perfect here, Cameroon is one of the most corrupt countries, regularly noted by Transparency International. Human Rights are violated here with little fear of repercussion, and Boko Haram is cementing their foothold of terror in the North everyday. But almost no one fears being shot to death on accident or on purpose.
If a person used the New York Times headlines to judge the level of peace in America, Prosperity would not be wrong to believe America is a place teeming with crime. America is facing an epidemic of racially charged gun violence, no one can deny that. Walking home, I acknowledged that America was violently created through the genocide of indigenous Americans and then industrialized through slavery. Violence is at the core of American culture. We shouldn’t be prideful of that. In fact, I think our leaders and people should demand reparations
But the question remains: Do we want non-Americans to view us first as a crime ridden, violent country? Will we allow that to be our legacy?