June 19: Rest day in Grand Rapids - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 19: Rest day in Grand Rapids

FOR ALL THAT America is a multiracial society, it is not an integrated society. It has been, on almost all our travels, a white society. Black faces have been rare and days can pass without seeing more than one or two,

Black faces have been limited to cities. Rochester, Cleveland and Chicago, they all had black faces. The president is black but the rest of authority we have encountered, right down to the clerk in town halls, has been white. That surprised us.

And Indians have been rare to the point of non-existence. It is hard to analyse a face dependably but, with the wildest generosity, I have seen no Indian faces outside the one reservation we have been through. Explanations of old Indian culture such as we have seen in museums and at historical sites, portray the original Americans as peaceful, contented folk of inner strength and wisdom who asked nothing but to be left alone. Tribal chiefs in full feather are uniquely strong-featured, handsome and imposing men of apparent solid sense. They are always portrayed in half-profile, to exaggerate this appearance.

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I wonder if I feel a sense of guilt is portrayed in all this. Is overcompensation at work? Not all Indian chiefs can have been handsome. The few photos make it clear they were not. But then this, I notice too, is a land where Jesus is always pictured as a white man and not infrequently has blue eyes.

This all comes to mind because of the couple of hours we spent in the museum in Grand Rapids, a place full of exhibits of ordinary lives and also of the loggers and paper-makers who created the town and of the Indians who lived there before them. The tale of the Indians is fascinating, often moving, not least the tale of how, when the Indians realised that the white negotiators facing them included a clergyman, made the white men swear four times on a Bible that they would stick to their agreement. And, believing them, they signed. And they were promptly defrauded.

America, to my eyes, was and remains a complex society. I merely observe. I cannot pretend to understand.

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