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Unity is key says Momis as Bougainville mulls referendum

Racism, individualism & making it big in a changing society


IT was near Dupont Circle in Washington DC that I saw the two men - one white, one black - confront each other over a parking space.

They swore at each other for three minutes.

If this was in Papua New Guinea, wantoks would have quickly taken sides and punches exchanged. Rocks and bottles would have followed and a full scale fight ensued.

Here there was no crowd of bystanders. People cast curious glances and went their way as the two men continued to insult each other. Before too long a police vehicle arrived on the scene and sent the two men on their way.

The next day – sharing a taxi with a Malaysian girl – the ageing African American driver threatened to cut up a young white man driving a red car with Virginia number plates.

We were just about to turn on to a four-lane highway when the white man nearly smashed his car into us. If he did, the driver’s side would have taken the impact.

Understandably upset, the cabbie shouted at the other driver to stop. Instead, he made a rude sign with his fingers and drove on down the highway. This made the old man angrier - me too – and we charged down the highway in hot pursuit.

“I know how to handle him. I’m 56 but I can still do it. You know these white guys, they still think they’re teaching the black man,” the cabbie fumed.

“They’re racist. I’ve been fighting against a long time. If I wasn’t carrying you guys, I would have done him good. I grew up doing it,” he said.

So saying, he pulled a long knife from under his seat and stabbed the empty air in front of him. The Malaysian girl was terrified. I turned around in my seat and comforted her with a smile.

At the next traffic light, we caught up with the white man, who appeared to be in his early thirties. In an instant, the cabbie raced to the fellow’s car, kicked at it and told him to open up.

“You see this?” the Negro said, flourishing the knife. “Now, come on, be a man, open up,” he demanded.

The cabbie tried to force open the window of the red car but fortunately the lights turned to green and the car took off like a crimson streak. It overtook several cars before turning into a side road.

“That should teach him a lesson,” the cabbie commented. “I didn’t get him but somebody else will do it for me.

“Sooner or later he’ll smash into somebody else. Believe me he will, and that somebody will beat him up. That fellow could have killed us. Life is precious. People should enjoy it.”

We finally arrived at our destination and parted company with this tough old guy.

“Goodbye son, have a nice day,” he waved.

I don’t need to tell you that race is a big issue in the United States. Real big.

“One reason we’re having problems now with this ultra ultra conservative person is because he doesn’t know our history,” according to Arthur E Thomas, president of the mostly black Central State University.

“He thinks black folks came here to serve white folks as slaves. He doesn’t know there were highly complex civilisations in Africa when Europe was still uncivilised.

“When Central State gets less than one percent of the higher education budget, it’s not a money issue, it’s a race issue.”

Many foreigners I met in America agreed that racism was a problem the country had to shake off.

“They are still racists,” said a long-time resident. “They are still conscious of their backgrounds.”

But most Americans don’t see it that way. To them, racism is a tiny grain of sand.

Retired African American judge, Del Rio, one of the organisers of a 1960s civil rights demonstration in Detroit in which Dr Martin Luther King Jr took part, says marches are no longer viable for blacks to achieve success today.

“Marches were useful to express our frustration and to attempt to avert riots,” Rio says. But the drivers are different today. “We have to learn that economics is the way to freedom and that the way to economics is through education.”

People like Dr King, Judge Rio and others have been great leaders and role models for enterprising African Americans.

Rio started his life literally in a trash can where his mother had abandoned him shortly after birth. He studied and worked hard and became a real estate tycoon before the age of 30.

He was successful in politics and was admitted to the Michigan Bar and later elected as a Judge of Detroit’s Recorder’s Court. In 1991, he was driving around in a zippy convertible or in the comfort of his chauffeur-driven limousine.

Del Rio had found the system to be no handicap at all.

It is hard for Papua New Guineans to emulate people like Del Rio because of our culture and way of life. His kind of success was possible because he was not responsible for the welfare of those around him.

Traditionally, Papua New Guineans share their fortnightly pay or business profits with wantoks.

Leaders in traditional PNG society were those who shared wealth with their people to maintain authority and influence.

In western society, people tend to be individualistic. They work to achieve success for themselves and their immediate families.

It’s perhaps not surprising that more prosperous and educated Papua New Guineans are beginning to live for themselves and the success of their own immediate family members.

Our times are a-changing too.


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Bessielah David

Great comparison. A good read.

Philip G Kaupa

Good connections I relate. But we are culturaly orientated and you've referenced it carefully. As usual Daniel, I enjoyed the read.

Chris Overland

Once again, Daniel has succeeded in highlighting an extremely important but often poorly understood point, which is the impact of culture upon how quickly and successfully a society makes the transition from a traditional socio-economic structure to modernity.

By modernity, I mean a culture that retains the most important aspects of its traditional culture whilst simultaneously modifying or simply abandoning those which are inconsistent with an increasingly homogenised and internationalised liberal capitalist system.

The so-called western world has managed this change process over a very long period of nearly a millennia, although the most profound changes have occurred within the last 200 years or so.

There are examples of incredibly rapid transitions by hitherto traditional societies, with Japan and China being spectacular examples.

They had the advantage of already sophisticated socio-political structures, a written language and some very high level technological expertise in things like metal work, architecture, engineering and ceramics.

Less advanced societies in Africa have found the process either far more protracted and difficult or, in some cases, are now "failed states", having been unable to escape from the strictures of their traditions, especially tribalism and sometimes associated religious conflict.

PNG has, thus far at least, struggled with the transition, with both encouraging and discouraging developments being evident.

My guess is that its future is still very much in the balance.

As Daniel suggests, it is a question of whether traditional collectivism will be either replaced by the individualism that is fostered by the liberal capitalist system or, more likely, some variant that allows room for individual endeavour but does not utterly abandon the traditional strong extended family ties.

This transition thus is a major challenge for PNG and will probably determine whether it reaches its full potential or subsides into the status of a failed state.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Been to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and all of Dr. King's speeches were there to watch and listen to at a click of a button.

There is a bit of a change in the US now. The Hispanics, Mexicans and Cubans are badly treated than the Negroes nowadays.

In 2008, Dr. Carson was awarded the Presidential medal and Obama was also the President-elect. The Negroes have risen from the dust.

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