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A Modest Proposal

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We live in the time of lies. The Media have taught us that the slide from advertising to propaganda is really just a matter of meaningless words. The Media also demonstrated that a lie, said with conviction and repeated a few times, becomes accepted fact. We, the people, accept that where there is smoke there must be fire. Oh yeah?

And yet we humans are more confused than ever. We drown in the lies from the right and the left, up and down and sideways. Nobody knows what to believe anymore, so we seek refuge in the voices of the people who we think are like us, or pretty, or rich, or... As the financial system that blossomed the first eight years of this century, based as it is on fictions about illusions, greed, and confusion, we don't know who we are any more. Pollsters talk about "demographics" by which they mean slices of the total population that are supposed to think alike, have the same prejudices and preferences.

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I have no idea what demography I fit in. Do you? My skin is called white, although it is very visibly red. Not even pink, but bright red. My parents were Dutch, my mother Mennonite, my father racially a Jew, but religiously nothing. I grew up in a very small town in Indonesia. All my friends were shades of brown, from the light beige of boys and girls who had a Chinese forefather or -mother, to dark brown of kids who had ancestors from one of the dozens of "tribes" living in the interior of Sumatra. I was often the only "white," so spent as many hours of sunlight as I could in the sun. I became as brown as my friends. Now I pay for that with about all the skin diseases there are.

Once, on a plane from Singapore to London I sat next to a very beautiful Chinese woman- from Singapore, I assumed. My assumption was wrong; her speech was high Oxford British: born and raised in England, this had been her first trip to "the Orient." She said, "I feel like I am white in a yellow skin." I laughed, because I was going to say I have a white skin but a brown soul. Now, many years later, living in several countries, and getting to know people all over the world, traveling a few million miles, this is what I discovered. We are everywhere. Mixed people, racially mixed, culturally mixed, mixed up... Or, to say it another way, there are very few pure anything people left in the world.

When my boys were in school, here in Hawai'i, one of them asked me with some concern, "What are we, really?" I was not sure what he meant. He clarified, "You know, all the kids in my school are Japanese/Korean, or Samoan/Hawaiian. We are just haole?" Haole is a Hawaiian word, which originally meant stranger, visitor, now used almost exclusively for white, "Caucasian" (isn't that weird, that white skins are supposed to come from the Black Sea?) I assured my sons that we were haole, but my mother was Dutch, Mennonite, my father, their grandfather, was Jewish, and it is probably almost impossible to find Dutch people who do not have a grandmother or great grandmother from one of the colonies, people who were black, brown, or a mixture. My son was much relieved. That is what all of us are by now: mixed. Pure whites are a minority in the world, and probably in this country, if we were honest about our ancestry!

Hawaiian, and several other languages, have more than one word for 'We."

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There is we: you and I.

Or: we, all of you and I.

Or we, but excluding you: for instance, we old men when talking to a young man.

I want to add another WE, meaning you and I and everyone else in a larger "demography." Like, we humans-regardless of skin color, shape of eye, color and kind of hair, political ideas, customs, religion, age, gender, ethnicity and other new and useless words.

We confuse ourselves when we try to be nice and are careful to say African/American, Eskimo/American, Latin American - or am I now supposed to say Latino? - how about Estonian/American, Burkina Faso/American. All it does is emphasize differences our culture tells us to be aware of.

On another trip I was the last passenger huffing with my carry-on, the steward closing the door as I stepped on board. The plane was small, less than a hundred people, and as I looked up I did not see any empty seats. Looked again, there was an empty seat way in the back right next to the toilet. Oh, and a little down the aisle another empty seat. I stowed my carry-on and sat down. The stewardess was telling us about the oxygen system, a story we have all heard a hundred times, I smiled at my neighbor who looked back at me angrily, it seemed. He said, "Why did you choose this seat?" Before I could even answer, he said, "It is because I'm black, isn't it?"

My first reaction was "Oh, are you?" but I did not say anything, just smiled.

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But he wouldn't let go. "I am black, you know."

"Yes, you told me."

"Isn't that why you sat here?"

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robert wolff lived on the Big Island, called Hawai'i

his website is He passed away in late 2015. He was born in 1925, was Dutch, spoke, Dutch, Malay, English and spent time living and getting to know Malaysian Aborigines. He authored numerous books including What it Is To Be Human, (more...)

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