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"What's the reason for the policy?" Arthur asked.
"Just the obvious," Steve replied. "A feeling that the ethnic, racial and religious pressures, whatever they are, are such that a man would be disposed to prejudge a situation on the basis of his heritage and not make an altogether balanced determination."
"That means," Arthur said, "that the fact that blacks can serve in Africa shows that officially the U.S. Government does not consider that blacks are significantly tied emotionally or ethnically to Africa. Is that right?"
"Well, yes," Steve said. "That's right."
"Hmm, now that's interesting," Arthur said. "That's really interesting." Then he slapped his knee with enthusiasm. "Dammit," he screeched, "this is incredible. I find every conversation on this trip, every encounter, more enlightening than the last one. It's unbelievable."
It was, all along, a deep learning experience for him. He had traveled the world, playing tennis in scores of countries, but the one place he had never been to before was Africa. It was almost predictable that he would be alternately enraptured and puzzled by the place and that he would not be quite what Africa expected either. Across a misinformation gap he faced down some journalism students in Nairobi. He was trying to explain how reality could clash with imagery.
"You see," Arthur told them, "I would say that virtually anyone in America 20 years old or older has formed most of his impressions about Africa from the movies." A couple of the girls giggled. Others looked annoyed at him, as if he were trying to put them on. "And that's mostly from Tarzan," he went on. Obviously, now it was all a transparent joke, so the whole audience broke up.
Arthur added a sharper teacher's tone to his voice. "Hey listen, I'm being serious. Don't you understand that? I'm being serious. And you know what most of the natives are like in Tarzan, don't you? Well, that's who you are to most Americans over 20." The laughter died. The smiles faded.
"You see," Arthur said, "that's what you're conditioned to accept if that's all you see, all you're told. That's Africa to you for your whole childhood, maybe your whole life." Some of the young people looked stunned. "That's not all. Some things you just don't hear about at all. Do you know that until a few years ago I had never heard of Marcus Garvey or William DuBois? Never heard of them." Now the kids just looked at him bewildered until a mixture of nervous laughter and soft sighs filled the room.
"Now," Arthur said, "suddenly every educated black in the United States is caught in the cultural and mental revolution which has Africa as the geographical Mecca. But you see, a lot of blacks are identifying with Africa even if they don't know what Africa is all about." The kids nodded, but I don't know if they understood him. Hair-straightening treatments, for $5 or $6, are still popular in Africa. Creams to lighten the color of the skin also are still big sellers. "Hey, this would shake up a few people back home," Arthur said, laughing when he saw a full-page ad for skin lightener in a magazine. When Arthur heard that there was still slavery in Uganda, he registered deep shock, but he seemed just as amazed to learn that students and professors alike often had only a casual interest in early African history.