America was the Promised Land, once. That of opportunity and freedom, equality and justice. Perhaps it never was these things except in fiction, but like a doctrine that fiction soaked through the people of the world. There were those who denied it, and those who raged against it; but most of us longed for it, either to travel there to have it, or to recreate it in our own home lands.
Perhaps it was flawed, this idea of freedom; perhaps there was simply too much profit to be had if it failed; but the Great American experiment did fail. The country consumed itself, its soul auctioned off.
Of course, I knew none of this when I arrived, full of foolish excitement. I visited Hollywood first, that land of starlets and bright life more vibrant than anywhere else. It had decayed, shriveling like an apple eaten from the inside by a worm.
I stepped over the stars on the sidewalk, careful to avoid the large cracks in the pavement running through them, wary of whatever bad luck this place held. Three young men moved down the sidewalk towards me, and while the dim light from the only street lamp in a block didn’t show it at first, as we neared it I knew they were dressed all in blue.
The three of them walked shoulder to shoulder down the sidewalk. I crowded the wall to let them by me; they didn’t funnel passed me, but curled around, like a constrictor lazy from an earlier feast. The tallest of the men stood over me, smiling with an expression that was anything but friendly and spoke: “You aren’t representing. How are we supposed to know if you’re friend or foe?”
I furrowed my brow, my thinking crowded as they moved closer. “Are you my brother?” He was close enough I could smell his dinner on his breath, pizza with olives enough to choke a toucan. I opened my mouth, ready to explain that this was unlikely, as most of my family had stayed in South America (discounting of course those who had never left Portugal), when I realized that was not what he was asking.
“Are you black?” he asked plainly, even slowly, understanding for the first time he was not understood.
I blinked at him. “No.” His companions grabbed my arms, suddenly, and violently, and he smashed his knuckles into the base of my rib cage. I lost my air, and my stomach continued to convulse until I vomited onto his shoes. They hauled me up by my armpits and slapped me against the wall. He wrapped his hands around my throat and knocked my head against the wall, and when he let go, I finished the thought, “I’m not black.”
My defiance was strong enough it confused him, and he looked me up and down thoughtfully. “Shit. You’re as dark as I am, and I’m proud to be a black man. Why aren’t you?”
“Because,” I said simply, trying to iron all distemper from my voice, “I am white. And I’m proud to be white.” He reared back on his leg, and kicked me in the crotch; his companions let go at the same moment, and the force of it smashed me against the wall, after which I collapsed to the ground.
“You want to be white?” He sliced the guide-wire on the only light on the street; to my surprise it didn’t fall. He wrapped the wire around his forearm, tied a knot and flung the wire over the top of the light, and it came to rest just above my eye level. He smiled, and stared down at me through the slipshod noose he’d tied, “We’ll show you how we treat whitey around here.”