Friday, January 1, 2016


Just out of college, in 1976 (yes, I said 1976), I worked for the Oregon Journal, one of Portland's two daily newspapers. My coworker was a young man by the name of Kwaku, an immigrant from Liberia, and now an American citizen.

The name Kwaku, he told me, meant Thursday in English, and there were a lot of Thursdays in his native country. Roughly, one of every seven people was a Thursday.

The two of us had a desk together and we worked at the very lowest level in the newspaper business, save that of the newspaper delivery boy. I hated the job with a passion. Every six months we would have a review and the assistant city desk editor would ask me if I wanted a career in the newspaper business and I would answer Hell no.

Kwaku was having some trouble with being an American. It wasn't quite what he had expected. And he would come to me as a confidant with questions about the things that were troubling him.

"Why do you hate black people?", he asked.

"I don't hate black people."

"Not you, but Americans. Why do they hate black people."

"Who says they hate black people?"

"Because they made us be slaves."

"But that was more than a hundred years ago"

"But even now, I think they are slaves. People say things, even to my face. But I am an American. Why do they treat me different than the white?"

"For some, you will never be an American," I suggested.

"Just because I am black."

"No, that would be different. It's because you are African."

"But African is black."

"No. African is African."

"But I am an American citizen," he said.

"To some, you'll never be that either."

"But why?"

"Because you're an African."

So it went. We never did get to the bottom of the matter. Eventually, Kwaku left the newspaper for other employment and I left and collected unemployment until I landed my next dead end job. Then I reentered college to seek a Masters Degree for no particular reason. Jimmy Carter left office and Ronald Reagan entered. One could never have imagined Barack Obama in those days. And I never saw nor heard from Kwaku again

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