Visiting Turk Says of Americans: Even Angels Can Go Wrong

Visiting Turk Says of Americans: Even Angels Can Go Wrong 
Sunday Journal and Sentinel 
Rahşan Ecevit Arşivi 
Journal Sunday and Sentinel

Winston-Salem, N. C., Sunday Morning, January 9, 1955

Visiting Turk Says of Americans: Even Angels Can Go Wrong

By Bulend Ecevit

Guest Writer from Turkey

I MAY OFTEN wonder in the future whether Winston-Salem has been real or just a dream. I know that there will be times when it will seem too good to have been real.

I arrived here with a lot of misconceptions about America and her people—the same sort of misconceptions that almost any visitor from Europe brings with him to this country.

My misconceptions had been shaken a little but not dispelled during my brief stays in New York and Washington on my way here. Now I have gotten rid of them all.

That does not necessarily imply that my impressions have all been favorable.

But since my unfavorable impressions have been formed through first-hand experience, I do not regard them as misconceptions, though I am ready to admit that this may be unfair on the part of a visitor who has only spent three months in one town in this large country.

Until l arrived in Winston-Salem, there was a curtain, a curtain of machines, if I may call it that, between the people of this country and myself.

The people were hidden behind the windshields of rushing cars, behind the closed doors of subway trains in which I kept losing my way, or else they had become invisible behind slot-machines.

I could buy my food, my dinner and a great many of my needs without speaking to a soul, dealing only with dumb machines, and that made me realize what an important part unmechanized shopping plays in keeping men in constant touch with each other.

My peaceful and dull dealings with machines during my first days in this country made me sad—sadder, perhaps, than I had ever been. I found myself hopelessly isolated and lonely amidst big crowds. The larger the crowd the lonelier I was.

I had not come to this country with romantic prejudices against the machine. In fact, I had even had great hopes in it.

But in America during those first days I became disillusioned with it, and I was afraid.

I was afraid that the American experiment might fail, and if it failed, no hope would remain for men in other parts of the world who, wittingly or unwittingly, were treading in the footsteps of America which led the way in progress—for better or for worse.

I could not see behind the machine-curtain and was afraid that the human soul was withering away here.

Yet I also had my doubts of these fears. I could not bring myself to believe that they could be true and I kept on hoping that I might be able to remove the machine-curtain one day and reach the man behind it —an anxious but stubborn man, as I would like him to be . . . the living, loving, suffering man.

If that happened to me, it would be as pleasant as waking up from a nightmare.

And I woke up from that nightmare on the night of Oct. 9, when I arrived in Winston-Salem. N. C.

As I leave by train for New York this morning, I shall be full of hope for men all over the world—hope that I did not have three months ago on the same day.

The Dark Side Of the Moon

ALL IS NOT bright on the moon, though, There is the other face, the dark face. One-half of the truth about Winston-Salem is as full of light as that face of the moon which one sees. But the other half of the truth about Winston-Salem is as dark as the other face of the moon which one does not see and may safely ignore.

But the dark half may not, should not, be ignored in the case of Winston-Salem, because there is a vital difference between the moon and this town: The moon is not inhabited by men, but this town is.

The dark side of the town is generally referred to as "segregation" or the "color bar" —two terms that I shall not use except in quotation marks, since I regard them as sham, as terms intended to protect tender ears from a more appropriate, yet uglier, term: Racism

It is strange that this nation, which is the greatest conglomeration of races the world has ever known, should be race-conscious— more race-conscious, in fact, than many other nations which can at least trace their origins to a single race. I first became aware of my own race when American authorities classified me as "Caucasian" when issuing me a visa.

It is equally strange that this nation which is so ardently fighting against slavery in the world should try so hard to hold on to the last vestiges of slavery in its own home.

And it is no less strange that America should find herself the most ardent advocate of human rights in the world today while the rights of so many millions of human beings in this country are being disregarded.

There may be scores of social, economic, psychological or Biblical "facts" accounting for the so-called "segregation" or "color bar." But no matter how valid these complicated facts are, none of them can stand up to the simple fact that a human being is a human being whatever his color.

And, especially after having met and been friends with several educated Negroes in this town, I would not give a moment's consideration to the theory that the whites were created as the superior race, and that, accordingly, social inequality between the races is based on natural, God-made inequality.

I cannot take seriously all that well-meant "gradual integration" and "give us time" stuff either. There is nothing unusual or extraordinary about a man being a man-nothing so vague or uncertain about this fact to warrant a "gradual" process of its recognition. One does not need "time" to grant that a human being is a human being.

So the whites should at least stop making excuses, and, as a first step towards atonement, should admit that they are guilty— guilty of refusing to drink from the same fountain as the man who has fought on the same front for the same cause . . . guilty of refusing to travel on the same coach or seat as the man who has been working with equal ardor for a common community. . . . guilty of refusing to pray to God side by side with the man who believes in the same Prophet's teachings . . . guilty of refusing to send his children to the same school as the children of the man who is attached to this country as much as he is . . . and guilty of denying him the right to listen to Beethoven in the only concert hall of the town. . . . And all because of a difference in the color of the skin—a difference that one even ceases to be aware of after a few minutes in an unprejudiced "integrated" company.

Why Is It My Business?

IN THE Nov. 16 issue of the newspaper of the "segregated" school which uses that concert hall there was an editorial on the Supreme Court decision entitled "This Is the Question." This editorial, written by a student, ended in these words:

"The War Between the States is over—we must stop living in the past. Progress moves ever onward, crumbling beneath it the prejudices and differences of the races. Some day, and perhaps not so far in the future, North Carolina, like California and New York, will possess a single, integrated, bi-racial school system. The handwriting is on the wall; the era of the dual school system is ended. Let us accept the Supreme Court Decision gracefully, exchanging racial prejudice for mutual understanding."

I am grateful to the young man or girl who wrote this editorial. I am grateful because he—or she—has been a great help in restoring my confidence in America, in giving me courage to hope that it would not be long before America shall become fully entitled to play the part that she has to play in the world in order to save it from destruction.

This so-called "segregation" or "color-bar" business is not merely America’s own business. It is my business, too, and the business of hundreds of millions of other people like me all over the world who are looking up to America today as their only hope. But an America with a "color bar" cannot fulfill their hopes.

That is why I regard myself entitled to poke my nose into an affair which many a racist would regard as solely his own.

The fact that I can, that I am allowed to do that, is a proof of American democracy and freedom of expression, which is perhaps unique in the world in its almost primitive purity and solidness.

In fact, it may be an excessive adherence to the principles of democracy that forces many an enlightened American who is not a racist himself to respect the prejudices of those who are less enlightened. But in showing such respect to those who do not deserve it, he is disregarding the basic rights of millions of other American citizens.

Another reason for the continuation of this practice of racism may be the current trend of conformism in America, which may, in turn, also have its roots in the respect that individuals here are anxious to show for the feelings of others in their own community.

Blow Them Square

RETURNING to the bright side of the moon, I shall regard Winston-Salem as one community, instead of treating it as two distinct communities as its inhabitants do. Therefore, all that I have to say about this bright side as well as the shades that I fear may be darkening it, goes for both communities. In other words, this is not going to be a "segregated" article.

Among the things that I like about America, that is, about America as far as it's represented by this town since I know so little about the rest of the country, is the willingness with which its people will pitilessly criticize themselves, and accept even the harshest criticisms from strangers without thinking ill of them. ,

I do not know of any people who could be as frank with and about themselves as Americans are. That, of course, is a healthy thing and the sign of a well-founded self-confidence, and gives one reason to hope that no matter how grave mistakes America may make, she will always have a chance of recognizing and undoing them before it is too late.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the dark shades which I shall point to are already recognized by a great many of this community’s inhabitants, and, speaking of America at large, by most of her thinkers and writers.

The most imminent of these dangers is the tendency to carry conformism too far.

One of the best comments that I have come across on this tendency was recently made by the comic-strip artist Schultz, who does "Peanuts."

The wise young boy of that strip, Charlie Brown, was desperately trying to teach infant Linus how to blow a balloon in the proper fashion. It was an ordinary round balloon, but Linus kept blowing it square.

"Balloons are supposed to be ROUND not SQUARE," Charlie Brown chides Linus, but to no avail.

Thereupon Charlie Brown goes and warns Lucy, Linus’ sister:

"I think there’s something wrong with your baby brother. Look. . .He blows square balloons."

And that is enough to put Lucy in a rage.

"Are you out of your mind?" she bellows to her baby brother, "What are you trying to do. . .Disgrace our family?"

And "Oh," she sighs, as she leaves the scene, terribly disheartened, "the humiliation of it all. . .We’ll probably have to move out of the neighborhood."

I do not think that in this story the artist has exaggerated the dangerous point which the tendency to conform has reached in this country. I have met families who were anxious about their children—anxious because they were too bright for their age or grade.

“We don’t want them to be bright," they would say, "we want them to be happy."

Everyone, naturally, has the inclination and right to search for happiness, for a happy and non-frustrated life. But, like everything else, this can be overdone. There could be nothing as dull and uncreative as a completely happy and non-frustrated life.

After all, America owes much of its achievements and success to individuals who could blow square balloons. It will be a great pity if the day comes when you have actually succeeded in making such individuals stop blowing them square. America will probably have lost all its creative power in the process.

And the terrible thing is that you may succeed in this, as you have succeeded in just about everything else that you have attempted. But it may be your final success and achievement.

The Conquest Of Souls

AS IT IS, you are an intelligent, clever and creative people—all these practical and constructive qualities having been topped by an honesty and kind-heartedness that can hardly be equalled in any other part of the world.

The intelligence, cleverness and creative ability of all the peoples of the world seem to have been brought together and naturalized in this one country.

In fact, the trouble with you may be that you are too intelligent, clever and creative to resign yourselves even to a healthy dose of human unhappiness and frustration. You seem to think that since you have had enough intelligence, cleverness and creative ability to harnass the power of the machine and the unruly soil of a young and unexplored continent to build the richest country of the world, you could just as well try conquering your own souls.

As a result, you tend to adopt the same attitude towards the human soul as towards the machine—namely, a desire to standardize, mass-produce and control.

With this purpose, you are trying to conform to certain common standards and principles of human behavior, to adjust yourselves completely to one another, to resolve all differences and incongruities between individuals by leveling the sharp edges of their personalities.

Any danger that you cannot eliminate, you try to regulate, or to organize into institutions.

You tend to institutionalize the expression of numerous common human sentiments that can be dangerous.

Love, for instance, is on the way to being institutionalized in this country, through a system called "dating."

The unruliness of children is being regulated or even organized through various institutions with a religious touch.

Since you seem to believe that leisure is no good for man, you are trying to organize his increasing leisure hours through clubs, societies, PTAs and television.

And your football is perhaps the most colossal example in human history of an institution aimed at the mass-regulation of human instincts—with the way the arousing performances of the bands are timed, the pent-up and potentially destructive energy of the crowds are brought into open at regular intervals by the girl cheerleaders only to be harnessed and harmonized by a head cheerleader, and the way the excitement caused by the game itself is subdued and sublimated through the acts of the clowns and the group-dances performed by girls.

'You Americans Are Not Crazy'

FORTUNATELY, YOU have not yet been completely successful in all these attempts. I first had the impression that you had, and this, as I said in the beginning, made me very sad.

But as time went on and my contacts increased. I realized that you had been able to preserve an inner world, free of all interference from the others’ and your own efforts to conform—an inner world where you could still blow square balloons and consequently be restless and unhappy.

In fact, many intelligent people seem to be so conscious of the danger they try to counterbalance their efforts at conformity by occasional attempts at what they like to refer to as "crazy" acts, and, with an anxious look in their eyes, ask the foreign observer, "Aren’t we Americans crazy?"

Although I hated disappointing them, I always felt bound to answer, "No, you are not "

I could not bring myself to lie to -them on this subject, because I could see no good in helping them deceive themselves.

They hardly seemed to be aware that even those very acts which they liked to call "crazy" were, more or less, institutionalized and regulated, or at least premeditated and conveniently timed.

Does It Matter?

YET, AS LONG as Americans, at least the educated ones, remain as much conscious of the dangers of conformity as they seem to be now, and do not relax their efforts to protect their inner worlds against these dangers, there may be no reason to fear after all.

In fact, the awareness of these dangers sometimes seems to become a constructive force in the life of this community.

I had the feeling, before I came here, that I was going to spend my three months in a small provincial town. I was surprised, therefore, at the amount of cultural and artistic activity that I found here. Winston-Salem was far from being provincial in any sense of the word. Its people would be regarded as broad minded and alert in any metropolis of the world, and its intellectual level unusual for an industrial town of this size in Europe.

Besides, the intellectuals of this small town had a great advantage over those of Europe: They were unsophisticated!

In private conversations and group discussions here, I have never had the feeling of being in a small provincial town, detached from the cultural centers of the world. On the contrary, I have found in these conversations and discussions an awareness, open-mindedness and cultural background that could do credit to any of such centers.

In out of the way, private studios I have met unpretentious artists who would be considered great anywhere in the world, and they too had a great advantage over the artists of Europe: They had no need to be escapists.

They were at peace with society, content in their independent inner-worlds and studios, and they had cleverly turned the lack of a nationwide recognition to their own advantage, by experimenting freely and to their hearts’ content without having to bother about marketing their work and making compromises.

There is an understandable underevaluation abroad of art and poetry in this country. It is understandable because no one abroad can be expected to know, what a painter in this town or in Chapel Hill, who is not even widely known to the public in North Carolina, is doing, or what a young poet in Winston-Salem, whom the people of the same town have not even heard of as a poet, is writing.

Yet in these places I have seen some of the best paintings in this country, and I have read such poetry as would probably be returned with a printed rejection slip by many of the national literary magazines but which would do greater credit to modern American literature abroad than most of the poems that appear in those magazines with large circulations and well-established names.

Your small towns, if Winston-Salem can be regarded as typical, although that sounds too good to be true, must be culturally much more self-sufficient and accomplished than towns of similar size and status in Europe, where all cultural activity tends to be centered around a few big cities.

As big cities die out in this large country, small communities seem to be gaining a greater importance than Europe is accustomed to.

Perhaps such a development could not have taken place without a certain degree of conformism.

I realize that many other fine qualities of America and her people may also, to some extent, be due to such outward conformity—, your peaceful and civilized way of life, your anxiousness not to hurt the feelings of others and not to be in their way, your kind-heartedness and generosity, and your high moral standards . . . much higher than I could expect from human, nature as I knew it until I came to Winston-Salem.

As soon as I could pass through that machine-curtain which I had thought was isolating men from each other, my first feeling of loneliness in this country gave way to the warmest feeling of close yet undisturbing ties between men that I had ever experienced.

But then, there is also the possibility that these fine qualities which make you perhaps the nicest people in the world, may be the cause, rather than the result, of your conformity.

To be less confusing, less contradictory, and more precise and truthful, I must admit that all the speculations I have written down thus far boil down to this incontestable fact: I DO NOT KNOW . . .

And I could hardly be expected to KNOW after three months’ stay in Winston-Salem, N. C., U. S. A.—three months being just long enough for questions to start growing in a visitor’s mind, but hardly enough for providing their answers.

But what matters is that the questions are there, and it is up to you to keep thinking about them, if you believe they are worth thinking about.

All About Angels

PERSONALLY, I will have a great many things to think about when I go back to my own country, whose problems are perhaps simpler to understand yet much harder to solve, and which has a long way to go yet until she can start one's mind worrying about the sort of questions that have been worrying mine since my arrival here.

In this article I have only expressed criticisms and doubts about the manifestations of conformity that I have observed here.

But writing about them to my own newspaper in Ankara, Turkey, all I did was praise them, because there we are on the opposite extreme and pay dearly on account of it.

For in Turkey we certainly could do with some of your community spirit, your respect for the feelings and rights of others in the same community, and even of your tendency to institutionalize.

We also could do with some of your conscientiousness at work, your frankness about yourselves, and your good nature and generosity.

And we could do with the dignified status accorded to all individuals in this town, and the opportunities open to them, whatever their jobs or positions are.

I would not dare hope, until I came here to share your way of life with you, that so much harmony, friendship and happiness could exist among human beings. I am, therefore, willing to change all the doubts that I have expressed about conformity in the face of a convincing assurance that all this could not have been achieved without it.

My three months’ experience in Winston-Salem has proved to me that living men could be turned into angels, and that, inhabited by such angels, the earth could be turned into a heaven. How much conformity there should be in Heaven, and whether, in Heaven, there is supposed to remain room for creativeness, I do not know . . . And, I suppose, nobody else knows.

Life Within a Life

THIS EXPERIENCE has done me one great good: It will make me unhappy when I go back to my own country—much more unhappy than I had been before.

And, on account of that unhappiness, I shall, as any normal human being, try to regain the happiness that I have tasted here, by doing all within my limited power to help my countrymen walk in the way which has been trodden before by the people of Winston-Salem—in the hope that I may see the day when I can resume worrying my mind —this time in my own country—as to whether men could be too happy, too good, too nice and respectful to one another.

And one advantage that I wish I could enjoy in my efforts to this end is to be able to blow certain round balloons square, whenever the time seems ripe for it. If I can do that, it will be a great help to me.

The strangest aspect of my Winston-Salem experience has been its completeness—the fact that as a visitor I have been allowed here to live the life of an ordinary citizen of this town.

A segment of my life, lasting for only three months, will be detached from the rest of my life, to be remembered as a happy life, complete in itself with a beginning and an end—no less an end than death itself when I come to think that I may not have a chance of seeing again many of the friends, real friends, that I have made here. Except that my other life, which I shall soon resume. will have a memory for the dreamlike life that I have lived here and the friends that I have made in it—friends that deserve all happiness.



"Oh, the humiliation" of not conforming.

Staff Photo by Frank Jones
Mr. Ecevit gazes in wonder—and some distress—at "an institution aimed at the mass regulation of human instincts." 





“Visiting Turk Says of Americans: Even Angels Can Go Wrong,” Bülent Ecevit Yazıları 1950-1961, 16 Temmuz 2024, ulaşıldı.