Fennel is a big black guy

People here in Peru have been asking me practically non-stop since Wednesday morning, “how is it possible the US voted for Donald Trump?”

I find it amusing how Peruvians have rather low self esteem when it comes to the politics of their country. They earnestly ask me “aren’t WE supposed to be the ones who vote clowns and con-artists into office?” Then with trepidation in their voices, as if such a thing isn’t supposed to be possible, they ask “don’t you think OUR President is better than theirs now?” To which I respond that in my opinion PPK is far better and would have easily beaten either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

Here in Peru perhaps the defining issue of the US election cycle was Trump’s stance on immigration, which for Peruvians has a degree of ludicrousness to it: there are strong Native American cultures in Peru, such as the Aymara and the Quechua cultures and Peruvians are keenly aware that “up there” in North America, practically everyone are descendants of immigrants. They find the strong anti immigration sentiment in North America just absurd.

However I lived in the US for a long time and while most Peruvians perceive the US election results as incomprehensible, I do understand the anti establishment and anti liberal sentiment that prevailed in the election and tell my Peruvian friends a personal anecdote about the time I worked at GE.

Fennel was one of my coworkers, he has roots in Liberia, West Africa, but lived in the US most of his life. Fennel is a big guy, he’s not a kid anymore but he still pretty much has the physique of an NFL lineman. Fennel has scars on his forearms, he used to tell us guys he’d worked with for a long time that as a kid he got attacked and fought off a wild cat of some type in Africa, probably a small jaguar. We’d joke about not messing with Fennel because “he once beat up a tiger” but as the jet engine shop got bigger and we hired more and more technicians, Fennel didn’t want to talk about the scars on his forearm anymore, seems he didn’t want to be known as “the guy who once beat up a tiger”.

As far as I know Fennel spent some of his younger years in tough areas of Detroit and New Jersey but he’s one of the nicest guys you could work with. I only remember one time seeing Fennel get mad. We had another coworker who was a complete jerk. He used to be a reasonably nice guy but for whatever reasons had personal issues and became a total a**, frequently offending people to the point where you’d worry things would get physical. One night this jerk had gotten into an argument with Fennel and luckily Fennel walked away. He came up to me, tense, beads of sweat on his face, voice trembling. He tells me “I haven’t been in a fight in 20 years but it’s like, when somebody insults your mother”. So I say let’s go outside and punch a few trees, cool off, nobody needs to get fired because of this jerk.

All this to say I knew Fennel well, he was one of the guys I was close with.

One night another technician came to me for advice on some obscure technical issue. Building jet engines is very interesting, there is a lot of really deep technology and minute detail involved, so once in a while when a part or assembly has an anomaly, you go looking for a technician who may have particular expertise in the area. I don’t remember the details of the issue but it was something Fennel would have known a lot about, so I sent this other technician to look for Fennel. Most people in the shop knew each other but this technician didn’t know Fennel.

I said: “You don’t know Fennel? Big black guy, always comes in around 4:00, works CF34-10 in the back? Ask anybody in shrouds or rotors.”

A few people overheard our conversation and stopped me. They said I’d better be careful calling somebody a “big black guy”. HR or somebody else might take offense.

I personally wasn’t worried about getting fired but that’s the kind of thing that has driven white Americans away from progressive politics in droves and created the “angry white man” sentiment that Trump rode to victory: white Americans, especially white men, feel like cultural and economic changes are jeopardizing their way of life. They feel like they might get fired because liberals have decided that simply identifying a person’s race might be offensive, or that anything which any person of color perceives as offensive is therefor by definition offensive.

Many Peruvians still have an idealistic view of the USA, they don’t understand there are people who struggle everywhere. When white American men struggle or feel like society hasn’t given them a fair shake, they feel like the newfangled ideas of progressive politics are to blame and they perceive Hillary Clinton as the most visible and long term leader of progressive politics, the embodiment of those newfangled ideas. So I tell my Peruvian friends, unlike what the media and pollsters say, the US election result was NOT a surprise, as soon as it was decided the final choice was between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the writing was on the wall.

For my part I knew darn well Fennel didn’t take offense. In my opinion everybody ought to be proud of their heritage and if a person was born in West Africa and looks like an NFL lineman, they might be described as a big black guy without anybody taking offense.