Amazon Burning

     About 20 years ago, back at the turn of the millennium, I was set up on a blind date with an attractive, independently wealthy, otherwise sweet guy who, early in our conversation, talked of his business plans in the Amazon. He was pleased, humbly proud, and excited that initial steps were underway.
     With an impish smile on his face, he spoke of how his business would provide roads for the people who “still” lived in the Amazon and how they’d be able to have access to libraries and stores and, frankly, all things White.
      Somewhat cautiously (and hopeful) at first, I asked him if the communities he spoke of had asked or expressed interest in such roads and the things he listed. Not understanding where I was going at first, he blew right past my question and kept talking about all that his dreams and work would bring to “these people.” I asked again. He looked at me this time, paused, and said something like, “Well, no, not directly…” and continued blabbing on about libraries with a tone belying his belief that libraries for the indigenous people of the Amazon was an inherent good.
     It was at that point that my eagerness to be on a date with an otherwise nice, attractive, crazy-rich guy reversed course. It suddenly became for me a “Who am I, really?” kind of moment. This really cute guy, this “whole package” seemed happy to be with me so far, but what I was thinking, should I choose to open my mouth, would likely change that. Was I the kind of woman who knew a good thing in front of her when she saw it, who kept her little opinions to herself?
     Truly, that I was even asking these questions of myself was a testament to how well this date was going. In other situations, my passions for multicultural awareness would have gotten the best of me and I would respond compulsively, carelessly even. But this moment I found myself in was different. This seemed consequential, the opposite of theoretical, diametrical from a sophomoric debate at a keg party. This had feet…and bulldozers.
     From somewhere inside a dense forest, a forest with the unsettling sounds of chainsaws and tractors in the distance, I stopped smiling and nodding. I then chose–and it was a conscious, fully aware choice–to challenge him more directly. “If no one has asked you directly for these things, if no one there has said that they want roads and libraries and such, how do you know they want them?” He gave me one last, half-hearted, light-fading attempt to justify the benevolence of his plans. Yet I pressed, this time not so much asking as telling him that he seemed to be making a lot of assumptions about people he’d never met. When I went so far as to correct him, it was clear that he was not used to his magnanimity being questioned. So, more gently, but in no uncertain terms, I conveyed to him that not everyone wants the things he wants. Not everyone values the things we have and value. Nor do they have to.
     Stiff, light fully out, he pointedly said, “I feel like you just killed my dream.”
     Holding his gaze and without apology, I gave him a half, pressed-lip smile. I slightly nodded to the side as if to say, “Yeah….well….”
     It will come as no surprise, I’m sure, that there was no second date. What occurs to me this week, though, is that I do not remember him indicating he had any intention of exploring the possible negative impact of his “dream.” Quite the opposite, in fact. While he truly didn’t seem to be a narcissistic tool, he was tall, blond-haired and blue-eyed, rich. He didn’t have to pause. He didn’t have to reflect or see himself any differently than how he wished to see himself. He didn’t have to see himself how I saw him.
     Almost two decades later, this week, as the Amazon burns, I think of him…and I wonder if he is thinking of me.

 

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