Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Miss America"

There are a lot of people in the world who have a problem with America. I accept this. However, what I don't like is that often when I meet people and they find out that I'm American, they take it upon themselves to rant to me about everything that they believe is wrong with America. It is offensive, rude, and, worst of all, annoying.

These special individuals accuse *all* Americans of being racist, exclusionary, uneducated, illiterate consumerists. They complain to me, unprovoked and unbidden, about the war in Iraq, Black Friday, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Peace Corps (who, according to a French guy I had the misfortune of meeting on New Year's Eve, are really working for the CIA and go around ruining countries), Israel, Afghanistan, the list goes on and on.

I try to explain to them that trying to describe all Americans in these sweeping terms is like saying that every single person who lives on the continent of South America feels the same way about politics, religion, and personal life choices, or saying that all Europeans have one set of ideals and one political ideology. It is unreasonable to accuse every individual living in a country that takes up half of an entire continent of possessing the exact same characteristics of everyone around him or her. When I point that out to people who give me a hard time about being from the U.S., it seems to give them pause (most of the time, but not always). Maybe they honestly never stopped to consider that, just like they are not the exact same person as their neighbor, I am not a carbon copy of the American person sitting next to me. Also, I think that the fact that I refuse to apologize for America tends to make them more angry, or often earns me the title of being "100% Pro-American." That's not the case at all. I just refuse to be lumped into one category, and I dislike being expected to verbally disown the place where I grew up and do love, despite its flaws.

I guess I find this particularly offensive because I enjoy learning about other cultures and meeting multi-cultural people so much. I took Comparative Religions and International Relations as electives in high school, for example, minored in Spanish in college, and come from a "cross-cultural/ third culture" family myself. When I meet someone from a different country I generally take an interest and like learning about their culture as they experience it, I don't just start telling them what I think about their government's politics. I think America is one of those countries that some people like to demonize. As far as I'm concerned, anyone can think whatever you want about my government, I'm constantly reevaluating and criticizing it in my mind. But why must some people make the actions of my government something that I'm personally responsible for, as a citizen? I don't blame every Icelander I meet for their banks crumbling. I don't call every French person a colonist, or Brits imperialists, for example. I know that the individual does not necessarily match the governing body. And the only place I've been to in the States where someone has been outright rude to me for being, say, "from Iceland," was in Oklahoma at like, a drunken house party. Even then, usually people were just uninformed (albeit sometimes woefully so), and weren't trying to be rude.

Maybe because America is considered a "superpower" (are we even still considered that?) and there are so many subjective representations of our country and citizens out there, along with a government that certainly does make mistakes in plain view of the international community, that people somehow feel entitled to confront Americans they meet on certain issues.

I am also just not a fan of political ranting. The way I see it, if you don't like something that a government is doing, either do something to change it or talk to someone who can. As my friend Michelle says, "most people just want to rant about politics and then pat themselves on the back," which is exactly why neither she nor I like philosophizing about such things with most people. The only time I don't mind is when I'm talking to someone who hasn't yet made up their mind about the issue at hand, so I know I can have room to explore the topic without getting hit by a surprise barrage. In short, either do something about it, or shut up. Incidentally, I think I may program the White House toll-free number and maybe the number of a Congressman or two into my cell phone, so if people start complaining to me about things they don't like that America does, I can give them the number of someone who gives a darn, or is at least paid to do so.

I am an American. I know how to read and write, and love doing so. I support world peace. I am not racist or sexist. I vote. I do not shop in an avalanche of people breaking down store doors on Black Friday. I am descended from immigrants, and I respect this land's First People. I love the environment. I am a healthy weight for my height. I am fine with the idea of America having more than one national language. I believe in freedom of religion, and separation of church from state. I do not expect everyone to speak English when I travel overseas. I keep my voice at an appropriate volume in public. I don't eat at McDonald's, but that doesn't mean that I never have. I do not blindly accept everything that my government does. I do not deny the good things that my government does either. I consider more than one country to be my home, and am legally allowed to do so. I am not the same as every other American, and they are not the same as me. That's my favorite thing about my country.