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Karin Mitchell's books on Goodreads
Between Families Between Families
reviews: 5
ratings: 8 (avg rating 4.75)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

So Am I American

Since I was 18 and went to live in Sweden for a year, and even before that really, I haven't felt American. When people in other countries judge our actions abroad, I pretty much always agree with what they say and have no interest in defending my own country. Yet, I am American. I vote. I read up on my own politics. I participate in our social systems. However, I have always felt my views to be too far outside those of the mainstream to consider myself a legitimate American. I do not support the war on terror. A war against a concept is just inane. Why don't we just flush money down a toilet and call it the war against counter clockwise swirls. In all seriousness, it would be much more beneficial to have a war against junk mail which truely does waste natural resources, or a war against unnecessary packaging, or I don't know a war against HUNGER. Instead of this dumbass war against thought we're currently pursuing.
So over the years I've been trying to figure out what are the things which make me American. I have a short list.

1. It is American to make friends in moments. When I met my friend Amber, I clicked with her right away (otherwise I would have kicked her out of my bathroom where she introduced herself to me while I was peeing,) and we were fast friends. I think all over people have a tendency to click, but maybe they take their time allowing things to develop into friendships. Americans just decide to be best friends like that! We don't dwell on it, we just do it.

2. Our American short attention span focuses on early life then kinda leaves off. It is American to have a fixation on high school. I don't believe other places have reunions, watch endless movies about high school dances and dramas.

3. Americans can make big changes change quite abruptly. I could start a new job tomorrow and amass the necessary money to own a car within six months as well as probably have a promotion by that time. Similarly, I could sell all my belongings and move to another country within the month. That's the only freedom I can say I really feel and I LOVE iT!

4. Americans are optimists. When I was talking with high school students last week about their assignment to write a UN resolution regarding an ongoing conflict in South America, they had very simplistic answers. These weren't dumb kids either. I think as Americans we tend to live on the surface in a sort of what you see is what you get and you don't get upset, sort of a way. So they really thought, well divide up the land, tell them to stop fighting, and that's that.

A direct result of this optimism is ignorance on the part of many many people. For example, I can think of a student who would argue to the death that the twin towers were in Denver. No shit. I really had to argue this with a kid. This is a sad topic and therefore the true details become lost over time, because we optimists do not spend much time talking about our faults, mistakes, tragedies, except in very broad terms which are really calls to action. Support our Troops. These colors do not run. Whatever the hell that means.

5. Americans are intensely focused on morals: what was right, what was wrong, what was stupid, and who do we blame. "That mother shouldn't have left her child in the car while it was running while she went into the gas station." The implication being this would never happen to me and my short attention span (even though I may be a person who has locked my keys in my car on multiple occasions while the car was running), because I can see what she did wrong and I won't do that. I once had a student tell me that her previous teacher had her car stolen from the school but "She shoulda known not to leave her keys out."

On a larger scale this means we look for an enemy. Someone to blame, to be mad at for all the evils we know exist. We hate us some terrorists, but what we really hate is all the stories of senseless acts of violence about which we could do nothing. The genocide committed in Rawanda, the carjacker who attacked a 70 year old woman, the man who attacked my friends with a hatchet when they were just getting out of their car. But we can't do anything about these stories that pile up and up and up in our hearts. So when our government tells us there's an enemy and I can get out there and do something about it? Well that's American.

So Am I American?

I don't necessarily feel any more American; my views aren't any more welcome. I increasingly feel my country slipping to a place I do not want to be. I increasingly feel our optimism becoming a willful ignorance which will hurt us. I increasingly feel our blaming distracting us from supporting one another. And I increasingly do not feel the things that unite us are the things I wish them to be. I wish them to be our freedoms. You remember the ones. The one I miss feeling genuinely most is freedom of speech. I miss going to hip snowboard shops and hearing new underground jazzy rap. Similarly, I miss seeing a new ski video and hearing new punk. Now when you're skiing, the lifties are told what they can and cannot have playing at the base of the mountain. They go so far as to have an employee who skis around to different lifts to narc out people who are playing "offensive" music. (meaning the word "hell" can't be used in it.) Since when have we all become so afraid to offend and to be offended?

I miss feeling like we had the freedom of the press. Maybe it never really existed. I tend to think we've been dumbed down by our own media which is owned by exactly how many companies again? The fact that the UN met to discuss the Kyoto Protocol and what to do when it expires in 2012 and most people reading this have already lost me… yet we all know about bobble heads and when Black Friday is, and goddamnit I don't watch television and I still know who that cunt Paris Hilton is. I'm gonna go ahead and say the fact that I have to go to other countries' websites to read the news says there's a problem with our freedom of the press. Maybe they feel the same as the lifties at the mountain about playing offensive music…

I miss freedom of religion. Sure you're free to be some type of Christian, or if you're rich and famous you're too frivolous for any of us to care whether you're a Buddist. But heavens, don't be dark and Muslim or we'll think you're a terrorist and from the social aspect of things its pretty acceptable in our country to think this way. I know we've always been bigots as a country but I used to think we were getting better about it. Now I'm concerned.

So here's my question: How does anyone have the guts to be proud to be an American?

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