Anti-Americanism

How come it’s okay to be proud of being any other nationality, except for American?

While in Salvador, I met one of the most snobby and anti-American people I’ve ever encountered. He was from a European country and was staying in the same youth hostel as me. I commented about something new that I’d learned about Bahian culture that day – I don’t even remember what it was – and he said, “Yeah, you learn a lot when you get out of your little American bubble.”

Now, I agree with the general sentiment – getting out of one’s own culture does indeed expand one’s mind – but I resented the snide way he said it as well as the implication that America is the only country in a “bubble,” whose citizens are ignorant about the outside world. However, I simply smiled and nodded.

“Is this your first time out of the country?” he asked.

“Actually,” I said, “it’s my fifth. I’ve spent a total of about six months in Brazil so far.”

“Oh,” he replied, looking a little disappointed at no longer being able to rib the ‘naive American’ who he’d just found out had far more experience in Brazil than he did.

Later on, the conversation turned to a trip he’d taken to the U.S. He was making fun of the nationalistic symbols he’d seen there, “especially those ‘Proud to be American’ bumper stickers.” He laughed derisively. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I felt myself bristle, but I refused to take the bait. Arguing with him would be pointless.

The anti-Americanism I encounter isn’t always so explicit, but it exists. Seriously, why can’t I be proud of being from the U.S.? A lot of the news regarding America that arrives here is negative: mistreatment of Iraqui prisoners, McDonalds, Hollywood, MTV, American materialism, American ignorance, American excess, American arrogance. Americans don’t have culture. Americans steal culture from others and co-opt and commercialize it. America has a stupid president. America sticks its nose and its troops where they don’t belong.

Well, I ask those of you who condemn and mock America, how do you know so much about it? From the extremely one-sided and sensational media coverage that you receive? From a vacation you once took to Disneyworld? (Not that there’s anything in the least wrong with tourism. Vacations are vacations. But how’d you like it if someone who spent two weeks in the tourist zone of Rio started talking as though they knew everything about Brazil?) Have you ever lived in the U.S.? Well, I have. For twenty-one years, in fact. And I’m proud to be an American.

I’m proud of the fact that we have so many opportunities for education and employment. I’m proud of the fact that we’re one of the world leaders in technology. I’m proud of the country containing so many different nationalities and cultures. I’m proud of American food (and if you think it’s just McDonalds… that’s just as idiotic as thinking that Mexican cuisine is just Taco Bell). I’m proud of American generosity, both in foreign aid and in private donations. I’m proud of the American military. I’m proud of American traditions, baseball, jazz, Thanksgiving, breakdancing. I’m proud of the American landscape, colorful Connecticut autumns, gorgeous Hawaiian beaches, California redwood forests, the Grand Canyon, endless midwest plains, snowy New Hampshire winters. I’m proud of the extremely rich variety of local/regional cultures: New York has a totally different flavor from Texas, which is a world away from California, etc.

Of course there are things about America that I’m not proud of. Of course there are things that shock, sadden, irritate, and anger me. But this is true in any country; no nation is perfect and problem-free. Are Brazilians proud of the rampant corruption in their government, the violent drug trade in their favelas, and their history of exploitation of African and indigenous peoples? How about the serious lack of access to education and medical care, the poverty that half the population suffers, and the dilution and commercialization of cultural traditions?

Yet Brazilians love their country. They wear shirts with “Brasil” emblazoned across the front in green, yellow, and blue; they sing about its beauty in songs; they celebrate its culture. Yet when I say I’m proud of the U.S., the rest of the world sees it as either ignorance or arrogance?

I honestly don’t think America is really any worse than any other country out there, we just get a lot of criticism because we’re always in the spotlight (and therefore under the microscope). And there seems to be a bit of hypocrisy in the fact that everyone loves to bash the U.S. yet is dying – sometimes literally – to get in there and enjoy its benefits. To me, this smells like the envy-driven human tendency to disparage what we desperately wish we had and don’t.

I am not ignorant of my country’s problems, yet I still love it. I grew up there, I had an excellent experience there, I was blessed to receive many wonderful opportunities from it, and I’ll always enjoy going home to it. Funny how I’d never felt any particularly remarkable affection for my country until I’d lived outside it, felt saudades for it, and
had to defend it…

  • Hey Shayna,

    What a good read that was – very though provoking and I really enjoyed it. It’s a great idea to have that “Best Of…” link – 2006 eh?!

    A couple of things spring to mind when reading this. Firstly, I sympathise. You might not recognise this, but the English suffer something similar to this at home. The Scottish, Irish and Welsh are allowed to be proud of their countries, to be fully patriotic and celebrate their national day. But if the English do it, it seems like triumphalist nationalism. The English flag (St George cross) has become a symbol of racism and intolerance. Outward signs of English patriotism make us all feel uncomfortable. Many/most of us prefer to keep our national pride fairly quiet (and even then we are accused of being smug! Not always unfairly! Ha ha!).

    But I think this issue has to do with historical and current standing in the world. Britain used to occupy a dominant world position (not unlike that of the US today) and the English are still dominant in the context of the British Isles.

    To take an extreme example, imagine a school-yard fight between a David and Goliath pair of characters. If David somehow pulls off a win, all the neutral bystanders would smile at his celebrations and maybe even join in. But if Goliath wins and starts whooping and hollering, well, people naturally get grumpy and think “Oh you big bully!”. I’ve always suspected that that is why people hate that “U-S-A!” chant that goes up at sporting events.

    Similarly, it is generally agreed that a black comedian can make fun of white culture and it is funny or at least acceptable. But a white guy making fun of black culture would be skating on very thin ice. It’s about historical (and current) dominance and perceived advantage.

    None of this excuses that idiotic European (I hope he wasn’t British!) and his stupid, ignorant attitude. And of course you are totally entitled to feel proud of your country (even though mine is waaaay better – ha ha! Just kidding…). Maybe the other stuff I said above is a different issue. You just got me thinking… (from all those years ago!)

    Abraço, Tom

    • Shayna

      Hi Tom,

      Very interesting! No, I had no idea that it’s a similar situation for the English. That’s a great point about perceived dominance and the “big guy vs. the little guy” – I’d agree with your analysis.

      One thing that encourages me is the fact that, like it or not, I am a representative of my country while outside it. And although I can’t do very much about its history, government, or really bad pop music, I do have complete control over my own behavior – and who knows, maybe a good personal experience with an American will help change minds and open perspectives.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      Shayna

      P.S. In the original post, I wrote the person’s nationality… but then I decided to take it out so that nobody could say I was being ignorant by insinuating that everyone of said nationality was arrogant 😉

      • Julia

        He was probably French! Just a guess : )
        I’m all for patriotism and I’m tired of people bashing the USA. God bless the USA!

        • Shayna

          His nationality shall remain a secret to protect the innocent 😉

  • Hahah Shayna I’ve been guilt of making fun of my own kind sometimes. When abroad, I hate to say it but it’s we Americans that are usually the loudest people in the room, especially American girls. Having said that I’m super proud to be American — it’s not really chance that almost the entire world wishes they could be American.

    Almost all of Asia shares the dream to live in America or at least get a chance to visit. People (like my Girlfriend’s family) spend decades trying to get into the country to improve their family’s future.

    This really is (one of) the lands of freedom, opportunity, and all that other jazz. Not to mention we have some awesome scenery and tons of cultural diversity.

    Like you said a ton of the stereotypes come from TV – which only draws attention to the negative and plays on cultural stereotypes. How stupid Americans are, how dumb George Bush is, how much we like war.

    Even my closest friend (A Belgian, living in Belgium) constantly makes fun out American stereotypes. He doesn’t know better.

    And yea.. agree again that most Europeans’ internal perception of Americans is like most Americans’ view of the world – made up of mostly bullshit media and little to no experience.