Friday, April 28, 2017

Using This Election to Find Our National Identity

By KATE DIETRICH-MANION  ’18 

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Last Wednesday, for the first time in my life, I felt like an American. I have never embraced this aspect of who I am, preferring to reject it entirely due to the negative associations that come with being American. I realize now that my dismissal of this fundamental part of my identity helped perpetuate this image, and that by taking myself out of the system, I was tacitly agreeing with it.

I was born in Canada and moved to the United States when I was 12 years old. I went through the defining years of middle and high school in American schools, making American friends, and absorbing American culture. I was lucky enough to become a citizen when I was 17 and with this official document, my Americanization should have been complete. And it was; in every sense other than internally.

In actuality, after moving, I began to identify so strongly with Canada that it became the most important aspect of who I was. I made certain that everyone I interacted with knew that, in fact, although I was an American legally, I was not an American in any other sense of the word. Yes, I live in the U.S. but I would never, ever be an American.

The reason why I adopted this stance has many possible explanations; one that I believe to be fundamental is the negative association that I have with the word American, an image molded by the worst aspects of American culture. Americans are loud and boorish, and fundamentally ignorant of world affairs. They care only about what immediately concerns them and brush any information that does not fit with their beliefs under the rug. Individualism rules, distorting and preventing a complete perspective that can only come from seeing how one individual is just a part of a larger system that logically and necessarily functions on a collective level.

To Americans, the USA is intrinsically superior to all other nations, and unwavering pride and acceptance for the nation’s blunders and questionable practices is required to call oneself a true, proud American.

If I was to be an American, these stereotypes would apply to me, and would change how the world views me. I did not want to accept the bad along with the good that comes from being an American, preferring to reject the notion in its entirety. Why should I try to identify with a culture that, stereotypically, does not reflect who I am? If I do not feel like an American by this definition, then it only made sense to grow stronger in my resolve to be different, to prove that that is not me by dismissing the label altogether.

On Wednesday, with the election of Donald Trump, this version of America was crystallized on a global scale. The hateful American bigot wreaking havoc on anyone who is not a straight, white, male manifested itself perfectly in Trump. Being an American has never in my lifetime been more associated with these negative images than right now. Soon, the person who represents the United States will embody all the American traits that I did not want to be accidently associated with.

It would make sense for me now to even more vehemently oppose being labelled as an American. In fact I, as a Canadian citizen, can abandon ship, abandon this flailing country and permanently guarantee that I would never be mistaken as an American. I can easily leave the US and never return if I so desire. I can take refuge in this privileged position and shelter myself from the direct harm that Trump can cause on the citizens of this country. This would be easier.

I will not allow myself to follow this path because I finally feel the responsibility that comes with holding an American passport. This election made me realize that I play a role in shaping the definition of what it means to be American. By refusing to accept my responsibility, I was affirming and upholding this hate-filled image of Americans. By not actively participating in the creation of a positive American image, I was communicating that I did not believe this fight to be worthwhile or possible. I was admitting defeat. I was part of the problem.

This election will affect others much more than me. I am a straight, educated, white woman attending an elite liberal arts college. My demographic voted principally for Trump, voted against my personal beliefs which is something I cannot stand idly by and accept. I cannot sit with my privilege and watch the world react. I cannot be idle as what it means to be an American becomes worse and worse. A lot has been said about our responsibility to fight for the America that we want. By fighting for an America that fits our image of what America can and should be. I will be a part of this fight. I am proud to be an American, even though this idea is imperfect and needs a fair amount of polishing. It is my responsibility to fight for my country and my duty to personally embody what it truly means to be an American because I am an American, and I will never deny that again.

Leave a reply