Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Lumpy Pot

So, in my 3 1/2 years now of living in the US, I've noticed something that strikes me as both odd and sad. Americans are not American.

Or, at least, they don't identify as such.

Now, don't get me wrong, if I were to go to any number of random people on the street and ask them directly if they're American, they'd say "Yes." What I'm referring to is the phenomenon wherein Americans self-identify as only partial Americans, as X-Americans.

I remember reading a blog by an Irish traveler and polyglot a few months ago wherein he recounted his run-in with an Irish-American (See, the X-American strikes). When the author mentioned he was Irish the obviously American individual replied stating that he was, too.

News flash: the second man was no more Irish than me.

Oh yes, I can play the heritage card: 1/16 Cherokee, a smattering of Irish, English, Norman, and Scandinavian with a dollop of "I don't know" and voila, me. Do I claim to be Irish, Norman, English, Cherokee, or Norse? Heck no! To claim a nationality is to also claim its culture; I don't share any of those cultural attributes and traditions.

Now, do Irish-Americans have distinct customs? Kind-of, but they're not Irish.

A bit closer to home: African-Americans. I'm sorry, but you're honestly less African than me. Unless you or your parents (possibly your grandparents, if they strongly instilled their culture and tradition in you) lived a substantial portion of your/their life/lives in Africa, you're simply American. You're Americans with a different ancestry and sub-/culture from other Americans, but you're American nonetheless.

So, what's the beef?

To use the lumpy pot allegory from the title: America has long been described as a melting pot, but I would argue it's not, not completely. In a melting pot, everything melts together completely, every aspect of every ingredient losing its individual cohesion and combining with its neighbours. America has been more like a lumpy soup. There are aspects and flavours from the immigrant cultures that have diffused into the mix, but the cultures as a whole have remained fairly individual, some, like the Pennsylvania Dutch, mutating into a completely new flavour separate from both the mix and their origin.

Because of these lumps, the American identity is fractured. While all nationals will identify as American, there is no common, overarching culture that is America, which would serve to connect Americans from one part of the country or people group with another from another. The subculture is not. The subculture has been allowed to become a co-culture.

Let me draw your attention to my home: South Africa is a melting pot, too, but I would argue that they are such in a more true sense of the term. Were I to ask an individual, white, black, or coloured, if he was African, if she was South African, the answer would be unequivocably "Yes." (and perhaps accompanied by a look questioning your sanity/intelligence). Yes, there are English- and Afrikaans-speaking whites, Xhosa, Zulu, Venda, Malay, Indian, and Griquas, to name a few, but the individual subculture has integrated into the mix such that one can look to the other and say that they are still one, united people. You see, "South African" and "Afrikaaner/Xhosa/YouNameIt" are not equal co cultures. Rather, the former supercedes the latter. This, America, is what you lack.

So, I ask and beseech you, Americans, look beyond your individual identifications and begin building the national identity, the national culture that America has sorely lacked, especially in recent years. Acknowledge your differences and overcome them. Acknowledge your misinformations and fears and address them. Acknowledge the wrongdoings of your cultural forebears and seek not redress or recompense, but reconciliation. Acknowledge the right doings and achievements of your cultural forebears and celebrate them. Acknowledge the right doings and achievements of your fellow American's cultural forebears and celebrate them alongside him. Acknowledge the God who made each individual, people, culture and language, who made then not only good, but very good and praise Him.

Only then will Americans come together. Only then will the lumps smooth into the pot.