Archive for the ‘Society’ Tag

Don’t they know this is America?   Leave a comment

There’s a poem I think most of us know the last four lines of at least. I’ve been thinking about it lately. It goes:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

That’s what I think of when I hear the words “United States of America”.

At least, it was.

You see, I have been here for four and a half years. Not very long, all things considered, but long enough to have encountered a problem with this ideology.
People here – and I do mean here, where I am living right now – seem to feel that huddled masses are all ok… as long as they are white, English speaking, and christian. I hear things all the time. A 50 year old women mimicking Cantonese. The word ‘chinks’ used in polite conversation. ‘Go home’ shouted from a car window as a woman in a turban walks along the street.
This is normal. Somehow the idea that America was founded on the ideology of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness seems to exclude those who conform to a different norm. I hear ‘Don’t they know this is America?’ a lot. I may be an outsider, but from my perspective the problem is that these people who use such casual racism have failed to realise that they are in America. The melting pot. The country founded with colonies and immigrants from the world over. Many places have strong cultural differences that they have kept from the very beginning.

This America is a place built on the ideal of ‘E pluribus unum’ – from many, one. America was founded on many ideals, the principle of which was freedom. A freedom which many Americans seem to feel only appropriate if it is the freedom to speak, look, and believe as they do. This seems so far removed from the America that Americans themselves have been selling for generations that I find it hard to reconcile the ideal with the fact.

Why is it so easy to dismiss those who are different as less? Why is it ok to joke, insult or even harass them? I find it sad. America is supposed to be more. It could be more. It should be more.

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