January 06, 2012
So Big, So Friendly, And So Rich
Humani nihil a me alienum puto.
"Nothing that is human is alien to me."
That quote, from slave-turned-playwright Terence from the Roman Republic, is reportedly posted in some United States immigration offices(which is even more fitting than it seems right away). Since I read the quote it's been repeating itself to me at strange intervals and it's implications have even made me teary-eyed occasionally.
My country is full of promise and riddled with broken ones. It's like living in 2 countries with conflicting legacies at the same time. The phrase 'the melting pot' was originally used to refer to European immigrant marriage with immigrants from different European countries as well as European immigrant marriage with white Americans who could trace their history to the first white settlers. People spoke excitedly about this 'melting pot' and it's implications of unity and shared identity. This unity and shared identity is now called "white people" in America.
Meanwhile; Asian, South and Central American, and Eastern and Southern European(occasionally carpeted with the blanket-term 'Anarchist') immigration was widely suppressed, criminalized and ostracized. In addition, after both Abolitionists and Racists failed to convince the ex-slaves to leave the United States, Black Americans were treated as second or third-class citizens while Southern Reconstruction was abandoned. Like usual, the stated American ideal deviated from the actual American practices. Even through the great depression and the second world war white America held on to it's conflicting and strange ideals of Racism and Equality. [Or...Seperate but Equal, if you like]
The civil rights battles of the 1950's and 1960's were spectacularly glorious contrasted on that kind of background. Righteous speeches and writing of Equality and American pride were broadcast and published. No one, except an expert, even cares about what the reactionaries had to say in those days today. It was then, and still is to this day, officially and widely considered 'uncool' to be a racist in America. Some radical blog-posters might even consider racism Treason today.
Institutional racism was outlawed(eventually). Discrimination based on color or creed in employment, housing, and public services was outlawed. Immigration restrictions were made to be and still are essentially colorblind(though more strict in general) to this day. What followed this great leap forward was 2 decades of very pitiful and face-palm-worthy hemming and hawing in the 80s & 90s.
Remember the phrase "African-American"? What the fuck was that? It's only one example in the kind of pointless moralist intellectual 'battles' and 'victories' that occurred during this masturbatory dead-ball era. 'Political correctness' was correctly identified(albeit for different reasons) by conservatives as being the biggest evil facing America. 'Liberals,' on the other hand, fought countless meaningless battles to make society post-racial, post-gender, post-disability, post-sexual-preference, post...
Then 9/11 happened & it changed everything. It didn't change everything in the way they told you it did- it changed everything because the response to it reintroduced and exemplified the United States' dual nature when we started our genocide(of mostly Muslims) in the middle east while trying to justify it to the world by our (new found) adherence to upholding human rights and our (new found) "anti-extremism." This repulsive and intoxicating nature of the United States kept Americans arguing in the right direction until the election of Barrack Obama as president.
I know what those Obama voters were thinking. They were thinking that the election of the first black president would symbolically(& even literally!) make a statement for equality and against xenophobic war-mongering. They thought we could repent, they thought they could erase and forget the George W. Bush years, and by symbolic extension the whole of America's ugly history.
I still have some perversely patriotic & selfish hope that the United States can find salvation somewhere in the future. My hope is in the immigrants. This isn't some sort of self-hating white American thing; as I still consider myself an immigrant. My hope is that when the Hispanic, Refugee, Black, White, and Native American population interbreed and share culture in the coming decades that some new kind of real melting pot will breed a more compassionate American. My hope is that members of the perpetual underclass will all find opportunity and asylum in my country because of their shared experiences of injustice, rise up, & demand what's theirs.
Then hopefully, American foreign policy will miraculously follow suit. But I don't think it's going to happen.