I always wonder what it means to be an American. What are the aspects of American culture? I believe one fundamental component to being an American is being unaware of your own contradictions. It’s condemning others for something that you’ve been guilty of yourself. It’s ignoring the hypocrisies and focusing on one side of the issue, your side because that’s what’s right, anything else is heresy. It’s Thomas Jefferson scribbling all men are created equal while simultaneously enslaving Africans and committing genocide to the Indigenous. It’s incriminating Nazi Germany for its treatment of European Jews while ignoring the barbarity inflicted upon Black people back in America. It’s vilifying so-called illegal immigrants while forgetting that our ancestors also immigrated here and settled illegally. It’s praising Dr. King for challenging the status quo back in the 1960’s but criticizing Black Lives Matter protestors for doing the same thing in 2016. It’s putting your hand over your heart and saying, “with liberty and justice for all” and then turning right around and denying that liberty and justice to a wide array of different people in this country.
There’s a giant disconnect between the principles of America and the actual American behavior. We essentially preach one thing and practice the complete opposite. I believe the cornerstone of American culture is this contradiction. What this has created is the deeply held belief that when we do something then it’s right and if others do the same then it’s wrong. Whenever this American Exceptionalism is challenged, for many of us, we cannot handle the cognitive dissonance of having information, perspectives, and opinions rooted in facts that run counter to this venerated narrative. It’s simply too much to handle. We close down, we shut off, we react defensively, and sometimes even respond violently. Being unable to handle opposing viewpoints is a sign of intellectual immaturity. This is insecurity masked as patriotism which prevents any real national unity from happening.
Everything that is surrounding the controversy with 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is exactly that, the American culture of contradiction manifesting itself once again. I find it interesting the connection between the people that are having a conniption over Kaepernick’s refusal to stand up during the national anthem, are by and large the same people criticizing millennials for being so easily offended on the internet. America only celebrates a Black person’s defiance when that Black person is no longer alive. Dr. King. Muhammad Ali. Rosa Parks. Harriet Tubman. And the list goes on. When Black defiance is still breathing then it’s reviled as being un-American. It’s considered treason. But isn’t defiance towards tyrannical oppression also an American value? Isn’t that what America did to the British during the Revolution of 1776? How can we celebrate this defiance on the fourth of July but then condemn an individual when they embody that same spirit?
If this country believes itself to be exceptional then why aren’t we responding in an exceptional way to Colin Kaepernick? Exceptional people do not react irrationally like little children when faced with a critique. They assess the situation and see if there’s any truth to it, if there’s not, then the critique is discarded as nonsense which requires no response. It would obviously be wrong and everyone would know it. If however, there is even a modicum of truth within the criticism, then the exceptional person recognizes this as an opportunity to better themselves. That is leadership in action. That’s strength demonstrated. That’s being intelligent.
This contradiction is and has always been this country’s greatest stumbling block. It’s prevented any real or substantial progress to happen. If we were sincere about our desire for national unity, we do any and everything in our power to achieve it. We wouldn’t revert back to being school children and telling people to leave the country if they don’t like it. We would be so committed to preserving our solidarity with each other that we would work through any discomfort, because we would know that’s how you grow stronger together.