I swear, if I hear the words “RealAmericans” used to describe *exclusively* non-college-educated white manual laborers ONE MORE TIME, from somebody who thinks every other kind of citizen is really just here provisionally and at the benevolence of those aforementioned “RealAmericans,” I’m gonna throw a very entertaining fit.
We get it, guys, the sudden visibility and acceptance of a whole lot of other kinds of Americans is making you worried that without people it’s ok to look down on, that means you’re on the bottom now.
But that’s not how it works. Other people finally getting treated with a little dignity doesn’t cost you your dignity. Nobody’s going after yours unless you’re going after somebody else’s. There’s nothing wrong with working a trade. It’s a damn good way to make a living, and one of the only remaining paths into the middle class that doesn’t come with crippling debt. It’s a great life. It’s a respectable life. But it stops being respectable when you’re so insecure about your social standing that you start spouting off about how you’re the only legitimate picture of an American, and all the other people who happen to also be citizens just like you are somehow less American than you.
So once more for the people in the back – all these “New” groups, who suddenly want, and are getting, long-overdue recognition as threads in the American tapestry, are just as representative of this country as you are. Not more, not less, the same. And the “Special Treatment” your online pundits are always so keen to accuse them of asking for, is nothing more complicated than “they get what you get, for the same reasons that you get it, the same ways that you get it.” They don’t want special treatment. They want to STOP being singled out for special treatment by people who insist they’re not “RealMurican” enough.
There is a danger in letting ourselves believe that what Norman Rockwell painted was the sum and total of America.
Norman Rockwell painted one slice of American life. He painted it well, and with charm, and wit, and a cool process, and a keen eye for human nuance. But that picture wasn’t the whole story. When we forget that – when we forget that Saturday Evening Post covers don’t mean America was all white and middle class and home-owning and churchgoing and malted-milk-buying once, and come to believe that we as a country have since fallen apart, we aren’t participating in the real world anymore.
When we do that, we’re looking at a tiny slice of what American industry told American consumers to aspire to, during a very short window of time. A slice that, for carefully calculated commercial reasons, omitted everything and everyone that any audience might find controversial or objectionable. Anyone who wasn’t a reflective of the dominant social and ethnic group’s ideal vision of themselves, just wasn’t depicted. I’m picking on Rockwell here, and it’s not totally fair. His work has deep themes of justice and American civic virtue, tolerance for otherness, and diversity woven through it. But the vision of the world that’s held up as When America Had It Right, by well-meaning but low-resolution-thinking white working class America was never really all that was going on. That was never all of America. That was never even MOST of America. It was just the parts we talked about when it was thought of as controversial to say that All Americans Are Actually Equal and American Means American Citizens Not Just The White Christian StraightMarried Middle Class Homeowning Ones With Kids.
There’s a commandment that relates to “graven images” of God in the bible. It’s one we don’t talk about much, the way we don’t talk about the constitutional amendment dealing with being forced to quarter soldiers in your house, but talk a lot about the ones with guns and abolition. The idea goes – God didn’t want itself Depicted Visually, because to do that would be limiting its scope. Once you make a picture, you define characteristics, traits, appearances, gender skin color, body type… Essentially Making God In Our Image. Our own culture, our own looks, projecting our own ideals, to the exclusion of other configurations of features. The commandment is about not limiting the abstract identity of God down to a dude in a white sheet with a long beard, (who’s also white.) I bring it up because it makes me think about the way we do this to ourselves, when we picture an American in our minds. My ten bucks says, no matter what YOU look like, your image of “An American” looked a whole lot like John Cena. (He did a great video on this that I’ll link here.)
But my point in bringing all this up, is this – “Real American” is as hard to visually depict as God ought to be. This is a nation founded on that. Yes it was founded mostly by white indentured servants trading everything for a better life, and by religious minorities too intolerant to be welcome in 1600’s England (a fucking FEAT, that…) looking to set up their own denominational micro-theocracies on a “virgin continent” and so on, but the America described in our declaration of independence is the one that speaks to me, and the one that lines up the most closely with what we actually are, at our best. And anybody who tells you that some Americans are more American than others is just demonstrating how deeply desperately insecure they are, that in the face of all these other groups it used to be “OK” to shit on, being given public respect, there won’t be enough left for them. They don’t know how to feel certain they’re still welcome, if they’re not allowed to make anybody else feel unwelcome. That’s not an especially RealAmerican attitude, but it’s not demographic. It’s a choice. You can be born into being a citizen of this country, or you can choose it. But any time you try to position other groups as LessAmericanThanYou, it’s yourself you’re demonstrating to be a bad fit for the nation of your birth. If you love this country, learn to love its founding principles.