Is There any Such Thing as a “Typical” American?
Ask that question of someone from Europe who has never visited the United States, and you may get responses that include such descriptors as “gun-crazy”, “meddlesome” or “apathetic”. And to be fair, those terms may be accurate for some portions of our populace.
On the other side of the coin, though, you may also hear “compassionate”, “caring” or “humane”. Likewise, those fit some Americans.
When it comes down to it, though, is there any description that can adequately describe the nature of the typical American? What is typical? For that matter, beyond the obvious aspect of citizenship, what is an American?
Conglomeration or Amalgamation?
Colonization of the Americas began with Norse explorers in the 10th century. Over time, they were followed by the Spanish, the French and the British, until during the 19th century, more than 50 million Europeans settled in the Americas. For our purposes, we’ll be talking primarily about the colonization of North America — specifically what would become the United States — although early on, Canada was effectively subject to the same effects.
Eventually, that wave of immigration led to significant pockets of German, Dutch, Irish and Scottish people, as well as Italians, Poles, Swedes and Slavs. In somewhat smaller numbers, virtually every country and culture in Europe contributed part of the population of the New World.
Most of those groups tended to form their own communities, either independent of or as a subset of larger cities. They were united by common language and customs, and it was understandably more comfortable to have at least something of the world around them that was familiar.
Over time, language barriers were overcome, cultural differences began to blur and increased interaction with those outside their immediate community led to an increased sense of belonging to something greater… at least with many of these new sub-cultures.
The massive importation of slaves from Africa and Chinese workers (who were often treated little better than slaves) added to the mix. At some point, some wise individual first referred to America as a melting pot, a term that came into popularity early in the 20th century after the debut of a play by that name.
But is that an accurate description?
Yes. And no.
A conglomeration is something akin to a stew. We add meat, carrots and potatoes, cook it a while and enjoy the meal. But while there is certainly some blending of flavors, it’s easy enough to differentiate between the principal ingredients. They retain their essential characteristics.
Conversely, an amalgamation might be compared to a glass of lemonade. We add lemon juice and sugar to water, mix it well and sip it in the shade. But the lemon, sugar and water are inseparable… their combination has produced a new set of characteristics, and the individual characteristics of the ingredients are no longer distinguishable.
A true melting pot would produce an amalgamation.
Some events have created widespread feelings and reactions in our country that would appear to present a cultural amalgamation. The bombing of Pearl Harbor, the sacrifices of rationing during World War II, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center… these produced a united outcry and effort across many cultural boundaries. Black and white, north and south, liberal and conservative, poor and wealthy, Catholic and Protestant… dividing lines dissolved as people united behind a common cause.
Yet we were still black and white, liberal and conservative… we didn’t lose those parts of who we were. We simply set them aside for the moment, as less important in the face of some extreme event. When the need waned or the urgency was behind us, we once again separated into our respective states of meat, carrots or potatoes.
Politicians have always recognized the power of such events in overcoming divisions. False-flag events have been used for centuries to provide justification for and acceptance of actions that wouldn’t otherwise be condoned. Unlikely military alliances, arranged marriages between foes, corporate mergers of competitors — they’ve all been applied as expedients in extreme circumstances. Why? Quite simply, because they work. Even though on the surface, they may be totally unacceptable, under dire conditions, we accept them.
Is True Assimilation Possible?
Here’s where it gets a bit thorny. Let’s take just one extreme, first. The black — white racial elephant in the room.
Before I go on, let me stress that this is an example. It is by no means my intention to imply that every black person feels this way. However, I would be surprised if it didn’t prove to be true for the majority. I’m pretty certain that if I were black, I might feel that way.
Over a hundred years ago, your ancestors were harvested from some African village, beaten and bound, tossed into the hold of a ship and delivered to a white buyer who would beat and bind them some more… for the rest of their life. If they were unfortunate enough to be female, they may have been raped by various white men, would have received multiple beatings and those, too, would last for the rest of their life.
They were deprived (forbidden) education, received care that was often inferior to that provided to the white owner’s livestock, had their loved ones taken from them to be sold, watched their fellow slaves die beneath the whip and endured endless humiliation and hopelessness.
This, you heard all about from your grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ first-hand experiences.
For myriad reasons, your grandparents, and perhaps even your parents, never received a good education. Their ability to express themselves was limited to what they had learned on the street or in second-rate schools… when they could attend.
Naturally enough, this affects your outlook on life — particularly on the portion that deals with the “American Dream”. Also naturally, you associate mostly with other blacks, finding it awkward and uncomfortable to be in the company of whites. You don’t understand how they can be so nonchalant or how they can fail to understand your feelings toward them.
Perhaps that’s an example from the extreme end of the spectrum… but then again, perhaps not.
You can imagine the parallels to a 3rd or 4th generation Chinese whose ancestors were shanghaied to work on the railroads or bridges — or perhaps to the descendents of Japanese-Americans that were imprisoned for the duration of the war against Japan. Many races and cultures have been treated badly by Americans… don’t even get me started on the atrocious treatment of essentially ALL the Native American Nations.
Why bring that up?
I’m certainly not trying to paint America as an evil, racist nation. I honestly believe that’s far from the truth. I’m simply trying to explain why America is not a melting pot. We see occasional spurts of amalgamation, but at the end of the day, we’re a conglomeration. Some cultures have essentially become widely assimilated, but to be honest, it’s mostly those that are closest to us in race, creed and culture. For black, brown and yellow races, and most recently, for Middle Easterners (especially <GASP> Muslims!), it’s more difficult to achieve. And to be fair, it’s probably a bit less desirable, from their standpoint.
Is there anything wrong with that?
Nope! Not a damned thing! If someone prefers the company of others of the same race, nationality, faith, political bent or sexual proclivity, isn’t that natural? I think where the problems arise is when one group decides they’re better than another because of their differences.
Discrimination sucks, whichever direction it’s pointed. There are whites that hate blacks and blacks that hate whites, and as far as I’m concerned, one group is just as screwed up as the other. Whether they think they have a real reason or not, and even whether their reason may have a little logic behind it (I’ve yet to see such a case, but I suppose it’s possible), it’s counterproductive and simply demonstrates a level of ignorance that I think defies definition.
So what IS an American?
The whole point of this piece is to say there’s no such thing as a “typical American”. To try to put a description to a label like that is an exercise in futility. You might as well just scoop a piece of carrot out of the bowl and call it a typical “stew”.
We’re all different. We may all come together at times, but even then, we’re different. Some of us are great folks… some of us are flaming assholes, but all of us are Americans. If there’s any single thing we share in common besides our nationality, it’s the belief that everyone is entitled to their individuality.
And frankly, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of demonstrating that lately.