My American Identity
to: table of contents
Confused about who I am
Am I still an American?
I used to think of myself as an American. Now my identity is not so clear. After decades of identity politics, I am redefined as a white man - a white male, if you will. This identification carries with it a load of shame. White males, it seems, have brought our country to a sorry state. I myself did not do any of this yet, as part of the white-male group, I share in the blame. I am perplexed by the situation. That is why I am writing this book.
Thinking back to my attitude as a boy, I was proud to be an American because Americans were a self-governing people. We had a democratic government rather than one that obeyed kings. We Americans had created a modern society based on free expression. You did not go to prison if you criticized the government. Our nation had a prosperous economy. We were the world’s strongest military power. America was a success story, and I was proud to be part of it. To English people, stuck with King George, my attitude must have seemed insufferable. But I was young then.
Now I’m not so sure that America is a success story. I am not even sure that I have a place in this society. I am sixty-eight years of age. During my lifetime, I have watched our nation decline in power and moral influence. This period of time roughly coincides with the political ascendancy of the Civil Rights movement. During that time I have been defined more narrowly as a white man. For argument’s sake, I will accept that designation. My question is: Where do we go from here?
Who is “we”? Sometimes I feel that I have no people any more. “We” is, actually, “me”. As a white male, I’m considered part of a group that has abused others. There is no group based on that identity that any politically self-respecting person would care to join. I am not a skinhead. I do not belong to white-supremacist organizations. So who am I if I want to be proud of myself or of my kind of person? There is no respectable person in America who would stand up for someone like me.
The American nation has gone into decline. Our banking system is insolvent. The large automobile companies are bankrupt. Unemployment is high. The nation’s manufacturing base is depleted. Nearly three trillion dollars are being added to the national debt just this year. We have a massive trade deficit, and now a reputation for attacking other nations. One might say that the roof has caved in.
Much of this misfortune can be laid at the feet of the previous administration led by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. They were both white males about the same age as me. Both attended Yale University about the same time that I did. They both belonged to my “group”, in other words. The nation and the world breathed a sigh of relief when their term of office ended and a black man, Barack Obama, assumed the reins of office. I, too, was glad to see the change in administrations.
It’s time for self-reflection. Let’s put the spotlight now on identity. A person or nation with a weak sense of identity will, sooner or later, become weak. And that’s what America has become. For all the patriotic fervor and military power, the pomp of the Presidency, and dissertations concerning “American exceptionalism”, our nation has lately experienced rapid decline. My part of that nation - middle-class white people - has declined in particular.
They say that America is a “land of opportunity” which to me seems like an invitation for people to come in and take as much wealth as they can out of here. Get rich as quickly as you can and then retire to your own private community. I want to know who - other than the average Joe or Jane who pays taxes and is sent off to fight wars - is giving back to this community?
If America is our home, we would want that home to be beautiful. We would want our lives to be focused on leaving our community better than before so a new generation can prosper. That kind of life would make for a healthy sense of identity. Can those of us who are simply Americans still feel good about ourselves? Can we have an honored place in this world?
When I was a teenager in the 1950s, a film came out titled “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” It was about a man who took a pill that made him physically shrink. At the end, he was just a speck of dust, trying to affirm his existence. So, in my own land, predictions are made that the types of people I grew up with - white people - will be a minority of the population by the middle of the 21st century. That prospect is now being “celebrated”. Businesses are marketing instead to demographics that show growth.
But I say: My kind also exists. We have not shrunk into complete nothingness.
to next chapter
to: main page to: table of contents
Click for a translation into:
French - Spanish - German - Portuguese - Italian