Many people have different conceptions about the word American and what it means to be American. Diverse experiences inform people’s associations and connotations with the idea of Americanism. However, in the Bay Area, and Berkeley in particular, there are many commonalities between the majority of individuals’ views. This primarily stems from the fact that in order to truly identify with America one must have a certain amount of contentment with the status quo. This becomes a problem in Berkeley as many are unsatisfied with the status quo, ergo the idea of Americanism gains a negative connotation as it comes with the implication of support towards the status quo. This dissatisfaction with America is exemplified by the song “BLK Girl Soldier” by Jamila Woods. The song discusses the history of racism in America and the power structure that is used to put down and discriminate against people of color. The song implies that to be ‘American’ is to exist in a society with a racist power structure, and to either benefit from or suffer by the hand of systemic oppression. In her song, Woods states: ”They want us in kitchen; Kill our sons with lynchings; we get loud about it; Oh now we’re the bitches” This makes a good point on negative aspects of Americanism, however, it fails to acknowledge the benefits that come with being in America, and in that sense, this approach falls short.

In contrast, Tegan Griffith has a far more positive view of Americanism. Griffith, an ex-member of the US navy, talked in the documentary: “American Creed” about the sense of community she felt being in America as a veteran. She remarked upon the amazing ability granted to American citizens to protest, and the right to free speech. It is clear that Griffith values the idea of Americanism and how it symbolizes freedom, service, and community. Griffith states, “I feel like I could travel anywhere in the US and I would have somewhere to stay”. This emphasizes the strong benefits that come with living in the United States and demonstrates Griffiths approval of the idea of Americanism. However, just as Jamila Woods fails to recognize the positives of being American, Griffith fails to recognize the negatives. Additionally, the author’s experiences in the US military distances her viewpoint considerably from the average American. Many of the benefits Griffith cites, are mostly exclusive to vets and are thus un-applicable to those without a military background.

To me, the idea of Americanism is somewhat of a mixed bag. While there are definitely aspects of America to be criticized, there are also many aspects worthy of praise. Growing up in the Bay Area has definitely had a strong impact on my views on Americanism. Even more so, being white and born in the US is a major factor in the way I’ve experienced America and subsequently my views on Americanism. While the arguments above provide interesting points, in my opinion, Americanism is truly about the diverse mix of people and cultures that have fed into and culminated in American culture. America is composed almost entirely of foreign ethnic groups who all brought their culture and ideas to the US, eventually forming today’s culture.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 America Means Identifying With a Common Culture by Sebastian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

2 Comments
  1. Max 5 days ago

    Sebastian, this was an awesome thing to read. I completely agree with you. I think today’s political climate makes it very hard to be proud to be American, no matter which side of the party-line one falls on. This website speaks a little to that https://townhall.com/columnists/jackiegingrichcushman/2018/06/28/why-americanism-is-important-n2495088. The point about Americanism being a mixed bag makes sense. I hate America sometimes, but there is nowhere I would rather be really.

  2. Gracie 7 days ago

    Hello Sebastian,
    I thought your adaptation of what the definition of the “American Identity” was interesting. I loved how you gave both the extremes of both sides as well as the moderation. I agree with you, I think the meaning of being an American citizen is different for everyone. For me personally I think being an american means fighting for what’s right and the freedom and equality for all where as some may not agree but that’s what being an american citizen is, having the right to have different opinions.

    Yours,
    Gracie

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Youth Voices is an open publishing platform for youth. The site is organized by teachers with support from the National Writing Project. Opinions expressed by writers are their own.

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