“Don’t Hate Me Because I’m An American”
If you’ve ever had the experience to live in another country in your adult years, you may agree on many of the things that I’m about to mention on how other people view the United States. Of course, a lot also depends on where abroad you have lived and how that society and culture views the United States, either based on what they see in their news programs or based on some conflict it may have had with it.
The American Government
I have been asked by people living overseas why the government of the United States always gets involved in what happens in other countries. The question isn’t always that direct of course, but it eventually pops up when the topic of conversation shifts to politics.
Many people in some countries don’t really follow American politics as closely as we Americans do. They are probably busy trying to live their own lives and when possible, figure out what their own governments are up to. When they have the opportunity to hear of the U.S. it’s usually on the world news reports, which are often quite short and narrowly focused, this is the case in Japan.
So, when I explain that not all American presidents have the tendency to invade or occupy another country, my audience acts quite surprised. I go on and tell them that our system of government is controlled by either Republicans or Democrats at the end of every election cycle, and that whoever ends up in power pretty much calls the shots.
Many of these folks ask me, “So, was Mr. Bush a Republican or a Democrat?’ I inform them that W. Bush and his father were both Republicans. I also throw in the conversation about how Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon were Republicans too. My listeners scratch their heads trying to think out what was happening in the world during the years the presidents mentioned were in power. “Mr. Clinton didn’t start the war in Iraq?” They would ask just for further clarification. I answer “No, and he was a Democrat.”
Of course, we all know that under Bill Clinton the U.S. bombed Bosnia and it was involved in bombings elsewhere. But, on a greater scale, Clinton didn’t use full military power to invade Iraq the way Bush senior did in the early 1990′s and W. Bush did in the early 2000′s.
There are also many interesting perceptions that the American government is also heavily involved in how American corporations do business abroad. I’ve had interesting questions about this from very lefty people in Latin America: “Why is America building sweatshops?,” for example.
It’s difficult to explain how the U.S. regulates corporations since it changes under each administration. But, in a nutshell, I explain to my friends that the U.S. government can only do so much to stop corporations from enslaving people once they operate abroad. And, that the U.S. government is not the one opening or condoning these sweatshops, it’s actually the corporations themselves doing the harm.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk from the Obama administration to have more control over corporations that move abroad. He seems to be the first president to actually propose incentives so that companies stay in the U.S. and to penalize and prevent further outsourcing.
It’s important to also mention that these corporations have deep pockets and have a lot of influence in our government, which gives them a free pass to go overseas and do as they please without any accountability for their actions.
“The government does need to take more action on these corporations that engage in poor business practices and enslave people abroad,” I tell my audience. “But the U.S. government itself is not the one opening a textile sweatshop in El Salvador.”
Painting With A Broad Brush
It’s easier to talk in general terms on the issues, but this type of talk is what is causing so much confusion and undue hate for the United States and its people around the world. Even to say, “the United States is blah blah…” is unfair because we can’t fully and accurately generalize a whole nation. Sure, you can say, “the United States is in North America,” that’s very accurate, but to say: “The United States wants to wage war everywhere,” may not be quite correct.
I explain to my friends in other countries that the U.S. is made up of a lot of goodhearted, honest, and kind people and that its government is not always representative of them. It’s not fair to blame the U.S. without consideration of dissenting voices: The American pacifists that oppose war at all costs. The American environmentalists that are constantly vigilant at any environmental threat. The American feminists that are always fighting for equality in the workplace and reject male-domination, etc.
There are many Americans that are truly trying to change the way the U.S. government and the corporations work. “The American people are not the problem, it’s the rampant capitalism that has been allowed to go unchecked for decades,” I explain. “Don’t paint all Americans as evil.”
Lead By Example
At the end of the day, the Secretary of States is not Hillary Clinton. When any American visits another country, we are the ones representing the U.S. How we behave, what we say, how we act, either enforces or weakens preconceived notions of who Americans are to the people of other nations.
As an informed citizen, I try to pass on what I know and my experiences to others and it can make a huge difference. Take for example a conversation I had with a Japanese friend a couple of weeks ago. He was telling me that in Sumo wrestling, the ring or “dohyo” where the sumos stand to fight each other is so sacred that women are not ever allowed to walk on it.
Controversy over allowing women to walk on the dohyo has been long. The issue was even raised by the former governor of Osaka who was female and demanded that she too walk on the dohyo as previous male governors had. Her plea was even rejected by the Sumo Wrestling Association.
“It’s our tradition,” my Japanese friend told me. “We have to keep our traditions.”
But something just didn’t sit well with me. I told him about how in the U.S. and in the U.K. there had also been “the tradition” of keeping black people as slaves. “It was accepted at the time,” I told my friend. “But, some people disagreed and called it discrimination, racism, and wrong.”
This brief example of how the South moved away from slavery, really made my friend think. “Some traditions can be harmful if it hurts others or excludes them,” I said to him.
Now, I don’t know if comparing slavery to women not allowed to walk on a sumo ring really match up, but it was something I felt like saying and it may not make a difference overnight, but it may over time.
Generalizing and stereotyping a whole nation over the deeds of a few of their citizens is wrong. If we are indeed the 99 percent, we must point the finger to the 1 percent that is making people in other countries dislike us. That’s what I like about the Occupy Movement, because it really focuses on how all of the world troubles are not coming from all the streets of America, just one: Wall Street.
Photo Credits: The Commons, and The Whistling Monkey