GLASS HOUSES

Posted in Rants on July 31st, 2013 by Ed

It makes sense that people around the world can enjoy occasional America-bashing; god knows we make it easy for them. We export the worst parts of our culture – fast food, corn syrup beverages, idiotic entertainment, Jerry Lewis – around the globe, we still have a strict policy of American Exceptionalism in global affairs, we have an unpleasant tendency to start wars, and (worst of all, in my opinion) a large number of Americans know absolutely nothing about the world outside our borders. Many people around the world no doubt conceive of Americans as the stereotypes that some of us work so hard to deserve: as anti-intellectual, violent, proudly ignorant slobs who eat KFC every day and drive pickup trucks.

When I read non-U.S. news sites it's hard to miss the occasional "Look at how barbaric Americans are" stories, usually focusing on gun violence, racism, our failing healthcare system, or the latest can-you-believe-this-shit proposal from some Republican state legislator. Part of the reason that people in one country look down on another is to distract from their own problems, but there certainly is a ring of truth to these criticisms. Like I said, we do make it easy for anyone who wishes to paint us with a broad brush. It would be silly to take it personally or to point out the bleedingly obvious fact that stereotypes do not describe all members of a group accurately.

The one and only thing that bothers me is the accusation that America has a race problem. The smugness in some of the foreign coverage of the Zimmerman trial, for example, was palpable. We do, of course, have a race problem. But here's the thing: the planet has a race problem. I'd argue that racism, be it institutional, social, or held by individuals, is a bigger problem in any number of places than it is in the U.S.

Recently Italy made the news when some right-wingers threw bananas at the country's first black government minister. This borrows the "monkey noises and banana hurling" antics that soccer hooligans have been using for years on black players. Domestic politics in the EU – from Russia and Eastern Europe to Germany and Spain – are often tainted with xenophobia and racism. Ethnically homogenous societies in Asia – particularly Japan but also Korea and China – are hardly good role models. Watch a big sporting event in any South American country and you see the exact same "Everyone in the seats is white, everyone on the field is black" dynamic that you see here.

My point is not that the criticism of the U.S. as a place with a race problem is unwarranted. Rather I'd caution people in other nations from giggling at our Zimmerman trials and Rush Limbaughs with an air of superiority. Maybe stick with mocking us for believing that climate change is fake, at least until your society addresses its own issues with racism, nationalism, and xenophobia. We're not exactly alone in having those tendencies both individually and collectively.