Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's An American?

Hakim attends the local mosque and is formally educated in the neighborhood madrassa. He devoutly prays five times a day and religiously reads the Koran. He harbors a deep-seated resentment for the United States’ involvement in the Middle East and it’s preferential treatment of Israel. Furthermore, he feels the culture--or lack thereof--of the U.S. is pure poison, infecting young Muslims with Western ideals.

Adriana is Roman Catholic, really, for no other reason than she was paedo-baptized into the faith. Like Hakim, she too resents the United States for what she considers to be injustices past and present. It is her firm conviction that her people’s birth rite has been stolen; that nearly all of the southwestern United States rightfully belongs to Mexico; that her people have languished under U.S. conquest and exploitation since the Mexican-American war.

Then there is Leah. Leah’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors. She is ethnically Jewish but not religiously. Were she to label her spirituality she would choose “agnostic,” because she has no idea of what or who God is and quite frankly doesn’t deem the subject worthy of much contemplation. As a secularist she is philosophically--and for the most part politically--progressive and contra Hakim, she very much supports the United States simply because the United States supports her beloved homeland, Israel.

Finally, we have Qeshawn. Qeshawn was raised Methodist (AME) but is entertaining notions of converting to Islam. Within Qeshawn burns a smoldering passion. This too, stems from perceived injustice, unabated suppression, and exploitation. Qeshawn believes, with every fiber of his being, that his people have been victimized by the U.S. for two hundred years; that the U.S. government, with it's racist, genocidal policies, is responsible for his personal pain and poverty.

What do these fictitious, but real to life, individuals have in common? They’re Americans. And so I ask you: What’s an American? Obviously, being American has absolutely nothing to do with ethnicity; for Hakim is Iraqi, Adriana is Mexican, Leah is Jewish, and Qeshawn is African. They--but not necessarily their parents--are bonafide Americans. Why or how is this so? It’s quite simple: They were born in the United States.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is clear: “All persons born…in the United States…are citizens of the United States.” I honestly can’t think of a lower common denominator, a lower standard for citizenship, than: “I was born in the USA.” Can you? How can one conceptualize an American, in any meaningful way whatsoever, if the only thing which makes for being an American is reduced to nothing more than having been born in the United States? This is our one essential quality?

 Some would offer, “Well, ‘American’ has nothing to do with nationality but everything to do with ideology. We are ‘American’ because we all believe in the American ideal or the American dream.” Really? And what would this “ideal,” this nebulous “dream” entail? What is this common or shared American vision? Perhaps you’re thinking the American ideal is liberty and the pursuit of happiness; “freedom” if you will.

But are Americans agreed as to what constitutes liberty, freedom, and happiness? I think not. Every American is screaming for their particular tribe’s “rights” and nobody seems to know what their rights are or from whence they come. Thus Americans have the right to kill their babies but not to make them fat.

Adriana enjoys the right to pursue happiness by “marrying” Leah but nobody has the liberty to say they’re living in sin. Hakim exercises the freedom to make money and Qeshawn feels entitled to claim it as his own. And so on.

Watch the news. There is no single American vision or shared ideal. Some worship in the cathedral of free market capitalism while others zealously preach socialism in the high church of Marx. The "Tea Party" pledges to the flag while "Occupy Wall Street" poops on it--literally. What of the Constitution? Is there a common commitment to the Constitution? No.

Most Americans have never read the Constitution and those who have, have forgotten it. The few Americans who are conversant with the Constitution are disagreed as to how it is to be interpreted. We’re a corrupt government’s dream come true: A “constitutional republic” in name only.

Where is our common ground? (And no, I’m not speaking of geography.) Is our place of birth (now I am speaking of geography) our only commonality? If so, is that which divides us greater than that which unites us? Have we lost our collective soul? Who are we? What defines us?

What’s an American? I’m not sure anymore.


  1. Thoughtful post, appreciated it. I've been juggling a lot of thoughts about the Christian relationship to States recently, as well:



    Objectively, I would have to say an American is one who possesses citizenship either through birth or naturalization. Ideologically, one may be called more or less American to the extent that he or she identifies with the most basic, historic, and popular principles which have characterized this country. This may include sympathy for the "golden rule", belief in the citizen's right to earn and keep wages, ideals of limited government and greater personal freedoms, and the right to practice religion of any kind in a way that does not jeopardize the well being of others.

    — Michael Spotts:.

  2. Whoops, posted the same link twice. here's the second one:


  3. Michael,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. I'll be sure to check out your links ASAP.

    Given your ideological sketch above, wouldn't you say that most of those on the left do not hold to American ideals? Perhaps European?