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American Pride, American Shame
Happy Independence Day.
I don’t know if I’m proud to be an American, exactly. I love this country, and I love its people, true. But what has pride got to do with it?
Did I achieve all that I enjoy here? Or even most of it? Or even some of it? As my friend Razib wrote in his lovely essay last year, I too feel very lucky.
I feel lucky that out of the millions who make the attempt each year, my parents were able to make their way into this country. I feel lucky that their efforts have granted me a life I couldn’t have dreamed of in Pakistan.
Wouldn’t a sense of pride also imply that I believe that, in some way, this bounty belongs to me? That I am something other than just an uncommonly lucky person?
Occasionally, I do feel ashamed of my indulgent life. All that I have—all the security, safety, opportunity of America—all that I never give a second thought to in my day to day life, all that I take for granted…
When I think of the family we left behind in Pakistan, I feel guilty, too. Do I have a duty to help them? To give them a taste of what I have? My Pakistani uncles and aunts have laptops and Skype, and through this otherworldly technology we can connect from across the globe. They ask about our health, and we ask them about theirs, and for a moment, we are equal. But then, the call is interrupted—and they disappear. Pakistan has one of its routine power outages, the connection is lost and we remember that to them, electricity is not a reliable mainstay of life.
It is strange that in a discourse obsessed with privilege, the one that is rarely acknowledged is that of being born with a blue passport.
I feel angry at the woke kids of immigrants who complain endlessly about their lot here—as if their lives are composed of endless misery, prejudice, persecution. “No one knew how to pronounce my name in school!”...How can one even bring that up as a real grievance, unless they have no idea of what the world is like outside these borders?
I am not denying, of course, that it is possible to experience hardship here, especially as a minority. I have experienced it myself. I am amazed, however, at the inability to see anything other than those who have it better. “UK has the NHS, Norway has free college!” For too many of the commentariat, the outside world exists only when it can make America look bad in comparison. (How many progressives, for example, knew before the last month that many European countries had stricter abortion regulations than we did?)
I grit my teeth when I see America defined only by her worst moments—forgetting all that is good, all that makes her unique, and forgetting too the greater misery elsewhere. America is defined by her slaver past—okay, fine. But then, we must also define the Arab world by their far more extensive, and at times, more brutal form of slavery. We must define China by concentration camps and ethnic cleansing, and native tribes by ritual scalping.
But we will never do this. While America’s misdeeds are always on display, the misdeeds of the rest are ignored, or apologized for.
(I wonder how many reading this have ever heard of the genocide committed by Pakistan in Bangladesh, not centuries ago, but mere decades? The deaths of hundreds of thousands, and by some estimates, millions of Bangladeshis aren’t even worth mentioning in Pakistani schools, much less be discussed on the global stage…)
Why are Americans routinely demonized as backwards and xenophobic, when a visit outside the West will make clear that they are one of the most tolerant people in the world? “Is it time for me to leave America?” whines American-born New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali. “Where else can we go when this country turns on us?” he asks. I presume the question was rhetorical as he never answers it, but I will: Wajahat, you can go to Canada maybe, and some parts of Europe, but that’s it. Everywhere else in the world you will see explicit racism and hate the likes of which your American upbringing cannot fathom. Even in your parent’s home country of Pakistan—your liberalism will plant a target on your back.
Yes, minorities are marginalized here, yes they experience hardship, but please can we have a sense of proportion, some measure of objectivity?
And this isn’t just a mere habit of speech! The bias against America affects the way even experts think about global issues, distorts their perceptions of problems, and makes their “expertise” worse than useless. (See, for example, the 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation report that found that the US was one of the 10 most dangerous countries to be a woman—alongside Saudi Arabia, where women are considered legal minors and cannot make basic decisions without male permission, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which women are in danger of war rape by maurading bands of militia. The report was the result of a poll of 550 “women’s rights experts'' from around the world—all captured, it would seem, by the American MeToo discourse dominating the world’s airwaves.)
Of course, if this was merely a case of putting extra pressure on a powerful nation, that would be one thing. But this is, instead, a bias against the United States, one that prevents too many from seeing the world as it is, and thus makes them incapable of being a force for real good.
America-hate presents itself as an enlightened humility, as a desire to “clean up one’s own backyard first”, and of course, if it indeed was rooted in a desire to be better, it would be an unquestionably good thing.
But in practice, it is a refusal to acknowledge privilege by the most powerful people on the planet, so that they can maintain a sense of self-victimhood. It is a way for Google employees to pretend to be marginalized (because of their minority status, sex, orientation, or self-diagnosed autism). It is a way for the elite to absolve themselves of the responsibility that comes from real privilege—for some of the luckiest people ever to have lived to pretend that, no, actually, they don’t have it so good after all. That indeed it is they who are to be pitied, the charade releasing them from the burden imposed by reality: the guilt of having so much, while others have so little.
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