What is American Culture?

Mar 062007
Authors: Chantel Reed

In response to the few articles referring to being an American, I too am an American. I am a Black American and along with that I am a Black American Woman. As a matter of fact there are many ways in which I can describe myself because being American embodies more than just “learning the language”, being able to label yourself American, and living the so called culture.

What is American culture? Throughout my college career here at CSU as a Black American Woman, I have learned that the many people who preach living the “American Dream” and assimilating to the “American Culture” can never explain to me what it really means to be an “American”.

When Collegian columnist Nick Hemenway speaks about this necessary assimilation that immigrants have “failed” to make, did he ever think this is because people of color are being forced to assimilate into a culture of hegemony – a culture that in many cases can give a damn about the cultures in which these people come from? Why should there be a need for assimilation? Why should one culture be forced to give up their ways for another one? Why is there not a median in which these many cultures can meet?

I don’t expect Nick Hemenway, James Easton (another Collegian columnist), or any other person to understand what people of color go through in this country. They and others who may identify with them have never truly felt discrimination based on the color of their skin and/or have had to live with the negative after affects of the many atrocities that this “great American culture” has placed upon our ancestors. If anything, these populations need to comprehend that I’m just as much Black as I am American.

If you would like for me to ignore the ‘Black’, then you need to start with the government policies that have the people of color checking boxes for census data, reminding them that we can’t be just American. The next time that I can take a survey and it has the option of American citizen less the option of having to claim an ethnicity/race, then your criticisms can start being justified.

I am reminded everyday that I am a Black woman and understand that it is not my Black counterparts that do the reminding. It is Americans and to be even more specific, White Americans. This is a reason of why there are advocacy offices. For once (people of color) and other politically/economically impoverished groups would like to go to a place where our physical characteristics and our culture are not a constant reminder. Whenever two coaches go to the Super Bowl, we are not reminded by American media that they are White coaches but we are when they are Black. When actors and actresses win the Oscar, it has to be stated when they’re Black.

How wonderful it would be if we didn’t need advocacy offices because this would symbolize that America has risen to its goal of acceptance. But realistically no matter how much one denies this, we have not reached this point in America and even more sadly to say, we have not done so on the great American campus of Colorado State University.

While reading these articles that oppose embracing culture outside of America and through my advancement in college I have learned that when people say become more American, they ultimately (subconsciously or not) mean, become more White. These previous articles have implied that Swedish, British, and other European Americans have successfully completely their assimilation by only stating Asians, Africans, Latinos/as when they speak of immigration and conjunction with non-assimilation. Furthermore, I’m not mad at them for doing so. This is because, no matter how hard we try to be American (Even though many of us already are), we will never be White. Therefore, I will never be a true American in Nick’s eyes.

It’s so funny to me that Nick Hemenway thinks that he is a dying breed. Nick, I encourage you as you probably do everyday, to walk around on campus and notice the population you walk amongst. Notice how the majority share physical similarities with you. I understand this might be silly to you, probably because you never had to think about your ethnic appearance because everyone looks like you; this is what we call privilege. Trust, you are not a dying breed.

I’m almost sad that you don’t feel the need to give recognition to your Swedish background. If I were you I would walk around and say I was Swedish-American and be proud of it. But I’m not you and I don’t want to be. Therefore, you can’t expect me to want to take on all of the values that you consider to be American just as I’m sure you wouldn’t want to take on all the values that I consider to be American.

Keep on chuckling as you think our nation only has small adjustments to make. And in opposition I’ll keep on realizing it is more serious then a laughing matter and knowing that are nation has major adjustments to make. And in the end, we will still both be American. We all, immigrants as well, contribute to the American culture that you’re talking about.

For once, step outside of your comfort zone; try to take a look at things from someone else’s perspective that is a different ethnicity then you. Travel to a country of color; better yet visit a historically Black college or university and attempt to grasp what people of color go through in this country and on this campus. Even though that little bit of discomfort could never compare to the continuous discomfort I feel as a citizen in my own country, still try. But it is then and only then, that you can attempt to comment on why I and others such as myself identify by calling ourselves American and conjunction with another term/description.

Until that time comes, you can come up with an explanation of what it means to be a “true” American and make sure your ideas are backed by our constitution.

Chantel Reed


Sociology/ Ethnic Studies

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