Wednesday, February 5, 2014

America is the New High School Cafeteria

I am a foreigner.

One look at me and you'll know I don't belong in this country.
I don't speak the language. 
I don't fit in with the culture.
I am an inconvenience.
Difficult for people to talk to.
A bother to taxi drivers.
And store clerks.
And bank tellers.
And anyone else in this country who tries to talk to me.


And yet, Korea has been nothing but good to me.


No one has ever said:
"This is Korea. Speak Korean!"

No one has ever said:
"Speak Korean or get out!"

No one has ever said:
"Watch out, the foreigners are all terrorists."

No one has ever assumed that because I am not Korean, I am a threat to society.
A threat to anyone's safety.
A threat to the Korean way of life.
To the "Korean dream."
To "everything Korea is supposed to be."

But frankly, if Koreans had any of these sentiments,
on some level, I would understand.

Korea is a racially homogeneous society.
They make up 98% of the population.
There's not a lot of diversity in Korea.
So, it wouldn't surprise me if the newness of Western society made them uncomfortable.
Even bothered them.
New can be hard.
That's okay.

So what I really do not understand, is how some in America--a country that was inhabited first by Native Americans and then claimed by some greedy Europeans--are so incredibly intolerant to diversity.

Yes, I saw the Coca-Cola advertisement. But I saw it differently from Korea.

We all have different responses, different feelings about hearing "America the Beautiful" sung in various languages. Some people are in awe at the beauty. Others are surprised and uncomfortable. It's okay to feel what we are feeling. It is not okay to use words like "terrorists" and "illegals" to describe people who may look different than you. And for whom, there is no evidence that they are "terrorist" or "illegal"!

Lately, I've seen the United States of America like a high school cafeteria. It's a big place with a lot of subgroups. And inevitably a select-few like to think they run the place (think the Mean Girls movie, "You can't sit with us!").



They sit at the cool table and they like to decide who's "In" and who's "Out."
Who's "American" and who's "Not American."
Their standards are high and often inaccessible.
And they think they wrote the rules of how to be American.
(America doesn't even have an official language!)

But, according to them, you can't just possess
a visa
a job
a family
and a long heritage in America.
No, you have to be white and you have to speak English.
(Otherwise you're an illegal immigrant?)



The cool table in America is usually whoever yells the loudest.
Or who has the most money.
Or the most Twitter followers.
Or who can best shock their audience.

Well, the world is made up of many different schools, with many different cafeterias. Some care greatly what America thinks of them, others could not care less.

So, congratulations: 
the world is (yet again) rolling their eyes at us.

I can't successfully explain this to my co-workers or my students. Their reasonable questions far surpass my ability--or need--to defend America. I just can't. I don't have the words to try to explain why it's okay for Americans to unfairly label people and tell them they should "get out" because they don't meet their standards. Because it's not okay.



I'm trying to grasp both sides of this how this but I'm having a hard time. So, if you can help me understand your point-of-view that may be different than mine, I welcome your kind-hearted and educational response.









8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would love to provide a kind response. I don’t agree with really anything you said, but I’m not necessarily going to completely defend the other side either. I did not take issue with the coca cola commercial. I thought it was relatively benign. I think the people who were bothered by it are afraid of this larger movement to “fundamentally transform America,” which President Obama has said he wants to do many times. People are afraid that we are becoming ashamed of things that are practical and that work for the sake of politically correctness. For example, you take issue with immigrants having to learn English; many see an immigrant’s effort to learn English as a promise that they are going to contribute to society. It is impossible to get a good education or a good job and succeed in America if you don’t know English (even though America doesn’t have an official language). That doesn’t have to be mean. That doesn’t mean we are saying “your native language sucks.” It means that in an imperfect world where we can’t make policy based on emotion, where America has limited resources (natural born citizens are even struggling), we need the immigrants who come here to better society. Learning English is an important step to do that. I believe many who heard that commercial felt it was propaganda to put inclusiveness over any other practical decision making tool. Let me be clear, the people who feel these things are projecting them onto the commercial because of other things going on in America. Is it fair in my opinion that people reacted this way to the commercial? No. Is it actually hurtful to their cause? Yes. Is there actually some truth to this bigger picture that they are pushing back against? I believe so.

Now seguing away from the commercial…

I don’t know how many people actually were upset and reacted badly to the commercial and I don’t know (still speaking respectfully of your opinion) if it is necessarily fair on your part to provide one tweet and then say all of America is intolerant. What in this story made you come to the conclusion that Americans don’t consider someone an American if they are not white? Isn’t that a little extreme? Do you really think Americans are like the cool kids at the table deciding who’s in and who is out? I think that is very unfair considering we live in a country that provides more opportunity than any other country in the world. People you encounter in South Korea may treat you well, but didn’t you say in another post that they don’t treat people of color as well? Did you ever think that South Koreans treat you well because they are envious of you, not because they are simply more tolerant than Americans who encounter foreigners? Americans are way more tolerant compared to the rest of the world. I recognize there are still a lot of hateful people in America, but you can’t really do anything about them… just try not to elect them :) 

The bottom line for me is that it is not wrong to strive to be the greatest country in the world, and to stay that way and continue growing (which allows more people opportunity) their needs to be some rules. The rules can’t be inclusiveness for the sake of inclusiveness (which is what we are turning towards). They can’t be exclusiveness for the sake of exclusiveness either which these days is less common, but is what the inclusive for the sake of inclusive people make you think you are if you are not with them. Kind of like how I took your post. Please refrain from saying that America is mostly intolerant when we just weren’t built upon the idea that inclusion is the single most important factor to make policy. Maybe you think it should be and we fundamentally disagree on that?

Did that make sense? I had a lot of thoughts. Feel free to respond with anything you take issue with, I would love to hear what you have to say. And again, I mean everything I say with the upmost respect for your opinion. And if you are wondering who I am, you used to student teach me… and yes, I still am creeping on your blog.

Heather said...

Hello "Student I Student Taught" (I am so curious who this is and I'd love to know...). Is there such a thing as "creeping" on a blog? I don't think so. You are totally welcome here!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really do appreciate that you responded in a kind way because it's okay that we disagree. Here are a few of my thoughts/questions:

-You don't agree with ANYTHING I said? It seems like we both agreed that the commercial was not bothersome. I also felt it was, as you said, "benign." So YAY, that's one thing we agree on.

-You stated that, "I think the people who were bothered by it are afraid of this larger movement to “fundamentally transform America,” which President Obama has said he wants to do many times." That is an interesting idea. And I also felt that much of people's negative responses may be based in fear of something larger. Do you think they feel that Obama and Coca-Cola are somehow working together to spread this message that...being bilingual is okay? I guess I'm not sure what that message would be. Thoughts?

-You said that I "take issue with immigrants having to learn English." Actually, I don't. I'm sorry if that was unclear from my post. I think that it would be best for all immigrants in America to learn English so they can function, so they can be successful, but not because they'll be harassed and treated horribly if they don't. In my current situation, it is really important that I learn Korean. So I am doing my best by taking private lessons. However, I don't think it's fair (or kind or effective) for people to demand this of immigrants and tell them they are unwelcome if they don't. Shaming people is not an effective way to learn a language.

Heather said...

ALSO...


-You wrote, "I don’t know how many people actually were upset and reacted badly to the commercial and I don’t know (still speaking respectfully of your opinion) if it is necessarily fair on your part to provide one tweet and then say all of America is intolerant." I agree with you. Thanks for helping me be a better writer. Saying "America is intolerant" is quite a big statement to make, eh? I could've been a little more specific about the national response (which is admittedly hard to pin down). I could've talked about how the Twittersphere has erupted with tweets declaring "#SpeakAmerican." Or how one website was taking an informal poll in which roughly 50% said they found the ad offensive. Good point.

-Your words: "What in this story made you come to the conclusion that Americans don’t consider someone an American if they are not white?" There was nothing in this story (I think you mean the Coke ad, right?) that made me feel this way. However, some online responses to the ad talked about people they called "darkies" and "terrorists" who had darker skin and, therefore, were not American. I considered mentioning the response to the 2013 Miss America pageant in which an American woman (of Indian decent) won the crown and some people went about calling her an "Arab terrorist." Probably too many thoughts for one blog though.

-I cannot speak for Koreans, I was just speaking to my experience with Koreans. I can't tell you what they are thinking or feeling about me. But what they display to me and what I hear is an overwhelming "You are welcome here." Maybe that is not how they really feel. Maybe it's all an act. But it's better than a public battle to get me to leave.

-You've given me much to think about regarding inclusion/exclusion. Thanks.

-A question. Can you help me break this down? What do you mean when you say this: "The rules can’t be inclusiveness for the sake of inclusiveness (which is what we are turning towards). They can’t be exclusiveness for the sake of exclusiveness either which these days is less common, but is what the inclusive for the sake of inclusive people make you think you are if you are not with them. Kind of like how I took your post."

-I think I understand much of what you were saying. Thanks for clarifying on a few things. There isn't anything I "take issue" with because we are all allowed to have our own opinions. Thanks for respectfully sharing yours.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I’m glad you asked these questions because they are all about points that I was worried I didn’t explain sufficiently. It was a little difficult for me to organize my thoughts on this one. Hopefully I can provide some clarification. I’m going to address your questions/comments in order:
- Okay, yeah we agree about the ad, but I didn’t think that it was a major part of the deeper conversation; it just kind of facilitated it so I didn’t recognize it as a substantial agreement. Nevertheless, I shouldn’t have said I didn’t agree with anything because we do :)

- Oh goodness, this is tricky because since I said the commercial didn’t bother me, I cannot completely defend this point of view. This is the point of view I can best sympathize with (I am sure there are other points of view on this side of the argument that are truly racist and bigoted, but I didn’t comment on your post to defend that, I commented because I felt like you were portraying America to be mostly intolerant and I wanted to show a way I could disagree with you without automatically making me one of the intolerants): No, I don’t think it was a specific conspiracy message that Obama was in on. I didn’t mean he was directly related to the ad. I brought up Obama for the larger picture idea. Many people feel like he is a president who wants to undo tradition and some of the founding principles of America (this relates to the commercial because tradition is being undone by singing “America the Beautiful” in languages other than English). Especially because this song is one of great patriotism, people feel threatened when they think this idea of change is being shoved down their throats. I say shoved down their throats because many people I’ve talked to have said, “Why did it have to be America the Beautiful, couldn’t have been any other song about unity? Why do we have to use a very traditional, patriotic song that has always been sung in America’s primary language and treat it like it is not good enough the way it is and we need to change it?” It’s not just this superficial idea that change is uncomfortable either. I believe it is this whole big mess where people are feeling defensive about their country. They feel like the expansion of welfare state, the nationalization of healthcare and a whole slew of things that are happening are contrary to our country’s founding principles. No, I’m not making the comparison with the ad that people think different languages are contrary to our country’s founding principles. I’m saying people think they are being fed propaganda with this commercial that coincides with the change agenda of the Obama administration, basically that America isn’t inclusive/nice/fair enough and needs to change and this change has all these implications of future governmental regulations, new policies etc. and some people think this isn’t the direction we need to go in. Again, some people suck and are mean, or are just trolls and want attention on social networking. I just wanted to demonstrate that you can have an aversion to something like this commercial without automatically being racist.
- I agree somewhat with your third point, shaming is not nice or effective. I do not condone that whatsoever. I do have to refer back to what I originally said, it’s kind of important that it’s a condition for citizenship to continue on the path to learn English. We have to be sure that people that come here are going to have the tools to succeed.
- I did see a lot of the backlash from the commercial so I can understand your strong reaction.
- People are mean. Social media enables it. It’s truly awful. You already addressed this, but really my point was that it isn’t an accurate representation of all or most of America. Also, people are mean about everything, not just about race. We can call it out on an individual basis, but to call for America to change it (like policy and law wise) is futile and can cause governmental overreach problems, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

PART 2

- Interesting. I’m glad that your experience could be made so much easier by kind people. I don’t personally know many people or heard much about people who are new to this country or have gone to other countries and experienced being a foreigner. I don’t really know how to fairly asses how those people’s experiences are in different places. You definitely know better than I.
- Okay, I’m getting lazy. This comment has taken me three million years to write. For your last question I will refer you to this recent video clip of Jerry Seinfeld. It applies, I promise… Ha that would be funny if it didn’t…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsEr6xNN8Hw Anyway, the last thirty seconds is where it really applies. Of course his topic is different than ours, but he and I are on the same page concerning the inherent wrongness of including people for no reason other than to check a box and pat ourselves on the back for promoting diversity. We impede whatever cause we’re involved with (in Jerry’s case, comedy) when striving for inclusiveness/fairness/niceness/PC-ness trumps making decisions on things which actually help the cause (in Jerry’s case, casting funny people). Then, the unfortunate thing is people can turn around and say you’re purposely excluding when that is not the case. And how this tied into everything was (back to my question 2 answer) there are reasons why things can’t always or even most of the time be “fair” that have nothing to do with purposeful racial exclusion. Automatically accusing people of this only stops the conversation and prevents progression.

Thoughts? A little more clear?

Heather said...

Hello again __________,

I have to say you are adding a lot of interest to my otherwise dreary Thursday afternoon. Thanks for the discussion.

-I think it's important to note that we agree on the ad, because while you interpreted it as part of a deeper conversation, I really wasn't going in that direction. I enjoyed the ad and was surprised at how many people reacted negatively to it. Mostly, I was trying to say, "Wow, the response to this ad surprises me." And maybe, as a result of this conversation, I'm beginning to understand why. Some see it as a reflection of an unfavorable direction that our country is headed. Right?

-Your second point was long, but I think I got the main points. I appreciated this part the most: "I am sure there are other points of view on this side of the argument that are truly racist and bigoted, but I didn’t comment on your post to defend that, I commented because I felt like you were portraying America to be mostly intolerant and I wanted to show a way I could disagree with you without automatically making me one of the intolerant." That makes sense. I admit that what you are describing about America and Obama and a propaganda of change are things I don't directly relate to. But I still appreciate you explaining it.

-Oh, the evils of the internet. I agree that a few loud Tweeters do not represent everyone in America.

-Thanks for including the Seinfeld clip. It's an interesting point: him saying we don't need a pie chart to make sure every single group is represented and I agree with that.

-What you are describing in these comments makes sense. Yes, it is more clear. From what I can gather, this advertisement seemed to speak to a much larger issue for some people, and yes of course, I agree with you, that doesn't make them all racist.

-Okay, I'm getting lazy too, as all of this complex thinking is making my head hurt. But watch this clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnRVheEpJG4) which I promise has nothing to do with the discussion at-hand, but really makes me giggle.

Anonymous said...

Ha, yes! I've seen that video before, very cute. Thanks for sharing.

-Also, I agree we were coming at our points from different places so maybe their not completely comparable.

-Just a final clarification, I don't think is is smart/appropriate/fair/rational, to have a crazy response to the commercial even if you have reasons behind it that are worth looking into. It's not okay. I don't defend anybody who inappropriately gets their panties in a wad!

I just feel strongly that America isn't fundamentally racist in this day and age. I feel like I'm constantly being fed in my life or in the media that we are because of either small scale anecdotes or the new thought process that if you don't drop everything and include, your excluding (like the people called racist for no other reason than the fact that they are not a fan of Obama). When I first read your post it rubbed me the wrong way because I felt it reflected this trend that I feel is unfair and really hurtful to our country. Now that you've clarified you didn't mean to make a blanket statement about America, I feel better.

Sincerely, _______?????

Just kidding, now for your reading pleasure I will let you in on who I am with three clues:

1. I am under 10 feet tall
2. I am NOT Robin Williams
3. My name rhymes with Dunny Savis

It's gotta be obvious now, especially after those first two clues...

Are you surprised? I was going through a really hard time when we met and I think you most definitely thought I was a hooligan. Anywho, I read your blog still and find I can relate to you in many ways. I sincerely wish you well in moving onward. Thanks for the discussion :)

Heather said...

HEY!

It's funny, I kinda knew it was you. Actually, to be fair, I was talking about this conversation with my husband and HE guessed that it was you. I've never thought you a hooligan. I'm happy to know you are reading along. Cool!

I really think we agree more than we disagree. I don't want the media to be propogating (is that a word?) any particular side. I don't want people who didn't vote for Obama to be called racists. I don't want our country to check boxes on a diversity list just for the sake of being thought of as "inclusive."

And, yes, you're right, we're just coming at this from different places. Which is to be expected because we are literally coming from two different places!

Take care and be well,
HB