The Double Bind of America: Justified Sacrificial Mythology
To preface: This was written for a class of mine when asked about the urban mythology of patriotism in America. What do we define as American values and what is being sold and fed to us?
I wasn’t born in America so my early memories are vivid: a red, white, and blue phenomenon. Bald eagles. Stars and stripes. Hot dogs. Outdoor pools. Television. Jesus Christ. A large green lady that towers at the gates of the most famous city in the world. Our very own modern sphinx, waiting for tourists to arrive at Thebes. A blue donkey and a red elephant. Our very own gods, mapping out our patriotic ideologies and priorities for us. This is the mythology of the United States, bombarding us with surface-level spectacles. In the underbelly of the nation, it is riddled with injustice, division, and deep rooted marginalization. America is an orchestrated display of opportunity and freedom, where immigrants come to find jobs and chase dreams or where the quiet can come find their voices. I was taught that the quality of life would be significantly better, that pursuing happiness and individuality is a postulation only discovered in the heart of green pastures and Fourth-of-July sparklers. Manifest destiny is admirable. The indigenous people of these lands are placeholders. Slavery is painted as a terrible mistake: it was wrong, but we live in a post-racial society now! Asian and Latinx citizens are invaders; nasty foreign vegetations seeking to choke the life out of good, honest, hard working white Americans. Immigrants should be excommunicated. Only English exists here- God forbid bilingual people speak their native language in aisles of a local grocery store. Our broken systems and institutions are individual and interactional. Climate change could be fixed with paper straws and reusable grocery bags, or that it is on the average citizen to stop using Aquanet, or whatever brand of hairspray that does the worst kind of ozone damage. That the demographic diversity of the rural south to the eclectic atmosphere of urban cities to the tasteful prestige of the wealthy northeast was a sign of rich, affluent, multi-cultural history and not the result of governmental neglect. That it was the beautiful variety of America- and not the result of an oppressive, fractured country. Going over seas was the right thing to do- inserting ourselves in wars and overexploited nations is for human rights and not fossil fuels and material goods. What about the Asian women who were commissioned and forced into sex slavery when American soldiers felt lonely at night in Vietnam? Or the oil that we demanded over the rights of innocent Middle-Eastern children? Or the millions of African natives who were enslaved to make profit on a land that was never even theirs? Or the Central/South American people who became casualties between a clashing of economic ideologies? Or the denial of Native American genocide? Or that the homeless epidemic could be solved if the government cared enough? Or that an American president let millions of people die of a ruthless disease because they were gay? Or the coup and slaughtering of a Pacific Island nation that was minding its very own business? There is Hawaiian land that is still inhabitable at the cost of war. Our politicians complain about “cancel culture” but neglect to remember the existence of McCarthyism. Yet we are taught that these are worthy sacrifices- that foreign people, people of color, or marginalized folks in general are disposable. We are placeholders or mere chess pieces in a larger picture. That people like me are not worth the same as white people, and I must accept that in the process of upholding America and other Western values. We are taught to withhold the objective truth that our beloved country has inflicted serious suffering through the act of imperialism, that we have crippled the development of numerous nations, and continue to do so. These acts of atrocities are worth it and it is their fault for getting caught in the crossfire. We advertise racial and ethnic diversity, yet we condemn everyone who is not white. We belittle over-utilized countries, but we need them to survive. We refuse the right to privacy but punish unwed single mothers. We refuse opportunities for the disenfranchised and dilute the lines between classes but we advertise a self-made ideology. We preach a new age of intellectual enlightenment, but we participate in savagery. All of these statements remind me of what “Americanness” really is: contradiction. A double bind. A god with two faces. A paradox. An endless tug of war between what we want to be and who we really are.