Blurred Vision

Blurred Vision

A Story by Lipstick_Lesbian
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What does it mean to be an American?

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“What right does this guy have to tell us what it means to be American?” My friend pondered aloud as she twirled her hair around her finger in boredom. “His accent is so thick, he can’t even pronounce the word ‘culture’ correctly”. I stifled a giggle as I sunk deeper into my seat in the back of the large lecture hall. At the front of the classroom, a short, stout, soft-spoken man waited patiently for his students to settle down. Our Cultural Anthropology professor was gentle and unassuming, and his fragile frame was almost completely engulfed by the projector screen behind him. On the screen, a single foreign word loomed large above the small man’s head: ETHNOCENTRISM. On the same slide, pictures were haphazardly arranged to fill in the white spaces: apple pie, cotton candy, a baseball bat, Mickey Mouse, a handgun, a trailer park, and a keg of beer.

 

Our professor had just informed us that these images represented the “America” he expected to find when he arrived here from Nigeria two years prior. Upon hearing this, the class erupted. Some students laughed, although I suspect that their laughter was due to nervousness. Others sheepishly nodded or shrugged, as if in total agreement with the way their country had been portrayed. Most students, however, vehemently opposed this gross trivialization of the American identity, and they pushed back against it with all their might. When the commotion finally died down, we were quite memorably introduced to the notion of ethnocentrism: passing judgments about another culture from the narrow perspective of one’s own cultural system.


That word -- ethnocentrism -- changed my life. I couldn’t think about my country the same way after that. For my entire life, I had viewed the rest of the world through red, white, and blue tinted glasses. I realized that as a country, our superiority complex was part of what made us the laughing stock of the international community. It’s one thing to be isolationist, but to be so nationalistic that it borders on self-righteousness was despicable to me. Who were we to preach that the American way was the only way? That day, my little American bubble was burst. Under the bald-eagle eye of George W. Bush, we embarked on an international crusade to spread the Gospel of Democracy to countries that we assumed needed our help. Yes, these countries did need help. But was it our help they needed? Was our intervention truly in their best interest, or was it actually in ours? 


In our crusade, we had viewed the rest of the world from a skewed perspective, assuming that our cultural norms would sufficiently inform the decisions we made on a global scale. We neglected to realize that what works for us may not work for them. And when the transition from their way of life to ours was less than seamless, we took minimal responsibility for it. I was so ashamed that I felt compelled to write a letter of apology to every country we had ever imposed ourselves upon in such a way. 


I was itching for an escape from the American bubble, and especially needed a change of scenery. A few months later, I traveled outside the country for the first time: to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Italy. My ability to immerse myself in those worlds and those cultures was due entirely to what my Cultural Anthropology class had taught me about my national identity. I was proud to be an American, but not so proud that it clouded my vision. My awareness of ethnocentrism enabled me to appreciate my country for its differences, and other countries for theirs. That one word in that one class schooled me for the rest of my life.

© 2012 Lipstick_Lesbian


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This is an essay that should be shown to those politicians who wrap themselves in their respective flags, without understanding the world outside them. In fact, when I read this essay I immediately remembered how Newt Gingrich criticised Mitt Romney for the heinous crime of speaking French to French people. I think that these politicians need to receive the same kind of education in ethnocentrism that you did.

Posted 12 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




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This is a nice piece of writing that I couldn't agree with more. There are alot of people that need to learn about this.

Posted 11 Years Ago


"Ethnocentrism"

It sounds like a "politically correct" word, God help us. Only someone who actually believes in Political Correctness would use it. Those liberal professors are all the same; in their acadameys, their treated like demigods. Put them in a real life, with a real job and a down-to-earth realistic viewpoint, and you'll find they aren't worth s**t. I agree with what you said about Bush, though. He had the brilliant idea to bring peace and freedom to a land that hasn't known it in over three thousand years . . . and then he had the gall to be upset by his failure. And even though I agree that Americans can be arrogant and self-righteous as regards the rest of the world, we're a FREE people: meaning we have the right to speak our minds without fear. We can live in peace (moreso than everyone else) and reach our dreams in security. In almost all countries--including ALL of Europe--we'd be lucky to have running water. Any American who truly hates his native country (and by native I mean AMERICAN-born; not American Indians) has never really been to another. This is still the greatest country in the world; regardless of what any professor says amidst his piles of books on cultural equality. There's an easier way to put that: the Melting Pot. That's when we believed the American Dream could work--when this country was united. And our men and women have paid for that freedom and safety with their blood. Why is democracy always portrayed as "evil"? I GUARANTEE you socialism is far worse, for everyone from the top down.

Posted 12 Years Ago


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EMF
Jingoism in all forms has always got on my wick. Wave a flag and proclaim superiority. And my culture has been doing it a lot longer, with more violence and degradation than one could comprehend. You have encapsulated the attitude perfectly and the moment of realisation with true power and intilect. A stunning work that cannot be ignored. Wonderful work.
Looking at it 'objectivley', this is also really well written. Superb control of language and style. Relaxed enough to make the reader accept the views, put powerful enough to carry your point to heart and mind. Thank you again. Superb work

Posted 12 Years Ago


This was an interesting story to read. To see the stereotypes that your professor shared, made me realise how many people stereotype other countries -- whether in a good or bad way. I realised that you have to be IN another for quite some time to even get the SLIGHTEST understanding of their culture. I will admit, however, that I did chuckle at the items that you mentioned... I'm not American, but I've heard that baseball is an American past-time...

Posted 12 Years Ago


This is an essay that should be shown to those politicians who wrap themselves in their respective flags, without understanding the world outside them. In fact, when I read this essay I immediately remembered how Newt Gingrich criticised Mitt Romney for the heinous crime of speaking French to French people. I think that these politicians need to receive the same kind of education in ethnocentrism that you did.

Posted 12 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on May 1, 2012
Last Updated on May 1, 2012
Tags: america, culture, anthropology, essay, essays, cultures, country, national, identity

Author

Lipstick_Lesbian
Lipstick_Lesbian

Los Angeles, CA



About
Fierce femme with a fabulous fiancée. No photos or fonts here. Just words. [Check your homophobia at the door. It's all love, baby.] more..

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