Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Oppressive Mentalities and America

When I was a student at University of Virginia, I overheard a young local Charlottesville man working at a fast food place say, “I don't pretend to be anything I'm not, I am just a peasant.”

This bothers me. It bothers me because this is being said in America, a country that is supposed to be a land of opportunity; that is supposed to be classless, and in which people are supposed to be able to rise as high as their abilities and willingness to work will take them. This person had obvious intellect and obvious integrity. For him to see himself as a peasant and nothing but a peasant does not accord with the vision that the founders had for America.

I spent several years with a very smart woman from a suburb of Portland, Oregon. She kept going on about the yuppies in Portland having “European pretentions.” The main line there was that they were “trying to be something other than what they are.” Excuse me? What is wrong with incorporating into one's own life something good that comes from some place other than where one has been born? These people wanted to have in their lives some class and some style. That they would go for that to Europe is no more wrong than it is for an American person to go to an Italian restaurant, have a Chinese TV in his house, or drive a Japanese car.

Cultures grow that way. Societies grow that way. And America, for one, has done an excellent job of incorporating the good things that have come from other cultures. So if someone wants to have in his life something beneficial that comes from some other place than his hometown, it is his right.

The mentality we see here is very oppressive and very un-American. It keeps people in traps, and it creates traps from which it is in many cases very difficult to escape. People are identified with the circumstances beyond their control – the circumstances of their birth – and are prevented from developing beyond that. This is absolutely against everything that America is meant to be about.

No, a person who wants to incorporate into his life positive things from Europe is not “trying to be something that he is not.” He seeks to have in his life something that another culture does better than does his home town. In this way he improves his home town, and he also improves his country.

No, a person from the ghetto is not “acting white” or “trying to be something he's not” or “thinks he's better than everyone else” if he takes school seriously. He is seeking to rise to a better place, which once again is a part of America's promise.

No, a girl from a working-class suburb is not “arrogant” or “narcissistic” if she is ambitious. She is someone with drive and intelligence, both of which are virtues and both of which are at the root of accomplishment.

And no, a young man is not “just a peasant” if he happens to be working at a food place.

These people have forgotten the meaning of America.

And what a horrible state of affairs it is if it takes a Russian immigrant to remind them.


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