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america...and what i learned when i left her.

travel + culture

on the road and what's out there.

 

america...and what i learned when i left her.

Caitlin Surakitbanharn

american politics is at one of the most critical junctions in its short history.  we have the most divisive presidential candidates ever, and the outcome of this election will shape the course of history forever.  

"make america great again" is the slogan for Mr. Trump and the "America First" (you can read about the history of what American First means there) Right.  this slogan is born of American Exceptionalsim.    American Exceptionalism is a concept based on the ideal that 1. America is different than all other nations 2. America has the unique mission to transform the world and 3. that this history and mission make American exceptional to all other nations.  Basically, it means we win, we win big, we dominate the world, we are #1...and it makes us the best.

Sound familiar?

but is this really what America is about?  no.  we aren't exceptional because we win or because we win big.  we aren't exceptional because we have the best military.  we aren't exceptional because we dominate anything or anyone.

we are exceptional because Americans have a history of doing the right thing, even when it is not the popular thing.  we are exceptional because we help our allies when they are in their hour of need, even when it doesn't benefit us.  we are exceptional because we offer the unique experience of being AMERICAN...no matter where you come from, no matter what religion you are, no matter the color of your skin or the gender of your partner.   we are exceptional because we are progressive, we bleed opportunity, we give wild people with wild ideas the chance to reach for the stars, we land on the moon.  because we end segregation and we let women vote. we are exceptional because we are on the verge of curing HIV, because we created flight, and because our executive branch is checked by the legislative branch who is checked by judicial branch, and then back around again.  we are exceptional because we are diverse.  we are exceptional because we take refugees in and make them a part of our national fabric.  we are exceptional because we don't lower ourselves to the barbarian tactics of our enemies.  because that is wrong and we ARE better than that.    

but then i read this..what i just wrote  and maybe "make america great again" makes sense.    because for a lot of the reasons we are exceptional...aren't true anymore.  Mr. Trump has bastardized this phrase, and he's right for all the wrong reasons, but he's right.  we aren't great anymore, as his campaign has shown us.

i remember once telling my mom..i was so surprised at how i was treated in Japan because in the America I grew up in, i didn't see anyone as different.  we all looked different; black, white, hispanic, asian or..anything else.  if you were there, you were American. and everyone had a shot to be the best person they could be.  everyone had a chance.

it's been almost 4 years now since i moved abroad.  when i first arrived in Japan, I was SO SHOCKED by the way i was treated.  i was looked at like an alien.  i was NOTICED.  i was different, i was not Japanese. i was white. i was part of an inter-racial couple (my husband is Asian).  i did not speak the language.  i looked different.  i was literally everything the Japanese were not.  and i experienced a lot of racism.  like...i would sit down on the train and people would get up because they didn't want to sit next to a white person.  women in the locker room at the gym would move their lockers away from me and yell at me "go home! we don't want you here!"  and i was so surprised.  because i'd never experienced anything like this.  because America is EXCEPTIONAL. because america is great and everyone there gets a fair shake.

what this election has shown me is how dead wrong i was about my country.  i have been lucky in my life to have been born to a good mom, step-father, grandparents, sister and i am lucky to have been born smart..and let's be honest, white.  i experienced a little sliver of racism for 2 years...and what i saw in Japan was just a little peek into what minorities of all kinds in the US feel probably every day, intensified by a million times. 

what this election has shown is that we aren't exceptional at all.  we are ordinary.  apparently, we are full of racism, full of bigotry, and full of sexism.  we want to openly limit the civil rights of gay and transgender people.  we want to paint all Muslims with a broad brush and call them all terrorists.  we want to say that if you think black lives matter, that means you think "all lives don't matter" and that makes you DIVISIVE.  as Jon Stewart said... these minorities of people in the US (who are quickly becoming the majority...)...these people standing up and fighting for equality ...DOES NOT MAKE THEM DIVISIVE.  the black community rising up and saying STOP SHOOTING US doesn't mean that the lives of cops don't matter.  what it says is they are fighting for EQUALITY because this is AMERICA AND IT'S TIME WE TOOK THE PHRASE "ALL MEN (AND WOMEN) ARE CREATED EQUAL" SERIOUSLY.  and if you feel threatened by the black community 1. feeling empowered by the first black president and 2. fighting for the equality they deserve... then you learning now what it means to have privilege taken away.  again, as Jon Stewart said...equality feels like a disadvantage when you are used to privilege.  and this isn't just about white privilege.  it's about male privilege, it's about economic privilege, it's about all kinds of privilege.

we are literally putting a man on the ticket for a presidential election that wants to openly endorse torturing our enemies.  i went through a period of time where i thought...hey they do it to us, we should do it to them.  BUT I WAS WRONG.  we are supposed to be exceptional...we are supposed to be better than that.  

i was in Bangkok last year when it was released that American intelligence and military agencies used a black site in Thailand to torture prisoners.  and i got an e-mail from the US State Department, telling me that because of this, as an American abroad, i might be a target for violence.  and to be careful.  and i thought to myself.... my god.  we sank to their level and now i'm getting this email.  it came right to my front door.  it was a disgrace, and i was embarrassed that i ever thought it was OK to sink to their level.

and you know - this is hard to write because i know a massive majority of America...is not this.  i know this is NOT WHO MY COUNTRY IS.  but it's kind of what we've become by letting our leadership bully us with fear.  i don't know anyone who is racist, sexist or bigoted (really, i don't.  i can't think of any friends or family in my life that act that way)... so i know this is NOT who we are as a country.  but this voice...this small faction of politics has become LOUD.  and it's becoming dangerously close to being what we stand for.

I think the most important thing i've learned while living abroad is how much the rest of the world looks the America for leadership.  in the US...we rarely have any clue what other country's political situations are...blissfully unaware.  well the rest of the world knows what we're doing.  and they look to us to set the trends.  and like it or not...whether you accept that role or think they should worry about themselves... they do.  they expect and want America and Americans to be exceptional.  

but we don't do the right thing anymore. our Exceptionalism is gone.  and letting this hateful attitude that has come to light in this election continue and win...only makes us worse.

so if we want to make america great again... i suggest we stop screaming "lock her up!" and stop thinking the black community is against the white community, and stop telling gays they can't get married, and stop saying Mexicans are rapist and criminals and that they can't do their jobs without bias and stop hiding behind the idea that this hateful campaign is going to bring jobs back (newsflash: the manufacturing facilities aren't going to open again.  that ship sailed, we need new innovative markets in the US..ahem...clean energy)....and start showing COMMUNITY.  and start coming TOGETHER, start fighting TOGETHER for equality, start practicing tolerance for all Gods, start working together to find solutions for the future...a future that includes EVERYONE.

i don't think Donald Trump is the problem.  i think he's a symptom, but we cannot let this continue.  i think he provides a voice to people who don't want to see all the progress we've made in this country for minorities of all kind as PROGRESS...they see it as a decline of the american dream.  and let's be real - the american dream of the 1950's IS DEAD.  it's long gone.  and it has been for a long time.  Obama didn't kill it.

you guys.  it's time to build a new american dream.  we have to do it together, loving each other, working along side each other, and tolerating every single race, sex, gender identify, religion and anything else.  the new american dream is one of equality and genuine equal opportunity.  let's do it together.