America is in crisis. America is always in crisis, but most Americans don’t recognize that simple fact of history. We brought the art of the duel to these shores. And the vendetta. We are always looking for a fight because we were Europe’s brawlers and Europe was happy to be rid of us. We brought our choices of weapons, and the subjects of our debates, with us from Europe. Which is why your opinion doesn’t count if you’re not fluent in the Euro-American culture known as Americanism. This is not to say that you’re not the subject of one or more of the debates, for you most surely are. But you can’t change our thinking. Only we as Americans can.
The current debate isn’t about immigration, although it is. It isn’t about unfair international trade practices, although it is. It isn’t about economic equality, or the Second Amendment, or White Nationalism or corrupt politics.
- It is about who is an American.
I am an American. I was born in this country, as were my parents. All of my grandparents came to the United States from Italy. They were not Americans. Which makes my parents part of a transitional generation. They were born and educated here, but they were raised by people who were, culturally-speaking, not from here. The understanding of how the world works is passed down from parent to child. What my parents got was the wisdom of a place where little had changed over centuries. It was probably great advice for streets in Calabria or fields outside of Sacco, but not much use in the Bronx.
Who is an American can only be answered by other Americans. The impression we make on others tells them who we are. If you live and work here and don’t make any effort to learn to speak English, you’re not an American. You’re not even under consideration, no matter what the law says. And worse, in these trying times, you’re a target — for the aforementioned White Nationalists, crooked immigration attorneys and every other sort of fraudster. You’re here for the money. That’s fine. You earned it. Don’t forget to take it with you when you leave.
For everyone else, the mission is clear. There are two cultural societies in America. The first consists of Americans. These are people who have met the requirements for office, which consist of loyalty to the nation and adoption of its Euro-American cultural mores, in terms of speech and dress, which identify one as an American. They have jobs. They vote. They contribute to their community. It’s not too difficult, although some portions of the second group, which consists of three subcultures, make one wonder. The people in the first subculture are like my grandparents, who are never going to be Americans themselves, but will raise their children to be. This is the basic assimilation cycle in America and is completed in three generations. The second subculture consists of generations of people who cannot escape the cycle of poverty and addiction long enough to gather the resources needed to rise out of the slums. Living inside that vortex isn’t specific to any race or ethnicity and escape seems impossible. Being American, to them, is little more than having a pocket to pick. They will wave a flag out of boredom. They will serve in uniform for the paycheck and three squares. They think they’re American, but self-gratification and ignorance get in the way of any semblance of long-term achievement.
The third group is the one in which Euro-American culture simply won’t work: the Reluctant Americans. Native Americans have their own culture, which existed long before Year One. No amount of torture or murder could sway Indigenous Americans from the spirits of their ancestors. And there was never any practical consideration that African slaves could be a part of Euro-American culture, even after the Revolution, so they were forced to create their own. By the time the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, it was too late for any mass assimilation of the newly freed. A century-and-a-half later, Americans are still of two minds, but even in the North, the concept of “Not in my backyard” social inertia is strongly felt. It is easier for both groups to remain in their separate spaces, while exceptions expose the unjust rule. It must be a tricky maneuver to cut across cultures, thereby creating resentment powerful enough to break up families. This is one reason why it’s taking so long for these particular transitions to gain momentum. And then, there is all the past blood and suffering.
When White men arrived in America, they brought the duel. And the vendetta. It was a part of the culture. When Indian and Slave acquired the taste for duel and vendetta, they did so from a different frame of cultural reference. Both races were effectively robbed of their cultural history and have no idea what justice for such a crime looks like. No one does. So, they remain angry at Americans. And that anger is the main thing preventing them from joining with us. To that I say, yes it was us. Generation after wasted generation continually sacrificed in the memory of their ancestors’ slaughter is a ridiculous price to pay for race pride. Every other ethnic group arriving in America paid for their place at the table with insults and humiliations and worse. And once that price was paid, they embraced America and America returned the embrace. Slaves and Indians paid the much greater price. There is no doubt of the worthiness of their descendants. But they have to want to be Americans. They have to accept what it means to be Americans. It means, in part, that in our collective past we all owned slaves and murdered Indians. Amen.