Dear USians on the Internet,

The United States is not the world. It’s not even the centre of the universe.

I know, I know, it’s shocking stuff. If I were polite, I would have offered you a seat first. But I am an uncouth foreignerWell that’s just too bad. Also, you have frequently whipped the seat out from under me in the past. I shall illustrate how through the following fun fact-filled lessons.

Not all non-white people are black. Stop referring to us as such. In fact, neither do all non-white people fit into that routine construction of ‘black/Latino/Asian’ that you so frequently employ. Yes, indeed, you are not being inclusive even if you sometimes tack Native Americans on as an afterthought – you know, as though you’re not in their ancestral homeland or anything that would accord them some respect. In fact, there are many many many many many people in the world other than the ones you choose to mention. I would tell you about some of them, but I don’t want to contribute to that whole list-some-people-and-erase-other-people thing you do. And also it would be a great exercise if you could go learn about them! Maybe you could even meet some! Maybe you have been meeting some and have also been erasing their identities by acting like they were from ethnic/racial groups you’re more familiar with!

Oh, another thing about all that racial stuff! USian racial dynamics do not translate anywhere else on the planet. Hence their being called USian racial dynamics. No one else has the precise history you do, that unique racial make-up, those particular constructions of what those identities mean – things that ought to be respected. Likewise, this stuff works differently in other countries because your experiences don’t magically melt over into and obliterate ours. Do not, do not, ever try erase or modify our experiences of racism, Indigenous experiences in particular, by framing my country’s appalling racist history in USian terms. Have some respect for the stuff other people have to deal with every day, some basic consideration of where we’ve been. That means sometimes people are going to be uncomfortable with the use of terms that are benign or even positive to you, like ‘person of colour’ (because it’s often considered a term particular to the USian context, because it indicates a sense of alliance that isn’t universal, stuff like that). Sometimes you are going to be uncomfortable with such non-white-shaped cultural aspects in other countries. It is not cool to force your ideas about race and racism on us and in doing so alter and damage our cultures, our strategies of resistance, so that you’re more comfortable. I seriously don’t know how you stomach doing that.

We do not instantly understand all of your cultural references, though we do get a lot of them because USian popular culture saturates our consciousness until sometimes there’re barely any local TV or films or books. It is almost impossible to make a living as a writer in this country because USian products flood the market. Sometimes I’m watching TV and I’ve gotten so used to hearing USian accents all the time it doesn’t even register that I’m watching a program from the United States. We do not have your legal system, so references like ‘you can’t censor my free speech, it is protected in the constitution’ get REALLY annoying in a way that is quite apart from it being annoying on the level of, you know, the fact that censorship cannot by definition be performed by anyone who is not the government. And, believe it or not, the world does not operate according to your timezones and schedules, so quit complaining when we don’t respond to you at 3am our time.

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving! (Though that’s pretty messed up, not sure why you do.)

We don’t celebrate Independence Day either, because it is the day of USian independence and on account of our not caring!

We sometimes spell words differently, not wrongly, when we’re speaking English! English came from a country called England, not the USA, and it has spread out all over the world so that there are lots of different spellings! So can you stop using the USian flag to symbolise English on your little translator flags unless you have multiple versions of English on your system, please?

We, depending on context, may well have TVs and soft drinks and jeans and newspapers and it is not incredibly amazing that countries that are not the United States have those things! USians didn’t even invent all those things.

We are not all super unlucky to not be in a country like the United States of America, because there are lots of great things about living in other countries too and quite frankly a country with that bad a healthcare system in spite of having that much money and that large a population is not really a country I want to be in!

Other countries exist! And the people in them? The world around you? Do not revolve around you. We have our own contexts, but sometimes it is hard to focus on anywhere but the United States because YOU KEEP THRUSTING EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR COUNTRY IN OUR FACES ALL THE TIME.

So when you try and put USian racial narratives onto us
or your cultures
or the expectation that everyone you are interacting with is USian
Well, I get really tired of it.

So stop that please.


A person from another country.

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216 comments for “Dear USians on the Internet,

  1. erika
    February 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    For all your talk about how “USians” are close-minded or ignorant, your stereotypes of Americans are incredibly crude and disheartening.

    FAIL, Feministe.

  2. February 15, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    It’s… clearly not talking about all USians. If it’s not about you, it’s not about you. Just like when someone says ‘men discriminate against women,’ it doesn’t mean all men.

  3. erika
    February 15, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I’m sure you don’t mean it in a nasty way, and I truly do understand pretty much everything you’ve mentioned in your list. It just seems self-defeating to address all Americans as if we are a part of the problem. It seems somewhat hypocritical from where I’m standing, and I expected more from this site than that.

  4. February 15, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    So, if I said ‘dear men on the Internet, don’t harass women bloggers’ or some such, that would be my addressing all men as though they’re part of the problem where all men clearly don’t harass women bloggers? It doesn’t work like that.

  5. February 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Chally, not to nitpick and I fully respect your position in this piece because SOME Americans, like SOME people everywhere, can be incredibly closed-minded but: “If it’s not about you, it’s not about you.” ?? Considering what’s going on in the skinny thread, some people do have a right to take offense here too. Please take this as constructive.

  6. Ellestar
    February 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Yeah, doesn’t it just suck when someone makes assumptions about people based on their skin color, accent, or nationality?

    Oh, wait…

    And yes, I get that this wasn’t technically directed at ALL people from the US (and I hate the term USian, for the record, though I understand why you’re using it), but in no way was this post qualified to reflect that. Even the title seems to suggest it applies to every person from the US whose on the Internet.

    I get the frustration. I actively to to respect and acknowledge the wealth of perspectives that exist. But this post was too ironic for words.

  7. hellonhaiylegs
    February 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    erika, you’re pretty much acting like the usual male concern troll on feminist sites (I get what you’re saying… but what about MEEEE?). The US culture of isolation/ superiority does need poking at occasionally, and if the poking comes without a nice disclaimer, so be it.

    Thanks for the reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around the US Chally :)

  8. February 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    That was beautifully well said.

    Might I add that this goes not only in matters of race and language but also in matters of gender, politics, political movements, cultural movements, assorted isms at least half of which I’m sure I’ve never heard of and other concepts, ideas and goings-on.

    It especially annoys me when certain USians preach doom, destruction and horsemen when speaking of socialized health care, neatly forgetting that many countries in Europe actually have that without the apocalypse having arrived just yet. Mind, socialized health care is not the be-all and end-all of how-to-do-things, but the doom and gloom prophesies are not only ridiculous, but also a fair bit erasing of most of Europe.

    Of course Europeans has done a fair bit of erasing of plenty other peoples so we’re by no means saintly (hah! I wish), but still.

    Aaaaaand I’ll stop derailing. Sorry.

    I’ve followed the comments on your previous posts, Chally, and it’s quite clear where this came from. It’s been bugging me as well, and I don’t even have a personal stake in the race issues and the descriptions thereof. Mostly it annoys me when USians go “POC feel like this in Western societies”, when what they’re really speaking of are for instance descendants of slaves in the US South or some other specific group that may or may not have a relevant parallel in other Western countries.

    It also goes for how different countries attempt to shield their Youths with different prohibitions. To someone like me, who has had legal access to alcohol since I was 15, I very often snerk at how many USians think their teenagers will simply explode or vaporize when exposed to even tiny bits of the reality of life (ie. sex, alcohol)

  9. Banisteriopsis
    February 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Yeah, I’m so offended, because I’m so not racist, or imperialist, and no one I know is eith …oh, wait. Nevermind.

    Chally you sound super pissed. What happened?

    • February 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm

      Oh dear god. Non-USians put up with the shit that Chally wrote about every day, and now we’re going to engage “tone” arguments, and throw a pity party for the Americans who say, “but I don’t do that!” and yet still feel the need to comment on the matter as though it’s about them? (Perhaps thou dost protest too much?) Because if so, this American shall not be attending. For the record, other events I am technically eligible to attend but will not arrive at include the white people pity party, the cis people pity party, the straight people pity party, and more.

  10. hellonhaiylegs
    February 15, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    What Jemima said about healthcare. The cultural reluctance of the US to learn from any other country is incredibly frustrating, whether it be their outdated and expensive currency (I’m talking about the physical form) or healthcare. The US as a whole is happy to export its wisdom to developing nations, but unable to incorporate much of what other countries do better into its own society (or even admit that other countries do indeed, do it better :P).

  11. February 15, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    And now, after posting my comment I see that people have already begun to fling poo.

    Seriously people. Are you from the US? Then do NOT presume to tell Chally what is and isn’t too much. She, as well as many of the rest of us, experiences US-Universalism daily. It is not for you to tell us whether or not we should feel our own cultures are denigrated, ignored, or even erased.

    Maybe it’s just me who thought it was pretty clear Chally wasn’t speaking of every USian.

    Really – you lot are taking offense that Chally is offended at having her culture, her background, her race erased, and is asking those doing it to stop it? What does that remind me of I wonder?

    Seriously. You’re offended that someone dislikes being actively edited out of existence. Quick. Send the WAHmbulance!

  12. erika
    February 15, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    hellonhaiylegs, did you even read the same post I did? I expect more from feminist and activist bloggers – I don’t expect to be spoken down to because of where I was born and grew up, just like none of us want to be patronized because we are women.

    You may see it as American culture of isolation / superiority, and I didn’t disagree. What I do see is a lot of rage and hatefulness and an astounding amount of – what appears to me to be – hypocrisy in a place I am not accustomed to seeing it. I like reading this site, and frequently find myself agreeing with what’s said, but that shouldn’t stop me from calling out what I find to be just as ignorant as she’s accusing us all to be.

    It’s not that I feel personally insulted, or that I am whining that it doesn’t apply to MEEEE – it’s that she’s classifying a whole group of people who were born a certain way as being the same. Which is what I thought was the opposite of feminism.

  13. February 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    One of the privileges of being a big dog is not having to think about the other dogs. You know, I do this all the time, even in my post below, and it’s a total pet peeve of mine — like when I see the word “American” used for the United States, completely ignoring the fact that countries other than the United States are in “The Americas.” The implications…

  14. February 15, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    other events I am technically eligible to attend but will not arrive at include the white people pity party, the cis people pity party, the straight people pity party…

    Lulz, srsly.

    Erika, if you can’t make generalizations when talking about large social issues and implications, how do you discuss general social issues? But that’s besides the point: Chally’s argument is meant to de-center USians/USian opinions, and your argument is attempting to re-center USian/USian feelings. Consider the meat of her argument before asserting that it’s hard to be from the United States and consider the rest of the world at the same time.

  15. hellonhaiylegs
    February 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    @erika People living outside the US are rightfully angry at the US (I say this as an American citizen who grew up in Australia). What Chally wrote wasn’t hateful, it was a fairly polite wake up call.

    That you’re complaining about how USians are treated? That sounds awful lot like MRAs whinging about door opening and divorce settlements.

  16. orlando
    February 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you. I’ve always wanted to say that, but I’m not a native speaker of English so I wouldn’t have been able to put it so eloquently.

  17. February 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Erika, perhaps you missed where it was said that if it’s not about you, don’t make it about you. Or maybe you just decided to ignore that bit of wisdom. Sort of like when non-rapist men take offense at the words “Men can stop rape!”

    I don’t think people were dissing Americans. These include Canadians, Peruvians, Nicaraguans etc. We’re speaking specifically of the US and its more universalist inhabitants. That you insist on including every other kind of American is very telling.

  18. February 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I just think this kind of negative posting leads to a mob/ganging up commenting spree. We all have valid perspectives. We all have good intentions, don’t we? Sometimes we misunderstand each other. But we shouldn’t be hateful in this forum, which, as I understood it when it was recommended to me, is a safe place to discuss women’s issues and concerns.

  19. Q Grrl
    February 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    So, if we complain, we’re the ones with thin skin and should just apply the (very weak) rule that “if it’s not about us, it’s not about us”. Okay.

    So, then, what’s your point? I mean, if someone on the internet is sharing their opinion and you don’t like it because they fail to include every subset of human in it, doesn’t it sound a little pompous of you to turn around and spout “if it’s not about you, then it’s not about you”? Rather odd double standard.

    Sure, we may not be doing our racism the way you are used to, but then again, you aren’t doing yours the way we’re used to either. /sarcasm

    (and for what it is worth, we can’t force jack shit on anyone over the interwebs; our narratives inform us, as do yours, and I would think you could be adult enough to realize that we often can’t see the whole picture. It’s a little disingenuous of you to use words like “force” and “harass” when all you have to say is: oh, well, things don’t go down here that way.)

  20. February 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    I think that this is well said. May be a little too harsh for some USians to hear (as I am an USian myself), but much of what Chally is saying is true.

    I also find the U.S. culture to be ego-centric, and perhaps we are ego-centric because of our failure to want to be exposed to other cultures than our own. Yes, we are supposed to be a “melting pot” or a “salad bowl,” or whatever it’s called, but we unconsciously or subconsciously segregate ourselves from other cultural groups.

    Part of it could be seeing the value in traveling to other countries. We go to Mexico, Canada, and the countries in the Caribbean, but it’s usually in an isolated fashion (i.e. Cancun). Many other countries instill the value of traveling from an early age—I’m mostly talking about Europeans (where everything is so close) and Australians (close to other countries like Thailand and Vietnam in SE Asia), where they have the means to travel—other countries, other than the U.S., do not.

    I do want to address one thing, though: just like you do not want USians to generalize all non-USians, please don’t generalize us. I’ve done a ton of traveling around the world, and people who meet are surprised to hear that I’m “American” because they expect me to be loud, obnoxious, and arrogant. Trust me, there are a TON of ignorant USians out there, and I know what kind of USians you are referring to in this post, but remember, like any other country, there are many cultures (based on region, state, city, ethnic group, race, etc.) in the U.S. that make up the USians as a whole.

  21. February 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Oh for fuck’s sake. I can’t believe that people are so completely oblivious to what they are saying as they say it.

    How in the world are we to address structural problems if we can never ever mention them, because it might insult some individual people who help make up that system?

    Also, cries about stereotyping? Where are the stereotypes? I see Chally describing behaviors and attitudes that she actually experiences from USians. I do not see her stereotyping i.e. “all USians are arrogant and willfully ignorant asses.” It’s rather like the difference between pointing out that men commit rather a lot of violence against women and saying “all men are inherently violent creatures.”

    That so many people see the first and interpret it as the second speaks to how certain privileged experiences are centered in discourse. Just like how “equality between men and women” becomes “special treatment for women.”

  22. Medea
    February 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    This is lovely! And the attitudes Chally describes are widespread enough–even among so-called anti-imperialists–that I think it’s perfectly fair to address Americans as a whole.

  23. February 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Just as I wouldn’t qualify a ‘dear men’ post or a ‘dear white people’ post, I’m not going to qualify this. The fact that it wasn’t about everyone in the United States should be obvious seeing as not everyone in the United States engages in these behaviours, yes? This is not a list of stereotypes about USians (and I don’t like the term either) but a list of experiences me and other non-USians have all the time. It is not a checklist of things that each and every one of those bad USians do, as should be obvious in the context of the tradition of ‘dear [whoever]’ letters. You are not being spoken down to because of where you’re from, you are being asked to listen to the experiences of people from elsewhere just this once. I am not accusing you all of being ignorant, I am not classifying a whole group of people as the same, any more than I do when I’m talking about men or white people or whoever. Maybe think about how it would sound if a man came onto Feministe and said, ‘why are you saying all these stereotypes about men! We’re not all bad!’ Sometimes one has to post negatively; this is a site focussing on social justice for goodness sake. This is not about being hateful, this is not about failing to include every subset of humanity, this is about wanting a seat at the table.

    People, this was a relatively restrained post considering the kind of rubbish non-USians put up with all the time.

    Also, ‘Really – you lot are taking offense that Chally is offended at having her culture, her background, her race erased, and is asking those doing it to stop it? What does that remind me of I wonder?’

    Oh, nothing in particular, Banisteriopsis, just a build-up. :)

  24. February 15, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Femspotter, you do realise that a few of you presumably US-based posters are doing what appears to be ganging up on Chally, because she has the audacity to not adhere to US culture and definitions and is vocal about it.

    Sort of like some men dis women who, I dunno, refuse to shave their legs and adhere to their prefered beauty standards – and are vocal about it.

  25. February 15, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Also, it’s amazing how people come out of the woodwork to complain about privileged folks being stereotyped/spoken down to/condescended to/etc. when there is never the same volume of reaction to nonprivileged folks being treated the same.

    It is an outrage for the privileged person to be given an ounce of the same treatment that they drench nonprivileged people with every single day.

    • February 15, 2010 at 3:32 pm

      Also, it’s amazing how people come out of the woodwork to complain about privileged folks being stereotyped/spoken down to/condescended to/etc. when there is never the same volume of reaction to nonprivileged folks being treated the same.

      As a blogger here, who is keenly aware of which posts get lots of comments and which ones don’t, I think this point just needs to be emphasized.

  26. February 15, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Chally, if what you say is the rule – that any discussion about what Americans do in general does not mean inclusively – then any discussion about health should not automatically be deemed ableist. You can’t have these rules apply in only one place and only to you.

    • February 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

      And femspotter, keep the clusterfuck of the other thread out of this one. I think it’s bad enough on both of these threads without dragging one onto the other.

      But for the record, oppression doesn’t go in both directions. We’re not engaging in a “reverse racism”-type argument anywhere on this blog.

  27. February 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Q Grrl, did you just call me, a WOC racist? I just… wow.

    Good thing not every discussion about health is ableist then, femspotter.

  28. Emily
    February 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Beautifully said. (From a white USian who tries hard to shed the messed up racism we USians get by osmosis from nearly the very moment we are born).

  29. February 15, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Jemima, it’s happening on both sides. I can’t wait (sarcasm) for people to start just seconding what others have said without adding things or restating what others have said in simplified or inaccurate terms. The snarkiness has already begun.

    “people come out of the woodwork to complain about privileged folks being stereotyped/spoken down to/condescended to/etc. ”

    amandaw, not all Americans are privileged folks and their ignorant declarations on the Internet may result from their lack of financial or educational privilege.

  30. February 15, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Femspotter, banned from this thread for obnoxiousness, by me. Thanks for playing. Any further TONE ARGUMENTS will be banned for obnoxiousness and refusal to engage. By me.

  31. February 15, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    amandaw, not all Americans are privileged folks …

    Actually, yes, if you are from the US, you have a privilege. US privilege.

    …and their ignorant declarations on the Internet may result from their lack of financial or educational privilege.

    Wait. WHAT?

    Did someone SERIOUSLY just say that?

  32. February 15, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Awesome post, Chally. I’m often surprised how USians I know who are otherwise critical of their country will get defensive and “not me!” when others do the same.

  33. February 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    As someone who has been on the wrong side of US-centrism (though perhaps not as severely, as Canadian culture has a fair amount of overlap with the US), I’d like to thank you for this post.

    And yeah, I’m not sure where the idea that you meant this to apply to EVERY US CITIZEN, EVER is coming from. It seemed fairly clear to me that framing it the way you did (ie, as a letter) was meant to be a rhetorical device, not a literal “this is addressed at every one of you from the US!” type of thing.

    I don’t know. That’s just my two cents.

  34. February 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Femspotter, if people are on the internet and commenting in writing on written posts, it’s reasonable to assume that they can read, and therefore can access numerous websites with information about various things such as… I dunno… other countries, mayhap?

  35. AJD
    February 15, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Jemima: doesn’t implying that someone from Canada is “American” usually get a similar reaction (from Canadians) as would calling someone from Scotland “English”?

  36. February 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Jut putting this here in case this becomes a thing: if someone’s been banned from this thread, let’s not respond to anything further they say, it doesn’t seem quite fair seeing as they can’t respond themselves.

  37. February 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    @AJD I think it really varies. For me personally (the only Canadian I am qualified to speak for), it depends on context. Like, sometimes it really is the best term, and it certainly is accurate–like, I tend to talk about Native American issues rather than Native Canadian, and mean both Canada and the US (unless I am referring to something that very specifically happens only in Canada).

    But it does piss me off when someone uses it to imply that we are exactly the same as the States up here.

    Conversely, some people hate it under any circumstances. And others couldn’t be bothered one way or another.

    But, anyway, I don’t think that our national identity is quite as strongly expressed at the individual level as the Scottish one is (to be clear: I am talking about trends here. There are intensely patriotic Canadians, and–I imagine–Scots who are not particularly fussed).

  38. February 15, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    For as long as I have interacted with people from the US on the internet (um, years now) these things have all bugged me. They haven’t come from everyone, of course, but they have been present in some form or other in pretty much every corner of the intertubes I’ve visited. Hence, this post is not only awesome, it was sorely needed. And some of the comments here merely serve to reinforce that need.

  39. February 15, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Sorry, Chally. I hit send before I refreshed and saw the note about the bannination.

    AJD, I really don’t know, actually. I’ve never been in that situation. Though, considering how USians have claimed the term American as their own I can see how some Canadians would want to distance themselves from it.

    That’s not the point though. The point is that the word American means “of the American continent”, and there are considerably belonging in that category than just the USians. It’d be like the Spanish claiming the term European and the rest of us having to make do with something else, because European meant Spanish. Try to wrap your head around the improbability and ridiculousness of that and see why many of us have issues with the use of American.

  40. February 15, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Uh, yeah, wow, this thread. I am Canadian. Canada is probably more like the US than any other country, due to geographical proximity, shared history, and American cultural imperialism :P shared culture. And yet there are still a whole lot of things that many US people treat as universal that just don’t apply to us, and a lot of things about us that US people don’t know. US-centrism exists. And it is mildly annoying at best, harmful and invisibilizing and alienating at worst. I’m grateful to Chally for bringing this up.

    I’m going to say this again: US-centrism exists. US people: if you really haven’t noticed or thought about this before, please remember that privilege is not usually apparent to the privileged.

  41. P.T. Smith
    February 15, 2010 at 4:14 pm


    Have you not noticed in your life, or at least your life here, that when you disagree with something someone said, your argument is “That’s not what you said,” and then you proceed to claim what they said and defeat that claim; whereas if you say something and if someone disagrees with you and points out the problems in what you said, your response is “That’s not what I said”?

  42. February 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    The only people who have ever checked themselves on the American = “someone from the USA” thing with me (I was born in and I live in Canada, although I work to not have an active “national” sense of identity) have been Americans. I find it… amusing? It’s never been anything I’ve particularly felt anything about, and I have always associated ‘American’ as meaning someone from the USA. I suppose if people want to reclaim it they should, but it isn’t anything I’m feeling a void in my life over. I’m working hard enough to deprogram any nationalism I was trained in over being Canadian, I don’t know what I’d do with a “North American” identity.

    @Dorian I’d suggest the reason we assume there’s so much “overlap” between USA and Canadian culture is that we’ve been inundated by it for so long. Most Canadians live close enough to the USA that we’ve been getting their TV since TV started broadcasting. I don’t see that overlap as a mutual or shared thing, I think it’s just that learned apathy to cultural occupation.

    Anyway, even though I am in Canada I am white, so I feel like there are other voices to be heard in this conversation. I appreciated the post, Chally, and wanted to speak up in support. Thanks!

  43. Melinda
    February 15, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    This is a great post. Thanks for writing it, Chally.

  44. February 15, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    P.T. Smith: In a word? No. Comment on the topic, and not making personal remarks, or don’t comment.

  45. February 15, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    @gudbuytjane Yeah…a large part of it is more them being culturally dominant than a true “shared culture”, like Tlönista also said upthread. But we do have more commonalities with them than most other countries do. (Though as to whether that’s a good thing…I don’t know).

  46. February 15, 2010 at 4:29 pm


    “Q Grrl, did you just call me, a WOC racist? I just… wow.”

    This is possible. (Whether or not it’s true in your case.) Being a person of color (or “colour”- ugh) does not and never will make it impossible for you to be racist. Just as being a woman does not inherently make you a non-misogynist or non-sexist. This is coming from a person of color who can think of five other people off the top of my head to whom I’m related that are very racist. I very much liken the “I have a race,” (Buying into the common canard that “white” is not a race) “and therefore I cannot be racist.” to “I have black friends.”

    Also, nowhere did she accuse you of being a racist.

    You more or less had me until you hit the spelling thing. Aside from the fact that I like to think of it as a way to politely tease my British and Aussie friends, Americans have always sought to have a different language. Nathaniel Webster always intended to create a specific language unique to the US to separate us from our former overlords. Hence, the creation of a more phonetic lexicon. The translator flags can rightly be American- because American English is not merely a cosmetic difference. It’s a dialect unto itself and I speak another language where there are many more dialects than in English (Arabic) and no one gets riled up that the translator flags are sometimes for a country where the language definitely did not originate (Egypt). Languages are weird that way, and there’s really no sense getting up in arms about it, since the trend for this sort of thing is usually for the more recent and economically significant language/dialect to completely subsume the other over time. It’s nigh unavoidable. The only other way for it to go is for them to completely diverge, which would render your concern moot.

  47. February 15, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    “Femspotter, banned from this thread for obnoxiousness, by me. Thanks for playing. Any further TONE ARGUMENTS will be banned for obnoxiousness and refusal to engage. By me.”

    As a U.S. born and bred individual who did not find this post offensive in the slightest, I thank you from the bottom of my white U.Sian heart.

  48. February 15, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Well. I will say this about that: If there is an obnoxiously aggressive U.S. centrism in the world, don’t worry. With how the United States has lost its footing in the last 30 years, and with how there appears to be not much of a true change of course in sight, it will not likely exist for much longer. Give it 50 years; you’ll be ranting about rampant sino-centrism.

  49. Cactus Wren
    February 15, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Please read this.

    The great philosopher and activist Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Few are guilty; all are responsible.”

    That’s a wise and important distinction, but it’s also an eminently practical one. The good rabbi, I suspect, arrived at this formulation partly as a way of inoculating against the otherwise inevitable knee-jerk defensive response which prevented anyone from hearing his claim of inescapable responsibility. Before arriving at this statement, I imagine he experienced the dishearteningly repetitive conversation that would otherwise unfailingly ensue:

    “All are responsible.”
    “Well I’m not guilty.”
    “I’m talking about responsibility, not …”
    “You can’t blame me!”
    “Blame isn’t the issue here, we’re …”
    “You’re just as guilty as I am!”
    “But the point was …”
    “Al Gore is just as guilty as I am!”

  50. P.T. Smith
    February 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm


    It’s not a personal remark. It’s directed related to your post, to your other posts, to your comments, to your basic ability to have a discussion, rather than to put forth the appearance of content in the guise of having a dialogue when that’s really not what you are up to.

  51. February 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I totally agree with this post, except that I want to note that not everyone speaks English as a native language, either (or evens peaks English at all, but if they don’t, they won’t read this post), and this may be another reason people face difficulties when interacting with those who do use English as a native language. Ther eis also an axis to living in an English-speaking country, but there I’m not sure how much is English-speaking country and how much is USian specifically. (I am sure Chally you weren’t meaning to suggest that all people use English as a native language or reside in English-speaking countries, but just to make that clear.)

    As for adapting to a USian Internet, I do tend to adapt my blogging a lot to the US situation, and sometimes to the UK situation, which could get confusing. In fact, when discussing something Dutch-centric, I usually prefix whatever I’m writing about with “Dutch” (eg. “Dutch healthcare system”, “Dutch law”, etc.).

  52. Q Grrl
    February 15, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    “Q Grrl, did you just call me, a WOC racist? I just… wow.”

    Um, no. I was trying to be sarcastic, in that from where I sit, any discussion of racism is good, even if both parties are coming from vastly different backgrounds. If someone is being rude, ignorant, or dominant in their discussion of what they know of racism, I still take it as a good sign that they can spot racism in the first damn place. If they push the envelope to the point that they start to overshadow or erase other people’s history, I take it as a sign of their overall compassion that they are talking about racism in the first place, and therefore that a teachable moment could ensue. *shrug*

    Personally, I still don’t really get what you are trying to do here. Anyone can exhibit the actions you are critiquing. That’s the nature of the human ego.

  53. ZiaTroyano
    February 15, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Just wanted to offer my thanks to Chally for this post, as a Black female USian (we really do need to come up with an alternate to “American”). I’m “intellectually” aware of US-centrism, and try to avoid it. But I’m sure there is plenty for me to learn. Thanks again for the education.

  54. Q Grrl
    February 15, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Well, not sure if you banned me, but I’ll take one more stab at elaborating. My sarcastic comment about racism was meant to read as we = our country and you = your country. It was so definitely not about you. Although it is again very odd that you jumped to the conclusion of me calling you racist when, just paragraphs above, you said that if it’s not about you, then it’s not about you. So, what gives?

  55. February 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    If I may be so bold, Q Grrl, I see Chally as trying to point out the way that social justice issues tend to be dominated by US-ian point of view, which can get frustrating to people who are not from the US and don’t have that frame of reference.

    Just to highlight something, I don’t have a First Amendment Right to anything, but I’m often told I’m violating people’s First Amendment Rights if I decline to publish a comment of theirs on my blog. Of course, we all know that’s a ridiculous argument in terms of blogging as a First Amendment right, but… what the heck is the First Amendment? Do they mean one’s Section 2 Charter Rights to Freedom of Expression? Well, why not just say that!

    (Seriously, I cannot keep track of the US Amendments at all.)

    I mean, that’s just one thing, obviously, but what I read Chally as talking about is how often people frame things as being US-centric when they don’t need to be.

  56. February 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    @Chally you hit it out of the ballpark with that one. As a Canadian I am particularly sick of being lectured on the 4 amendment as though the 49th parallel does not exist.

  57. February 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    The Chemist: Hence my asking. For reference, here’s what I was referring to ‘Sure, we may not be doing our racism the way you are used to, but then again, you aren’t doing yours the way we’re used to either. /sarcasm’ I agree that it’s possible to internalise racism, what I was questioning was what may or may not be an accusation I’m being racist against USians, which is weird in itself because ‘USian’ is not a race and, well, um, no. While I’ve been writing this Q Grrl has of course commented and that’s clearly not what’s going on. And I’m sorry you don’t like my use of ‘colour’ but that’s how I was taught to spell it. I wasn’t arguing against using USian flags when indicating USian English.

    Q Grrl, no, you’re not banned. I wasn’t sure what you meant, though it read like that to me, so I asked for clarification rather than jumping to conclusions.

    P.T. Smith, attacks on ‘my basic ability to have a discussion’ are personal. What on earth else would I be trying to do? You’re banned from this thread and watch your step on this site.

  58. February 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Comments are just on moderation, I think.

  59. Josh
    February 15, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I’m with Q Grrl. I’m not from the United States, and I find the idea that a critique of people who don’t realize that there are, like, televisions in countries around the world should be directed at people in the United States to be kind of without merit.

    There’s ignorance everywhere. Some of the kinds of ignorance mentioned in this post are particular to the US (or at least come more from the US than other places), but many of them are types of ignorance you’ll find in equal parts all over and to talk about them in a purely US context severely undermines the rest of the post.

  60. February 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Q Grrl: “Personally, I still don’t really get what you are trying to do here. Anyone can exhibit the actions you are critiquing. That’s the nature of the human ego.”

    Yes, anyone can exhibit those behaviours, but only USians do it from the cultural (as well as military) power-base that is the US of A. A white person saying something iffy about a black person is not what makes it racism, it is the combined fact of the person saying it being the one with the traditional power-bases/sources of oppression behind them.

    That’s why Afghans can’t oppress USians in a world where the US holds more power than Afghanistan. That’s why blacks can’t oppress whites in places where whites hold the power (ie most if not all of the world). That’s why women can’t oppress men where men hold the power. I could go on.

    Yes, assholes exist in all shapes and sizes, from all nationalities and of all colours and ability. But only when their prejudice and assholishness is combined with power do the ugly isms rear their heads.

  61. February 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    The moderation is just as usual, Anna, apart from the bans.

    There certainly are, Josh, but here I’m specifically talking about US-centricism.

  62. February 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    “And I’m sorry you don’t like my use of ‘colour’ but that’s how I was taught to spell it. I wasn’t arguing against using USian flags when indicating USian English.”

    I have no problem with the way you spell it, it’s just a facetious eyeroll.

    However, you do seem to be arguing against it for “English” in general. In which case I continue to point out that there’s nothing inherently inaccurate there.

  63. February 15, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    [S]he’s classifying a whole group of people who were born a certain way as being the same.

    Please first discard the notion that Chally said any such thing; it is entirely preposterous. As has been pointed out, she is employing a rhetorical device in widespread use and many have responded as though Derailing for Dummies were a handy list of debate tips.

    But an assumption contained within this didn’t seem to get addressed anywhere so I thought I would (the specifics about law are US-centric here but nativist [the irony] anti-immigrant sentiment is not). Because it is really toxic, especially when it is subconscious. Note that the commenter considers being USian to be a trait one is born with.

    A lot of ugliness can flow from this: (And at this point I’m leaving the commenter and moving to other people; I want to make that explicit.) Naturalized citizens aren’t real USians. Immigrants aren’t real USians. There are those who believe that people born in the US whose parents weren’t citizens aren’t really USians even though the Constitution of the United States of America specifically states that they are citizens. People born outside the US and/or who have one non-citizen parent are suspect, though again the law says they’re citizens.

    Being USian and being a citizen are acquired traits. Some people acquire them when they’re born. Some people acquire them later in life. Some people are USian and aren’t citizens.

    Which is what I thought was the opposite of feminism.

    Oh wounded privilege you are endlessly diverting. Which bigotry aren’t you accusing Chally of here?

  64. facultades
    February 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks Chally for pointing out things that have been bugging me for a time. It’s nice to know it’s not all in my head. And to parapharese (?) from Harry Potter: it takes courage to stand up to your friends

  65. Q Grrl
    February 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Anna: I get all that. And I do get how US imperialism is extremely harmful to the health of the planet (mental, emotional, and physical). What I don’t get is whether Chally is referring to websites hosted by folks in other countries or sites hosted by folks from the US. Potentially that’s a significant difference if we’re talking about people’s point’s of reference.

    Chally: the scenario that I had in my head is that you aren’t going to get a dunderfuck racist from the US talking to a dunderfuck racist from another country saying something like “hey, u r doin racism wrong”. More likely they’re going to engage on the level of their common love of hate. They are going to look for similarities. So, then, why is it different when progressives are talking about social justice issues? Do you really think that there is a significant population that wants to dominate your visions of social justice? Do you really think that they want to erase your discourse? Is the issue one of dialogue, or is it one of ideologies?

  66. February 15, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Do you really think that there is a significant population that wants to dominate your visions of social justice?

    Um. This is in question? You really don’t see imperialism in US social justice groups engaging with the great wide world outside? You don’t see social justice folks imposing their narratives on other people, imposing their frameworks on other people’s issues? Because from what I see, it’s, um, pretty much all we do.

  67. Jay@racialicious
    February 15, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    As a Canadian working in the U.S. I get these jokes all the time. A lot of people I talk to don’t even realize how presumptuous they are, or don’t care, and god forbid you try to actually say something about it (does that seem familiar to you? It should!). So all you USians who are being defensive, you may think you’re one of the “good people”, but are you going to speak up when this happens? Or are you going to revel in your privilege?

    Most Canadians live close enough to the USA that we’ve been getting their TV since TV started broadcasting. I don’t see that overlap as a mutual or shared thing, I think it’s just that learned apathy to cultural occupation.

    That’s true, though there are a lot of “stealth Canadians” on TV as well (Michael J. Fox comes to mind as a very big one).

  68. Q Grrl
    February 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Amandaw: are we talking about IRL, or, as this post is titled, folks having debates/discussion of the internet? I’m operating under the impression that we are talking about relatively anonymous people on the internet talking to other relatively anonymous people on the internet. Because if the latter is not the case, and this isn’t specifically about internet discussions, then I’m bowing out because I have no argument in favor/support of US imperialism.

  69. Happy Feet
    February 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    @ Jemima Aslana: You just keep hitting it out of the park! :-)

  70. JDP
    February 15, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Oh, another thing about all that racial stuff! USian racial dynamics do not translate anywhere else on the planet. Hence their being called USian racial dynamics. No one else has the precise history you do, that unique racial make-up, those particular constructions of what those identities mean – things that ought to be respected. Likewise, this stuff works differently in other countries because your experiences don’t magically melt over into and obliterate ours.

    Something that needs to be repeated, unfortunately. There are a lot of international conflicts that Americans view solely in context of American race dynamics. Americans have a hard time understanding, for example, that Sami rights in Scandanavia are indigenous rights, or that Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews are not white American bourgeoisie who are engaging in American-style neocolonialism in the Middle East.

    This is most clear in well-meaning liberal voices who champion various push-button causes, without investigating the actual local politics of race as they play out in those countries. I think American ignorance of current and past race dynamics is also often exploited to maintain unethical class systems because Americans simply do not understand the role of race and ethnicity in a lot of international conflicts.

  71. February 15, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Q Grrl, how does where a website is hosted make a difference in people’s frames of reference? My blog is hosted by a Russian-based company, and I still don’t know what amendments people are talking about.

  72. February 15, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    As a natural born, middle-aged, lesbian, cis-female, white, anglo-saxon. formerly protestant citizen of the United States of America (there, is that enough discriptive identifiers?) my gut reaction to Chally’s post was, “right on.” Allow me to explain. While I don’t, personally, think I’m guilty of all of these things, I’m sure that I’m unwittingly guilty of at least some of them. That’s because this is the culture I grew up in, am surrounded by daily and the only one I know internally, so it’s the one I communicate from, even though I’ve made more of a concerted effort to study other cultures, even within my own country, and try not to paste my cultural assumptions onto other people. I’m sure I still fail miserably sometimes, and I’m grateful that people are generally forgiving about that if they know my heart’s in the right place. But there is no denying that there are citizens of this country who blindly fling around the kind of brash cultural supremacy that Chally is speaking of, and that bad habit of US citizens is probably almost as damned annoying to me as it is to Chally. It doesn’t only offend the rest of the world, it gives the rest of us “USians” a black eye. There are a lot of us who I think could benefit from learning that we are not the center of the global universe, that not everyone wants what we’ve got, that we are backward in a lot of areas and that we aren’t as admired as we think we are. Every culture has some narrowness of vision. People everywhere could do with an object lesson in humility.

  73. February 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Well said Chally, a provocative piece that has generated a lively conversation — a good thing, isn’t it?

    Just a side bar on the use of American. As a Canadian, I sometimes have to pause when my southerly neighbours appropriate the use of American to describe themselves. There are several dozen countries in the Americas, with just about every ethnic group in the world represented, and we should all be able to call ourselves Americans, without the assumption that we are citizens of the United States.

    p.s. I didn’t assume stereotyping, or lump all USians together as I read your blog.

  74. February 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    PS: If I’d had my druthers, I’d have been born Canadian.

  75. Vic
    February 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I had never heard the term USian before but it makes sense to me. I never fully understood the term American since America is a greater expanse than just the US. And I’m from the US. Although thinking about it that way, American sort of makes sense because it sort of encapsulates the view that the majority of Americans hold, that the world revolves around them.

  76. KJ
    February 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Part of the problem we have in the US is that our educational system is extremely slanted towards US points of view. History classes in particular focus on US history, while ignoring world history (particularly the histories of Asian or African countries). Forget learning about other kinds of governments. That just isn’t taught unless you are very lucky. I think many of the problems you have written about could be rectified by a better educational system, one that isn’t so US centric.

    I share your frustration, but the causes are systematic. Most Americans do not realize how biased the education system is. Many only realize it after they start traveling or reading books that address the issue. Many more will never realize it at all.

  77. facultades
    February 15, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    DPS and all others

    America is still a continent and USA is a country in that continent. US race dynamics is not the same as Argentinan race dynamics. I want to point this out because the use of american to only represent the US and its inhabitants are a very good example of USians hegemony

  78. February 15, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Well, perhaps this video at YouTube will be helpful in this discussion?

  79. debbie
    February 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Awesome post.

  80. February 15, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks for the post, Chally. It felt definitly good reading that.

    I have always been annoyed to see so many USians use «America/Americans» to describe themselves. It’s as if the US represent what is most of interest in America and the rest of the continent dwindles to secondary parts. A bit like how we use «Man». It sometimes designates «men», sometimes both «men and women». Men are what are most of interest in «Man (women+men)», and women often are an afterthought.

    Anyhow. I think a good illustration of this US-Centrism/imperialism, even among US-feminists, is how lots of them will be much less aware of non US-feminists leaders and theorists (except maybe some english speaking area feminists), than non-US-feminists will be aware of US-feminist leaders and theorists. We usually know more of you than you know of us. At least, from a Quebec perspective, where we sit on the borders of french/anglophone feminist traditions.

    I’ll give an example. French feminism, in the US, has long been understood as Kristeva/Irigaray, two authors flirting with essentialism. French materialists and their radical anti-essentialist theories (sex as being already gender), present from as early as the 70’s, were almost unknown of. Instead, Butler and cie were considered, by several, to be the first anti-essentialists, ever, in the Universe. In Québec, however, we both know about Butler (+ several other US authors: i.e Friedan, Millet, McKinnon, French, Faludi, Dworkin, Brownmiller, hooks, Lorde, etc.) and materialists.

    Now, of course we cannot know everything of what has been published everywhere. However I deem important that we ALL look past our own bellybuttons and learn at least from important stuff that’s been written elsewhere, among other social groups or other countries. But wait! That means learning and actively practicing another language besides english!! Yikes! /sarcasm, only for those to whom it applies.

  81. February 15, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    You don’t see social justice folks imposing their narratives on other people, imposing their frameworks on other people’s issues?

    Just a little. For example: There are USian environmentalist groups which raise funds and buy land to keep it from being turned into farms or housing or whatever. And that’s an okayish mission, there’s value in what they’re trying to accomplish. (Though I think working to reduce global wealth inequality would work better over the long term to slow human impingement on wilderness areas.)

    Still it’s been problematic since the very beginning when the indigenous people were evicted from what became the first US National Parks. Ever since, wilderness conservation has been done on the USian model. Mark off the land and move the people who live there out. At gunpoint if necessary. That’s a social justice framework that has been imposed.

    Hell, we don’t even have to go outside the US to see this. Just look at the lack of conversation going on between the mainstream pro-choice movement and the women excluded by their narrative who keep saying “Hey we have these issues you aren’t addressing and this is sort of racist especially with some of the heroes of the movement being noted eugenicists. Could you maybe meet us on this?” The response tends to be a more adult version of “Nuh-uh! Also you are killing women.” It’s so helpful.

  82. E.D.
    February 15, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Excellent post, Chally. Thanks.

  83. Moria
    February 15, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    As someone who does, in fact, live in the US…

    Chally, I think you have some really great points in this article.

    A couple other suggestions for my fellow USians:

    Don’t tell me about how “horribly rude and snobby” the French are, and then react with shock and disbelief when I tell you that my trip to France was pleasant and that every French person I encountered was nice. Likely, they were only “rude” because you presumed that they all speak fluent English and tried to talk to them in, you know, what is likely to be a foreign language for them.

    Also, don’t lie to people in other countries and tell them you’re from Canada. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone else in the world hates all Americans. If you do this, you’re either enforcing the belief that all Americans are bad, or alternately, making Canada look bad.

  84. Moria
    February 15, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Apologies about the us of American in my comment… it’s rather ingrained and difficult to stop using. :P

  85. February 15, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Janik, do you talk at all about Quebecois feminism in your LJ? I’m Anglophone Canadian, and I’d love to read your thoughts, although my French is such it would take some time to dig through things to find it, if it’s there. Do you mind if I do?

  86. syndella
    February 15, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Why is it okay to generalize about some nationalities, but not others?

  87. me and not you
    February 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    I don’t understand the brewhaha over this post. I frequent a USA based, English ‘speaking,’ international forum, and this is pretty much my experience on all those boards. This is not exactly a news flash.

    I am wondering why people don’t like the phrase USian.

  88. February 15, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I don’t know, why is it syndella? I mean, I’m kinda tired of “Canadians are just weak and living off American military”, and seeing Brits portrayed as evil in mainstream US movies, or every story about China being about the Yakuza or Australians being all “G’day, mate, let me throw some shrimps on the barbie”, and “Africa” being all one country with one socio-economic system, and–

    Maybe we can move beyond those stereotypes and into some discussions?

  89. Josh
    February 15, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    me and not you: For me at least (and again, I’m saying this as someone who is not from the US), I avoid it because it’s just clunky. It doesn’t look or sound right.

    To me, “USer” would make more sense in terms of saying it out loud, but I think the ship has sailed on that one.

  90. February 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    @ Happy Feet: Thanks. I try.

    Just to add to the debate: There is of course a difference between the harmful behaviours and the merely silly behaviours.

    I’m from Denmark. Upon telling people that fact, some will recognise the name, if not the location, and we take it from there. Others have in actual fact attempted to appear teh_smrt and knowledgeable by saying “Oh right, that’s the capital of Scandinavia, right?” Which is just… no. Others have said: “Oh, Denmark. I’ve heard of that. Is it true you have polar bears?” Hrm, yeah, if you’re including Greenland in your perception of Denmark, which I’m sure you’re not. And while Greenland is under Danish rule, they do have Home Rule and as far as I’m aware the Greenlanders as a nation do not consider themselves all that Danish. Especially with all the racism they face when on Danish soil – it’s shameful how they’re treated.

    Anyway, those little misconceptions are mostly just silly. I shrug them off and laugh at them, and with a smile and a friendly roll of my eyes I correct the USian. Because never have anyone but USians done this in conversation with me – all other nationalities I’ve ever spoken/written with have been much more aware of their own knowledge limits – without fail. I’ll refrain from concluding anything based on this, but it does clearly explain the choice addressee Chally chose for the post.

    Anyhow, the above examples are mostly harmless. However, they lay a base on which USians can (and some do) build the notion that it’s not important to know about the rest of the world. Only the US is important. Sort of like white folks have convinced themselves that black folks are unimportant in the history of the US of A, and Denmark has convinced itself that it’s slightly less guilty in slave-trading, because we didn’t have plantations. Of course, we had a huge merchant fleet that shipped slaves to and fro, and many Danes kept African or African-descended slaves here in Denmark. But we didn’t have plantations! *cough* Yeah, distasteful piece of national history there.

    The base that is built on such ignorance as that of the USians about the rest of the world is often shrugged or laughed off. Also by yours truly. Because I do not always have the spoons to explain why the rest of the world matters.

    But sometimes I run into the examples that show me why it’s important to let people know that ignorance is not okay. It’s not a good excuse, and it s most certainly not a laughing matter (I am duly chastised). I’ve run into a USian self-styled feminist, who felt she had the Final and Right(TM) definition of Feminism. Because she followed the tenets and ideals of those who had invented it: a women’s movement that was not even self-styled feminist and came 1½ decade after Simone de Beauvoir wrote her The Second Sex. Yeah, de Beauvoir? She was French. But I guess her feminism didn’t really count. Or rather, it’s not that it didn’t count, it’s that it didn’t even make a blip on the radar of this USian self-styled feminist who took me to task for not knowing about and having read her preferred feminist author.

    Many USian feminists have contributed much of great worth – obviously. But to take European feminists to task for not knowing the details of the USian parts of the movement? Not impressive, we actually have feminists over here as well.

    I know: “the plural of anecdote etc etc”. I’m merely attempting to exemplify why some of us non-USians manage to get a wee bit tired of the ignorance, however much we love and appreciate our USian compatriots in the fight against bigotry. If it were just one big thing once a year, we could probably sit down, explain and educate you. But it is all the bloody time. Really. All the time. And most of the time it’s the little things. Like the polar bears and the capital thing. But then, when we hit the big things, USians have gotten so used to their ignorance being “not a big deal”, that when we speak up and protest we’re the ones at fault. I don’t have to point up-thread.

    And yes, it is specifically USians who are terrible at this sort of behaviour. (some) USians have even so adopted the idea of the continent being the apt nomer for only some of its inhabitants that they use it on Europeans as well. I remember a USian who had visited 3 European countries that she named specifically. And then proceeded to share all her newfound insights on “Europeans”. She didn’t even realise that European is not an identity like American is. European means you live on the continent, but it says nada about your culture, and she could not understand this when I tried to explain, because to her European was the equivalent of American ie the owned and claimed identity of everyone who lives there – even if a “European” told her otherwise. She was a feminist too btw.

    tl;dr: USians thinking they don’t need to know about the world in order to offer insights on it = not cool.

  91. AJD
    February 15, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    me and not you: The reason I dislike “USian” is that it sounds made-up. That is, it kind of strikes me the same way as “Democrat Party” does, for the US’s Democratic Party—i.e., deliberately using a different name for a group of people than the one that they use for themselves and that most people use for them, in order to make a point.

    I grant that “American” has baggage that “Democratic Party” doesn’t, in that it can be construed as appropriating the whole of two continents for the name of one country in it. But I feel like that ship has sailed, and through the ordinary course of language change “America(n)” has come to refer in an unmarked way to the US, while the pair of continents is called “the Americas”—not just by Americans, but as far as I’m aware by most Anglophones in other countries. Interestingly—to the best of my knowledge—the same change hasn’t happened to the Spanish word “americano”, and this can lead to some confusion and hurt feelings with respect to the use of the word English word “American” with Spanish-speakers. But I’m not sure if this is a substantially different phenomenon than the fact that the English word “Dutch” has a different meaning than the Dutch word “Duits” and German word “Deutsch”.

    Anyhow, I don’t see this as an important point in the current discussion, and I’m happy to drop it. The TVTropes article “Eagleland Osmosis” is kind of interesting from this perspective, by the way, as an example of a consquence of US cultural imperialism.

  92. Andrea
    February 15, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Jemima Aslana, sorry hun, but cultural ignorance (although rampant here) is not limited to the US. I mean, let’s not forget about the Danish paper that published the satirical cartoons of Muhammad without a second thought as to the cultural implications of depicting his face, when Islam specifically forbids it.

    Dear Europe, please stop pretending that you’re not just as culpable in the present organization of the modern world as is the United States. It was European colonialism that divvied up the world in the first place.

    Chally, fascinating post. I think you deserve some kind of award for most comments in shortest amount of time.

  93. Devonian
    February 15, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    “like when I see the word “American” used for the United States, completely ignoring the fact that countries other than the United States are in “The Americas.” The implications…”
    Except for the fact that iirc, the USA is the only country in “the Americas” that actually HAS “America” in the name (but NOT the only “United States”, actually)…

  94. Josh
    February 15, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Andrea: not even close. The newspaper that ran those cartoons did so *deliberately*, as a comment about freedom of speech. It was not “without a second thought as to the cultural implications of depicting his face” that they did so, the cultural implications of depicting his face were the *primary reason* they ran the cartoon.

    The headline over the cartoons, for Pete’s sake, was “The Face of Muhammad”!

  95. Andrea
    February 15, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Josh, you’re right, flouting one of the fundamental tenants of Islam was part of the intention. Without a second thought to the fact that the entirety of Islamic art has been built up around that one prohibition and the fact that it would never be taken as merely a comment on freedom of speech, but a direct affront to the faith itself. Good call.

  96. February 15, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Good gracious, what a lot of derailing is going on in this thread. As a USian, I enjoyed this post, and am also frustrated by the stuff Chally calls out in this piece — especially because I sometimes catch myself being this dumb and privileged.

  97. Josh
    February 15, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    “flouting one of the fundamental tenants of Islam was part of the intention.”

    That’s an interesting perspective. But one that only considers one side of the equation. To you, maybe that’s what they were doing. To me, they were exercising freedom of speech. Not in the most tactful or diplomatic way, no, but sometimes that’s how freedom of speech has to be.

    If you want to argue that threats of physical violence and even death should trump someone’s right to express him or herself, you can do that. I’m happier in a world where political art that engages, stimulates and, yes, provokes, is not silenced.

  98. Andrea
    February 15, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    That’s an interesting perspective, Josh. My minor was Islamic art when studying for my PhD in Art History, so I’m pretty sensitive to the implications of what the paper did that goes well beyond freedom of speech. You’re allowed your freedom of speech, freedom of artistic expression, etc. But if you’re specifically targeting a population in order to provoke them, don’t be surprised when they’ll provoked.

  99. Happy Feet
    February 15, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    @ KJ #79: True – but I think it’s the cultural influences outside of school, too. I’m Canadian, and I don’t remember learning much about other countries in school, and I’m not sure elsewhere in the world they have better international geographic/cultural understanding because of schooling. They just have fewer cultural factories (i.e. tv networks, film industries, publishing houses), so get a broader exposure to other countries’ cultural exports (particularly the US) rather than drowning in their own. In addition, there is the geographic closeness to other countries that promotes international traveling more in European countries, etc. that Emily H. talks about @ #21, that those of us in the US and Canada simply don’t have.

    The media saturation we get here (Canada) means that just by watching tv or movies, or reading novels, we soak up more US culture, geographical knowledge, and history than we do Canadian. For those inside the US, the saturation is complete – you can’t even watch British tv shows without them being remade for a US audience! (why do they do this? Is it a $$ thing, or some weird fear that people will freak out about outside.cultural.references?) I probably know more about random US legal rulings than I do about Canadian, e.g. if a USer says “Roe v. Wade” to me, I know what they’re talking about, whereas I can’t think of a single Supreme Court ruling by name off the top of my head. Do we have something similar to DADT here? I have no idea. I’d have to look it up. I bet I could name more US Presidents than Canadian Prime Ministers. And, sadly, I probably have above-average political literacy for a Canadian of my age group.

    Personally, I think the only country in the world that rivals the US for US-centrism is Canada. Every healthcare/criminal justice/education/etc. debate devolves into exactly how it is better/worse than in the US within 3 talking points – the US tells us they’re the only country that matters, and FSM help us, we agree.

  100. Josh
    February 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    That just sounds an awful lot to me like rationalizing serious violence, and I just can’t get behind it. Cheers.

  101. February 15, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    but… what the heck is the First Amendment? Do they mean one’s Section 2 Charter Rights to Freedom of Expression? Well, why not just say that!

    (Seriously, I cannot keep track of the US Amendments at all.)

    Then how the *$&% can you expect us to keep track of your charters? Sheesh.

    Part of the problem we have in the US is that our educational system is extremely slanted towards US points of view. History classes in particular focus on US history, while ignoring world history (particularly the histories of Asian or African countries). Forget learning about other kinds of governments. That just isn’t taught unless you are very lucky.

    Thanks. Because this beautifully addressed the only thing that really irked me about this post. I wish I had learned about other countries’ systems of government. I wish, every time that I meet a foreign exchange student, every time I hear my boss talk about how amazing it was to live in England for a year and visit Paris and Germany, that I would have been given any kind of opportunity or encouragement at all from anyone with any kind of educational power over me to travel and learn about other countries outside of the US. I know like 2 people with a passport. Myself not included. Who needs one? This country is the best!

    I wish that I wasn’t raised with the idea that I have this “god”-given gift for being unintentionally born in this country, and that I should wave a lot of flags and intentionally stop learning about the world and pray and thank the soldiers instead. I wish I didn’t have to know people who literally refuse to eat anything other than steak and hot dogs because anything else is “too foreign.” Being born in the US means that, more than likely, you were force-fed ignorance, and having US-centricism, ignorance, and bigotry bred into you from the day your born, through the educational system, snuck in through advertising and corporate meetings and who knows how else, feels like a fucking oppressive thing, to me.

    Anyway Chally, good post. It highlighted many of the things that I loathe about our education system, and many other things, here in the US. Things I wish I had the resources to stop putting up with.

  102. Andrea
    February 15, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Josh, I’ll stop this derail now, but I do want to say I don’t condone serious violence, obvs. But I do think it was due to a fairly high degree of cultural insensitivity that those cartoons were ever published, because those responsabile obviously didn’t understand the true implications of depiciting the face of Muhammad. And since USers (I like that one!) are being blamed for being basically the only ones who exhibit this kind of cultural ignorance, I wanted to point out that that simply isn’t true.

  103. February 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    By the gods, this comment thread!
    Andrea, did you miss thE art where “European” is NOT an identity in the same way that “American/USian” is? Did you miss the multitude of vastly differen countries and cultures present in the EU?Because you just did a great job of erasing them!

    To everyone else;
    the cultural imperialism Chally describes is dealt with by non US citizens all the fucking time! And by the darkness does it get fucking annoying!

  104. Andrea
    February 15, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    PharoahKatt, Europe as a continent has a long history of colonialism, which is why I said “European” instead of listing all of the countries one by one for fear of leaving one out. I happen to be married to a Norwegian, and he identifies as European, so I guess it’s not up to you to tell him what he can and cannot identify as, now is it?

  105. QLH
    February 15, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    If “America” isn’t appropriate shorthand for the United States of America, why is US appropriate? Aren’t we then appropriating the name of the United Mexican States?

    Should we just use USA and USAmericans?

  106. piny
    February 15, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    If you want to argue that threats of physical violence and even death should trump someone’s right to express him or herself, you can do that. I’m happier in a world where political art that engages, stimulates and, yes, provokes, is not silenced.

    I don’t think we do. The Chicago Tribune wouldn’t publish a bunch of cartoons showing, say, Jesus in bed with Mary Magdalene. Or a Christian soldier shooting an Iraqi with a sword-drilled rifle-sight. It certainly wouldn’t inflict this kind of insult on devout Christians as an exercise in religious tolerance and forbearance. Christian religious sensibilities, and the assumed legitimacy of Christianity, are woven into the fabric of our culture. I’m an atheist, and I tithe to that worldview every time I handle money.

    I don’t condone violence either, but you’re not attacking it when you ignore the lasting deterrent effect it has.

  107. Megan
    February 15, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    As to the original post, I mostly agree with the points Chally made about people from the United States of America. I have heard it before, and I imagine many others have as well. It is always good to be reminded, though. However, my perception of the post was negatively affected by the second paragraph which sounded so sarcastic/angry that I was waiting for some explanation beyond the general complaints in the rest of the post to account for those emotions. I guess it is a long-simmering annoyance? Reading the rest of the post without finding that explanation made it seem like just an anti-USA diatribe.

    But I am commenting to argue against “USer” because without the capital letters, we are left with “user,” and that is not what I want to call myself. Also, when traveling abroad, it is hard to know what to call myself (especially when there are language difficulties). I think “USians” is totally apt in this post, but in general when I travel, I call myself whatever makes me understood, which is usually “American.”

  108. February 15, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Thanks much for writing this, Chally.
    I seriously cannot believe this is a controversial topic, I encounter this attitude daily, and most US citizens aren’t even aware of it.

    Also, I’m sick of the derailing here.

  109. Ginjoint
    February 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    You know what’s fucking annoying? That people outside the U.S. think that everyone inside the U.S. has the same experiences, income level (at least middle class), education, etc.! We too have a “multitude of vastly different cultures.” Shocking, I know! Within my own fucking city, the “American experience” runs the gamut from desperate poverty and violence to staggering wealth and comfort. Each has its own culture and mores to go along with it, and they are light years away from each other. But I know, I know, that doesn’t fit this tidy narrative, so it doesn’t matter it’s NOT the same thing!

  110. Andrea
    February 15, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    April, I think you nailed it as far as many individual people in the USA go. For example, learning another language is often a marker of class in this country, if you’re not being raised bilingually already, because it’s only nominally taught in school. And to attain any kind of fluent-ness, many people feel that you have to immerse yourself in that language, which isn’t possible for everyone.

    So I think it’s important for those of us in the US to learn hos to engage in more cross-cultural discourse without relying on our own default view-points. But at the same time, it’s hard to speak outside of your own experiences, and can also be seen as appropriation if you do. It can be a thin line, but one well worth exploring.

  111. February 15, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    If you mean this post at all when you say ‘tidy narrative,’ I didn’t suggest otherwise, Ginjoint. I was pointing out that that’s true for other people, too. Megan, as I explained towards the start of the thread, it’s nothing in particular, just a build up, and this isn’t anti-USA, it’s pro-being allowed a seat at the table.

  112. piny
    February 15, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Within my own fucking city, the “American experience” runs the gamut from desperate poverty and violence to staggering wealth and comfort.

    I think that most of the rest of the world does have firsthand experience of that gamut. City-dwellers especially.

  113. Blue Jean
    February 15, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Yeah, I get the objections to “American”, but I’m not going to change my registration unless somebody comes up with something more euphonious than “USAian”. For one thing, unless you say it very carefully, “U S” can come out sounding like “You ass!” That may be the opinion of a lot non-USA folks, but you’re not going to get many people to call themselves “You Assians.”

  114. Manda
    February 15, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    This is really interesting, and the discussion in comments as well. I’m an American living overseas which might give me a slightly different perspective, and while some of this is true, I dunno… I think it does ignore the vast diversity of upbringing and experiences that Americans have. Saying ‘if it’s not about you, it isn’t about you’ doesn’t mean much, because I’d argue that this post doesn’t describe the majority of the Americans I know. I certainly have encountered Americans like this, but many others aren’t, and so I’m really not surprised people would be offended reading something like this. No one likes being told that their national stereotype is of ignorant pushy people, even if it’s true (that that is the stereotype, not that Americans are actually all ignorant).

    As for USian vs American, I can’t stand ‘USian’. I’m not sure it’s grammatically correct – United Statesian? United Stater would be better, but then we get USer. US American would be best, but really I think that ship has kind of sailed. Also, using ‘USian’ or a variation brings up questions about more new terms for American Indians, and believe me, Indians are already plagued by enough of those questions. If someone wants to say they are from the North American continent, they can use ‘North American’, but I’ve never met anyone who refers to themselves that way. I’ve yet to be convinced that using ‘American’ to describe people from the US is hurtful or confusing to anyone.

  115. February 15, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Again, this post is not about characterising all USians in a particular way, it is a brief list of some of the experiences of non-USians. I don’t know how many times it has to be said, but could anyone who comments from now on just take that on board please?

  116. Manda
    February 15, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Chally – I understand what you’re saying, but I think that’s what causes my instinctive reaction to this post, and maybe other people’s. I spend a big portion of my time debunking and fighting stereotypes about Americans, so it’s disappointing for me personally to see those stereotypes being perpetrated in a post like this. (I also spend a lot of time fighting stereotypes about the country I live in and about my race, or mixed-race really.)

    Yes, Americans could be a lot better at this kind of thing – a LOT, and I agree with much of what you say. But since so many Americans are responding to this with annoyance at being painted with the brush of ignorance, isn’t that kind of a sign that perhaps the phrasing in the post itself could have been better? Yes, of course you didn’t mean all Americans, but even a brief note in the post itself would’ve gone a long way towards avoiding those comments. You aren’t required to, naturally, but it seems like it might have been a good idea to keep in mind for the future, if just to save yourself the trouble. As it is now, it does kind of end up looking like it characterizes all of us in a particular way.

  117. February 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Yep, evidently it has been read that way by a lot of people, and it’s looking like it would be easier, but, well, I’ll not repeat what I said at comment 24. Until I qualify all those things, which I doubt people would be advocating in a feminist space, I’m not going to qualify this.

  118. Jay@racialicious
    February 15, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    @AJD (94)

    I grant that “American” has baggage that “Democratic Party” doesn’t, in that it can be construed as appropriating the whole of two continents for the name of one country in it. But I feel like that ship has sailed, and through the ordinary course of language change “America(n)” has come to refer in an unmarked way to the US, while the pair of continents is called “the Americas”—not just by Americans, but as far as I’m aware by most Anglophones in other countries.

    O rly? So you’re going to continue to call Asians Orientals (very common in England, for example), and use the “he/his/his” pronouns to refer to ambiguous gender? Those ships have sailed pretty hard too. But we’re still trying to change them.

  119. February 15, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    I just wanted to say that I think the tactic you’re taking here is…a little problematic?

    Like, yes, I’m all for politeness in a general sense. But in this particular context, your comment kind of reads as a variation on the tone argument. And, I mean. People telling other people that they might be taken more seriously if they were only nicer about what they were saying is a pretty classic silencing tactic, y’know?

    And I mean, the post strikes me less as dealing with abstracted ideas about USAmericans (ie “Americans are noisy and pushy!”), which I agree, is problematic, as it does play into stereotypes. Here Chally’s talking about widely observable behaviour (although, as she and others have stated, not universal behaviour). Which is a bit of a different kettle of fish.

  120. Lyndsay
    February 15, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    I’ll guess most people outside the States can understand what this post is about.

    This reminds me that over half the readings my prof (migrated from the States to Canada) has assigned us for a course this semester have been from Americans with experience in the States. I’m sure certain readings have content that could be useful for teaching in Canada but I want more Canadian content. One reading was by a famous Black American author writing about his experiences with racism growing up and the school system. Yes, there are similarities between racism in the States and Canada but I would have loved to read something by a Black Canadian.

  121. b.g.
    February 15, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving! (Though that’s pretty messed up, not sure why you do.)

    Yeah, heaven forbid we all want a day to gather together and have a big meal with our families. Oh, wait, this makes us all guilty of the genocide of the Native Americans. Gotcha.

    (BTW, Canada has its own T’giving day, too.)

  122. February 15, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Yeah, heaven forbid we all want a day to gather together and have a big meal with our families. Oh, wait, this makes us all guilty of the genocide of the Native Americans. Gotcha.

    No; you can’t ignore the history and weight of it for Native Americans either.

    (BTW, Canada has its own T’giving day, too.)

    I’m aware of that.

  123. February 15, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    @b.g. Well, obviously there’s nothing wrong with a day for a big meal with your family. But that’s not what Thanksgiving is about, is it? It may be what people do, but it’s not what they’re celebrating. (Just like how Xmas isn’t “A day to gather together and open presents”–it’s something much more specific than that). Ignoring the history behind the day is just silly.

    I know that as a Canadian, I have some pretty severe discomfort with Thanksgiving. You can’t divorce the history behind it from the day in modern times, no matter how much you’d like to.

  124. February 15, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Addendum to my last comment: I should have pointed out that I’m severely uncomfortable with Thanksgiving as a Canadian and as someone with significant Native American heritage.

  125. hellonhaiylegs
    February 15, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    b.g., you’re making something all about you when it isn’t.

    Chally: I’ve noticed these alienating and irritating behaviours.

    You: OMGZ! You’re accusing me of genocide and attacking family!!eleventy!

    See the disconnect?

  126. February 15, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Thank you, Chally. You’ve given me a lot to think about, although I know the onus isn’t on you to do so.

  127. February 15, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    The land that is now the United States of America was all taken from the people who were here first. There is not one treaty between the United States and a first nation that did not go unbroken. Though the people and their lands were supposed to be sovereign nations with all the rights and powers that go along with that not one nation remains today that was in existence before 1492.

    The people were killed, their habitats were deliberately ruined–bounties were paid for every bison killed because the plains people depended on the herds for their lives. It worked spectacularly well. They were attacked with guns and cavalry and rape and biological weapons. Their cultures and languages were systematically eradicated in Indian Schools. Everything they had was taken over and over and over again.

    Every last one of us who is not themselves native benefits from this colossal act of theft and genocide. We are guilty. We should at least be conscious of that. There should be an annual day of national atonement, not a celebration.

    (@Dorian: I’d use far stronger language than ‘silly.’ Obscene is a good place to start.)

  128. auraesque
    February 15, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    This post, and many of the comments make me uncomfortable.

    You make me question why my first impulse was, “But *I’m* not like that.” Well, so what, me: That’s not the point, and I am insulted when I hear that response to my own discussions on male privilege. Clearly, i have my own privilege to work through.

    Excellent post. Thank you.

  129. February 15, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Eh. I should say it’s mostly those of us who are white who’re guilty. Many people did not come here by choice; they had no part in the taking.

  130. arielle
    February 15, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    while i honor challys anger and experience, i am questioning if this is the forum? this piece is almost violent in its explosive language and angry tone. im shocked it is on this site?

  131. February 15, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    I don’t exactly see a post about being angry about marginlisation of certain voices being inappropriate for a blog that talks about being angry about the marginilization of certain voices.

  132. February 15, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I think it’s up to staff members here to decide what’s appropriate on Feministe, and frankly, Feministe is a forum for speaking out against social injustice. I don’t know what’s shocking about that.

    I was trying to be patient with these tone arguments, but frankly anyone directing “why are you so angry” at a non-white woman needs to have a good long think about the history in play. I will be deleting any further comments that contain tone arguments, and will play nice in leaving those that are already here up.

  133. Katie
    February 15, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Chally – more power to you for dealing with the same old shit arguments over and over. This post is great, an excellent reminder or wake-up call for those of us with US privilege.

  134. February 15, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Chally, you deserve an trophy or something, perhaps for inciting the largest number of people on this website ever to assert that colonial attitudes and ego do the rest of the world good and MUST BE PRESERVED, and also that it’s unfair to make generalizations when talking about sociological ephemera as though sociology has nothing to do with group behavior. Bravo!

    Re: tone arguments. Please acquaint yourself with the definition of The Drowning Maestro before going further. We (the royal “we”) are not fond of the tone argument.

  135. Glow
    February 16, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Hi! i’m not USian, I’m Nicaraguan (shocking, living in a a third world country and being toefl level english speaker/reader/writer and not only bilingual but trilingual as i speak and write fluently in german) and believe me… we people in so called third world country are not all pobrecitos (poor little things) as you may think.

    *sorry… if i spell weirdly, may be ‘cuz i’m hella drunk. :)

  136. February 16, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Andrea; “European” is NOT an identity in the same way that “American/USian” is
    please read more carefully.

    Full power for putting up with this thread.

    Everyone Else;
    This is not a post about painting all USAmericans with the same brush. This is not a post about accusing USAmericans of being ignorant, racist, arseholish, etc. etc.
    This is a post about USAmerican privilege which, like it or not, does exist.
    I have seen all of the behaviours Chally describes. I have seen them on this site. And given this reaction, is it any wonder people don’t talk about it more often?

  137. Andrea
    February 16, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Funny, PharaohKatt, I don’t remember saying that it was. Perhaps you need to read more carefully.

  138. February 16, 2010 at 12:14 am

    I’d just like to congratulate Chally for her bravery in publishing this – I’m sure she was aware it would be confronting and difficult for many people to hear.

    For the record, this kind of behaviour happens and is basically why I tend to avoid a lot of the larger blogs. I’m surprised people are arguing this is not the place for this conversation given that it is a conversation about a dominant group centering its own needs and views at the expense of other perspectives. I’m also somewhat surprised at the immediate defensive reactions of many of the commenters here, without any self-examination of *why* they are feeling so defensive. I would have thought this would be one of the places where that critical thought was possible without immediate recourse to “but *I’m* not like that” and assorted other derailing tactics.

    Frankly, I think this is a valuble conversation and I wish we could have had it without all the pearl clutching, not to mention the attacks on Chally, who is just saying what many other people are thinking.

  139. February 16, 2010 at 12:26 am

    You know, if the first response to calling out the US-centrism that shapes *all* of our experiences wasn’t US people trying to claim that ‘we’re not all like that’, maybe we’d actually be able to do something about the US-centrism.

    ‘Respect our diversity, more than we respect the rest of the world’s! Respect our right not to read things about us not being paragons of social justice virtue on the internet, even as it’s precisely the terms of that virtue—virtue we always presume to be universal at the expense of others’ voices—which are in question! Respect that we’re trying, by not calling us out on our failures, ever, and even when we fail awfully, or don’t seem to be aware of our failures at all, and especially do not call us out in forums that we have always thought would be safe for our privilege. Respect that we don’t want to hear about how we make people erased/oppressed/angry by centring ourselves, especially while we’re busy centring ourselves because we don’t like hearing about how we erase/oppress/make others angry.’

    Honestly. In response to a post that is trying to intervene in how UScentric discourse online is? No, go on, I’m sure you can make it *more* about you, if you tried rool hard.

  140. Manda
    February 16, 2010 at 12:42 am

    `Dorian – Hmm, you’re right, that was a bit tone argument of me and I apologize. Chally’s experiences are legitimate and so is her tone, I just feel frustrated because even my first response was to roll my eyes and think ‘oh, not another US American-bashing rant’ and to react to it that way. Which it isn’t, and she has very good points, but unfortunately that wasn’t what I was expecting and I reacted more to what I thought I saw than what was actually there. I’m all about getting everyone to understand the depth and diversity of cultures in the world, getting people to move past stereotypes that really only serve to make it harder to communicate. That includes both people from other countries and US Americans, absolutely, and perhaps us even more than other countries since we tend to blindly look only at ourselves and think that means we totally know everything about the rest of the world.

  141. temperance
    February 16, 2010 at 12:56 am

    Hey Chally:
    When I read your post and applied to my life here in the USofA, I found it very apt and thought-provoking. I have been privileged enough to live in the US, the Caribbean and Europe when I was growing up – I’m trilingual because that was standard in my family. I am a true mongrel Norwegian and Puerto Rican on my mother’s side and German and Polish on my father’s side. I was immersed in other cultures and learned the languages and still I see how easy it is for me to be oblivious to the larger world living here in the usofa. Thank you for pointing out what is so easy to ignore.
    Additionally, this is a perfect post for a feminist site. I’ll tell you why…I’ve been wrestling with myself to try and understand why men (in the usofa) don’t get how privileged they are. It’s so obvious to me. I, perhaps like you, don’t want ignorant people putting their preconceived notions on me. Your post opened my eyes to just how hard it can be to be privileged and be able to see it. Let me be clear, I’m not condoning bad behavior. It is somewhat difficult to see privilege when it seems to be normal.
    Your post was a wake up call for me on multiple levels.
    Great job!

  142. February 16, 2010 at 1:43 am

    I wish I could say I’m surprised that the reaction to a post where someone shares her personal experiences of encountering US-centricism is to have USians show up and start talking about her tone and how not all USians are like that and generally sounding like one would expect of those who have just have their privilege called out (eg, men, white people). Even more amusing has been the denial that this sort of thing happens at all. Even as this thread has consisted almost entirely of talking about the US, its history, and its people. Which is a problem when calling out this sort of thing, of course. Often that which is already talked about too much is talked about even more.

    So, USians, this is a helpful suggestion: Take what Chally has written and what other people have added to in the comments and reflect upon them. Remember that you are not every USian and not every USian is you as you take in that this happens, this is happening. Then, if you think you still have something to add to this conversation, come back and add it. But, most of all, respect other people’s experiences and listen to what they tell you. Kinda like what feminism tells us we’re supposed to do.

  143. February 16, 2010 at 1:55 am

    As an American currently living abroad, I find usually myself confronted with two very different reactions to my nationality. The first is generally people gushing about how cool America is and how they wish they could go there some day and do I like Michael Jackson? It’s a little off-putting to be fawned over like that and it happens pretty often.

    The second comes from people who assume I’m like the “USians” in this post and I get my own taste of having my book judged by its cover, so to speak. At first, I tried really hard to make these people understand that I’m not like them! but then I realized that it’s a waste. People see the world from their own perspective and sometimes the big dog has gets a taste of the small dogs’ world.

  144. karak
    February 16, 2010 at 1:59 am

    1. I’ve often had that moment of, “Blacks? What are they talking about… oh, this is an AUSTRALIAN poster. Different ball game.”

    US-centric thought is real, and it is a problem. I’ve noticed it in myself, I’ve noticed it in others, so your post is valid (not as though you need a lovely white US girl to tell you this).

    It was kind of a..bracing read, though. I very much sadfaced about halfway through. Then I got up and made myself some tea, did some pondering, and wrote this comment.

    I’d like to point something out, here. When a man stands up and says something like, “Women are dumb” I have to care, because that adversely affects me, or someone else. When someone who isn’t American says, “Americans are dumb” I can shrug and go back to my plasma TV and tea. The fact I even have the *option* of absolutely not caring says a lot about the validity of Chally’s post. (I do care, though. I’m just trying to point out a thing).

  145. February 16, 2010 at 3:46 am

    On the most trivial levels – you hang out on online forums to discuss TV shows, and if it’s a BBC show that hasn’t yet aired in the US, it’s all “Oh, don’t SPOIL us! No spoilers! We haven’t seen it yet!” But if it’s an American show with episodes that haven’t yet aired in the UK, it’s all “Just because you haven’t seen something does not make it a spoiler. The rest of the fandom is not going to put its hand over its mouth because you haven’t caught up on the most recent episodes. They shouldn’t have to at all” and outright anger at the idea that Americans should have to think twice about what they were saying….

  146. February 16, 2010 at 4:25 am

    See, Chally, this is why you’re a good blogger, and I’m just a s**t stirrer. Way back before there were Interwebs, only Internets, I used to deal with my frustration with all of which you speak by starting conversations about democracy being a fatally flawed system of government, or how capitalism has to go. Petty and silly, but since I couldn’t get anyone to engage in a real conversation about how the rest of the world isn’t the same as the USA, this was my way of kicking back a little. Not smart, but flame wars were far more socially acceptable in that place and time.

    Everyone is stunned every time they discover another universal truth isn’t. I’m confronted by my own assumptions of the good on a regular basis. It doesn’t seem terribly surprising that living in the world’s largest cultural exporter would provide less opportunities, on average, to discover all the things that seem universal but are not. This is one of those opportunities, as I often find Chally’s posts are for me.

    I also think we can all see resonances of this post in things where we are the privileged lot. Would any Kiwis like to attest to our (Australian) appropriation of their culture and erasure of their identity? We’re very good at it. So much so that I still have trouble thinking of pavlova as a Kiwi dessert. It looks to me like the USA treats the whole world pretty much the same way that Australia treats New Zealand. We all have to stop it.

  147. February 16, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Taking away New Zealand’s actors, musicians, so much… Ariane, thank you, but you’re not just a shit stirrer, and I’m sure you contributed lots of valuable things about democracy and capitalism. :)

  148. orlando
    February 16, 2010 at 5:17 am

    @Andrea: I think you can’t seriously excuse US intolerance by saying that others are even worse. It’s like saying I can steal because my neighbour is a thief.

    Also, however unsubtle the Danish cartoons were, I still prefer their way of dealing with islamist fundamentalism than the American method.

  149. February 16, 2010 at 5:34 am

    I have read all the comments here. I want to thank Chally. I think she has brought up an important subject.

    I’m Australian, my father is English and my mother was born in Australia. I find that I don’t watch nearly any TV, except for British programs, because I am sick of being saturated in US tv programs (I don’t watch Australian programs because they’re shithouse unfortunately). I’m get tired of being overwhelmed by a culture that is not mine, with values/messages/ways of life/debates that don’t mean a lot to my everyday life. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I have a lot in common with the average person from the US. So that’s why I switched it off.

    However, I am very interested in US history. The thing is that I’m interested in everyone’s history – the US isn’t anything special in my interest list.

    One example I can think of where US cultural arrogrance was shown was in the recent KFC Cricket add that ran in Australia and the reaction by the American media. Australia is not free from racism; nor racism against black people (our history with the aboriginals is shameful). However, the ‘bucket of chicken’ reference that the media blew up on has no cultural relevance in Australia – I had to explain to some of my friends what they actually found offensive. This is not to say that if this add played in the US that it wouldn’t be offensive, or that KFC, as a company from the US was particularly wise in choosing it.

    But, as I pointed out in the other topic about the KFC add, the fact that people in the US think that all black people over planet Earth have the same cultural history and cultural offenses as their own black people shows their ignorance and, in fact, their mild form of racism. It’s racist to assume that all black people are the same, just as it is racist to assume all asian or white people are.

  150. Bri
    February 16, 2010 at 5:38 am


    As an Australian who is a member of the Aboriginal community, “blacks” is not an acceptable term to use when referring to the Australian Aboriginal community. If you know the person’s country (ie where their family are originally from) you can refer to them as Koori or Murray or one of the other terms that refer to the area an Aboriginal person is from, or you can refer to Aboriginals or Indigenous people (although many Aboriginals do not like the term Indigenous either). ‘Blacks’, ‘Abos’, ‘Coons’, ‘Boongs’ and other such terms are not acceptable to the Aboriginal community and if someone is using those terms then they are ill-formed and racist.

    Not having a go at you personally, just making a point : )

  151. February 16, 2010 at 5:41 am


    Apologies from an Aussie! :)

  152. February 16, 2010 at 6:04 am


    I was accusing myself, I’m an Aussie too. :)

  153. February 16, 2010 at 6:11 am

    @Bri Just a quick correction, Murri not Murray.

    @Chally Gutsy post! Well done.

    @USA I like your cultural imperialism on my TV, please make more shows like The Wire.

  154. Haley K
    February 16, 2010 at 6:28 am

    You know, at first I was rather pissed about this post. “But I’m not like that! I didn’t choose to be born American!” But then it sort of sunk in. And suddenly my boyfriend’s initial frustrations about being called out on his privilege as a white male made a lot more sense to me. Thanks.

    I’m going to keep using the term American though. USian does not roll off the tongue and I have not yet found a suitable replacement. I never really liked forced rebranding, and of all the North American countries, the only unique word in our official name is America.

  155. February 16, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Seeing as Ariane made comments about Kiwis in relation to Australians… well, yes, it does get tiresome. I think one of the most frustrating ‘stealing’ episodes I remember is a book of Australian sporting heroes, which included Sir Edmund Hillary, who was perhaps New Zealand’s greatest hero. Other things rankle; a travel writer who went to Gallipoli wrote about all the young Australians ANZACs who died there, seemingly not even remembering that young New Zealanders died at about the same appalling rate, and that ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corp. And of course, very few people seem to remember that young Turkish men died at an even more appalling rate.

    I think that the relationship between NZ and Australia, from NZ’s point of view, is very much like the relationship between Canada and the USA, from Canada’s point of view.

    Regarding “European”: upthread in the discussion of the cartoons of Muhammed published in the Danish newspaper, someone claims that the Chicago Tribune would never publish similarly anti-Christian cartoons. Sure. But many European newspapers would. The fact that the behaviour of a European newspaper with respect to Islam, is compared the behaviour of a USian newpaper with respect to Christianity, makes Chally’s point. Most of the world doesn’t give a f%$#k about Christianity; it’s only the USA (in the English speaking world) that seems to care about it all that much. Not even recognising that basic fact indicates exactly what Chally was talking about i.e. behaving as if all the world was America.

    @goldnsilver – regarding those wretched KFC ads. I think the ad was still racist, because it worked with the “white man surrounded by lots of scary black people” trope. But the chicken reference itself wasn’t racist in the context of Australia. That’s a USian trope (and possibly elsewhere?), but not one I’ve come across in Australia. That’s because as Chally says, our history of racism is different.

    The thing is, I often try to do my best to ensure that I don’t offend against USian cultural norms (as best I can judge them, from half a world away). For example, I’ve checked myself from referring to “black humour”, and used “grim humour” instead. It would be nice to see a little sensitivity in return. Did you know that the plural of “Maori” is not “Maoris”, but “Maori”? Even in English.

    Oh. And the word is “arse”. At least in the version of English that I speak. An ass is a donkey.

    Fantastic post, Chally. Kia kaha!

  156. February 16, 2010 at 6:49 am

    I’m going to bed now, so comments will be temporarily closed. The aim of this is to minimise the bullshit that would otherwise doubtless go down, and it also semi-metaphorically serves the much-needed purpose of getting some of you to think about ways in which people are shut out of conversations when on the “other side” of the globe. I will open comments again when I wake up. For those who are unable to leave (non-obnoxious) comments at any other time but during the time the comments will be closed, it’s really too bad but it simply can’t be helped.

    I’ll now be deleting those comments that don’t take into account comment 118. Please comment on the topic or not at all, and please stop centring USian experiences and concerns. This is basic.

    Thank you for the thank yous and compliments, various commenters! And when shall I expect to collect that trophy? ;)

  157. February 16, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Wow. Just wow.

    I’m boggling at the number of people unable to apply basic feminist insights into their own nationalism. Like gender, nation is a cultural construct that presents itself as natural, obscuring its violent histories and continued legacies in the presents. No language is neutral, like (non-US) poet Dionne Brand once wrote, and neither are your feelings.

    I mean, everyone going hey *I’m* not like that, you are aware that’s rather a common thing for USians rightfully embarrassed of their country’s neo-imperialism to say? That too is a structural pattern set by US-centrism.

    Of course other countries have oppressive histories and oppressive presents, but that certainly doesn’t make the broader pattern of how USians engage with people from other countries any less true. In fact, in many cases it actually obscures the ways inequity is acted out in countries like Australia, where US models are very often adopted despite their patent uselessness for our situation.

  158. Blue Jean
    February 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Oh. And the word is “arse”. At least in the version of English that I speak. An ass is a donkey.

    Yes, one of the definitions of the English word “ass” is “a donkey”. However, there are lots of definitions of “ass”, few of them flattering. While some non-USA folks would say they apply to Americans, I doubt most Americans would agree with them. And I say that as a member of the Democratic party, whose symbol is a donkey. ;-)

  159. Aryana
    February 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I’m always interested in USA race dynamics vs. The Rest of the World.
    This US-centrism problem crops up a lot with relations between USAmerican Blacks and people descended from enslaved Africans in Latin America and the Caribbean. Blacks in the US tend to think of African descended Latinos as MORE self-hating than ourselves because they don’t always identify the same as we do. In the continental US it’s made sense historically for us to identify as Black (and only Black) first and THEN “American.” We tend to assume this is something shared across the diaspora and when we come across people who DON’T fit that mold we assume they simply hate being Black instead of consider the unique historical make-up of that country.

  160. AJD
    February 16, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Jay (121):

    I’m loath to continue this not-particularly-relevant branch of the thread, but:

    I’m not sure what argument you’re trying to make here. I don’t know what the status of “Orientals” in England is, but in the US “Orientals” is considered offensive, so of course I wouldn’t use in the US. The mainstream English indefinite pronoun is “he”, not “they”; as you say, the ship is sailed on that, but it’s people who are fighting for “he” who are trying to pull the ship back into the harbor.

    Anyhow, I take your point to be that we don’t have to be passive observers in language change; we can take an active role in trying to prevent people from using language that offends or reinforces negative social frames. And that’s true. It’s just that, to the best of my understanding, in present-day English, the use of “America” to mean “the US” isn’t widely regarded as offensive and doesn’t seem to reinforce the negative social frame that’s been attributed to it (i.e., US hegemony).

  161. February 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Thank you for writing this, Chally, and you are a person of infinite patience. I second the trophy thing.

  162. February 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you for writing this, Chally. And you are a person with a patience that goes beyond me. You seriously deserve a trophy.

  163. Persia
    February 16, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    @queenemily: I’m boggling at the number of people unable to apply basic feminist insights into their own nationalism.

    I wish I was boggled, but I’ve seen it happen too many times to be surprised any more!

    Thanks for this post, Chally. I saw it yesterday and didn’t think there was much to say but ‘great points, thank you.’ I wish I’d commented earlier now, to drown out the BS.

    (And yes, I’m from the US, with some Indian heritage but a bucketful of white privilege.)

  164. February 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Thanks for writing this Chally … I lived in the US for 8 years doing grad school (just returned home to New Zealand), and I can attest, that as much as I adore and love my USian friends, and where I lived (Chicago), the nationalistic USian privilege was just HUGE.

    I ended up having to develop stock answers to the ignorance and/or privilege displayed in the same questions or presumptions I found … not to mention particularly when it came to race, and it was assumed that since I was white, I thought about race the same way USian whites do. We don’t; we operate under a considerably different racial paradigm.

    Oh, and Ariane, speaking as a kiwi myself, yeah, Aussie does do it, I have to say, though I will admit, not nearby as bad as the US does :)

    Btw, for all those USians trying to say “but I don’t do that!” … ask yourself how much you know about the countries of your non-Usian friends, and how much they know about the US. The fact that we internationals have to, or simply just do, know SO MUCH about the US, and yet you don’t about our countries, speaks to the enormous privilege you get. Privilege is, in part, not needing to think about what it is like for those not like you.

  165. February 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm



    Hear, hear, people! Enough with the USsplaining. How can you tell non-USians how it is or what it’s like when you’re born and bred USians?

    The US does have a very unique situation in that it’s so large and therefore so isolated. It kind of forgets there are people outside its borders, or that other countries have people and things to offer, too. WHAT A CONCEPT.

    On “American”: it’s offensive. It erases the other Americans who are not USians. It’s inacurrate. I’m sorry if you can’t see, as a USian, how this term affects non-USians. Let a non-USian American tell you: it’s offensive. Find a better word. If you don’t like USian, then use “UnitedStatesian.” It’ll take you longer to spit it out, but if you think it sounds “prettier” then it must be worth it.

    (I tried to read all the comments, but there were just too many. They are very telling, though. Non-USians need to speak up more, apparently, to remind USians that they’re not the only ones in the world.)

  166. February 16, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    “And that’s true. It’s just that, to the best of my understanding, in present-day English, the use of “America” to mean “the US” isn’t widely regarded as offensive and doesn’t seem to reinforce the negative social frame that’s been attributed to it (i.e., US hegemony).”

    ADJ, to the best of my understanding, as someone who works with people who are not from the US but from other parts of the Americas, yes it is offensive. Not to everyone – it doesn’t bother me personally, for example – but many of the people I have talked to have issues with it, and I’ve had to rewrite some of my work accordingly.

  167. February 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Dear men on the Internet,

    You are not the only people in the world. You are not even the most important people in the world.

    ‘He’ is not a generic pronoun! Stop using it like it is. It clearly is coded male.

    Stop acting like everyone on your IRC chan/forum/gamer site/whatever is a dude. They’re not. It’s pretty alienating to be a woman or a person who does not have a binary gender identity in those environments.

    Women are not nasty bitches out to get you! We’re also not silly airheads.

    So when you act like men are the only people who matter
    or the only people with whom you are interacting with,
    Well, I get really tired of it.

    So stop that please.


    A woman.

    Which is to say,

    Dear people who wrote comments that are in trash,

    Check your privilege.



  168. PilgrimSoul
    February 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I’m with Chally, as a Canadian living in the US for several years now. I have mostly started to avoid any mention of anything that could be perceived as an observation about “America,” up to and including any mention of the fact that I come from another place, because all I get is the kind of butthurt I’m seeing in this thread. With some exceptions, I have difficulty believing Americans who claim they are “not like this,” mostly because that claim immediately reveals a failure to internalize the idea that there is and entire power structure that allows Americans to behave like this. I’m sure you don’t intend to be like this, but I’m sure if I were around you for half an hour or so I’m pretty sure I could pick out a number of examples for you. It’s subtle things, actually, that are the real problem here (equation of the right to free speech with the First Amendment, for example) as opposed to the ugly American stereotypes people are (wrongly) assuming are Chally’s target. No one’s assuming everyone’s a Bush fan in America, but just having held a few protest signs up against the war doesn’t make you “not American” in the way she’s discussing.

    I absolutely do not, after coming on five years of living here full time and extensive travel in pretty much every state, think of “Americans” as a monolith. But I do think that like any form of human association/identity, you have developed shorthand for speaking to each other that limits as much as it liberates you, and because you have the power to do so, you get angry when someone suggests that your way of doing things might not be the only way. This is not a matter of personal moral failing; this is a matter of what the epistemological consequences of power are.

    Thanks, Chally, though I imagine people will continue to rage in the comments. You are braver than I.

  169. February 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    (or “colour”- ugh)


  170. Heather
    February 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Thank you for this. It’s making me think.
    – A USian

  171. February 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    (I think it was meant tongue in cheek, Rebecca.)

  172. Jessa
    February 16, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Chally – – thank you for taking the time to post this. I can understand why some might choose to take offense, but I found your piece to be very straightforward and blunt – and most importantly, honest. I am white, and a “USian,” (which is a term I don’t like either, but it beats, “American”) and your piece really made me consider my privilege as those things. I lived in Canada for a year, and my experience there was telling; I got called a, “Yank,” and had several people insult me for being from the US, or generalize, “Americans are totally stupider than Canadians!” (that one was ironic.) The point is, the rest of the world is pissed off at the US, as they should be. I wish I had spent more time out of the country so I could comment further, but unfortunately, I haven’t. I was raised having to write, “Why America is the best country,” essays in elementary school. The collective bad attitude of the nation is ingrained and then emphasized over and over again. Thank you for your perspective, many of us have limited amounts of it

  173. Sheelzebub
    February 16, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Okay, I don’t get what all of the anger toward Chally is about. I really don’t. If it makes you feel defensive, take a walk and cool off. Agree with her or not, she wasn’t vicious or nasty. I can enjoy Thanksgiving, understand why Native Americans have a real problem with it, and not get my knickers in a twist when someone from Australia doesn’t think it’s that great of a holiday. Life goes on.

    WRT the word spellings, etc.–British English is far different from the dialect I speak. I believe the words and spellings we use in the States are older versions of the words and spellings people in England use. (No actual point there, just an “oh, isn’t that interesting” comment.)

    I just–for Hades’ sake! If you’re “not like that,” then move along. Go about your day. Do some deep breathing exercises or something.

  174. February 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I was raised having to write, “Why America is the best country,” essays in elementary school.

    SRSLY?!!! I think the equivalent where I come from was, “Wonderful things about New Zealand”.

  175. Laura
    February 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Sheelzebub, re spelling, I found this:

    In her new book, A Is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), Lepore, a CAS professor of history, writes that American variations in spelling were a concerted effort by the new country to cast off all things British.

    “Language, as well as government, should be national,” said Noah Webster in 1789. “America should have her own, distinct from all the world. Such is the policy of other nations, and such must be our policy.” Lepore says that Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary, advocated “American spelling,” insisting that the country could never be fully independent from England without its own peculiar but common tongue.

  176. Jessa
    February 16, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    @Deborah – Seriously. I was given similar assignments multiple times. If you watch “Thank You For Smoking,” there’s a section where a young boy has to write that exact essay, which reminded me of my experiences. It’s sad that most people don ‘t even realize how messed up it is.

  177. Sheelzebub
    February 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Oh, wow, how interesting. Learn something new every day. I knew we did this WRT religion (hence Episcopal vs. Anglican church, etc., as well as an initial reluctance to celebrate Christmas because it was seen as a very British holiday), but not with language. Thanks!

  178. February 16, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I was raised having to write, “Why America is the best country,” essays in elementary school.

    SRSLY?!!! I think the equivalent where I come from was, “Wonderful things about New Zealand”.

    That sounds about the same for my school experience in Australia, and it’s a telling difference. EVERY nation has some wonderful things for its citizens to be proud about. (EVERY nation also has some skeletons in its cupboard, which school curricula tend to be less happy to address in classes.) Non-hegemonic nations know how hard they have to jump up and down to have their own wonderful things acknowledged, so citizens of these nations tend to be more willing to acknowledge wonderful things about other countries.

    It’s only a nation with a cultural attachment to exceptionalist hegemonic claims (manifest destiny yada yada) which asks its schoolchildren to write essays about their nation being “the best”.

  179. February 16, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    @ Jessa – My own country does its fair share of “We’re the best!” too. Most NZ produced documentaries about World War II have a distinct flavour of “NZ won WW II, with a bit of help from the British, the Canadians, the Australians, the US forces.” It’s because, unsurprisingly, we focus on the points where NZ forces achieved something significant, but the way the narrative is framed makes it seem as if it was the turning point of the war.

    It reminds me of nothing so much as Donkey leaping up and down in Shrek, saying, “Take me! Take me!”, except the words are, “See me! See me! Pay attention to me!” Classic small country in a big world stuff.

  180. unhurt
    February 16, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    @ tigtog – that reminds me of 1066 and all that. (in which england is always “top nation” until the last page when “AMERICA was thus clearly top nation, and History came to a .”)

  181. February 16, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    @ Deborah –

    As a kiwi that lived in the US for a long time, I did notice that there was a difference in approach in regards to that.

    In the US, difference is conceptualised highly in terms of rank (ie, if two things are different, one must be better than the other). You’ll see this in the way many right-wing US pundits, screaming about how their health care system is the best in the world, simply because it is USian, and merely saying you prefer health care in more socialised countries (like NZ) gets interpreted as you’re saying that the US isn’t the best country ever.

    I too did the “wonderful things about NZ” when I was in primary school, but that is quite different from the cultural approach in the US. This is in part often why internationally many USians get surprised by different ways of doing things overseas, as because the way they do it “at home” has to be the best, so why would anyone do it differently? You’ll also see this in critiques of judges in the US if they say they take into account international judicial interpretations. Or, the assumption that if you studied as a USian outside of the US, you apparently couldn’t quite hack it at a university in the US and had to go elsewhere.

    The degree of difference in that is quite solid.

    (totally agree with you about the small country in a big world thing btw, the parochialism is cringe-worthy … I couldn’t get over how many “Someone, Somewhere in the World, Mentioned New Zealand!!!!!” leading news stories on the 6pm news there were).

  182. rodriguez
    February 16, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Spanish speakers, what analogous term do you use in Spanish for “people of color”? I would like to be able to use a similar term in a professional setting but I am at a loss. The audience is mainly men from Central and South America.

  183. Dymphna
    February 16, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    As a USian, I get so irritated when I hear the cast-off “best country in the world” references to the US that US politicians always use. Or those smug conversations I frequently hear where someone says “well, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!” To which I always think a) you have never been anywhere else, how do you know that and b) your subjective desire to remain in your homeland isn’t really relevant to the value of other places, now is it? There is rarely a connection made between these everyday casual attitudes and the destructive actions our country takes in the rest of the world, sanctioned and endorsed by our democratic process.

    I have to wonder about the defensiveness that comes up when our privileges are pointed out clearly and without hedging or padding to soften the blow. Is it not also sadness we are expressing? The sinking feeling somewhere beneath the surface that we have somehow missed something vital about being alive in the world? The suspicion that privilege has robbed us of the genuine and expansive ability to hear and see others outside of the narrow framework that has been forced upon us?

    I guess I’m feeling sortof curious and compassionate about that emotional process. At first I was just frustrated to see the same old argument: someone writes a provocative post (because what is the point if it doesn’t provoke a response?), people respond emotionally and defensively, moderators step in to prevent derailing. Rinse, repeat. But then I started to wonder if there’s something to that process that bears witnessing over and over again.

    Apologies if I am stating something that is obvious to everyone else.

  184. February 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Not at all, Dymphna, I found that really interesting and will have to think on it.

  185. Ronnie
    February 16, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Yeah, America gives a whole new meaning to the word “nationalism”. The only time I ever noticed as much nationalism is when I stayed in Japan.

  186. Sailorman
    February 16, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    “American” should have meant “residents of the Americas,” not “residents of the United States.”

    But it doesn’t, just as “Asian” is widely interpreted to exclude blond-haired, blue-eyed Russians, who are nonetheless from the continent of Asia; and just as “African-American” is widely interpreted not to include South African whites who immigrate to the U.S.; and just as “people of color/colour” is widely interpreted not to include whites, even if they happen to have darker skin than some folks who are classified as POC.

    Does it make sense? Nope. But plenty of things don’t. Why start having a semantic originalist argument in the same thread where you use a word like “racism,” whose meaning has changed considerably over time? Surely you aren’t implying that we should all return to original language meanings.

  187. wondering
    February 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks to Chally, from a Canadian on the Internet.

    For all the times I’ve had to explain, “No, I wouldn’t prefer to live in the US” and “No, I would not like to see Canada and the US become one country”.

  188. February 16, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Sailorman: No indeed. But clearly to a lot of people, some of whom are in this thread, ‘American’ has additional meanings that haven’t disappeared over time, and that’s worth discussing.

  189. Sailorman
    February 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Incidentally, regarding your last post on privilege:

    From a technical standpoint, you’re one of the most privileged people in this entire conversation. You have the right to allow only the viewpoints you like and to stifle those you don’t. You can ban, moderate, disemvowel, or otherwise affect posters to your heart’s content. Who knows–maybe this post won’t even make it online.

    In fact, in the limited sphere of Feministe (this thread and others) you’re more privileged than any male, white, rich, USian, here. You’re more privileged than ANYONE, except another mod.

    Fun, isn’t it?

    The reason that you’re getting a few comments regarding that fact is because you’re using your privilege, in this limited sphere, to do pretty much exactly what you’re decrying in some posts: stifling opponents, aiming other people’s conversation where you want it, throwing around unqualified group accusations and flippantly dismissing those who cry foul.

    Everyone does it; welcome to the club. That’s what moderation is designed for. And even if not, people use their power as they can, generally speaking. Heck, it’s Feministe, not the U.N., and perhaps you are trying to balance the world a bit.

    And of course, unlike all those other people, you’re on the right side, so you get the “just war” argument. The fact that those other people think they are on the right side as well… well, that’s inconvenient, but nothing we can’t get around.

    But before you assess too large of a judgment on the citizens of a country in general terms for how they use teh power and teh privilege, it might be worthwhile to look how you’re choosing to exercise them, now that you have both.

  190. February 16, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    @ Bri

    ‘Blacks’, ‘Abos’, ‘Coons’, ‘Boongs’ and other such terms are not acceptable to the Aboriginal community and if someone is using those terms then they are ill-formed and racist.

    I knew that abos, coons and boongs was considered racist, but didn’t know that black was (since I’ve heard a few Aboriginal men refer to themselves as ‘black fellows’). Thanks for the update, I’ll watch that in future.

    you can refer to Aboriginals or Indigenous people (although many Aboriginals do not like the term Indigenous either).

    I was wondering what the history of the dislike of ‘Indigenous’ is. Is it because white politicians use it a lot?

  191. February 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Chally –

    Not to mention, the use of ‘America’ to refer just to the US is a selective use in the US, as you’ll often hear US presidents or other federal politicians, speaking to countries south of the border, will speak of a greater America, “The Americas” … it’s highly selective, as if they are the ones that get to decide when America is just them, and when they deign to include others in such.

  192. Caroline
    February 16, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Awesome, Chally, very well said.

  193. Linnaeus
    February 16, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    It’s healthy to be reminded of such things and see these perspectives, so I liked this post. My next question – which may not have an immediate answer – is, “where do we (people on this blog) go from here?”

  194. February 16, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Some Aboriginal Australians use terms such as “black fella” and “white fella”. However it is generally considered not appropriate for a non-Aboriginal person to do this.

  195. Bri
    February 16, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    @goldnsilver (comment 191)

    ” I knew that abos, coons and boongs was considered racist, but didn’t know that black was (since I’ve heard a few Aboriginal men refer to themselves as ‘black fellows’). Thanks for the update, I’ll watch that in future.”

    You are totally right in that Aboriginal men (and women) tend to refer to themselves as ‘blackfellas’. My 3 yr old went to daycare and told everyone ‘My Daddy is a blackfella!’. This isn’t an issue when it is someone within the Aboriginal community using the term however it does become problematic when someone outside the community uses it. So if I was to go to a place where I was not known to be part of the Aboriginal community and started throwing ‘blackfella’ around, it probably wouldn’t be taken too well. However with Aboriginals I know and within the community in which I am know to be a part, it is fine. Needless to say when all the other little kids at daycare started saying ‘blackfella’ we had to start teaching our daughter to use ‘Koori’ or ‘Aboriginal’ lol.


    You are so right! (Murri not Murray). I think I wrote Murray because I was reading article about a water skiing accident on the Murray River. Thanks for the reminder!

    you can refer to Aboriginals or Indigenous people (although many Aboriginals do not like the term Indigenous either).

    I was wondering what the history of the dislike of ‘Indigenous’ is. Is it because white politicians use it a lot?

  196. Bri
    February 16, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Oh and on the word ‘Indigenous’. The comments I have heard from individual Aboriginals is that they don’t like it because they consider any one born in Australia (ever) to be Indigenous whereas they don’t apply the same to the word Aboriginal (although I believe technically indigenous and aboriginal mean the same?). Of course many Aboriginal people are fine with the word Indigenous so I guess it is more of an individual preference. Like with ‘Koorie’ which is often spelt ‘Koori’, depending on who is spelling it.

  197. Bri
    February 16, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    PharoahKatt – I would qualify your comment to say that a white person who is not considered part of the Aboriginal community would be well advised not to use such terms (well not blackfella anyway). As a white person who is an accepted member of my local Aboriginal community, I have encountered no issue using the terms (in the right place at the right time of course!). I think context is a big thing here especially as many Aboriginal people are mistakenly assumed to be white because they are not dark skinned or don’t have ‘traditional’ Aboriginal features. The number of times I have been grilled (by authority or institutional figures) as to whether my daughter ‘really is Aboriginal’ galls me no end! : )

  198. Scarlett
    February 16, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    You mean like the US Library of Congress tried to do in 2007?

    Chally, thank you so much for saying a lot of things that this Australian-born, UK-living, utterly-fed-up-of-US-centrism-on-feminist-blogs feminst has been wanting to say for quite some time.

  199. February 16, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Bri and PharaohKatt,

    Thanks for clarifying.

  200. Scarlett
    February 16, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Aargh, HTML fail, aplogies – the previous comment was directed @ AJD at post 38 above, who wrote

    doesn’t implying that someone from Canada is “American” usually get a similar reaction (from Canadians) as would calling someone from Scotland “English”?

  201. Jay@racialicious
    February 16, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    “American” should have meant “residents of the Americas,” not “residents of the United States.”

    But it doesn’t, just as “Asian” is widely interpreted to exclude blond-haired, blue-eyed Russians, who are nonetheless from the continent of Asia; and just as “African-American” is widely interpreted not to include South African whites who immigrate to the U.S.; and just as “people of color/colour” is widely interpreted not to include whites, even if they happen to have darker skin than some folks who are classified as POC.

    You mean citizens or maybe PRs, not residents. I wouldn’t be considered an American (or USian, or Eaglelander) just because I was living here.

    I don’t get the impression that most Russians are interested in being Asians at all… though I could be wrong.

    And whiteness isn’t _just_ about skin colour though that’s a large part of it.

  202. Salome
    February 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    It’s amazing how much even a USian who tries to be more sensitive to these things is so blinded by our privilege and how much is directed at us. Like, the translation flags. The first time I ever saw a UK flag used for English instead of the US flag was when I went to Europe (in this case, France) for the first time and saw it on a candy bar. And I was puzzled at first, but then I realized, “Oh, wait, this totally makes more sense. Because English comes from England.” And ever since then, it’s been hard for me to ignore the fact that the American flag is used to indicate English.

    Also, to all the people getting mad about this being “offensive” – I’m a proud American who has lived here my whole life and I didn’t get offended. I knew which kind of Americans this was talking about, as I find them frustrating too. It’s not that hard to figure out if this post is directed at you or not. And I think that while some make an effort to not do this, we’re all at least a *bit* guilty of this, and I think it’s a bit dishonest for any of the U.S. readers to act like they’re completely free of blame here. Just as no man or white person or straight person can say they’re free of privilege.

  203. Christina
    February 16, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    I just have a question about the Cultural Imperialism. Why, exactly, is it the fault of the United States of America (and is it our citizens, corporations, goverment or civil society?) that United States of American entertainment (television, film, music, et al) is ‘everywhere’? I am an American (whatever we decide the word means), and I don’t particularly watch much American television. I know that while I was living in the United Kingdom, most of what was on tv (non-satellite) was British-made. So perhaps the BBC has found some way to fend of the hordes from the United States of America. Maybe what airs on a nation’s televisions and in their theatres is a result of choices made by people (corporations, government, arts councils, etc) in that particular nation. (While there’s more than a tinge of sarcasm in this paragraph, the underlying question is a serious one.)

    And if you actually care, here’s the deal on the First Amendment. I’m not sure how it works in Australia, so please be patient with the ignorance. We have a Constitution, which enumerates our most basic laws (as opposed to, say, the UK, which as I understand it is a collection of common law and precedents). Most of this document is made up of ‘Amendments.’ Specific laws, rules, rights. The first ten are our Bill of Rights. Sort of our Ten Commandments (though in many places in the US, Moses’ rules get more respect than the Bill of Rights, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish). Anyway, the First one guarantees that the government won’t establish a state religion or prohibit the expression of any religion; it allows us “unabridged” freedom of speech and press; and a right to assemble and to petition the Government for “redress of grievances.” There are some limitations to this (like yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre when there’s no fire), and continued debate on how far the Amendment protects hate speech. I’m not sure how often this gets thrown at you personally, but it is kind of a big deal here. There’s a reason the writers of the Constitution put it first, so we’re kind of proud of it.

    As for the rest of it, I would just like to interject that the United States of America is rather large. Being Jewish, Brown, Female, Homosexual, Muslim, Blind, etc. and so forth, is rather different in Boston than it is in Oxford, Mississippi, than it is in Juneau, Alaska, than it is in… I think you get the picture. Since I don’t really know but a teensy tiny fraction of Americans (again, applicable in this instance no matter how we define the term), I can’t really speak to the Truth (vs truth) of all your claims. Just that I’ve personally had the same level of culture shock moving between New Jersey and Minnesota as I have between Sicily and Virginia, among many other moves.

    Regardless, you’ve certainly hit on something here, and I suppose discussion is better than stewing in silence, yes?

  204. Isa
    February 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Chally, this is a fantastic post.

  205. Jo Tamar
    February 16, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    @goldnsilver re some Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people disliking the word Indigenous – I suspect that there are many reasons, and this is not at all to counter what Bri said, simply to add to it. But a reason that I have heard from several Aboriginal people is something along the lines of: “first they called us blackfellas, then they called us Aborigines, now they want to call us Indigenous – why the f*** do they keep changing what they call us?”

    Which I interpret as a huge chunk of identifying the privilege of naming (ie the fact that labels are so often imposed by a privileged group rather than adopted by the relevant labelled group, and when labels are changed frequently, this highlights the privilege that the labellers have) and also a fair bit of “why are you so concerned with the PCness of what you call us when you otherwise treat us like crap?”

    There may be other interpretations!

    My own approach is to use the terms Indigenous Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (or just Aboriginal people or just Torres Strait Islander people if appropriate) when I’m talking about general racism/other general treatment, but to try to use country/self-identification-specific attributions where possible when I’m talking about a specific person or group (ie what Bri said in her first comment).

  206. beccabei
    February 16, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    De-lurking to say thanks for this awesome post Chally!

    I am finding it rather hard to come up with a comment that’s not a huge rant about various US-centric things I’ve experienced, so I’ll try to leave it on a positive note. Umm… kittens!

  207. Mama Mia
    February 16, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I have a friend who is Russian and he considers himself Asian. I don’t know if that is the norm, however.

  208. Anon
    February 16, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Wow. Sorry, but I don’t get this, Chally, at all. I am originally from India and only came to the US a few years ago. My experience doesn’t match with the way Americans talk about race. But that’s because they talk about their own race issues – which is totally legitimate.

    And if you spend an entire post complaining about Americans defining you, perhaps you shouldn’t invent a funny & derogatory sounding term – USians? WTF? The first sign of respect should be calling people what they call themselves.

  209. Airina
    February 16, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    YES. YES. A HUNDRED BILLION TIMES YES. You’ve articulated I’ve found extremely disturbing about our culture since I was… twelve? Something like that?

    KJ– ALSO RIGHT ON. I started studying Mandarin Chinese in high school and was absolutely sickened when we got to the ‘World History’ year of high school. What they meant by ‘World History’ was ‘the history of the US and Europe, and briefly touching on imperialism in China and India.” I also took two foreign languages in high school, and I had to do a weird amount of convincing to allow the school to let me do that, if I recall. It was years ago.

  210. February 17, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Anon – oh, it’s absolutely legitimate to talk about one’s own race issues according to one’s own context, I agree. What I resent is when those frameworks are forced on those in other contexts.

    I didn’t invent that term. It’s in widespread use.

    Well, Christina, there are a few factors going on. One of the big things in Australia, for instance, at any rate is that television stations will have deals with US television stations, which means the money is directed there rather than to local production. There’s a whole rang eof things going on!

    Sailorman: Discussions on posts are to be had on the actual associated threads. That is… the most incredibly laughable construction of privilege I have read in – well, only since this morning if I’m being perfectly honest. Suffice it to say that male, white, etc etc privilege doesn’t disappear in this space. I am not stifling opponents, I am simply following the comments policy, which everyone must abide by on this site. You know that’s the deal when you leave a comment, if you don’t abide by it, that’s your fault. I don’t pretend to have some special moral authority, but I do have a responsibility to moderate this site in accordance with that policy. If you can’t leave a comment that abides by those rules, consider yourself out of this thread.

  211. February 17, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Linnaeus – good question, and I agree with you that it may not have an immediate answer. I think a good start would be just not assuming everyone here is American. Then maybe starting to recognise when they’re speaking about something culturally specific. Because, following on from what Astrid said, US-focussed stuff often goes unmarked as such, whereas we’re always marking other countries eg Dutch law.

  212. Katie
    February 17, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Also, Sailorman, you essentially made a “reverse racism” argument there.

  213. February 17, 2010 at 1:49 am

    Right. I’ve put up with enough bullshit here and elsewhere including everything from accusations that I invented the term USian and in an attempt to be nasty to people of that country at that; that this post is less valid because of my age; that I’m not in fact a person of colour/non-white; that I’m a bigot; that I’m too angry, which is a rather incredible thing to say to a non-white woman; and so on and so forth. I gave you a nice shining opportunity to examine your privilege, whether you take it is up to you. Comments are closed.

Comments are closed.