American Discourse is an Ethnic Telephone Game

By Chris Churchill

As the demographics have changed in the United States over it’s long history and we become a more and more diverse country, there seems to be a major piece of reality that the dominant culture, i.e. white folks, is missing or ignoring.

There have been a lot of clashes regarding racial and cultural insensitivity by the dominant culture. Problems with the public reception of confederate flags, confederate monuments, monuments to heroes that don’t represent American ideals anymore, Christopher Columbus, Thanksgiving and so on. The list seems to grow daily. All these things that were once seen as part of the fabric of our culture, those things that made America, America, are now being dismantled in the public square and are being declared obsolete, insensitive and even evil.

And your aunt shrugs. She can’t believe it. Why are people trying to ruin my good time? Your dad scoffs. This is the way it’s always been. Are these people not real Americans? Maybe you can’t expect them to be “real Americans” if their feelings about America are not included in your understanding of what America means.

"Real" Americans...

"Real" Americans...

In fact, much of America remains baffled that anyone would question these long time American institutions and icons. Why isn’t Columbus a hero? Because he killed the Indians? Because he mislabeled the Indians? What’s wrong with Thanksgiving? We’re being thankful for a genocide? This is tough stuffing to chew.  Here’s the issue, though. The defenders of the old icons, idols and heroes are forgetting that it’s all about the audience. Who is the message intended for?

In most cases, the traditions in America were created by white people of European descent for white people of European descent. And when this nation was built, many of these white people thought that it would stay that way. Or at least, the idea that the demographics might change seemed so unlikely or so distant in the future that our founding fathers didn’t really concern themselves with it.

One good thing this country has managed to maintain, however, is the idea that it is a great place for all types of people. Welcome the immigrant! You’re free to be what you are here! As long as you aren’t hurting anyone, you are free to wear your clothes, eat your foods, practice your religion or lack thereof, and live your own unique truth. The greatest thing about America is it’s ability to embrace new philosophies and ideals as new people add to the populace. In a way, America is Borg. When you move here, we will assimilate you. And, by that, I mean in the way the Borg does.  We will accept all your knowledge and beliefs and incorporate them into who we are as a nation.

This means you don’t have to be like me to be American, supposedly. But again, it seems that a lot of people are missing this idea in the strawman arguments surrounding PC culture. People dismiss considerations for others as being politically correct when they don’t like considering another human's feelings. (Some might call that being kind but that’s another essay.)

Here’s what the dominant culture is missing: audience. Audience is the key in all the issues of what is beneficial to our culture. The dominant culture is still acting like there aren’t enough people of other races and faiths to really include them in the decisions as to what is appropriate in terms of public policy, what is important in terms of the inclusion of the needs of all Americans.

When we used to talk about Columbus discovering America, that was white, European Americans talking to other white, European Americans. Because, Columbus did discover America, if by discovering America, you mean you were the first of your people to notice it was there. Like the first astronomer to discover Neptune. We don’t really know if he was the first life form in the universe to notice it. We just assume he was the first human to see it through a telescope and write it down. And, of course, acknowledging Chris Rock’s famous words on the subject, there were already millions of people here when “America” was “discovered." 

One time I discovered a nice coffee shop. I mean, as far as my household and friends were concerned, I was the first one to recognize that it was a nice place to go. It doesn’t mean that the people who ran the coffee shop hadn’t already noticed they were there.

So now the audience is way different than it was before. America, due to it’s lovely capacity to take in and accept others, and partially due to our attempt to start making things right with those that we murdered or enslaved to get to this place, is a much more diverse place. America isn’t just people of white, European descent. We must accept that, usually, the term Traditional American Values doesn’t mean American at all. It often means European American Values and is bandied about as easily decoded code between whites who don’t want to include others' needs in their decisions about what America is and what America needs.

I think that's everybody...

I think that's everybody...

Real American discourse is the descendant of a slave telling a story to which white people can’t relate to a Latino friend. Real American discourse is the Chinese American and the Vietnamese American talking about something other than Kardassia and its inhabitants. Real American discourse also includes white people but it isn’t just white people. And it isn’t just land owners and aristocrats either. If this is America, then audience must be considered. The laws of the land, if this is truly a democracy, are decided by this audience. Understand and accept that the audience is different than it was two hundred years ago. “Traditional America” is a defunct mindset about only one type of American.

If America was a white man doing a standup bit, he would have to stop telling racist jokes by now. Because we are a bigger family and we should be able to see that all people are equal. All people deserve equal consideration. Jokes that are simply about the otherness of the other are only acceptable if the other agrees to the sentiment and finds humor in it too.

America is good when it embraces its audience. And it’s audience is everyone. Or, at least it should be.