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International defect

November 8, 2009

I’ve been wanting to blog about my strange experience with being American abroad for a while now. But every time I start forming the sentences, they stop working together to form coherent thoughts, and my privilege shows really, really badly. I don’t want to make myself out to be the victim, because, well, I’m not. My friends here don’t hold my American-ness against me, which is very nice of them, and most of the time it’s not something that’s on my mind. But when I go and meet new people, and I tell them I’m from the States, they usually get that “oh, crap. I don’t want to be stuck talking to one of those” looks on their face. Sometimes they outright say “No offense, but I’ve never met an American I like,” and I laugh and say, “I’m sorry. If it makes you feel better, I live kinda close to Canada.” Sometimes they just stare really intently at me and say “Oh, wow! I’ve never met one before! What’s it like?” And this is all stuff that makes me uncomfortable. This is because, well, in America, I’m just a white person, and get don’t have to be aware of my race or nationality, because it’s dominant and the norm and gets to be invisible to me. It’s very strange to be somewhat on the other side of the fence.

I’ve never been good at race discourse, because I know that I live my life without noticing my race. And I guess I have nothing revolutionary to say about it now, because I’m still better off that most everyone else in the world. It’s just very new to identify myself with a nationality now (maybe not a race, but it kind of feels like one?), especially when I don’t feel a strong connection to it. How can I feel strongly connected to something that lays invisible in my privileged sight? I feel silly trying to discuss this. I feel like a silly little Antioch first year who feel guilty about existing in a position of power and guiltier for feeling offended when people treat me like a walking international defect, because I know it’s so much worse for others and I won’t have to deal with this for much longer. And then I get mad at myself again for feeling like that little first year and having an attitude which is so obviously not helpful.

So I guess the summation of this is that I need more time to think about my American-ness before I can properly deal with it. Also that American conceptions of racism are a lot different than Australian and European conceptions of racism. America really is a special little rock.

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