The first time I left North America I was 14 years old. During my initial year of living abroad, I became aware that Americans sometimes have a certain “ugly” reputation. It didn't take me long to understand the cause.
“Ugly American” individuals were easy to spot, and made far too frequent of an appearance in my years overseas. I quickly learned to recognize them and steer clear. Having left American soil as a tourist or sometimes an expat, these poor representatives of America often could be heard even before they were seen. On a crowded bus or at a tourist attraction, his or her English words would rise above the din of the crowd, loud and complaining. Nothing was ever “as good as it is at home.” Shouting, (perhaps because they assumed it would help them to be better understood) they would make disparaging remarks about how “no one around here speaks English.” Their criticisms included but were not limited to the food, the people, the customs, the climate, and all things un-American or different to which they were accustomed. When they rudely claimed (while a guest in another country) that “America is the best nation in the world,” it left their audience with plenty of room for doubt.
At first, I tried to distance myself by emphasizing the Canadian heritage of my dual American-Canadian citizenship. But gradually, I realized the importance of diluting those impressions by acting as a “good" American. By representing the United States well, I hoped to help reverse any negative impact those “ugly" Americans were making. I wanted to prove that most of us are different from those unsavory individuals.
I woke up this morning still stunned by the results of the 2016 American Presidential election, and realized that a similar situation now exists within the United States. Those of us not willing to be the “Ugly American” have a significant job to do.
Somehow, despite having just elected as our next president a man whose well-documented episodes of prejudice, vulgarity, lack of judgment, and hatred characterize him as the “ugliest” of Americans, we must now find a way to show the world (and ourselves) that most citizens of the United States are better than that. It is up to each of us to ensure that what ensues from this election does not perpetuate and make that ugliness any more of a widespread reality. If the majority of American citizens do not uphold the core values of acceptance, respect, inclusivity, decency and basic humanity, then America should not be called the "land of the free."
I am fearful that many of the votes in this election were cast in support of racism, misogyny, intolerance, and hatred; however, I maintain hope that most Americans do not really want these injustices to take stronger root and flourish. We must all now assume responsibility to be certain that this does not happen, and find ways to encourage our new President-Elect to consistently behave better than he has in the past.
America has long been referred to as a "melting pot" of people, and it has been our differences that has helped to make us strong. Every American who despises bigotry and inequality must now strive even harder to set an example that is consistently tolerant, accepting and just. We cannot afford to let the hatred that was unleashed in this election take hold and reverse the strides we have been making towards human rights and equality for all.
If we are to shed the image of the ugly American both at home and abroad, we must all - including our politicians and our newly elected American President - treat every human being with equality and respect each other's differences. We can only hope that even the people who have not behaved so in the past will soon begin to change ... for our future, the future of our country, and the future of the world.
Blog Owner's Note: I haven't published here for some time, for a variety of reasons. I apologize to anyone who has visited here and been disappointed to find no new content so far this fall. I'm not yet sure of the future for this blog, but today I just could not let the results of the election take place without comment.
Feel free to leave your comments, but please try to refrain from any "ugliness."