I was going to wait a bit to start sharing about this, but I am too excited!
*composes self; tries to act mature*
So I mentioned recently a book I got from a friend for my birthday. It's Journey Into America by Akbar Ahmed. Initially I thought it was about Muslims in America and it is, but it's about so much more than that. Like a whole chunk of the book deals with American identity and what has shaped this culture, this land. Love it! This is the kind of stuff I just eat up. Only I can't eat it but so fast. It's like an archaeological site filled with treasure that you have to go through slowly to make sure you don't miss anything! So I'm mixing metaphors..I know what I mean.
Ahmed's team consists of mostly American college-aged students from Christian families, both Protestant and Catholic. They traveled throughout the country for 9 months, visited 75 cities, 100 mosques (out of approximately 1,200 in the country) and had face-to-face interviews with numerous people. They worshiped with them (even in churches because they were getting to know Americans in general not just Muslims in particular), ate with them, shopped with them, slept in their houses. It was more than simply walking up to a random stranger and asking questions though they did this as well.
The teams visit to Plymouth, Massachusetts where actors were pretending to be people of the past quickly brought an answer to a question I had from chapter 1. Ahmed said the question what does it mean to be American? - as they tried to understand what shaped American identity - "seemed obvious" to most and "offensive" to some. I mused on how asking this could be offensive until I read this section.
A young Native American was dressed as a Wampanoag appearing "almost bored" as he "hammered away at some wood" before abruptly walking off "for no apparent reason." The team wanted to interview him so they located him and asked him about American identity and his thoughts on it. His quick reply: "'That question is offensive; I am not an American.' ... He insisted he belonged to the Cherokee tribe. That, he said, was his identity." He spoke of his people being "forced" to convert to Christianity and if they did not, being shipped as slaves to the Bahamas. He did admit now - as compared to forty years ago - "people are so interested in us as a culture" that the Natives are beginning to use indigenous names for their children and have public ceremonies.
"Asked about the total indigenous population, he replied, 'Let me give you a shocking number. Five hundred years ago, we made up 100 percent of what is the United States today. Today we make up 1 percent of the entire population." (pg. 44)
Whoa. I'll find out if he shares other groups/people that found this question offensive. This one makes sense, I think.
Also in the introduction section, Ahmed wrote:
"I found that color continues to be a defining factor for Americans, affecting status and authority and echoing tensions of past eras." (pg. 3)
"My journey confirmed that color functions as an important factor separating social groups in America, just as tribal identity does in Muslim societies and caste in Indian society." (pg. 28)
He mentioned throughout their travels how most tourists were white while most waitstaff was either black or Hispanic. I do recall from my own life making such an observation while visiting Walt Disney World years ago and thinking how I saw maybe one or two black people (as guests) the whole time I was there! By contrast, I heard more foreign languages from white people than I saw American black people. So, those statements by Ahmed made me pause.
I so very much enjoyed the background on American culture and how the English "as an island race" were such a huge part of forming it. (By the way, the 2000 census reported Americans identifying themselves of German heritage more than any other.) I read a section about the Scots-Irish - Scottish people who had lived in Ireland - and considered the 'scum of the earth' to many English people back home and in the newly-forming United States. Scum of the earth comments aside, I related so much to the description he gave of these people because the Scots-Irish influenced much of the culture of the South where we cling to our religion and our guns and traditionally have a lesser regard for a powerful central government.
Ah, I think I this post is long enough. I want to later share the Darwin vs. Jesus conflict in the United States. And it doesn't have to do with the creation vs. evolution debate, but how "survival of the fittest" shapes our cultural thought. After all if only the fit survive in this struggle called life, why not kill off all those native peoples? (See, Americans had Darwinian principles before Darwin was alive to share it with us!)
Thoughts? Corrections? Did you find any of this surprising or interesting or boring as all get out? :)