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Analyzing “American”: 100 People Define America

In times of such political divide, our country is struggling to unify. We continue to fight over an identity that applies to all of our citizens.  Many people have seen the slogan, “Keep America American.” So, what does it mean to be an American? I asked 100 people three questions.

  1. What does it mean to be an American?
  2. Can you define the word “American” in the sentence “Keep America American”?
  3. Does American society support every American?

The following is a chart of the demographics of the people asked.

Question One: What does it mean to be an American?

There were much variety in answers for this question, and many people struggled to answer.  Several people felt at a loss for words, and needed a few minutes to find their answer. 72% of white people either mentioned the words “brave” or “freedom”, or a synonym of those words. Of that 72%, about 33% talked about the military or some division of it. Those 33% were often older, about 24% of them were over the age of 35. These results show that white people are more inclined to feel welcome and comfortable in America, with a special interest in our military. However, results for queer people and people of color are quite different.

64% of people of color said the words “hard work”, or mentioned the they felt they had to stand up or fight for their ideals. 40% of queer people mentioned that their definition of an American was “resilient” or “strong.”  This exhibits how people of color and queer people in America feel like they have to work harder than everyone else to reach their goals. It’s no coincidence that no person of color mentioned “freedom” in their answer, and instead talked about working through struggles. If the American Dream was a race, straight white people would have a ten second head start.

Question Two: Can you define the word “American” in the sentence “Keep America American?”

42% of white people over the age of 35 began to talk about immigration, but often failed to actually answer the question definitively. They often seemed uncomfortable talking about the race or immigration struggle that the question implies.  However, 62% of white people under the age of 35 said that they think the speaker of the sentence would define the term “American” as white. It seemed that the younger white generation was overall more aware of and comfortable talking about white privilege, despite whether or not they agree it exists (BTW: it totally does).

82% of people of color responded with “white” or “Caucasian,” while 100% of queer people of color said “white”, “straight”, or “Christian.” Meanwhile, 73% of queer people overall said either “straight” or “hetero.” Age was not a divider in this demographic. These results, when interpreted, show that people of color and queer people do not feel others accept them as “American.” Although this probably does not come as a surprise, an overwhelming amount of people deny the existence of racism, homophobia, and other bigotry in America.

Off the record, I asked the question “What race do you think the speaker of that sentence is?” to people of color (I did not record these results formally). In my memory, every single one said they imagined the speaker as white, speaking volumes about race division in America.

Question Three: Does American society support every American?

To be candid, I did not think anyone could say yes to this question. I did not believe that anyone would be foolish enough to think American society doesn’t have any bias, and I structured the question accordingly. However, straight white people over the age of 35 astonished me, because 52% of them said they felt that American society was supportive of everyone. Every other demographic answered no. Every single queer person, every single person of color, and every single person under the age of thirty five said no. Out of 100 American citizens, 81 felt that our society does not accommodate all Americans.

When you shout for society to “Keep America American”, what do you mean? According to these results, you mean to keep the privileged few, those who look and act like you. You certainly don’t mean to accommodate queer people of color. I found that many older people felt uncomfortable speaking about these issues. They grew up in a society that taught them not to see color, not to see sexuality, not to see gender. However, that kind of rhetoric is old fashioned and dangerous. In the 400 meter dash that is American life, not seeing that one runner has a starting line 30 feet before the rest is unethical and unjust. As a nation, we need to recognize and understand privilege, and then use that privilege for the benefit of others. America is a land of opportunity, yet race, social class, sexuality, and gender tilts the balance towards the privileged few.

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