When the first colonies were being developed, the ideology of America was created. It is known that when Europeans first came to what is now America, they saw it as land to be exploited for personal gain. It was seen as land inhabited by savages in need of civilization and God’s help. In Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American mind, he writes, “…Americans regarded wilderness as a moral and physical wasteland fit only for conquest and fructification in the name of progress, civilization, and Christianity.” These ideas are the foundation on which America was built. Most notable is the focus of “enlightening” others to convert to Christianity. In the mind of the colonists, they needed to save non-Christians from judgment day and show them how to follow the word of God. Since religion controlled many aspects of their daily lives, they felt it was their responsibility from God to push it on others. This is the first concept of what it means to be American during the early development of this country.
Even now in 2016, we can see these values still controlling the social aspect of America. Christianity is often not persecuted and is widely accepted, while other religions are shamed and receive hate from Americans. The image we often see is a non-Christian religion experiencing violence or hate speech. When people question this negative reaction there often is an answer like, “In America, we don’t tolerate foreigners” or “Not in my America”. A more concise example of this is illustrated in a New York Times article about hate crimes. It states that in California, “ A vandal spray-painted “Jesus is the way” on the walls of the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, the police said,” followed by another racially charged incident in North Dakota, “three days after its walls were spray-painted with the words “go home,” according to the police.” This clearly demonstrates an aversion to religions other than Catholicism or Christianity because in this example, the Muslim religion is degraded using religious figures of Christianity.
While it’s sad to say, this a part of what it means to be American. After observing different examples of this behavior that spans across states in America, we can see an obvious parallel. When Christian Europeans came to the New World, they “othered” any religion or God the Native Americans followed and wanted to push Christianity on them. This is eerily similar to what happens even today, a shame of other beliefs and a push to Christianity. Comparing what happened hundreds of years ago to 2016 shows a continuous trend of what it means to be American.
It’s difficult for me to identify myself as American because while I love this country, I also find a lot of fault in it. I love our liberties and freedoms but there’s also a social aspect of what it means to be American that I can’t ignore, which is xenophobia. Right now I’m on the fence of considering myself proudly American, to a country that rooted in hate and a lack of acceptance.
Photo credit: http://feelgrafix.com/group/american-flag.html