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Identity crisis for the American Dream

By Jessica Warren

Think of the U.S and you might picture images of bald eagles, baseball or burgers. Images that somehow symbolise the culture of the nation. From an outsider’s perspective looking in, the U.S. seems to have a strong sense of national identity, arguably more so than any other western country. Yet it is within recent years this national pride and identity seems to have become warped and harmful.

Over the summer, the Bradley Project on America’s National Identity released its report after two years of research. Whilst the report found that many U.S citizens believe there is a unique national identity, six in ten people believe it is weakening, with the youngest of citizens least likely to identify with American culture. Whilst this may initially seem to be a negative thing, perhaps it is time for a generational shake-up over what it means to be ‘American’.

This data brings into question what it is that young people are no longer identifying with, but confirms a growing concern over the increasing rift within the country. It was hoped that with the presidency of Obama in 2009, a more progressive attitude would spread across the country, yet white supremacist ideals seemed energised instead, perhaps leading to a disconnected youth.

Many critics, including Salman Rushdie, author of The Golden House states that “there are at least two Americas that do not seem to understand each other, which do not speak the same language, which have almost opposite descriptions of the world”. Whilst many may seek to blame Trump for this rift, a more appropriate response would be to recognise President Trump’s accent not as a cause, but an effect of this growing dissatisfaction. Where this dissatisfaction comes from is a combination of factors; stereotyping minority groups, access to education, wage gaps, and many more issues deeply embedded within the US system.

The U.S identity crisis is being further fuelled by recent NFL protests, with police brutality being brought to the forefront of news as Kaepernick (now joined with others) knelt during the national anthem. This action acts as a symbol against having “pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of color”. Whilst Trump was quick to rebrand the protest as one against the American Flag, and not the racism in the U.S, his rhetoric slammed players for their disloyalty to the flag, and to the country. It would seem Trump deems stepping away from the cult-like American ideology more of a punishable action than the institutionalised racism within his country.

The protests at NFL games aren’t the first of race-related protests. The death of Michael Brown in 2014 may have sparked the Ferguson riots, bringing the debate surrounding police brutality and (most often) unarmed black men to the forefront of news headlines, but these issues have existed in the U.S for a considerable time, and stem from the introduction of slavery to the U.S in 1619. Racial divides have (and if this unrest continues) will always exist in U.S history, whether obvious or more supressed.

Arguably, the U.S needs an identity crisis to shake it from its harmful rhetoric. Their almost cult-like mentality of what it means to be ‘American’, and obsession with freedom are only pushing people further apart, and encouraging the growth of supremacist ideals. A star-spangled shake up of the United States is needed to tackle the imbedded racism within society, and perhaps then, and only then, young people will want to associate with a new form of national identity.

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