Friday, June 11, 2010
You were "chosen". "Your parents really wanted you." You're "special."
America is the best country in world. Everyone wants to come here. This is the freest country in the world. We're number 1!
These are myths that need to be refuted because they're untrue and they do harm.
When you know, without a doubt, you're special or the best, you're disinclined to be empathetic about others' struggles. You understand power imbalance and stratification to be normal and accept it as inevitable.
Non-white international adoptees who are taught and believe that they're special and/or chosen, may fail to acknowledge that their privileges are borrowed are granted but not a birth right. They can be revoked at any time. Sometimes it's hurtful, but trivial, like in Adopted the Movie when Jen, a Korean adoptee, is told she will not be included with her family in the annals of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Jen is blindsided when she's told she's not eligible to be listed with her family. Why should she be so surprised that she cried? Because she deluded herself in believing that she was special. Like so many adoptees she became an overachiever to prove how special she is. She also became an addict.
Learning that American exceptionalism is also a claim that rests on lies is also a painful realization for many people, including American adoptees. We're told that people come here for freedom then we not only find out the slave trade brought people to the United States in chains. We learn in middle school about the poor huddled masses that immigrated between 1880 and 1930 and are told that everyone wants to come to the U.S. We're not taught that more people left than entered the U.S. in the 1930s, nor the fact, throughout the history of the country, half of all immigrants returned to their countries of origin. As adults we read reports in the media that the U.S. does not have the best students, the richest citizens, nor the healthiest population anymore.
This hurts us because the immigrants we need to just stay in the top tier of nations are being attracted to other countries with better health care, education, welfare, and standards of living. Our belief in American exceptionalism is also has more insidious results. The military industrial complex of the U.S. has committed genocide and continues to perpetuate violence domestically and abroad, yet the average American believes our magnanimity to the point of denial about human rights violations and feel morally superior to China, North Korea, and all other nations. We don't condemn our governments' policies nor hold private enterprises responsible for crimes because we can't fathom that we're really as capable as everyone else of callousness, violence, greed, and deceit.
When we realize that we're just average yellow, brown, or black people and not so special, it causes us emotional pain. When we face what our government is guilty of ignoring and perpetuating, it causes uncomfortable redefining of ourselves.
(This post was prompted by this article about Jewish exceptionalism.)