Before we can examine the important information from “What is an American?” by Ahmed Akbar, I think we should understand what culture is. Culture is defined by Live Science as, “the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.” (Zimmerman) Can that definition ring true today? Not only in America but other countries culture seems to shift to the whims of each generation.
A few weeks ago, I was complaining online about my grandfather’s dominant stubborn ways, thinking he took the negative connotation to the machismo culture. Many men sharing my culture took offense to my rant stating they had never met a “machismo man,” and that I just had an angry grandfather. I felt guilty for over generalizing and thought about the incident for many days.
After reading many articles on the machismo culture, the negative and positive characteristics, I questioned their replies of bigotry, hate of my own kind and racism. Do the positive characteristics of a group make up for what we call culture? While acknowledged negative characteristics of a culture are considered racist and taboo if spoken of? So many questions flooded my mind and I wondered in the age of political correctness if culture is no longer a correct term to use since everyone is an individual and you can’t pin one characteristic or custom on a whole group of people.
That is especially true when discussing America, since we are land of the melting pot. Can we define ourselves to our customs, cuisine, music, arts and religions like other nationalities? But those aspects should be deemed “traditional” not cultural since culture is ever changing. Therefore culture can no longer be defined by characteristics or social habits and customs of an ethnicity because every individual is different/ every generation the human race becomes more diverse. Can culture now only be deemed by music or does cultural music fall under traditional music to be politically correct since Casanova music isn't only from Brazil anymore and Brazil does not solely create that genre of music either. The term culture now seems outdated and synonymous to stereotypes.
Akbar states that the analysis of “Americanness” comes from our culture. He relates to our culture as just: movies, television, and sports which fundamentally created our cultural jargon and social habits. He goes further to say that society has become so fragmented that it was easier a decade ago when “Eat my Shorts” from the Simpsons was (and is) a known American Lexicon. I think dwelling on the media aspects of our elusive culture is a backtrack to trying to uncover what defines us Americans. Then Akbar continues with light observations on America once being more unified when television was a recent discovery and with the victory of World War Two how we were considered the good people. I feel that Akbar is barely scratching the surface in trying to understand the beating heart and functions of the American people. Though our culture might have seemed uniform at that time; there was still so many changes that needed to be made and so many differing opinions that the media couldn’t portray. (Ahmed, par. 4)
What I would call American culture: is unity, the fight for freedom, apple pie, square dancing, hot dogs and hamburgers but that is only my opinion. These ideas on American culture can easily become Americans traditional cuisine or traditional values instead of culture. Other Americans put their own ideals and heritage into their opinions of America. We are truly the fragmented America that Akbar is trying so hard to define.
I think that this isn’t the only case of elusive culture that is becoming an epidemic around the world. We are so intangibly connected that the Earth as a whole is becoming so opinionated, diverse yet uniform in certain aspects for equality. The pop music you hear around the world has the same generic beat albeit the different languages being spoken. The new generations of teens no longer share the values and aspirations long ago generations used to share. So how does this pertain to America’s culture?
What I think of America is a melting pot of strong diverse opinions. And this idea has certainly gone into some extreme territories over the years. Ahmed Akbar spoke on this idea that back when our fore fathers held intense political debates that they could even still become close friends throughout their lives. I don’t feel that that is the same anymore; peoples opinion have become too strong and their emotions too blinded to see that we are humans, that we should be a collective being to better society. With the superstar politician phenomenon people are somehow given the right to judge and tear apart a person’s personality because once they hit that status people are entitled to that cruelty. I agree with Akbar that Obama’s (as well as any other prominent figure in America); will be treated with an extreme love hate relationship of our new fragmented and diverse cultural identity. I don’t feel that our forefathers ever wanted this great separation that has become so apparent these past couple of years. (Ahmed, Par. 7)
When asking my grandmother: “What was the saving grace of our new fragmented persona?” She said, “It was that in times a struggle that we would unite and protect each other because we are America’s children.” Race or values will be put on the back burner to protect one another from injustice. And I can truly understand where her thoughts on this came from. Akbar wrote that a profound moment whether positive or negative always brings Americans together showcasing the unity Americans share. All of these memories are locked away in everyone; we ask one another “Where were you when…?” because as an American we cling to the landmarks that change our country as a whole (Ahmed, par. 8). And if we can’t agree on political parties or favorite TV shows we can still share an understanding of the sadness or triumph we felt in pivotal moments of American history. When my sister graduated boot camp, though I deem myself not a very political person, I was swayed to tears by the unity that was felt amongst everyone at the moment when the pledge of allegiance was played. And when someone was trying to scam me online and I was so upset my “emotionless” grandpa was there to hug me and try to make things better.
Though America might be a fragmented culture to Akbar, isn’t every nationality now having a fragmented culture too? Ideas can be shared more freely without being reprimanded. People are voicing their disproval of certain aspects of their society, those aspects can’t be deemed cultural anymore because not everyone approves or believes in them (like the Revenge Cycle of Papua New Guinea). Though it is easier to categorize and put a finger on everything, I don’t think it is helpful to a certain society or beneficial. Especially in this day and age where a general idea can be misused and abused.
So to answer the question “What is an American?” Akbar finishes his essay by lamenting on the troubles in trying to define something so huge and so diverse. He traveled the country with a team of young researchers to try and crack the puzzle, but still came out of the experience with a new understanding (Ahmed, Par. 10). Yet America can’t be defined and labeled. I would have to say it is everything and nothing; it is an elusive idea you will see in almost everyone around the world. It is not consumerism or arrogance but a traditional value that has kept us all connected. I believe it is “Unity,” it can be my wishful thinking as everyday seems to have become more dangerous. But in many situations I have been in I have seen in the eyes of my fellow Americans that want to protect someone in trouble. The kindness I have seen on several occasions that I was not expecting to see. I see that as an American we are tethered by one another by the ideals of justice (no matter how strange the opinions of justice can be stretched) and unity. There is no culture that can define us or anyone but there is a core motto that I think most can agree on as being American.