The Australian marks US Independence Day today with an op-ed piece by Barry Hing on anti-Americanism, which he describes as a “rising tide” of “bigotry”:
“There is a ferocity with which Americans are being lampooned, and it
can apply to anything – accents, food, entertainment, social graces,
fashion, weight, as well as their supposed lack of intelligence and
insensitivity to other cultures. … [W]hile it’s become perfectly
acceptable to poke fun at Americans for their s-xual attitudes or
religiosity, it’s deemed as highly inappropriate and even bigoted to
subject other nationalities to the same jabs.”
Hing has got a point. Anti-American sentiment is
sometimes associated with extreme ignorance; it can easily descend to
the “banal and crude”. But I think his argument depends on forgetting the context in which America is criticised.
The assumption is that the US is just another
country; that jibes against Americans are on a par with Irish jokes or
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But the US really is different: it’s a global hegemon of unprecedented
power. What America does – and therefore what America is – affects
everyone, in a way that just isn’t true of any other country. When
worrying trends take hold in America, from obesity to reality TV to
fundamentalist Christianity, they’re a legitimate matter of concern to
the rest of us.
Although Hing pays lip service to the idea that his
target is different “from plain and reasonable criticism of US foreign
policy and attitudes”, the effect (and probably the intent) of
demonising anti-Americanism is to dampen or discredit that criticism.
Just ask Mark Latham, whose views on the American alliance were ignored
because the commentariat succeeded in branding them as “anti-American”.
Certainly, critics of America should try to become more
well-informed. But if they do, one of the things that they would learn
is that the
attitudes Hing thinks of as anti-American – fierce dissent from the
current state of American culture and policy – are actually held by
many citizens of the US.
They think of themselves as patriotic
Americans; they just dislike where their country is going. We should be
able to share that dislike without being labelled as bigots.