“I’m not a racist but…” how the move by the 99% to reclaim the US from the “old, fat, life-sucker” rich is changing perceptions of Americans
I was at a dinner party in London once when someone commented: “I’m not a racist but…” There was palpable discomfort among the other guests at what might follow. Most people dislike racist remarks – quite apart from their inherent injustice they entail a rather offensive presumption that the listener is going to agree with the speaker. But in this case the targets weren’t gypsies or Muslims or Greeks or the French or the Asians; “…but I can’t stand Americans,” concluded the speaker.
Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. That was all right then. Instead of pursed-lipped disapproval, or an embarrassed reply about why such racism is ill-judged and unfair, the comment was received by some guests with a chuckle and comments on the line of “ah, well….”
Americans tend to be judged, by some of those who make such judgments, as low on the league tables of “foreigners and others who aren’t us”. Americans are kind of fair game. For one thing, they’re certainly not an oppressed minority; they can stand up for themselves. And many Brits disapprove of what they see as the US’s aggressive foreign policy, their mass-market fast-food chains, their sentimentally simplistic “movies”, their apparent disregard of others’ welfare in their constant striving for greater riches, their ignorance of geography, international affairs, other cultures and religions, the greed of their corporations, their unquestioning respect for whoever happens to be “Mr President”, no matter how unlikeable his actions, and worst of all their seeming gullibility when it comes to believing whatever their government and mass media tell them.
Those are stereotypes, of course, but we hear little in the mass media to dissuade us from assuming “they” are all the same. The American media and government seem to relish promoting an image of the American people as being greedy, slothful and ignorant, content to sit around eating calorie-laden burgers and watching their unchallenging movies after a day happily working for greedy corporations.
But something’s changing, and I like it. Ordinary Americans the nation over are mobilising, getting politically active to try and address a system that’s perceived as sick and unjust. And, thanks to the internet, we’re getting to hear about it, even though the mass media are ignoring it.
What’s been happening in Wall Street, Chicago, Boston and elsewhere is just part of a nationwide – indeed worldwide - awakening. The number of local groups making up the Occupy movement is growing by the day. One source, http://www.occupytogether.org, is currently listing 1,470 separate locations around the world.
And it’s not all radical left-wingers, students and benefit claimants – another stereotype that the establishment is keen to promote, for obvious reasons. Occupy Chicago, for instance, says most of its number have college degrees. These are ordinary people, people who in the normal course of events would probably be happy to go to work during the week and potter about on the golf course at the weekend. People who are finally realising that the system they once respected as designed to give everyone the chance to “make it” is actually designed to take from the majority to give more and more to the minority; to cut vital public services to give yet more cash to the already-wealthy.
One American blogger of mature years, who is himself a senior businessman, (http://internsover40.blogspot.com) wrote: “What our system of capitalism has evolved to seems to be more about creating perceived shareholder value so that the C-class executive can extract as much money from the system... a bunch of old, fat guys sitting around sipping fine wine while they trade derivatives or suck the latest life energy out of the other 99% of America's workers.”
The occupation of Wall Street and other places is even being discussed in that most professional of forums, LinkedIn, with a recent poll indicating that 58% have joined, or will join, the protests. A further 12% say they maybe will. That’s a majority, any way you look at it. And that’s people saying they’ll actively join the protests; they’re not just half-heartedly agreeing with the idea from the comfort of their sofas.
Astonishingly, a Gallup poll this week said that 70% of Americans supported the Occupy movement – that’s some result for a movement that in other times could have been regarded as radical and anarchist. This has become mainstream.
As http://OccupyTheNation.com puts it, “We are the 99%, occupying cities around the nation to put stop to corporate greed and bought-out politicians that make up the top 1%.”
If anyone still believes that this movement is a few “whining college dropouts with nothing better to do”, as one visitor to http://internsover40.blogspot.com seems to think, just look at any of these sites. They show the geographic diversity of the protests and give some idea of the strength of feeling about what is being called the American Spring.
https://occupywallst.org (New York)
http://www.occupystl.org/forum (St Louis)
And here are just a few of the many Twitter accounts from the Occupy movement:
These people are turning long-held perceptions of Americans around. Next time I hear someone say “I’m not racist but I can’t stand Americans”, I’ll be there to tell them to look beyond the stereotype, as I am doing with delight.
Guest Journalist Sue Fenton Lives In London. Read more of her insight at "F Word" Site.