November 24, 2012

For All Americans and Not Just Those in the U.S.

AmericasWhen one is brought up in a culture in which one's family, peers, the media, and virtually everyone one meets believes something, it is easy to understand why it is so hard to break away from the belief. If you are an atheist living in a predominately religious country, you know exactly what I mean. When I stop and think about this, I must marvel that there are as many of us as there appear to be.

As difficult as it may be to break away from religious belief in such an environment, religion is by no means the only example of this. We could say the same about a number of popular cultural traditions and practices. In this post, I'd like to address one such practice that I am currently trying to abandon and having an unexpectedly difficult time doing so.

I have been told a number of times that using "America" to refer to the United States or "Americans" to refer to persons residing within the United States is offensive to those who reside in the rest of North and South America. I understand perfectly well why this would be the case, and yet, I have discovered that this is an extremely difficult habit for me to break.

As long as I can remember, "America" has been used to refer only to the United States and "Americans" has been used to describe the people living in the U.S. This is how my family, friends, teachers, and acquaintances all talk. This is what I see, hear, and read from the news media and from my elected officials. This terminology is about as universally accepted and widely used as anything else I can think of. The degree to which it has been embedded in my consciousness cannot be overstated.

It is only recently, that it has been brought to my attention that "America" and "American" should not be used in this manner. During this time, I've made an effort to change how I write and how I speak. And yet, I continue to catch myself resorting back to the old terms more than I'd care to admit. Unlearning something this ingrained is really tough!

Why is this so much more difficult for me than it was to escape religion? I'm really not sure. My religious belief seemed to gradually melt away over a period of time before I began to confront it. By the time I started to recognize that I really did not believe in gods, I think I'd already managed to let go of much of the delusion. It is strange that this terminology, to which I have no conscious emotional attachment, is so much harder to discard. As much as I want to drop it, I keep screwing up.

I wonder if this is what it is like for some of the Whites I know who still use the "n-word" when they do not think anyone is listening. I wonder if this is what it is like for the men I know who make horribly misogynistic jokes even though they readily support equal pay for their female co-workers. I suppose old habits die hard even when they really should die.

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