I read a lot of articles, but few continue to make me angry days and days later. Bonnie Smith’s article, “You’re Lucky To Be An American,” was one of those lucky few. Take a second to skim it if you haven’t already read it. It’s basically along the lines of “if you’re an American, you shouldn’t ever complain because it’s worse everywhere else.” Another Odyssey writer, Mandy Pisciotta, has already responded here about why the original article is flawed in many of its assumptions. Basically, there’s a lot of shit right here at home.
Pisciotta did a good job pointing out that your experience in America is largely based on your privilege. I won’t repeat her points, except to add that in Flint, Michigan, residents are still not able to use tap water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing, let alone drinking—a situation which would be considered embarrassing in many of the countries Smith seems to think we should pity. But there’s still a conversation to be had about why people should stop pointing to other places and saying, “hey, it’s worse over there, so shut your trap.” It’s not an issue of which examples you pick. It’s an issue of strategy.
It’s exoticizing and often inaccurate. While active war zones like Syria are obviously horrible for the people living there, I find many that Americans who make the “better here than there” argument point out things like different forms of government or religion as a reason why you’re better off in the ol’ U.S. of A. For instance, a lot of people like to point out majority-Muslim countries as places where it’s automatically worse to be, because someone might make you wear a veil if you’re female-presenting. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s racist and Islamophobic. Veiling is a complicated practice with centuries of cultural and religious layers, and shouldn’t be used by white people as proof that we’re better than others.
It ignores problems at home. As I said, Pisciotta already covered the fact that America is not exactly a pleasant place to be if you are not white, not able-bodied, not straight, not cisgender, not Christian, and not male. If you need proof of this, please watch the goddamn news.
It assumes “good enough” should be your goal. This is the biggest one for me. It’s true that I live a pretty great life here in America. That said, should I shoot for the low bar of “things are okay for me even if not for other people”? Should I give up on improving this country simply because it might be worse elsewhere? America isn’t supposed to be the best of two bad options. It’s supposed to be a place where we constantly strive for the best a country can be. American citizens deserve to have leaders that will never give up working to improve things, whether or not some people are doing fine already. You can find people who are doing fine in every country. It’s everyone else you should be concerned about.
It gives you an excuse to avoid finding solutions. Whenever someone resorts to the “stop complaining!” argument, it’s a clear signal that they have run out of actual arguments. It’s a personal attack levied at an impossibly large group of people (i.e., everyone who complains), and it doesn’t offer any solution or next step. It’s the last volley of someone who is frustrated and doesn’t want to argue anymore. And hey, I sympathize. Politics is hard and confusing and disheartening, and I often want to tell people to shut up and stop bothering me. But I don’t, because that is a me problem, not a them problem.
I hope Bonnie Smith and people like her can realize that real patriotism is believing in and actively working to make America the best that it can be, not protecting the current status quo without thought for how it’s broken. If all Americans worked together to fix things at home rather than criticize other nations, there’s a chance this place could be half as good as we claim it is.