In 2002, the American rapper Eminem released his fourth studio album, The Eminem Show. Prior to this album, Eminem would always place a political flare on his lyrics, but his new album took his passion for politics to new levels, specifically with the song “White America.” On this track, he spits about the controversy surrounding his heavily-explicit lyrics, his right to freedom of speech, and the fact that his large fan following was the result of his white skin.
I resurrect an old Eminem song in 2017 because of a line he raps toward the end of the piece. “F*** you with the freest of speech that this Divided States of Embarrassment will allow me to have.”
“The Divided States of Embarrassment” has been resonating with me recently. The times we live in seem to be reflective of Eminem’s statement. Many Americans are ashamed and embarrassed by our leaders, and most would agree that we currently live in a union of vivid divisiveness.
We are divided in many ways, but most popularly through politics. Most either love or hate President Trump, and each of his policies project that same two-sided mentality that drives us to arguments, fights, and violence. Further divisiveness stems from the racially-charged environment of our nation. Many still refuse to acknowledge the inequalities between white people and people of color in this country, creating more unnecessary dissention along the way. Many discount the message of the feminist movement and the Women’s March on Washington, which attracted millions of people from around the world.
We are divided, and I am embarrassed. Yet, I am sure there are people reading this article that are already muttering labels like “un-American” or “liberal snowflake” in my direction without understanding why I feel this way. Please do not get me wrong, because I do love and appreciate this country. I spend a significant amount of time reading, writing, and talking about the issues that exist within our borders. If I really hated this country, I simply would not care. I believe there is much to be improved upon and a ton of ground to cover, which is not a bad thing. As soon as this country can love everyone within its borders, I will shame myself for ever uttering the “Divided States of Embarrassment.”
I do not plan on using this medium to complain about the country I live in. Complaining will not get anywhere. Instead, I want to convey what can be done to help rid ourselves of our extreme divisiveness. This is not an issue that only affects some of us. This is not an issue that only one political party or ideology needs to work on. This is not an issue that society blows out of proportion. Divisiveness is our issue. Everyone inside the borders of the United States is responsible for fixing our issue. This is not a situation where we can passively stand by and reassure ourselves that we are not the issue. We all are the issue.
Making America great requires overcoming barriers, obstacles, and uphill battles. We were great in the late 18th century when we finally overcame British rule and gained our independence. We were great when we finally overcame and abolished slavery. We were great when we defeated the evil powers of World War II and bounced back from the Great Depression. Our new issue is divisiveness, and now there are new areas that must be overcome to make our country great again.
The real question is: are we all prepared to do what it takes?
Overcome Our Ignorance
Ignorance comes in many different forms in the Divided States of Embarrassment. Unfortunately, many people walk around completely oblivious to the important issues in the world. It is understandable when people have demanding lives due to multiple jobs and multiple children; finding time to watch the news or read an article may seem impossible. Everyone has busy days and busy weeks. I totally understand the feeling of being busy 18 hours of the day and wanting to use the remaining 6 to sleep or catch up on my favorite show. I am guilty as charged.
However, once we let our lives control the amount of information our minds consume, we begin submitting to our own ignorance. We all have basic opinions on the trending issues because opinions are easy to develop. Backing up our opinions with quality evidence is much harder, and we become vulnerable when we dismiss the importance of critical thinking. Too many Americans go about their day with unfounded opinions. What does it mean when we are asked to assert these unfounded opinions, but have no clue how to articulate ourselves?
I remember in high school, I was expressing my admiration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to some friends. One of my friends decided to asked me why. I still remember the huge blank I drew. There was no notion in my head as to why I appreciated Governor Cuomo. I think I sputtered, “oh, well, I like his policies. His policies are good.” Thankfully the student let me off the hook there, because she knew I was full of it. The only real reason I admired Cuomo was because I attended his State of the State Address in Albany, N.Y. earlier that year, and he was the first famous politician I had seen in real life. Great reason to support a politician, right?
I share this story because there are millions of people walking around who have these similar-structured beliefs. A person may have one or two half-assed reasons to support an idea, policy, or candidate, and when asked to explain themselves, nothing of true value or knowledge comes out. This is a problem. I officially recognized this weakness in myself when I took Effective Speaking with Professor Maureen Louis at Cazenovia College. She would give us random quizzes that would ask us about current events and demand us to identify people who held various positions in government, such as the Senate majority and minority leaders, the secretary of defense, and so on. I was clueless. Professor Louis taught us the importance of keeping up with the news and how to be literate about our media consumption. It was an important lesson that I believe should be taught as early as high school. There are way too many people who have no indication of the important issues in the world.
Fortunately, there are people who do make an effort to back up their opinions by watching the news or regularly reading news articles. However, here exists another source of ignorance: media illiteracy.
Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of media illiteracy. Many people on the left get much of their news from sources such as The Huffington Post, Now This, and BuzzFeed. Many people on the right get much of their news from sources such as Fox News, Breitbart News, and Townhall.
Look at where the Pew Research Center has placed your go-to news sources on the continuum below, which was published in The Washington Post. If your sources are spread out somewhat evenly across this continuum, you are reading a proper variety of sources. However, if your sources are scattered towards one side, you are doing yourself an injustice.
The problem with many of these publications is that they all look like true news sites. They are attractive looking. They have headlines, bylines, and professional photographs to go with almost every story, just like an official mainstream paper such as The New York Times. This can be deceptive. There are some sources on Pew’s list that should be looked at cautiously. BuzzFeed can be very entertaining, but the publication has clearly expressed their anti-Trump stance ever since he announced his candidacy. On the other side of the isle, Breitbart News was very anti-Clinton and outright denounces left-wing thinkers. Both publications pander to the prejudices of their audiences. Headlines are skewed to appeal to certain positions on issues that the audience consistently agrees with.
Basically, if you rely solely on BuzzFeed or Breitbart, you are consuming information that already confirms what you believe in, which is called confirmation bias. You never benefit from confirmation bias. Seeking out evidence that validates your current beliefs may prepare you to become well-versed in your opinions, yet your opinions do not take the other side of the issue into consideration at all. Pure ignorance is the outcome.
I could write a book on media literacy and illiteracy, but the show must go on. It is important to remember that becoming media literate takes work, but doing so is possible. Use the continuum to choose a variety of sources so you can get a variety of information. A balance is crucial. If you are going to continue to read sources like BuzzFeed or Breitbart, do not let the pandering headlines blind you.
Americans have an extreme infatuation with the American flag. Flags are everywhere, all the time. You see them on bumper stickers, outside houses, and on the walls in dorm rooms; on t-shirts, socks, bathing suits, and almost any other article of clothing; on beer cans, paper plates, and paper cups. We love our flag.
And many people, rightfully so, will question where the problem is. After all, it is our flag. Shouldn’t everyone appreciate the flag? Shouldn’t everyone have an American flag t-shirt? Shouldn’t everyone have a flag outside their house? Shouldn’t people be jailed for burning the flag?
The problem with this obsession with red, white, and blue is that the colors can sometimes be blinding. Patriotism is alive and well in the United States, and sometimes it gets out of hand. We begin to assume our country is better than everyone else’s. We begin to only care about issues that impact our country alone. We begin to think in an us-versus-them mentality. All these qualities make up the epitome of poisonous nationalism.
Being proud of where you come from is one thing, but letting where you come from control your behavior is another. We cannot allow those beautiful flag colors to overwhelm our sense of respect and unity with other people. Yet unfortunately, we do. We get trapped in our own American bubble and only become concerned with the fate of our own. We become hostile towards the fate of people who are not our own. When one of our own tries to support people who are not our own, they are called un-American and are told to leave.
I have been an American all my life and I appreciate the country I live in. Yet, I have been told I am un-American for challenging the institution of nationalism. I have been told to go move to Afghanistan. I have been told to convert to Islam and go hate the country somewhere else. I am not anti-American, I am anti-nationalism. I am awake enough to realize that there are nearly 200 other countries in the world, and not one country is better than the others.
I am anti-nationalism because I am not blind as to how it affects people in our country. Your level of patriotism is measured by how many flag-themed objects you own, the kind of truck you drive, the kind of beer you drink, and how you celebrate the Fourth of July. It is also measured by what you believe should happen to a flag burner. I support someone’s right to burn the flag, and I have been called disrespectful and un-American for it. There are people in this country that support charges of treason for flag burning. Treason, depending on severity, can be punishable by a minimum five years in prison or even death. If you are one of those people, I ask you: what about freedom of speech and expression? Is a symbolic piece of cloth worth compromising the sanctity of one of our most beloved rights as Americans?
Viewing the different sides of the argument on flag burning is an argument for another day. I am trying to illustrate the problem with excessive patriotism. It becomes an us-versus-them game. You are either in or out. If you are not part of the team, you are the enemy. This group-centered mentality allows us to be ignorant of the rest of the world. It permits us to be insensitive to the people that die every day in Africa and other third-world areas of the world, as well as the thousands of people in the Middle East who just need a safe place to live.
We can all overcome the blinding nationalism in this country by encouraging everyone to practice patriotism in their own way and by not shunning those that do not go all out on flag gear. Patriotism should not be measured by our practices as consumers. We also need to be mindful of the billions of people outside of this country that are in desperate need of some humanity. We cannot be sensitive to travesties that only happen here. The world is ours to share, and what concerns some of us should concern all of us.
Overcome the Labels
The movement to end hurtful labels and promote more inclusive language is making strides each day. Of course, many consider this the “political correctness” movement that is oversensitive in its motive. The movement is commonly labeled “PC” with maliciousness by people who do not agree inclusive language should be promoted.
The “PC” movement has certainly made progress, but there are two labels that contribute to the divisiveness of our nation that are rarely talked about by inclusive-language advocates; primarily because they are not deemed problematic right now. These words are “liberal” and “conservative.” When talking about politics or social issues, you are most often deemed a liberal or a conservative depending on your beliefs. Political ideologies tend to exist on a liberal-conservative continuum, but that concept is mostly ignored. Most are thrown into those two categories out of simplicity’s sake.
For example, I personally support pro-choice policies concerning women’s reproductive rights, the legalization of recreational marijuana, the Black Lives Matter movement, and a non-deportation approach to illegal immigration. Because of those beliefs, I am commonly referred to as a liberal, which comes with additional labels such as bleeding-heart, snowflake, pansy, and entitled snob. Yet, I do not support strict gun legislation and I loathe the free state tuition plan presented by Governor Cuomo. According to my liberal categorization, I am supposed to opposite those beliefs, but alas, those are my beliefs. Calling me a liberal throws me into one all-encompassing basket where my stance on all major political and social issues are assumed. The same problem exists with labeling people conservatives for having right-wing beliefs. If I told a stranger that I am not in favor of strict gun legislation, that person would likely assume I am a conservative thinker based on that one belief alone.
These labels contribute to our divisiveness because each side refers to the other in vicious manners. Conservatives say liberal with such hate and disgust, and liberals say conservative with disdain and pity. What makes these terms different than labels such as retard¸ faggot, or the n-word? They are used to throw someone into one category of stereotypes and are said with such antipathy; therefore, I do not see any difference. Ultimately, they separate people into two different groups, just like Democrats and Republicans. There are more groups out there, just like there are ideologies located on different places of the spectrum, yet only two are given any merit.
I have recently tried to catch myself when assuming someone’s political ideologies using these two labels. It is a hard change in my thinking, but it is very doable. We should all make an effort to rid ourselves of labels that separate a great many of us into two groups. We live in a diverse country; we are all different. We all have our own unique, multi-faceted identities that make up who we are. None of us should be tossed into one category in any context. It fuels our nation’s divisiveness.
Overcome Our Egos
I have been fascinated with the recent developments in the news concerning President Trump’s border wall. During his campaign, he promised the American people that Mexico would pay for the wall, yet Mexico on more than one occasion has refused. Recently President Trump tweeted that Mexico would pay for the wall later and discussed imposing a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports, which could possibly result in a trade war with Mexico.
It is becoming quite obvious that the American taxpayers will end up paying for the wall with no Mexican reimbursement (if the wall even happens at all). This should rightfully piss off the people who voted for Trump based on his immigration policy. These voters championed Trump’s businesslike approach to save the country and the American people some money by deporting those here illegally. Now, it is looking like Americans will pay for a wall that will help curb the number of illegal immigrants in the country, which has decreased in recent years.
Some people are already changing their minds about their ballot decision in light of the first three weeks of the Trump Administration, but many of his voters remain loyal, despite having cogent reasons to change their minds. Americans are generally stubborn about their beliefs. We do not want to be proved wrong or made out to be foolish. No one wants to be embarrassed. We would rather hold onto our own egos than pay attention to reality.
This is not only the case with political beliefs. Protecting our egos is a huge reason why we are resistant to change how we pursue our knowledge, practice our patriotism, and change how we refer to other people. We all believe that we are right on our own minds. We all believe that we know and understand the truth, even though none of us know the real truth in any situation. The first step to changing ourselves is realizing that we are not perfect in any way, including our ability to think critically about our beliefs and ideals. This is a hard thing to realize for many people.
Think about where your beliefs come from. Do they stem from your family? Perhaps they are similar to your parents’ beliefs. Are they a product of your friend group’s thinking? Go back to how you consume news media. Do your top sites reinforce your current beliefs? It is important to ask yourself these questions because it is important that your beliefs are inherently yours. If you are not resistant to the beliefs you have always had, and never seek out ways to challenge those beliefs, how do you know they are inherently yours? You can understand what you truly believe in by challenging and educating yourself daily. With constant effort, tremendous growth can be achieved.
People of the Divided States of Embarrassment, we all have some work to do. If we want to see a great America sometime in the future, it is time to overcome all the obstacles that result in the divisiveness we see. We are all personally responsible for overcoming our own ignorance, our nationalist attitudes, the labels we assign each other, and our own egos that prevent us from growing as individuals. There is no policy that is going to fix the us-versus-them attitudes we have within our country and towards other countries. The only way we can come together is if we reflect on what we can do as individuals to better understand the world around us. That is where progress can be made, and that is how we can become the United States of America once again.