‘Americans are just one blob of things’

When I first came to the UK almost two years ago, a certain line of thought in the discourse I found myself surrounded by was the really alienating, detached way the British spoke about ‘Americans’. Even the word ‘American’, when uttered by a British person, sounds awkward and incongruous, although maybe that’s just in my head. (Or maybe it’s the word itself spoken in an RP British accent).

There’s also something about the way Brits use the word ‘America’ rather than ‘the US’ – obviously I’m no expert on native American discourse (lol punz), I’ve never even been there – but I can’t shake the sense that Americans refer to their country as ‘the US’ a lot more often than Brits do.

Part of the reason why this phenomenon has struck such a chord with me is probably because I come from Hong Kong, where it doesn’t matter so much where you come from as it does what race you are. Despite its supposed position as a hub of cosmopolitanism, Hong Kong is actually quite racist in that anybody with white skin is automatically given an elevated social status. Even that supposed cosmopolitanism only applies to those rich enough to be trendy, well-educated and intellectual.

diversity in Hong Kong_white people

Based on that logic, all white people in Hong Kong are just that – white. Their nationality doesn’t matter so much, and we have the English next to Americans next to South Africans next to Australians next to Kiwis and so on. There are Scots next to the Irish, with a few Welsh(wo)men.¬†Imagine my surprise, then, when I come to a country actually predominantly inhabited by white people, to find that these unions and boundary-less realities didn’t hold up.

For all that I get lectured at university about the limitations of nationalism and imperialism, a large part of the British population, and so many of the people I’ve met here, just blindly follow the belief that Americans are dumb, Americans are rude, Americans are vapid and get up to all sorts of strange things. They forget that America is a nation made up of 50 states, and that the sheer number of people that fill those up will indicate a massive range and diversity of personalities. You can’t just say that Americans are [insert deprecating adjective].

The moment somebody attributes something about Americans to their Americanism, especially regarding dislikeable characteristics, that person is no better than a racist.

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