If you’re ever abroad and feeling homesick, here is how to tell where the Americans are: close your eyes and listen for the loudest voice with the harshest “r” that sounds like it’s complaining about something. The voice might not be complaining about something. It might just be ordering a sandwich. Even so, it’ll stand out from other voices around it.
From a young age I could tell that American children operated differently. They were generally more confident and more confrontational. As my exasperated mother once said, American kids are the ones who are always whining about having hurt feelings.
A lot of people seem to feel the same as my mom about college protests. Following the recent protests at Trump’s Chicago rally (which were organized by students), Obama himself called out American politics for sounding “like a schoolyard fight.” And around December last year, the internet simply exploded with other people older than my mother telling Mizzou, Yale and others to sit down and quit whining.
The irony is that millennials’ perceived attitude of relentless, raging entitlement is the same one the rest of the world has attributed to America. I came to the United States with the same prejudice against Americans that many hold against millennials. Everyone is loud, everyone overshares and everyone feels the need to complain about things that don’t really matter. “Entitlement” is a dirty word to be associated with — but should it be?
There’s a difference between feeling entitled to a privilege and feeling entitled to a right. The conventional mindset I’ve sensed here is that you shouldn’t need to earn somebody’s respect or the right to feel just as comfortable as other students on campus. This makes sense to me. You are right to feel entitled to these things and ask for a space that cultivates the same treatment and safety that it provides others. In the American philosophy, it’s natural to demand these.
In other places it’s different — in France, you are expected to adapt to the majoritarian philosophy in order to be treated with respect. Such is the underlying implication of the burqa ban, one which would never be condoned outright in the United States. Islamophobia is by no means a lesser issue here, but legally there is not a single equivalent of such a ban.
Freedom of speech is valued and ingrained to a much higher degree here than anywhere else I’ve seen. In French civic education lessons, I was taught that freedom of speech is dependent on the overarching culture. For example, I was once told that overly religious symbols shouldn’t be allowed in public because they would influence other people’s beliefs. In Singapore the argument is that speech should be controlled for the sake of stability. But in America, most people see freedom of speech as total and intrinsic.
The right to free speech in America is used as an attack against college protests, using the argument that students want to be coddled by censoring elements of their environment. But often, people don’t seem to be as upset by what students are demanding as the way that they go about demanding it. The format of these protests — sometimes loud, abrasive, and entitled — is perhaps the most American one around. The United States was founded on a culture of yelling.
This brings us back to the simple fact that the loud kids on the playground were the ones who people paid attention to. Of course Obama is right — American politics shouldn’t resemble a schoolyard as much as it does. But in a country where someone is allowed to run on a platform based on thinly veiled racism, why are we surprised that students decide to react with anger?
The fact is that this outrage — no matter how loud or annoying it might sound — is so important in so many scenarios. The ability to revolt has been curtailed by other governments like Singapore. If Donald Trump were running there he would’ve been arrested for slander and libel ages ago, which some might condone.
But if Yale students who attend Singapore’s campus were protesting the same things their American counterparts did in November, they might have been arrested too. Clearly Singapore’s political climate is not conducive to discussion. America’s, in almost the opposite sense, provokingly invites it. In fact, a lot of the time it requires people to be loud.
Yelling is important. Sometimes it is the only way to be heard. American protesters know this and, trust me, we’ve been hearing them for years.Comments powered by Disqus
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