America’s Flawed Search for Itself
Americans must constantly and critically question the breezy, arrogant belief that the United States is a most perfect union of freedom, democracy, and openness. But the notion that the US is not the best of countries but the worst is equally distorted and in its way just as toxic and conceited.
NEW YORK – Recently, the US podcaster-provocateur Joe Rogan made headlines by saying that, given America’s current cultural trajectory, straight white men will eventually no longer be “allowed to go outside.” On the other hand, the University of North Carolina denied tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning leader of the New York Times’s influential, and not uncontroversial, 1619 Project about America’s history of slavery. In another twist, the historically black Howard University disbanded its classics department, a decision that the Harvard philosopher Cornel West described as “a spiritual catastrophe.”
What these headlines demonstrate is that, in today’s woke age, Americans have yet to find an equilibrium for evaluating who they are. Recognizing the country’s legacy of flawed, incomplete national stories does not entail replacing one lopsided narrative with another. After all, in an ideal world, US citizens of all colors, ethnicities, and classes would honor and discuss multiple layers of the past.
The problem for many Americans is that embracing “wokeness” requires them to grapple with their whiteness. Although much of the United States’ past has been racially whitewashed, Americans can’t simply erase that whiteness or treat it primarily as a problem to be overcome. We cannot resolve one imbalance by creating another.