Who will survive in America?

America was a bastard the illegitimate daughter of the mother country whose legs were then spread around the world and a rapist known as freedom – free doom.

Democracy, liberty, and justice were revolutionary code names that preceded the bubbling, bubbling, bubbling, bubbling, bubbling in the mother country’s crotch.

What does Websters say about soul?

All I want is a good home and a wife

And children, and some food to feed them every night.

After all is said and done build a new route to China if they’ll have you.

Who will survive in America?

-Gil Scott-Heron, Who will survive in America?

 Scott-Heron, 1970s radical poet and activist, brings to mind a new creation story—one that shows the “other” side of the birth of America, the story that is often omitted in schools or churches. America as the off-spring of competing forces of oppression and emancipation has resulted in a nation that has inherited the oppressive systems of its maternal figure, England.

We credit our revolutionary Founding Fathers with liberating the United States from England’s tyrannical rule. However, might it be that Scott-Heron is on to something, that a nation based on freedom has also inherited “free doom” from its mother country? One does not have to study intensely psychology to understand that people resemble the traits of their parents. Therefore, I argue that America has inherited exclusionary behavior from England and has allowed it become a part of its tradition.

Even in the most radical movements, exclusion of “the other” can be identified. The United States regards Thomas Paine as a revolutionary figure that has aided in the emancipation of a nation. However, if we study Paine closely (i.e. his text entitled Common Sense) we see that behind his liberating, empowered rhetoric lies a history of exclusion and shadowing of a people who are deemed as a burden to a social cause. This is an incredibly ironic and contradicting relationship. Paine protested against the possessive and dominating nature of England and impassioned society to revolt against the monarch abroad. However, the social group that Paine sought to motivate did not capture the liberal and encompassing essence of his manifesto. Women, people of color, people who were not Christian, indigenous persons, and slaves were excluded by Paine. On the contrary, Paine’s vision of revolution included white, god-fearing, working-class men. Although Paine spoke against foreign systems of oppression, he himself actualized the exclusion that he experienced.

Today, we can see our tradition of exclusion being manifested within the very social movements we deem as “radical,” “socialist,” and “leftist.” The exclusionary conflict within the gay movement gave rise to the queer movement. Social theory shows us that the gay movement often denies support to transgendered people, cross-dressers, or any identity that does not comply with heteronormative standards of being. Unfortunately, the gay movement, in its attempt to persuade the conservative party of its ability to “fit in,” excludes queer sub-culturesocially progress and “others” this already other-ed identity. Likewise, even though popular culture paints all feminists as radical bra-burners and anarchists, the feminist movement also practiced this tradition of exclusion. Women of color were not acknowledged by the Anglo women who lead feminism. Even as progressive as second wave feminists were,  the universalized profile of middle-class, educated, white woman failed to understand the complexities of race, class, and gender combined.

These are but a few instances in which radical social movements digress from their liberal agenda by excluding subgroups that are deemed a liability. Paine, as one of the first practitioners of exclusion in this nation, has shown us how even revolutionary groups drop people and their other-ed counterparts in the name of social progress. An dilemma that seems to resurface during every historical tension ought to move us to revisit Scott-Heron’s question in a manner that reflects this repeating historical problem: If “other-ed” groups are deemed illegitimate even in radical movements, then who will survive in America?

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11 Responses to Who will survive in America?

  1. newbieblogster13 says:

    I agree with your concern and I may have an explanation for some of the exclusion which occur, especially during events such as movements. As you stated, Thomas Paine wrote to a specific group and intentionally ignored others. A reason I can think of is too many ideas pushed at one time which would slow down/harm the cause. Trying to start a movement, as I can only imagine, is an extremely difficult thing and probably the best way is to attract the majority audience with a few ideas and concepts that they approve of and then slowly incorporate others as to not scare away any followers. Take slavery for example. The idea of freed people of color was an atrocious idea back in the day with only part of the nation for it. Freedom was slowly accomplished and that freedom slowly changed to equality rights. A lot of people back then could get used to the idea of freed people of color but was still against their equality. That mind set had to slowly be washed away so people felt good about freed and equal. Had both ideas been pushed at the same time, who knows how much longer things may have took to accomplish such things. Now take your queer movement for example, the people in that organization understand the few they leave out needs to be heard as well, but they know to take it one step at a time. They start with the easier concept of plain gays and eventually the rest will be fought for. Oh, I don’t agree with you about cross dressers though, I think a lot of people love drag queens. Also, a less known fact about why transgender people are also left out of the movement is because some individuals who go through operations believe themselves to be “straight” and will openly bash gay people and harm their causes. Ironic isn’t it? These people were men who liked other men and went through procedures to turn into females which then turn their backs on the gay community. This happens with women who turn into men as well. Anyways, the reason I can think of as to why certain groups are excluded is because it would also slow down/harm the movement. The example I can think of is the South Park episode where the city flag was at question. This flag depicted 4 white stick figures gathered around a lynched black figure. People wanted to keep it the way it was because of tradition and the opposing side wanted it changed because of it was racist. Well, the side that wanted to keep the flag the way it was caught the attention of an unfavorable group, the KKK. They knew the KKK would be negative publicity so they tried to figure out ways to get this group away from their cause. The answer, to convince the KKK to support the opposing side so they would receive the negative publicity. None of these explanations alleviate anything but they are my views as to why these exclusions occur today. I see this problem as tactics to keep a movement going rather than dying.

    • yesdelrinc says:

      “Oh, I don’t agree with you about cross dressers though, I think a lot of people love drag queens.”

      A lot of people may “love” drag queens, but the majority of the individuals who do that fall into the heteronormative category “love” them simply because of the comedic pleasure that they gain from them. I would have to disagree with you. I believe that cross-dressers are alienated from the gay movement that wants to appear “normal” and attempts to fit within the confinements of heteronormativity. That is why cross-dressers/transgender/bi-sexual people are embraced within the queer movement because they have been excluded from a previous movement that is attempting to seem “normal.”

    • rubit91 says:

      I completely agree with you and the reasons you stated. I believe that many sub-groups are left out of movements, so it can be simpler and attract more attention. Although in some peoples perspectives the sub-groups may be the same as the major group, to others it is completely the opposite in which I believe your transgender statement proves it. I have come across a few transgender people that consider their sexual orientation as straight; therefore, go against the gays. In my perspective, each person has their own opinion in regards to which group or movement they belong to. However, having so many sub-groups within these movements I believe makes everything more complicated and confusing.

  2. aussielandmn says:

    I think the issues stems from the fact that humans on the most basic level are fundamentally the same. We have trouble viewing our own actions as fallible. We will heavily criticize some other person, group or country for actions that are clearly wrong and yet we will be blind to our own that as the same if not as bad. For example, The American radicals during the revolutionary war were fighting against what they saw as British tyranny. However, one of the reasons why the southern states joined the conflict was that there was fear that the British would eventually abolish slavery, thus encouraging those slave owners to turn against the crown. During World War 2, the allies talked about defending democracy and liberating the oppressed people of Europe and Asia yet all major powers, including the United States had oppressive empires themselves. In addition, the NATO allies actively talked about Soviet oppression and violence yet they conducted wars and covert operations in places such as south East Asia, South America and the Middle East. These actions cost the lives of millions and oppressed tens of millions under violent local rule all in the name of protecting western interests and fighting the so called ‘Evil Empire’.

    In addition, I would argue that most radical movements, whether left or right are not as unified as we make them out to be. There is likely to be a lot of confusion over what their overall goal is and the more radical the elements are, the more likely the movement is to splinter. For example, before the American civil war, women’s rights and abolitionist activists worked very closely and usually if one was a supporter of women’s rights, they were an abolitionist. However, after the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves, there was a division between the two movements as the former abolitionist wanted to fight for black rights and women’s activists wanted to focus more on female voting rights. Even with today’s movements such as the tea party and occupy movement, there is a division within the leadership as what their overall goals and how to achieve them. Ultimately I would argue that it comes down to our difficultly to accurately view our own actions and the difficultly in coming to terms with difference within a political movement.

    • dlsimps2 says:

      I agree with your last paragraph. I’m sure we have all in our classes touched on the fact that History is written by the victor, but also I’ve never heard of someone wanting to celebrate being wrong (except maybe those that just can’t seem to let the civil war go). possible reason that all this inclusivity is born from the exclusive nature of pary lines is that it is hard to admit that we were not on the winning side even if we can’t physically bring ourselves to agree with the victor. Though with time and words it is easy to bury the past under the face value of texts and commentaries of yesterday. Paine may have never given thought to the rights of his wife, servants, or the poor on the streets around him instead only keeping his brothers in arms (those working-class god-fearing men) in mind. Yet as we layer praise for forward thinking over the true grit of his words we begin to see nothing more special than flat ground, unity, where once may have been either a gaping hole or a beautiful flower depending on your stance. In our haste to either praise ourselves or dig ourselves out of the mud society loses any chance at passing on individual perspectives to the posterity which is as sad as it is connective

      I share a story from my work at the bookstore that might explain better how we’ve lost our own beliefs in favor of overriding acceptance:

      This was fairly close to the end of summer break and a young man looking to be either in High School or only those few short weeks from it, came into my store with his grandparents with whom he had been staying. He asked me to show him the Teen Fiction section saying he was looking for a book called Common Sense for his fast approaching classes. The fact that he may be talking about Thomas Paine’s Common Sense flashed in my mind briefly before it was discarded because I had learned that that Common Sense was nowhere near a teen or fiction section at an age much younger than I estimated this young man’s to be. I tried everything to get my intranet computer to spit out something like what he was speaking of and when I failed I asked who the author was. His response was that the last name was Paine but he did not know the first. I took him to the nearest display and grabbed the very same book that I had sincerely hoped that he was not looking for. I sent him about his way with the book in his hand and prayer at his back this young man was the exception rather than the rule. and yet just as I feared that he was sorely mistaken in his belief about Common Sense being teen fiction I fear that he truly is society’s new rule.

  3. Ok so your problem is that America is not inclusive enough? My counterargument it that the only way to be truly inclusive is if the government takes no stance. Gay people are not accepted by Christians because it is against their doctrine. Is it ok to exclude them in favor of accepting gay and transgender people? I don’t see how that would be any different. If you simply flip the table you are doing the exact same thing as Paine and excluding the people you don’t like to favor those you do. The only reason being in a certain club or group gives people a sense of identity is because it is exclusive. It means you are a part of something special. It helps foster cohesiveness and a sense of belonging. And beyond that you cannot accept everyone all the time, eventually people will have competing objectives that simply cannot coincide.

    So who exactly should we accept? Should we just blindly follow the majority? Pick the ones that align with your personal set of values? I would say no, that change should be slow and deliberate and cause the least amount of damage, because once it is done it cannot be undone.

    • yesdelrinc says:

      “My counterargument it that the only way to be truly inclusive is if the government takes no stance.”

      This is absolutely impossible under our form of government. For social groups to be legitimized under our form of government they need to be recognized by the governement. Inclusivity would require the ability to excersise rights. If the government takes no stance, how will inclusivity be realized?

      • Ok for instance what if the government did not recognize marriage at all? Or what if everyone who wanted to could simply apply for citizenship and get it just because they applied? That would be true inclusion, but at what point would it matter? Eventually it would break down and people would faction into groups again. You simply can’t have everyone in and still offer the same benefits as before.

      • theginja says:

        “Inclusivity would require the ability to exercise rights” … you’re absolutely right. But that does not entail the necessity of a government/state “recognizing” a group. In order for anyone to exercise their rights, the government simply need not interfere. The recognition on the part of the government is, in my opinion, the largest part of the problem. By recognizing one group (it could be any group), you will always exclude another, compounding the problem. The best/easiest solution would be government agnosticism on the whole subject. No group, or sub-group should receive any privileges or exercise any rights that are not accessible by the universal. The government could recognize the universal, but in effect wouldn’t that be the same things as the government not getting involved at all? Everyone would be able to whatever anyone else could do.

        As far as legitimization, I think we might be on different sides. Legitimacy comes from the social structure, of which the government is a part of. I don’t think legitimacy comes from being recognized by the government, I think legitimacy comes from recognition by other social groups. It is a good question though, and I am not sure I have the answer, but what exactly would legitimacy via recognition entail? Is it simply the government classifying a specific social group a status as a “social group” like a sociologist would? Would that make dogmatic Christians accept Scientologists? Would that settle the “legitimacy” debate? I’m not sure we have the answer, I know I don’t.

        As far as what nathanwellsfry was saying, I think he is simply pointing out the organic nature of “tribalism”. Whether we are in a modern statist setting, or the state of nature, the organic growth of “like groups” who exlcude others is bound to happen. I don’t think this is a trait inherited through our political linage (England), or our ideological (Paine & our founders) founding … I think its a trait/habit that is simply born of fear. And fear is in all of us.

        I really like your post BTW, I think you raise a lot of good questions in regards to social movements and exclusion. I am just not sure it is a question of “who will survive in America?” Because I don’t think its an exclusively American problem, so I ask “who will survive?”

  4. yesdelrinc says:

    “The tension between an acknowledged ideology of equal political rights and a deep and common desire to exclude and reject large groups of human beings from citizenship has marker every stage of the history of American democracy.” ~Judith N. Shklar, “American Citizenship”

  5. horboy80 says:

    Okay so I have a crazy macro theory on why we as Americans are so hell bent on excluding other groups. I believe it to be in our nature. Humans are in essence a social animal. In being so driven to establish and maintain a sense of belonging we tend to exclude those who do not share our beliefs, those who are different, and those whom we deem as lesser individuals.
    Catholics and Protestants fought a war over their beliefs. They basically believed in the same God but the difference in a few details found them at odds with one another. Muslims, Jews, and Christians have the same God, but a few key differences and they fight for centuries.
    Needless to say race and gender are two of the easiest ways to exclude. A man will exclude a woman from certain events in their lives not necessarily out of malice but because of their inherent grouping with the male gender. White women may exclude black women because on a very basic level they are different and therefore cannot belong to their group.
    If I were to accept everyone as my equal, include everyone in my life, then I would also have to accept the fact that I am not better than a common criminal. We exclude criminals because of their decision to no longer be a part of our society by breaking those rules which we have established. Is everyone equal? Is the rapist on an equal standing with the saint?
    The only possible way I could see humanity as an all inclusive group would be if we were attacked by aliens. But even in our collective exclusion of those tentacled demons, we would probably find some other group to exclude. Like the alien friendly followers of Scientology.

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