I've been sitting here trying to find a nice way of saying this, of being judicious and restrained. It's not working, so let me just put it out in the street: I friggin' loathe the idea that the "quintessential" American is essentially Scandinavian, with blond hair and blue eyes. Talk about an image that needs to be banished.
I was reading Andrew Sullivan's blog (a daily read), and he posted about the potential benefit of having an athlete come out of the closet, while still playing his sport (sadly, we are still misogynistic enough when we need a guy to come out to have the maximum impact). Sullivan provided a link to an article written by sportswriter Jeff Pearlman, "the gay athlete." Since I totally agree with both Sullivan and Pearlman on this point, I followed the link, read the article, and found myself nodding my head in agreement, up to a point.
In Pearlman's description of "Americana," he wrote the following: "...Americana—a symbol of all that is good and righteous about who we are and what we stand for. It is a warm day in the sun; a beer and a hotdog; red, white, and blue bunting and the national anthem before every first pitch. It’s a beloved blue-eyed, sandy-haired boy chasing down a long fly into the gap."
I was right there with Pearlman, until he got to that boy. Nope. Sorry. So not buying it. I just find it both fascinating and sad that this image of what is essentially an American has been sold all over the globe. If immigrants and foreign visitors see Americans as blond and blue-eyed, then where does that leave someone like me? I've an old friend, American, who is originally from Vietnam; he often refers to white Americans as simply "Americans." Yet, with other Americans, my boy will use racial and ethnic monikers. I've asked him where that description leaves Americans like me, like himself? He couldn't really answer my question.
I think that we have placed ourselves, because of our tortured racial history, into an interesting corner. I've heard many white Americans ask why American minorities will not simply be "Americans." It might be just a tad difficult when those same people might give a description of what is an American similar to what Pearlman has described.
All I know is that I am a multi-generational American, on both sides of my family. I know that some African country exists somewhere in the past, as does some European country, as does some east coast Native American community, but I am just as quintessentially American as the nearest "beloved blue-eyed, sandy haired boy." It's a shame that too many of my fellow Americans don't automatically see that too. The time will come when we can abandon that false physical image of an "American"; unfortunately, that time, apparently, is not 2009.
UPDATE: Please note that if you link to the Pearlman article, the photo is of a brotha with a rainbow flag in his hand. A friend suggested that I make that point, though I still hold that it does not really undermine my overarching argument.