Ugly Americans

(This next post was submitted by reader and commenter Dorit, a piece that highlights some of the ways White Americans perceive the Others.)

I am the offspring of a Celt and a Hillbilly. Thus I am a white-American. And when stripped of the accoutrements of my current tribe (make up, hair color from a bottle, costume and the like) I look just like many of the gazillion people who inhabit our great nation. Some of whom (not all of course) get their news from the fear mongers at Fox News (how can a network that gave us Married with Children, the Simpson’s and King of the Hill give us such right wing rubbish?). And being that I am White-American and to some extent look like them or people they are use to being around, these folks will talk to me and will share with me their demented ideas, fueled more by the AM talk radio, cable news and political TV ads than actual interactions with people unfamiliar to them. And after talking to or overhearing a few of them during a family trip to Sea World California, I can testify:

Ugly Americanism is alive and well.

Example number 1:
I was doing a little people watching (a nice way of saying I was eavesdropping) as we were waiting for the Shamu show to start. I witnessed four teenagers sitting in the fifth or so row (a prime spot to watch the show). Two of these teenagers left their seats to go to the front row (a crappy place to sit if you want to see the show). After they moved, two ladies who appeared to be Arab and were wearing Muslim garb took the two vacant seats. The two remaining teenagers said nothing. Well, about 10 minutes later, a middle age lady came down to yell at the two roaming teens, demanding to know why they left where they were, were they stupid, what was wrong with them and the like. The angry lady then went to the two Muslim ladies and asked them to leave the seats, that those seats belonged to the two now crying teenagers. The two ladies did not move. The angry lady then said “you are in OUR country you know, those are OUR seats”. This did not sit well with the other Sea World visitors who were sitting around them. Our fellow Shamu fans verbally jumped on the angry lady, who then left very quickly.

The two ladies and all four teenagers enjoyed the rest of the show.

Example number 2:
We, the daughter and I, were standing in line for some lets-get-all-wet-with-nasty-sea-water-ride. Sea World, understands the short attention span of most people as well as humankind’s need to be reminded repeatedly not to do dumb things and then there’s the corporate world’s complete fear of being sued, so they treated everyone in line to a video reminding us to keep hands and arms in the ride at all time and to secure loose items. This video was in both English and Spanish.

Well, the folks behind us, proud, patriotic Americans I am sure, seemed to take exception with the Spanish part of the video. They grumbled and rumbled among themselves. I sensed ugliness so I instructed the daughter to go wait with my husband (who was sleeping on a nearby bench) until we were at the front of the line. As soon as the little one was gone, the Proud Americans decided to include me in the conversation: “How do you like that, they are making it easier for the ILLEGAL’S to come to Sea World, can you believe it?” “Its bad enough they are taking away our jobs and committing crimes”.
I wanted to stay quite, I mean, why argue? I am not going to change their minds; they are not going to change mine. Any interaction would be pointless.

The only reason I said anything was because of all the visitors from all over the world, Arab, Asia, The Americas, and Europe (including a ton of Germans, most of whom were dressed in 1980’s style clothing. Being that I am a big fan of neon colors, I do approve) who were in line with us, including a lovely Spanish speaking family in front of us, who became very reserved when the Proud Americans decided to speak louder (note: Sea World sells beer and the Proud Americans had enjoyed a drink or two). So I spoke up:

“Do you really think some one here with out papers, who is working for minimum wage or less, who risked their lives to cross the boarder JUST to find work, who is sacrificing SO much JUST to send a few dollars home is going to be able to dish out $60.00 plus per person to go to Sea World? No they would not.”

“The reason the video is in Spanish is for all the tourists who come up from Mexico to SPEND their money at Sea World and in San Diego, they BRING in money, they DON’T take it away.”

The proud Americans were quiet after that.

The vast majority of the residents of this great land (and of the planet) are cool and open minded. But it only takes a few, like the two examples above, to convince the rest of the world that we are all Ugly Americans.

Post by:

Silverlake, CA

29 thoughts on “Ugly Americans

  1. I would submit that in Example 1, the most interesting observation is that so many people came to the defense of the Muslim women. This is a Good Thing, and for me blanks out all the ugly Americanism of the yelling woman. Similarly, for Example 2, they shut up. They were embarrassed.

    A-holes will always be around, no matter how much we progress as a society. The key to really understanding where we are is in the collective reaction to an a-hole, not the fact that there is an a-hole in the first place.

  2. It would almost seem that there are certain areas in the country where these “types” feel most comfortable and safe spouting their ignorance. They may even come from communities where “everyone” thinks and talks like that so they must feel that most other people sympathize with their archaic ideas too. The shock must come when these people go out and travel around, then forget that they’re not back in their hometown and fortunately, like in this case, get blasted by a sensible majority. I like to believe that these types are the “bad apples”, unfortunately, I also realize that there will always be people like this among us. At least those types at Sea World were blatant enough. It’s the less conspicuous one’s we can’t always eavesdrop on that worry me. I’ve chosen to write most of these people off, there’s no changing them and they’re not worth all the effort in trying.

  3. Seeing as Sea World itself is a whole lot of ugly and wrong, I’m not really surprised that it’s a venue for Ugly Americanism.

  4. While these are disturbing images I’ve always thought of an “Ugly American” as a person of economic privilege and I don’t know if these guys fit that.

    Like to me sometimes when I walk around homeless people will say racial slurs to me. I don’t view those experiences as racism or anything, just sad people with limited imaginations in regards to insults. In fact I only bring up these incidents when I want to talk about the difference between someone being an asshole and someone being racist.

    The “Ugly American” has always been to me a person of privilege, economic privilege, which is not the same as just having the random privilege you get from being a guy or white, but real privilege. It is the pretentious, patronizing, self-righteous, over-educated, but completely ignorant ass that goes in and with selfish intent, but acts as if he wants to help you and acts as if he’s fair, while he looks his nose down at you and doesn’t even pretend that you are human being.

    The ugly is the going to your country, supplying the people who kill you and your family and then playing this, “come to America, we’re fair” and then you get to experience America.

    These examples are scabs of much bigger wounds.

    What I liked about this post is that people said, “I don’t like that.” and “You shouldn’t say these things.”

    And I think that’s what you have to get from it. It’s the standing up and saying something if you think something is not ok. You can’t be worried about people thinking you are wrong or doing some “PC shout down” on you.

    I think America likes to paint the people who are wrong and prejudice as sort of “hicks”. It makes them feel better, but you know it’s not the hicks that are the ugly ones. People who are worried about someone taking their job are pretty far down on the totem pole, economically speaking. No it’s not right, but they are a flea on a larger dog.

    It’s the ones in suits from Ivy Leagues and other elite schools. Those are the people who are ugly, though they probably have better dental plans.


  5. To me ugly Americans are tourist traveling overseas, usually Europe, being assholes. (My mom worked in a hotel in Dublin, Ireland right after WWII and she would share stories with my brothers and I of how rude the U.S women were to the local women).
    I used the term in my little narrative because these jerks were tourists as were the people they were being assholes to and to the people who defended the targets of their
    And one correction- the assholes were not all white, the folks in example number 2 were black and judging by their accents, they were from the south. Ugly comes in all colors, ages, sizes and income levels

  6. as for example number two…i really have a hard time believing the lady spoke in such clear terms: “this is OUR country and those are OUR seats”…

    im sorry but i think eastside guest misunderstood her or is exaggerating…

    and let’s say she did ask for the seats in such a crude way; this makes her an ugly american??? hmmmmm. ok.

    eastside guest has her ugly-american-radar working at full capacity…

    i don’t even think she enjoyed shamu as much because she was to busy looking for a story to submit to this website…oy vey!

  7. I think the ugly america comes out whenever anyone (white or not) takes advantage of the racial dichotomy that exists in our society and social entities. When the whole “brown folks are worthless/white folks matter” construct is manipulated or used to further ones agenda, or even enacted in a manner that hurts people. I feel this social construct also exists in terms of wealth (rich/poor), gender (man/ woman) and sexual persuasion.

    I have seen the ugly america enacted by people of all walks of life (I saw it a minute ago at the store when the mexican clerk was quite rude to an asian lady who spoke little english) but I agree with Browne that it is at its worst and most influential when enacted by wealthy priveleged entitlement-bots.

    As a father, I try to drown out the consciousness/outrage of this racial dichotomy when it pops up in my life because it eats minorities up, and I want to be a happy (rather than miserable) papa to my 2 boys. I also want to be an example to my kids so that they may live their life in the most happy position (which is hard, because I cant often “shake it off” or believe “who cares, just move on, dont be miserable about it” like I would like them to live their lives when the inevitable will happen). But it is prevalent, and pops up a lot, especially when I am not dressed up in my work suit/clothes or my skin is darker in the warmer months. It hurts to be treated like a piece of worthless trash because of how you look, it hurts to be not be given the benefit of the doubt ANYTIME over and over again, and it sucks to try and push that out of my brain or not even admit it’s existence for the sake of my own sanity and family life.

    And rosie, you have to be shitting me, people act vile and malicious ALL THE TIME whenever the subject of accomodating millions of US residents (and neigbors down south). I know you are some border patrol backer, but please dont use this website as atool to assuage your delusional belief that the whole anti-immigrant mantra/crowd provokes malicious mean and hurtful behavior.

  8. Dorit, it takes a lot of guts to actually speak up and say something. I know most folks would stay quiet and then discuss it privately among themselves. So, thanks for speaking up!
    I recently read an excellent book that helped give me some insight into the White working class of the South, the “types” Al speaks of. It’s called Deer Hunting with Jesus and the guy who wrote it, Joe Bageant is an educated self proclaimed redneck who returns to his hometown to investigate the reasons behind the red state mentality. It was one of the best books I’ve read this year.

  9. “And rosie, you have to be shitting me, people act vile and malicious ALL THE TIME whenever the subject of accomodating millions of US residents (and neigbors down south). I know you are some border patrol backer…”–art

    aahhh, art, are you serious? people act vile ALL THE TIME when the issue of illegal immigration arises?????

    I think numbers may help prove or disprove your claim. thankfully the number of hate crimes against “illegals/immigrants” is low…

    can immigration be an explosive issue? yes. can people make asinine remarks?? yes. your last response to my post proves this as well.

    check your emotions art. maintain eveneness/fairness when you want to put the spotlight on white ugliness and turn it away from the rest of us who can get real UGLY at times too….

  10. each one of us has a story to tell about being on the receiving end of “looks, stares, racially tinged comments, unfair remarks, blatant discrimination…”

    I come from a large family of first, second and third generation mexican-americans and can tell you that we have not always escaped unfairness, but the most important thing to share about all of this is that we have MOSTLY been treated well by others and have benefitted from a MOSTLY fair society.

  11. So what are you saying Rosie, that people of color complain too much?

    You would like to go back to when no one “complained”?

    You want to go back to not being allowed to vote and cleaning someone’s house, because that was your only option?

    You know right after construction black people had lots of rights, then a decade or so later this country took those rights back. And remember the Japanese American internment? And uh when they randomly deported Latinos born here for cash.These actions all happened within the 20th century. Who would think that Americans could lose their rights and be imprisoned and restricted and deported just for not being white?

    America does. America changes the rules all the time.

    This country changes its mind all the time. You have to always continually keep saying something.

    But if you have a problem with keeping your rights, because it is “too emotional” and not happy talk enough for you feel free to give them to someone who will use them.

  12. @pimmy – I agree – let’s recognize when people stand up for what’s right. It doesn’t undo what the woman said, though, at least not to the targets of her rage. It also won’t undo the two layers of harm that she’s doing to her kids – teaching them to blame others, and teaching them racism.

    @rosie – I half agree – mostly treated well, mostly unfair society. If it were fair, you’d wouldn’t be able to notice the wide inequalities that result from small increments of unfairness.

  13. to add to browne’s women did nto get the right to vote in the USA until August 18th 1920.

  14. Dorit,

    In regards to women’s right to vote.

    That is what I was referring to in regards to Rosie not voting.

    I think often we forget if when we bring up racism that sexism is part of that.

    People often forget women of color are oppressed too for being women, as well as being minorities.

    Case in point Molina. I think Molina is victim to way more vicious commentary than her male contemporaries and I think it’s due in large part, because she’s a woman.

    The amount of times Molina gets called a bitch by progressive individuals is outrageous. I don’t care if she white washed a mural, her vagina has absolutely nothing to do with that.

    It saddens me that more women don’t feel that it’s sexism if it’s a woman of color.

    Molina was called a shrill shrew in the LA Weekly by a man that’s part of a respected organization and it being challenged by no one (but me) is sexism at its ugliest.

    If she had been called a racial slur, that would have been outrageous.

    If she were white I think something would have been commented about that (by LA feminist), but sense she’s a person of color nothing from the LA feminist peanut gallery. That’s total crap.

  15. Sheesh Dorit, That WAS ugly. Some of the pleasures I won’t miss during my family’s “Staycation,” here in Highland Park. And how could your husband sleep while at the “Happiest aquatic place on Earth?”

  16. to Rosie since she wrote: “I think numbers may help prove or disprove your claim. thankfully the number of hate crimes against “illegals/immigrants” is low…”

    a simple google search will give you the proof you need.

    Hate crimes on rise

    Man Beaten to Death by Good Students

    Price of a Mexican

  17. Re: Rosie, You throw out a subtle racial dig on your first response by adding “oy vey” Are you assuming Dorit has a common Jewish name so she must be Jewish? Obviously you didn’t read her first sentence. You come off sounding entirely unfair, uneven and inconsiderate, yet you’re extremely aware of the need for those considerations when it comes to YOU. As for the rest of your comments, do you work at being such an idiot a-hole, or does it come naturally? Or are you just lashing out at Dorit for being a guest writer because your bid to submit was soundly rejected?
    hmmm, I’m with BANHAMMER.

  18. sodomite:

    my idea was rejected, not suprisingly, by the “thought police” on this site…

    writing about a kid friendly liquour store was a fab idea..

    pachuco, this is a much better link

    this site severely needs to take a deep breath…there is a lot of bitterness, anger, defensiveness directed at some of my posts just because i don’t sound off like a typical resentful hispanic…i dont walk around my neighborhood turning over every stone hoping to find injustice…if its there, its there…

    is there anyone here that feels damn lucky to be in this country with all its shit and glory?

  19. Rosie, exactly how much to you is “low”, and does this “low” level somehow justify dismissing people who actually do experience the ugly side of our country’s immigration/race issue? It seems like you are one of those apologist people who would rather stay delusional than recognize that race based/ignorant hatred actually exists and occurs, and it still hurts people. And the victims of it also deserve to be heard and recieve compassion about their unfortunate experience.

    That being said, why do you feel the need to present folks in such an overdramatically radical manner to dismiss them, and why do you feel the need to dismiss them at all? I just noted how much I personally try to dismiss racist incidents for my own emotional well being and your first response is to overdramatize me (and others here) as “typical oversensitive hispanics” who “look under very rock for iunjustice”. Is your point merely to diss me rather than address my comments? You seem to confuse me reacting to your comments, not appreciating them, and correcting them as some kind of emotional outburst in order to dimiss them, or at least not have to answer them in a mature and straight manner, that is not appreciated and is an immature to debate someone.

    Why cant you take your own advice about looking at the positive aspect of people (when looking at a racist experience in the context of an entire ethnicity as you noted) when it comes to reading the posts or analyszing the actions of brown/racially conscious people? You seem bent on telling people here who are venting/reporting anegative racial experience or situation to “get over it and look at the positive” when you yourself cant seem to do the same with the people you are waving your finger, or your fellow latinos.

    The worst part is that I actually have little tolerance for folks who are victimization monkeys and actually pull the race card/ are racist against whites; but because you are so dogmatic and judgemental in your comments you would rather lump me in with those folks than address what I say. I think browne (albeit a bit loca) and dorit are totally appropriat in their commentary and views, and i ALSO dont appreciate people who go around looking for how unjust the world is. I know it is hard to grasp in you absolute/all or nothing world, but people can appreciate this country, not be racist or overvictimized or whiney and still recognize and not appreciate racism or the racial dichotomy that exists in this country. That’s becuase such absolute thinking does not fly in the real world. Now please, dont get all hurt and attacky because I called your card and you where wrong, it happens (apparently a lot with you).

  20. rosie (the ugly mexican), my last question to you is: why do you keep coming back to this site which appears to loath you, and which you apparently have nothing in common with as well? (by your own admission-your last response)^. Please go away! You add nothing positive! We’ll all feel more damn lucky to be in this country without YOUR shit & glory.

  21. ill be waiting for someone around here to post a positive story about living in this country (doesn’t mean we ignore the bad) and expresses some gratitude, but oh, wait, it won’t happen around here cuz it means not having to complain…darn…

  22. Gratitude…what are you trying to do get a job somewhere as the token.

    Maybe you can go work for the Daily News oh, better yet why don’t you be the Latina they pull out on Fox News every time an issue on immigration of Affirmative Action comes up. It would be mutually beneficial. You can vomit your right winged rhetoric and they get so say, “We’re not racist we got a nice colored gal right here.” Maybe you can get a book deal out of it.

    You’re just the kind of PoC people in America, the richest people in America, are looking for, so I see much success in your future. Good for you.


  23. I’m glad people like Rosie are reading this site, maybe they will learn something. Afterall, there are lots of folks that share her thinking and I wouldn’t write off whole segments of the population just because I don’t agree with them or they have strange, convoluted logic. Anyways, I hope they stick around and you can ignore their comments if you find them ridiculous.
    But Rosie, I’m not sure what kind of positive stories you are looking for? I think you are guilty of generalizing when you keep on about people complaining. There are plenty of fun, “positive” posts on this site mixed in with deeper more intense stuff. There’s something for everyone. Of course, you aren’t going to find a story that matches your thinking exactly but if you take sometime to think about what’s being said, you might actually understand the writer’s perspective.

  24. You know Rosie my last comment could have been stated better. We all have our opinions. Am I grateful to be here? Well some of me is. I am in a weird spot being culturally a member of the African dispora and an immigrant, sometimes I am happy sometimes I think this country has some real problems they should deal with.

    I will not let certain things go, because I don’t want things that are unfair to happen to other people.

    I just think it is selfish to not bring up inequality, if you are in the position to point it out.

  25. From Rosie: pachuco, this is a much better link
    What is better about this?
    I don’t get it?
    The black on brown and vice versa violence has nothing to do with the numbers I gave you. The numbers I gave you were a national summary, based on the years since 9/11, fueled in part by fear or ignorance of the other and in particular hatred and dehumanization of Mexicans on AM talk radio and racists ‘news’ outlets such as Fox.
    Your info is limited to LA, this year, and as we all discuss and know, demographic shifts in and limited resources like jobs, due to outsourcing, not immigrants, the recession, overall fear mongering on a national level and has led to the poor fighting over the proverbial crumbs.
    I want to see you logic but am having a hard time.
    I know there are a lot of people who think/react like you. You are for the most part coming from a patriotic standpoint. Fine, but when you want to make a point it is best you use relatable information not just anti-non-American info.

  26. i’ll take the high road in this small disagreement and concede that i have a lot to learn from others.

    some more points to broach here that might reach deaf ears, but who cares:

    my views are pretty mainstream and are shared by most hispanics.what are they?

    a) tagging is ugly and not art-even michelangelo asked permission to paint on walls

    b)che guevarra who?

    c) immigrants are hard-working and sustain the economy. they will help this economy keep going and will enable the u.s. to compete head to head with china. illegal immigration is a source of vital labor…

    d)this country is a fair and decent country and i am grateful to live here…

    e) there are many social ills that will keep activists busy as they work to improve the lives of minorities and the disenfranchised

    mainstream. mainstream. mainstream.

    over an out. roger that.

  27. Rosie, your humility is very much appreciated. We have all had to learn things from some point in our lives, and I wish you luck in your endevours. you seem like a smart cookie:)

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