Many Americans who are in my situation and particularly Muslims often feel embarrassed to call themselves American or outright do not think of themselves as Americans.
To dissociate myself from America is very tempting indeed. Culturally, politically, socially and religiously I am isolated from the vast majority of Americans. I cannot understand how anyone with half a brain voted for Bush but more than half of American voters did and I cannot understand why the American people do not wake up from their infatuation with a self-destructive consumer culture and out of control consumption that is harming not only themselves but the world. On the issues of race I ask myself how long Americans will continue to be divided along the lines of race and how long religious pimps in this country will exploit the poor in pursuit of power.
When I look at TV I don’t see people like my friends and it takes a good indie movie to see someone even remotely close to my social circle and the corporate media will never get affirmation from me.
So, I guess I am out of the loop with the great-masses of Wal-Mart shoppers and Bud drinkers. They have their way and I have mine. For them the soldiers in Iraq are heroes and to me they are the either suckers who have been duped into thinking they are doing something good or the victims of US policy themselves. While I have a tremendous respect for much of what American law-enforcement does I can never look at them as an ally or a friend as most Americans do because I know they practice a corrupt profession that targets people of color and people outside of the mainstream ( but I still honor their sacrifice and many of the good individual officers who are trying to do the right thing).
After having said all of that; I am still an American. And I would not have told you that years ago; there was a time when I didn’t think of myself as an American but if one really wants to feel like an American then all you need to do is go overseas for a while and then you will suddenly recognize that no matter how far outside the American mainstream that you are and no matter how much you seek to distance yourself from US policy you are still an American.
Since that time I have learned to become more comfortable with my Americaness. I am a product of the American experience and everything about me from my walk to my talk is profoundly American. My diet comes from traditional American food and it reflects the immigration patterns to America (as people move in our diet changes).
In October I watch the World Series, In January the Super Bowl, In May the NBA playoffs, in March the NCAA Final Four and I am a boxing fanatic all year round. Sports is a global passion, along with music, and my sports tastes come from my upbringing and I cheer for those who are from my homeland more often than not.
Albert Pujols, Ozzie Smith, Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders, Bernard Hopkins, Diego Corrales, Felix Trinidad, and Zab Judah are more favorite athletes and not those from the Muslim countries. Although I do cheer for Hasim Rahman when he is boxing and Mushin Muhammad when he is playing football and Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf suddenly became my favorite basketball player when he refused to stand for the national anthem.
I am not a NASCAR fan and I am not a hockey fan because I don’t hang around rednecks and I’m not a golf, lacrosse or tennis fan because I grew-up blue-collar. But other than that my athletic tastes are very American (I must admit though I did root against some Americans during the Olympics).
Musically I am a true hip-hop head. Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, The Roots, Slum Village, Kanye West, Lauryn Hill and old school Eric B. and Rakim can be heard coming from my car. When I’m feeling mellow I put in Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, The Isley Brothers, Smokey Robinson, Chaka Khan or The Delfonics and let that old time soul seethe in. They are definitely not bumpin that in Baghdad. Then when I’m feeling rock and roll I may put in some Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Lynnard Skynnard, Pink Floyd, or Jimi Hendrix; now a few of them are British but you cant get more American than Stairway to Heaven.
When I’m feelin classy I may put in Sinatra or Dean Martin and when I want to hear live music I enjoy classical music. My tastes are a hodge-podge, just like America, and while my roots are hip-hop I’m all over the map. I may wanna beat the hell out of Toby Keith but I can still get down to some Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash.
Of late I’ve been getting into international hip-hop (ironically Israeli and West African) but my musical tastes are decidedly American. They not only say that I’m an American but they say what kind of an American that I am. Underground hip-hop over commercial and gangsta rap, old school soul over R and B pop, classic rock over alternative, and old country over the new country crap ( the worst music in the history of the world) that is now being played.
I’m still a film lover and a big indie film buff and in fairness I also must admit that I’m a big fan of international films as well; I generally dislike French films but I am a big fan of the Brazilian, Latin American, Israeli, German and Asian film scenes.
What I love about American independent film, and some that even crosses into the mainstream, is that it is almost fearless in its critique of everyone. Recent films such as Crash, Hotel Rwanda, Ray, The Believer, and documentaries like The Fog of War have seriously contributed to American national discussion. And oh yea I still have a thing for gangster movies from The Bronx Tale to The Godfather to even stuff like The Sopranos and The Wire on HBO.
Again I am not a consumer of what most of Hollywood has to offer; dumb romance films, decadent fetish flicks, and big-budget action monstrosities. I enjoy film that provokes thought.
So I am definitely an American with American tastes; but I have carved out my niche of American that is separate from what is dominant.
Like most American men, and as is the nature of men of the fitra I love women; but I look at a bony bimbo like Paris Hilton and models that look like they have HIV and smoke crack and wonder how could anyone see them as attractive? Then I look at Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba and Halle Berry and wonder how anyone could not find them attractive. So I am still polluted with the sexual images that Americans are bombarded with on a daily basis, and it does affect me, but I realize that this is less than ideal and that the ideal is Islam. Unlike some of the so-called Muslim “reformers” of today I don’t seek to craft a make-believe faith centered around the omitting of my weaknesses, but I accept the fact that I’m human and that I should strive for self-improvement.
In my clothing style I dress like an American and can typically be seen in what can be called a mature hip-hop style of clothing. Again my clothing says something about me and my choosing not to dress in the quasi-homosexual style of the cultural elite, or the bland fashion of the white middle-class sends a message that while we have some things in common we are different in many ways.
Historically I also have American heroes. No my heroes are not the slave-masters, racists, corporate crooks, war-mongers and the like but I do have American heroes none the less. To me John Brown is a hero of American Christianity, someone who gave a damn and was willing to put his life on the line.
Those leaders who fought in the great labor struggles of the early twentieth century as so eloquently described in A Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn are heroes of mine. Those martyrs of labor who fell in Detroit to the goon-squads of the auto companies died noble deaths. The generations that battled through the depression and came near starvation (while stockpiles of food existed) are heroes and they are bigger heroes for battling fascism in Europe and Asia in World War II.
The great leaders of civil-rights in America such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Jesse Jackson, Walter Fauntrouy, John Conyers and others are heroes of mine for their tireless battle for the justice of black people in this country. All of those white people who marched with the movement also deserve credit and in particular those American Jews who contributed enormously to the advancement of black people and public health and education in America are heroic.
The American Indian Movement and those who have continued the struggle for Native American-rights in this country, the working-poor, the Latino activists, single mothers and those behind bars trying to turn their lives around are all heroes to me.
Then there are those who dare to say la ilaha ilAllah Muhammadur Rasululah and all of those who say this in this land, where it is almost a crime to be a Muslim, are heroes of mine.
Yes I am an American, as much of an American as anyone else, but I define what kind of an American I want to be. The right-wing doesn’t have a monopoly on who is an American and just because I don’t cut people off on the highway with a W sticker on the back of a pickup and I’m not a war mongering racist doesn’t mean I’m not an American.