Friday, April 19, 2013

"Americanize yourselves, gentlemen, if you please"

It's funny that cable news networks ask how "Americanized" the Boston bombing suspects were as though that would mean they were less violent. Last I checked, we had a disproportionately high rate of gun violence in this country, a problem largely ignored by most legislatures (national and state), and the U.S. has invaded and bombed other countries in clear violation of international law with impunity.

This question of "Americanization" reminded me of a great quote from a lecture by Felix Adler, Ethical Culture founder and Progressive Era social reformer, on the issue of Americanization in 1919:

"People always think of these immigrants as if they were an ignorant lot. Among the immigrants are some of the most intelligent persons, scholars, philosophers, poets, artistics. Because they are poor they are not blind, and when they see the example of lawlessness in high places, they prick your bubble, and laugh at your hypocrisy, the condescending American who says: Americanize these poor devils. Americanize yourselves, gentlemen, if you please." (emphasis added) ("The Great Problem of Americanization")

The full speech addresses the "love of ideal America" as opposed to its empirical reality, which tolerated slavery and has instigated unjust wars.  It is good overall, but the last line in that passage just resonates so well.

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