This semester I am studying abroad in Milan, where I tutor upper-level English students at an Italian high school. When asked what music they listen to, they mentioned American artists like Travis Scott and Migos. When asked what TV shows they watch, the responses included “Riverdale” and “Friends.” Despite the apparent strength of America’s cultural influence abroad, when asked if they would ever want to visit the U.S., one student said, “Oh, I would never go to America, because they have guns everywhere, and I would be afraid of being shot.”
After I invited more questions about my home, the same student discredited the U.S. as little more than a wasteland with a colonialist, genocidal, racist past.
I was quick to note that just as “Friends” does not depict true American life, our nation’s shortcomings do not reflect an entirely accurate picture. The negativity bias in the media results in a depressing portrait of the state of the union. Despite this, we see individuals willing to make positive changes to these problems. There are a lot of elements of American society that we should be disappointed about, but I am most proud to be an American because of our determination to reimagine a better country. The American dream derives from the determination that individuals can change their situation for the better, and the same principles apply to our current socio-political state.
The current surge in activism in the U.S. is something worth celebrating. Harsh realities like intruder drills and school strikes about climate change seem straight out of a dystopian novel, but the fact that young people feel empowered to mobilize for their futures promises hope for generations to follow.
When many people think of Mississippi, they quickly think of a backward place filled with uneducated people. We make national headlines for Jim Crow-era election laws that are still in practice, for students posing proudly with rifles in front of Emmett Till’s damaged memorial marker and for ICE raids that tore apart communities and families organized by local and state authorities.
However, let’s not forget that last year we had three Rhodes finalists and one Rhodes scholar. Innovators and bright minds keep coming out of our university because of the grit derived from the challenges we face.
From the Ed Meek situation to the selection of Glenn Boyce, students and community members are actively promoting progressive actions despite disheartening events. Though through these challenges we have felt the burden of slow-moving bureaucracy and a lack of local autonomy, the culture of conversation and action at the university prove that we still have the capacity to redefine our community.
Some may see Mississippi as one decades behind other states and our country as a contradictory cheerleader of freedom, but there are many reasons to celebrate the U.S., Mississippi and the people who make them great.
Exceptionalism of one’s home can be dangerous, but from the local level to the national level, there is hope. Our history reflects the dark ambitions and cruelty that our country and campus were built upon, but a closer look notes the ingenuity that our predecessors focused on while making our country more welcoming to all. We are far from perfect, but all signs point out that we are on an upward path.
Katie Dames is a junior international studies major from St. Louis, Missouri.