What is American Culture?

american culture
Anglo-American research on the human genome represented by Uncle Sam and John Bull knitting DNA. Scraperboard drawing by Bill Sanderson, 1990.

August 30, 2022

Is American culture nothing more than ruthless consumerism and poorly cooked burgers at a 4th of July house party? Is America just a conglomeration, a salad bowl of different people from different backgrounds where nothing is unifying them beyond everyone’s mutual love for fast-food, music festivals, and pornography?

If so, then it’s one giant downstream.

We often hear about how peoples must assimilate to the American culture if they are to settle and be welcomed here. The idea of a melting pot was that no matter who someone was or where they came from, they could be an American. As time has gone on and the American people have grown disconnected from this idea, calling oneself an American almost seems to carry a vague weight, like a briefcase without anything inside making it feel hollow. There doesn’t even seem to be a promise broken, just an illusion shattered by the reality that maybe we aren’t, after all, connected by something bigger than our individual cultures.

The American Experiment was a failure. We have been shown that people who are culturally, ethnically, and racially different than each other cannot live in heterogeneous harmony. They can only marginally live peaceably. People, everywhere they settle, voluntarily self-segregate into the enclaves of comfortability, usually along ethnic lines—Brooklyn, New York is a perfect example of this; but so are the metropolises versus the rural areas, where instead of a three block radius belonging to the Muslims, the Jews, and then the secular Russians, there are entire areas belonging to a people underneath the same cultural umbrella.

But disregarding the failure of the American experiment, is there really nothing that Americans have in common, at least ancestrally? Whether through ideas or their heritages, or even both. So, let’s begin somewhere.

From 1861 to 1865, Americans fought a civil war, that determined whether or not the nation would stay together or fall apart, and whether slavery was to be abolished or not. Those who fought were Irish, German, Italian, Native, or African. In short, they were American. And all these Americans fought on both sides of the conflict. Yes, including Africans.

Now what is the percentage of people who are descendants from the antebellum? My guess is: probably not very many. Does that make this history any less our own as Americans ourselves? The answer must be a resounding no. If the reason why is not so obvious, take a look no further than what tomorrow was wrought by such a national sacrifice made by those from whom we owe our inheritance. Should there be nothing we are grateful for, if living freely is not enough of an inheritance then we deserve none of it. And having none of it is very close to where we are right about now in our nation’s history as we work diligently to demolish it all.

Once again, disregarding the failures of the American experiment, what do we have that is currently ours, even more tangible than the Civil War?

We have work ethic. We are more ambitious when it comes to attaining wealth. We’re consumerists. We buy goods, for better and for worse, and take pleasure in our luxuries and our work that goes into attaining them.

We’re a Christian nation. But whether we’re Christian or not, we would be hard-pressed to try and disavow that spirit upon which our nation was founded. Who was Thomas Jefferson? Who supported abolition? Is America less Christian because it is a European breakaway? If the English dismantled their monarchy tomorrow, does England owe nothing to the Church?

We have our own political traditions. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights are fantastically interwoven in our morality—our morality that goes beyond the confines of our nation regardless of our proclamations about the reality of cultural relativism—yes, people have their own cultures, as we’ve established, but what American does not seriously believe in the right to be secure in his own person without unjust violations upon that sacred right. Is that not true everywhere one goes, not in law but in our hearts?

We have our cultural traditions. We like to shoot, hunt, and barbecue. We barbecue for just about any holiday we can. We cherish individual liberty. We have Thanksgiving, the Fourth, Memorial Day. We have successfully assimilated other cultures into our own, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Jewish holidays. We speak English. We have wonderful literature. Hemingway and Fitzgerald, if no one else, really take the cake. We make pretty cool films. We have a strong musical heritage. We have Jazz. That American genre descendent from the Blues and made popular by African Americans who were also poets. Let’s not forget Langston Hughes.

We’re a bastion of freedom and remain to this day as such, despite our ignorance and arrogance.

People did not assimilate to America. America assimilated to them. But when the American umbrella began to be torn apart, truly by our own doing, even the cultures under which America sheltered fell with it. So that now we have tribes of race, of ethnicity, of ideology. We’re a homeless people in our native land fighting against each other.

We were never a melting pot, but we were never so clearly a salad bowl either, until now.

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