What does it mean to be American? Historian Philip Gleason once said, ”To be or to become an American, a person did not have to be any particular national, learning languages, religious, or ethnic background. All he had to do was to commit himself to the political ideology centered on the abstract ideals of liberty, equality, and republicanism. Thus the universalist ideological character of American nationality meant that it was open to anyone who willed to become an American.” Essentially, what Gleason is saying is that all one has to do is act like an American and embrace the American way of life, but is this really what it means to actually be American? In this essay I will explore whether or not it is enough to embrace the culture, or if there is more to identifying yourself as an American by examining some key elements of American culture.
One of the big defining factors in terms of being an American is embracing the right of free speech. Outside of the United States, many people would say that Americans are loud and obnoxious, or perhaps if they were being a little kinder they might say that Americans can be very upfront! This is because freedom of speech is a big part of the American culture and citizens are very much encouraged to speak their mind and freely express their own opinions. This can seem a little overbearing in other cultures where this is not the norm, but once people realize that American’s are not being intentionally rude they often come to understand that it can actually be very useful to simply state what you mean, rather than try to be polite and end up making ambiguous statements. As Ghandi once said, ‘A “no” uttered from the deepest conviction is better and greater then a “yes” uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble.’ Freedom of speech is something that is so important to American culture that it is actually protected by The First Amendment to the United states Constitution, although of course there are restrictions! Freedom of speech does not give Americans the right to engage in hate speech. After all, another part of American life is the acceptance of various cultures and religions that may be different to your own.
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