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Handling Anti-American Criticism

As expressed previously, you probably consider yourself to be a good person, or at least someone with good intentions. But as you meet people outside of the United States, you will begin to discover that others don't always think that way. In fact, you must be prepared for confrontation based on what and who you are, to be judged not for yourself at times, but rather as a collective body of people who live south of Canada and north of Mexico.

The forms of confrontation may vary; sometimes you will be expected to answer questions about American politics, geography, values, and other issues as if you were the #1 expert on the subject. At other times, criticism will simply be words yelled in your face. (Only in the rarest instances would you expect to ever be confronted with actual physical risk). A list has been compiled by former study abroad students of commonly asked questions which include:
  • Why are Americans so materialistic? Why are they so wasteful of natural resources?
  • Why are Americans so racist? How can you justify forcing the Native Americans onto reservations when the whole country belongs to them?
  • Why are Americans so ignorant of other countries?
  • Why does America give so much foreign aid to countries that abuse human rights?
  • Why are there so many homeless people in "the richest country in the world?"
  • Why are teachers so poorly paid in a country that claims to have one of the best educational systems?
Strategies for Responding to Anti-American Criticism

There is no one right or wrong way to respond to attacks made against the United States or yourself for being American. You will have your own method for dealing with confrontation based on your experiences, your way of dealing with conflict, and your opinions. You may choose to take an active role, and respond to the questions or accusations, or you may choose to take a passive role and not say anything in response. As you begin to respond to any criticism; keep the following strategies in mind.

Try to understand the critic's motives

Americans are fond of saying "don't judge a book by its cover." Outward appearances are not always enough to go on in a situation where you are being confronted with anti-American sentiment. Try and talk to your "accuser" and ask questions that may elicit this person's beliefs about the United States and why s/he might hold them. Does this person get ideas from the media? Is this something being taught in school? Has this person experienced some sort of harassment from an American? If you understand the critic's motive(s), or where his or her information comes from, perhaps you can find some common ground and a more tolerant way to respond.

Draw upon personal experiences and observations

When someone asks you a question like, "Why are Americans so wasteful of natural resources?", your first response might be to say: "Oh, not me." Whether or not the question is based on fact, one way to respond might be to draw on your own experiences and observations. In this case, you can say that while you cannot speak for the rest of the American population, you have your own personal practices, such as recycling, water conservation or use of public transportation.

Avoid becoming defensive in their presence

You sometimes can't help becoming defensive รข?? you are, after all, an American. Try avoiding getting defensive as much as possible. Keep an open mind, and remember to try and understand your critic's motives.

Become more familiar with common U.S. facts and policies

"Americans are uneducated." That is a common belief overseas. How can you dispel that stereotype? "Why don't you know who the Secretary of State is?" People in other countries will probably ask you a lot of questions about the United States, on such varied topics as geography, politics, pop culture, etc. They may be questions from, '"Who decides whether a person is guilty of a crime?" to, "Does every American wear cowboy boots and ride a horse?" However, it is not uncommon to find that people overseas know a great deal about U.S. politics and policies. You should re-familiarize yourself with basic U.S. facts and policies because you do not want to be uneducated or ignorant of basic facts. Some areas to review could include:
  • U.S. geography  (e.g., differences in regions)
  • U.S. political system (e.g., how does Congress differ from the Senate)
  • U.S. judicial system (e.g., how does the jury system work in  theory)
  • U.S. foreign policy  (especially how it applies to your host country)