I saw this image over at Salon, in a short piece by Andrew Leonard (who was sent the picture by a friend), and it got me thinking.
My first response isn’t too different from Leonard’s: I like it. I like that the poster is calling out the hate so many have for Others for what it really is: fear. Fear of difference, or change, or whatever.
I feel the urge, sometimes, to tap into fear as a motivator in my classroom, especially in my public speaking class, where the majority of students are in their first or second year and still struggling with the deep fear of being judged as anything less than perfectly cool and capable. They “hate” giving speeches. They “hate” having to order and edit their thoughts. They “hate” having to use the library, make strong claims, and build arguments. Granted, they might actually hate it a little because it can be some really hard work, but really, they’re just afraid they’re going to suck at it and/or look stupid trying.
And so I’m tempted, occasionally, to shame them, even playfully, for their unspoken fears, in order to get them to act. (I feel like I resist the urge 99 times out of 100.) And that’s what this image is doing. Shaming: “You’re Americans first! Act like it!” Fear is wrong. Fear is weak.
Moreover, I wonder if using the rhetoric of fear will derail the message for those most likely to 1) have fear of Otherness, and 2) deny or misrecognize that it is, indeed, fear. Many of my students, particularly the young men, would rather take a punch than admit to fear of some class. Likewise, I feel like this poster might be dismissed out of hand: “This isn’t about fear! This is about [insert inane catchphrase about some discriminated-against group]!
Which brings me to my second response: I don’t like it at all. I want people to stop fearing/hating difference, sure, but I still can’t get behind something that reads, to me, as a sort of nationalistic machismo.
Uncle Sam: “Hey, American, don’t be such a pussy!”
American: “I ain’t no pussy!
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is just an appeal to the best ideas of The American Experiment: acceptance, engagement, bravery. And maybe it will work to open some eyes or change the terms of the debate. I don’t know. What do y’all think?