American Individualism Will be The Detriment of Us All
Posted by Lauren Senwo
December 7, 2020
Speaking from an American’s point of view, I think most of us can agree that 2020 has been a complete shit show. To try and even articulate the amount of BS that has occurred in this country, let alone across the globe, would require a mountain of words that I don’t have the energy to process at the moment. Like many others, I am drained out and need a serious break that I doubt any of us will be seeing anytime soon, which only adds to the frustration and exhaustion. However, as my mom has always told me: everything does come with its lesson, and in the year 2020, I’ve realized just how individualistic the American culture/society is.
Now, I’m not just waking up with this astute observation; deep down, a part of me has always known that the U.S. is not keen on helping those residing in its country or around the globe. But did I want to believe that? Fuck no. For many of us, or at least myself, holding on to some form of hope is what keeps us going. And I’ve been holding on to the hope that we are better than what has been previously shown. But with all the events that have occurred throughout history and in our present-day age, I’d be foolish not to admit what is already so evident; it’s everyone for themselves.
Individualism is defined as “the principle or habit of or belief in independent thought or action and the pursuit of individual rather than common interests.” I believe this perfectly describes the collective thought process of many Americans, if not most. The individualism of our nation has presented itself plenty of times, and the push for egoism has been ingrained into our subconscious long before we could even acknowledge it. And this is what enables the belief in American exceptionalism! When discussing topics like gun reform or even the use of masks as an attempt to decrease COVID-19 cases, there is mass push back because many believe it “infringes their individual’s freedom.”; dismissing how these implementations can positively impact the nation as a whole.
But, let also acknowledge the correlation between individualism and whiteness (And in this instance, I’m talking about whiteness as a concept that goes against anything that is not cishet, white, Christian, etc.). The policing of individual rights becomes different depending on whose rights we are talking about. There has always been a prioritization of whiteness and its needs in this country, as well as globally. It’s the reason why Black Lives Matter’s protests are labeled as riots and seen as a disturbance, while KKK rallies are viewed as Americans executing their “god-given right.” It’s the reason why ICE, as well as other “enforcers” of the law, have been able to continue abusing their power without any repercussions. The way individual freedom is not (and never has been inclusive), lets us know that the concept itself is just another extension of white supremacy and white entitlement.
But it does not end there, nor does this ideology only exist in white people.
Individualism has also been marketed to us under the guise of achieving the “American Dream,” The belief that if one is to just work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they can achieve anything. All. By. Their self. While completely ignoring the circumstances that one is born into.
We carry this principle even when it comes to things that are essential to one’s survival, such as healthcare and housing. Rather than view these as a right, we treat them like a privilege that one must earn. We are told that our failures result from our lack of discipline and that our value as humans depends on what we can produce. We have been persuaded by the myth that to receive help or assistance in any form creates dependency and laziness when, in reality, it promotes the exact opposite. And for many of us, we’ve accepted the price tag that’s come with our existence, ignoring what’s best for the collective, all for the slim chance that we can achieve the vast riches and luxuries similar to Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. This way of thinking allows the government to stay complacent in their lack of contribution to the citizens, all under the likeness of “individual freedom.”
I’m hoping that after this year, more of us will start taking the steps necessary to ensure everyone’s livelihood. That we can finally step out of this individualistic nature and concern ourselves with the betterment of all. I want people to recognize that our lives are valuable and get rid of the ableist notion we are only worth what our bodies can manufacture. There needs to be a broader discussion where we question the damn near inherited values and actively work against them because they only benefit those who obtain the most power.
Picture Credit: Joe Songer and Reuters