In my frequent Reddit visits, I came across an interesting video the other day. It was of an older white woman in Starbucks who became disgruntled at other customers speaking Korean, and I just have so many questions. I’ve just kind of been gnawing on it for the past couple of days and I have to tell you, I think I’m left with more questions than answers.
And it’s really beyond me how just hearing another language can make you feel not only uncomfortable, but actually angry. That just hearing a language you don’t know can cause you to irrationally lash out, but we’ve all got grinding gears I suppose.
I’ve tried thinking about why this lady got so upset – and also why these occurrences seem to be happening more and more. It seems like Americans are having a growing resentment to foreign language and I’m sure someone smarter than me has some good ideas on it, but let’s take a gander at a few I’ve come up with.
Now, I don’t mean ignorance as in stupidity (though if we’re telling the truth it might be appropriate for some), but I mean ignorance as a lack of knowledge in a certain area. It can be easy to feel less than around people who know more than you, so maybe that’s a part of it? It generates this feeling of inferiority – this feeling of not understanding what is going on. Maybe that lack of understanding turns to fear and that fear turns to anger? Maybe that’s a small portion, but I have a hunch that’s not exactly everything.
Now I think we’re getting somewhere. Generally talking, if someone is speaking a language other than English in America, there’s a good chance they might be from another country. So to Starbucks lady and her kin, they’re not “real Americans” like she is. To them, they’re in America, and they should be speaking American! Speak American – what does that even mean? America doesn’t have an official language, so how is one supposed to speak American? What kind of freedom words do I need to use?
A part of me thinks xenophobia is a good answer. My strongest hunch is just a plain resistance to foreigners and anyone who’s not a “real American”. That seems to be the rub these days – keep immigrants out and if anyone doesn’t like it, they can leave! They’re speaking another language, so they’re automatically not from here and not like me, and I don’t like it! They’re different from me, and that makes me uncomfortable! Talk about snowflakes, right?
But it makes me go off on a mental tangent about what they mean when they say they should be speaking American. About the conscious or unconscious reasoning behind the discomfort and anger at anyone not speaking English. And the only answer I keep pointing to went along with good ole white supremacy.
So I have this working theory about why the people who act this way are usually so dead set on immigrants learning to speak American and assimilating. I hear them all the time – “As long as they come here and assimilate, I don’t mind ’em!”. But I’ve always kind of wondered what could be below the surface of that feeling. People want immigrants to assimilate to the “American” way of life, but again, how to does one exactly accomplish that? What’s the American way of life?
Sometimes I feel like what’s meant by “assimilate” is “learn your place”. If you come here, you best learn English and learn your place. America, the “land of immigrants”, has always had the funny irony of hating immigrants; maybe that’s because with each new group of immigrants, there stands the chance of the status quo changing. And what’s the status quo? White people being in charge. So if you come to America, you’re going to learn English and you’re going to learn the pecking order ’round these parts.
Maybe it’s one of these reasons – maybe it’s a combination – maybe it’s none of them! But there’s just something funny at an American being so fragile that merely hearing something different from English sets them off. Like I said, I don’t know – I’m really just spit balling on this one. I’ll keep on thinking on it and let y’all know. In the meantime, 좋은 하루 보내세요.