It’s always disappointing to read pieces of literature by great authors who – disappointingly – are unforgivingly white. I have no problem with white authors (except for J.D. Salinger – you know why) and often praise them for their whit, eloquent speech, and disorienting allusions: authors like Thomas Moore, Marie de France, and Homer. As much as I appreciate white literature (white American and white European I use interchangeably) and understand it to be the norm (albeit forcefully) for intellectual discourse, I can’t forgive white authors for being the very thing they are: white.
A.A. Gill in his piece “America the Marvelous” argues that Europeans are hypocritical normies who purposefully refute the greatness of America to make themselves feel more superior. He strings together various reasons for why America is so great: the US has some of the best universities in the world, the most Nobel prize winners, and New York City. For all of these reasons, Gill confirms that Europeans only ridicule Americans out of their own self-pity and need for a farce to indulge themselves in the benefits of insults. A.A. Gill paints this marvelous image of America, one of an idealistic, diverse, complicated, cosmopolitan country; in Gill’s eyes, once you’ve stepped foot in America, you’ll never want to leave. You’ll be pulled in by America’s greatness and would dread the idea of returning to Europe, Africa – wherever you may be from. This is Gill’s argument, for his animosity towards our European counterparts has grown so great that he believes throwing insults back at them is the best way to find common ground; and although Gill never says it openly, I – as I imagine most black, Asian, Hispanic people would – understood exactly what Gill really wants to say. Behind all this misplaced anger, Gill was just bragging about being white. All he did was talk about white people: who they are and what they’ve done, although he did gloss over a few things: slavery, redlining, COINTELPRO, Jim Crow, Vietnam war, war on drugs, Cuban Missle Crisis, segregation, Japanese internment camps, the KKK, the Proud Boys, mass shootings, Native American genocide, Richard Nixon, the South, Chinese Exclusion Act, Guantanamo Bay, the My Lai Massacre, Emmett Till’s murder, the Wilmington coup (seriously, look this up), the Sand Creek Massacre, Santa Barbara Oil Spill, smallpox, neo-nazis, police brutality, Executive order 10450 (look this up too), Operation Wetback, Dredd Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the death of Treyvon Martin. But I guess none of this matters to A.A. Gill because he got to sing Be Bop a Lula (a song I have never heard as an American) in front of and with other white people. It’s almost sickening once you’ve realized what A.A. Gill has done: he’s made America into an oasis by distinguishing it from Europe, but still using Europe as the starting point of American culture, and by accentuating a few good outcomes over years and years of negative ones. I should mention again, Gill can only write in such a way because he is white; his argument and reasons for arguing are white noise to any person who isn’t white. He’s just another patriotic American white guy who has no shame, urges others to only look at the good, and abuses his whiteness so take bring himself above not only Europeans (who are also white), but anybody who isn’t also white (I use white a lot in this piece and I hope you understand why by now). Gill is just shouting into a white void – he’s furiously screaming at our European counterparts to understand how their history and ours are linked, and that we came out the better nation in the end. He condemns their snobbery, hypocrisy, and self-indulgence, all of which – I can logically assume – makes him feel like the bigger, better white guy. I don’t know A.A. Gill personally, so what I’m saying might come off as defacement; most readers would assume I’m any angry black guy lashing out on “white oppressors.” To an extent, that is true, but I assure you I am doing more than that.
I am trying to paint a picture of America as a whole, not the bits and pieces Gill uses to develop his argument. America needs to be seen, in any light, by the good and the bad, they cannot exist without one another. Too often white authors only paint the picture of white America (even though Gill mentions Jazz which set me off), completely omitting the history of non-white Americans. If Gill and any other white American wishes to uplift America as this utopian-esque society with still more room to grow, they must also mention what is weighing America down: all the bigotry, hate, narcissism, and history that comes with being an American. Say what you will about Europeans: their accents suck (this is a joke for I am quite fond of British, French, and Spanish accents), most of them never reach 5’10, and they’re all stuck in the past. As bad as all this may seem, America is no better, and rather than pointing fingers, we should focus our energies on doing and being better; the first step, admitting to yourself Mr. Gill that you are white, and you have privilege.
One reply on “Response to A.A. Gill’s “America the Marvelous””
As a Hispanic reading this piece, I definitely felt like A.A. Gill was focusing on the good side of America, conveniently forgetting to talk about the vast amount of issues the country faces. To me, it seemed as if he was doing this only to further his point that we are better than Europe, painting America as the perfect nation. I completely agree with everything you say about his piece, and it’s definitely frustrating that he is only taking into account the America only white people get to experience.