What Does an American Look Like?

18 May


No joke- when I am looking for an image for my blog posts, I just type the topic into google images and see what comes up. “End of the world”. “Latinas”. It’s interesting to see what images come up.  So the image at left is what you see when you type in American. It’s the first image, anyway.  Thanks, Google, for proving my point.

Which is that when non-Americans think of what an American looks like…they think of something resembling that image.  I was thinking about this today because last night I talked at length with a friend who had just spent 5 weeks in India.  She told me about the natural camaraderie among Westerners, whether expats or travelers, and the way that Indians of all ages would constantly ask to take pictures with her.  And somehow I thought to myself, if you’re an Asian-American, say, or a Black Brit, or a Brazilian, and you’re traveling through India, are you welcomed into the coterie of well-travelled Westerners? And are Indians clamoring to have their pictures taken with dark-skinned Westerners?

I recall several Olympics ago when MSNBC infamously included a headline on its website, “American Beats Out Kwan”. Figure skating champ Michelle Kwan’s nationality was put in question, even though she’s from Torrance (you L.A. natives out there know Torrance). Would we expect to see a headline like “American Beats Out Roddick at Wimbledon”? or “American Loses to Woods at Masters Tournament”?  Hardly.  The old Michelle Kwan headline is, well, old, but among foreigners I can tell you anecdotally that Americans are expected to be blond-haired, blue-eyed, and white.  Anyone who veers from the norm just makes people’s heads explode. Granted, I haven’t travelled abroad since Obama’s election.  Perhaps things have changed.  And perhaps a black or brown Westerner traveling in the Indian subcontinent will be asked to be in the photo albums of the locals. Maybe when we think American, we can think of this:

Typical American

Typical American

One Response to “What Does an American Look Like?”

  1. KristiMac March 10, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    I would-a assumed it was a reference to Kwan’s near-undefeatable status in national competitions; i.e., she was occasionally challenged by Slutskaya of Russia, Arakawa of Japan, etc., but (almost) never by an American during her decade as the reigning Queen of US Figure Skating… Hence a sensation like Sasha Cohen winning Nats only once – when Kwan had withdrawn due to injury. Given how endorsed and beloved Kwan was – so much more than the (Caucasian) National champs of today, and more than the phenomenal Cohen – it’d never have crossed my mind that the headline was intended to undermine her nationality.

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