Being an American

“What does it mean to be an American?”

For my July 4 assignment with the Post Independent (my summer newspaper internship, yo), I had to go around to random people on the street — what newspapers (and others, I’d imagine) call a “man-on-the-street” assignment — and ask this question.

Aaaaand I have never in my life been rejected so much so repeatedly in such hot weather. I probably walked ten miles on July 2 and only managed to get three solid interviews with pictures.

Here’s how it goes almost verbatim:

“Hi/Hello, I’m Brett Milam/I’m a reporter with the Post Independent and for July 4th, I’m going around asking people what they think it means to be an American. Would you mind if I asked you guy(s) that?”

Not exactly intimidating, is it? Add in a photo-op and it takes two minutes, tops. Obviously, nobody has an obligation to talk to a reporter, but I would think normally it’d be exciting to partake in a newspaper interview, especially to show off your “patriotism.”

I was met with a lot of, “No, I’d rather not.” One Asian woman pretended to not speak English, a woman with her kid on a bench said they were busy (even though they were literally just sitting there), and one woman said she wasn’t really political. You have to be politically-minded to answer, “What does it mean to be an American?”

Ugh. Rejection sucks. It was a bit demoralizing to keep running into a “no.” Oh well.

So, what do I think it means to be an American?

Let me show you.


I’m genuinely not posting that to be “edgy” or contrarian. I genuinely believe there is no more epitomizing image of “what it means to be an American” than the freedom, if one so desires, to burn the very symbol of America: its flag.

Now, I wouldn’t personally do it merely because I know it would tick people off (which is a whole other discussion), but that I have the freedom to do it? I think that’s the closet I can get to understanding what it means to be an “American.” I’m just not the rah-rah patriotic type or think there’s some checklist people have to meet.

But I’d say the freedom to burn America’s essence is quite the litmus test. Most, I don’t think, would say we ought to have the freedom to do it. But that’s, again, why it’s so American because we fucking do.

2 thoughts

  1. I don’t think people HAVE the freedom to burn their flag though.

    Canadians have far more freedom to burn their flags than Americans do. Not to say Canadians wouldn’t bat an eye, they would, but that’s about all they would do.


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