Perceiving America

In law school, I took a seminar called “Slavery and its Aftermath”. It was a 12-person seminar that met five times through the year. Our two professors (Abebe and Huq) would assign us books to read on the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the resulting effects on race relations, housing, employment, and the criminal justice system.
In one session, we were discussing the lynching of African Americans in the South. One of my classmates had grandparents who had lived through that period and had family members who had been lynched. My classmate described how hearing these stories developed a complicated perception of the US as a place of both high ideals and painful history.
I thought about my own emotional response to the US. As a Korean-American, my experience of the US is shaped by my community. I’ve seen the US as Home and as Place of Opportunity. From my Korean perspective, I’ve seen the US as Protector and Economic Partner. Not all Koreans see the US that way, of course, but a majority of Koreans have a positive view of the US (according to 2015 data from the Pew Research Center).
By contrast, some of my friends may see the US as Military Aggressor, as Invading Force, as Economic Exploiter, and as Abductor. These perspectives are formed by their own experiences and the experiences of their communities.
As I’ve said before, you can’t tell people what to feel. Feelings don’t work that way. Some people may feel really positively about the US. Some may feel more conflicted, or negatively. I can’t tell people what to feel. But what I can do is try to understand the reasons that they are feeling that way. Even if I disagree with the reasons, I can at least know the underpinnings of those feelings.

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