What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Identities
Clemente Wisconsin girls WIMTBA

By Deirdre Clemente
August 7, 2015

I study one of the most profound cultural changes of the 20th century: the rise of casual dress. I study casual dress as it evolved on the beaches of Miami. I study casual dress as worn by the Black Panthers and by Princeton undergraduates. As a professor, I teach seminars on material culture and direct graduate students as they research and curate costume exhibitions, but my bread-and-butter as a scholar is the “why” and “when” our sartorial standards went from …

Read More >

Atticus Finch Confronted What the South Couldn’t

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee Recognized the Way White Southerners Face Harsh Truths. In Go Set a Watchman, She Did Not

** HOLD FOR RELEASE UNTIL 11 P.M. EDT -- FILE ** In this 1962 file photo,  actor Gregory Peck is shown as attorney Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, in a scene from  "To Kill a Mockingbird." The classic film was ranked second on the American Film Institute's list of inspirational films revealed Wednesday, June 14, 2006, during its annual top-100 film television special. (AP Photo)

By W. Ralph Eubanks
July 17, 2015

While there are many noble characters in the pantheon of Southern fiction, few have the iconic standing of Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch. Since the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird more than 50 years ago, this fictional character has become profoundly real to many Southerners, and not just because of the way Gregory Peck brought him to life on film. For former United Nations ambassador and Georgia native Andrew Young, Atticus represented “a generation of intelligent white lawyers who eventually, …

Read More >

When the Hunger for Freedom Becomes Self-Destructive

My Bostonian Ancestor Fought the Red Coats. I Fought a Heroin Addiction. Both of Us Are Soldiers.

Whittemore  MAIN punk WIMTBA

By Lisa Whittemore
July 14, 2015

On April 17, 1775, Samuel Whittemore was toiling in the fields of his Arlington, Massachusetts farm when he spied the British militia returning to Boston from the Battle at Lexington and Concord. He was no stranger to fighting: Whittemore had fought on behalf of the British as a captain in His Majesty’s Dragoons battling the French in the mid-1700s. However, on this particular day, Whittemore took up arms against the British in the name of independence. A historical society article …

Read More >

Chinese Immigrants Now Make Up the Largest Group of New Arrivals to the U.S.

Once Excluded and Now Admired, Their Families Could See a Newfound Status in America Complicated by China's Rise

chinese railroad workers WIMTBA

By Erika Lee
July 7, 2015

Once singled out for exclusion by law from the United States, Chinese immigrants now make up the largest single group of arrivals a year into this country. A recent report by the Census Bureau reported that China replaced Mexico as the top country of origin for immigrants to the U.S. in 2013, and another report has found that China sends more students to the U.S. than any other country. What’s equally improbable, given the history, is that Chinese immigrants are …

Read More >

The Civil War Was Won By Immigrant Soldiers

Fully One in Four Union Fighters Was Foreign-Born

Garibaldi Guard Review_LEAD pic

By Don H. Doyle
June 30, 2015

In the summer of 1861, an American diplomat in Turin, then the capital of Italy, looked out the window of the U.S. legation to see hundreds of young men forming a sprawling line outside the building. Some wore red shirts, emblematic of the Garibaldini who had fought the previous year with Giuseppe Garibaldi and, during their campaign in southern Italy to unite the country, were known for pointing one finger in the air and shouting l’Italia Unità! (Italy United!). Now …

Read More >

Jackie Robinson’s Life Was No Home Run for Racial Progress

America Loved the Baseball Star on the Field, Not Off It

Jackie Robinson segregation wimtba

By Jason Sokol
June 23, 2015

Jackie Robinson’s story brings together two American obsessions: sports and freedom. This is why we never tire of his tale. Yet in the way that the story has been handed down, it masks as much about our national identity as it illuminates.

The story of Robinson’s breakthrough often comes in the language and rhythms of baseball—the stuff of hits and runs, stolen bases and brushback pitches. He wrought havoc on the basepaths, demolished a racial barrier, and opened up our …

Read More >

I Heart N.J.

Call It Smelly. Call It Sleazy. Call It the Armpit of America. To Me, It's Home.

welcome to new jersey WIMTBA

By Carly Okyle
June 19, 2015

I’m sitting in a circle during the second week of my freshman year of college, listening to everyone perform the introductions that have become comically commonplace: name, hometown, dorm. It’s routine until someone farther down the circle, some five bodies away, says he’s from New Jersey. I break into a smile, then catch his eye. I do the only thing I can think to do to commemorate this moment of commonality—I lean across two people to my right, raising my …

Read More >

Captain America Dons a Turban

Armed With a Beard, a Shield, and a Sense of Humor, I Learned Why the U.S. Needs New Superheroes

Singh Captain America Turban WIMTBA

By Vishavjit Singh
June 5, 2015

I was born in our nation’s capital in the early 1970s—but sometimes when people see me in my turban, they think of conflicts in faraway lands, terrorism here at home, Hollywood caricatures, and sensationalized news coverage.

Donning the costume of a superhero—complete with unitard and shield, in addition to the turban of my Sikh faith—changed all that. Suddenly, there was no question that I was American.

Like any good comic book, there’s an origin story. One that covers moving thousands of miles …

Read More >

The Dichotomy of ‘The Duke’

Onscreen, John Wayne Embodied the American Man at His Best and Worst

John wayne WIMTBA

By Scott Eyman
May 29, 2015

First, the backstory, which happens to be true.

In 1972, I was 21 years old, living in my native Ohio, and had come to the conclusion that if I wanted to write about the movies I probably should begin talking to people that actually made them.

I started at the top: I wrote a letter to John Wayne asking for an interview. Mary St. John, Wayne’s secretary of nearly 30 years, wrote back to inform me that should I come to California, …

Read More >

Baltimore’s Refusal to Be Silent Was an American Triumph

Like the Youth of the 1960s Free Speech Movement, the Citizens Who Took to the Streets in April 2015 Roared Against Unfairness

People gather at city hall in Baltimore, Maryland May 2, 2015. A jubilant Baltimore headed into a weekend of rallies after six police officers were criminally charged over the arrest of 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray whose death led to rioting earlier in the week. REUTERS/Eric Thayer      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1B9JL

By Tracy K. Smith
May 15, 2015

Four days after protests in Baltimore turned violent, I found myself looking into every black face I saw as I made my way through Pittsburgh International Airport, wanting to say something huge-hearted and restorative. My eyes were wet, my chest full but also empty, as if a balloon were lodged there and about to pop. I looked at all the white faces, too, thinking, Don’t you know me? Don’t we mean something to each another?

My emotional state surprised me, …

Read More >