Two Kinds of Pride
Years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop having a discussion with a physics grad student, Amir, from Pakistan. As an English major, I knew next-to-nothing about science so my friend would fill me in on the latest research. An older man overheard us talking and decided to join the conversation. As he spoke to us, I realized he was not interested in adding to the topic of subatomic particles: he wanted to preach.
He told my friend, “Well, I imagine you’re from the Middle East somewhere, so you probably believe in God.”
“I grew up Muslim,” Amir explained, “But now I’m an atheist.”
The man looked astonished.
“If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t belong in this country.”
“Wait just a minute,” I interjected. “This man is my friend and he has every right to live here.”
He looked me in the eye, becoming angry.
“Are you an atheist, too?” he asked me. “Maybe you don’t belong in this country. Maybe you should be deported.”
“Deported? Where would I be deported to? Texas, where I was born?”
“You’re not acting like a real American.”
I thought for a moment. I could see the man’s hand trembling, a tea bag dangling from his cup.
“I see you’re drinking tea. I imagine that tea was imported from Asia, so if you are a real American, why are you drinking tea from Asia?”
“Well, that’s different.”
“I don’t think so. What do you think, Amir?”
“Certainly not American.”
The man looked down at his cup and left, embarrassed.
Later, I felt sorry for the man. He was clearly passionate about his beliefs. He wanted an audience and we wouldn’t listen. He crossed a line. I reacted.
Real American. Perhaps none of us are “Real Americans” and that is what makes us so American. We are a nation of runaways, immigrants, and religious minorities looking to escape oppression. We have many beliefs. If we really did have an American religion, it would be animistic and polytheistic like the earliest North American tribes. We would speak the languages of the Native Americans, or Spanish, the language of the early explorers. The first wave of God-fearing English speakers did not arrive on this continent until the 17th century.
But I get it. We need identities to help us understand who we are. We want to feel part of a group, whether that group is the LGBTQ community, or the state of Delaware, or the United States of America. We want to be able to say: this is who I am, and I’m proud to be this person. But there’s a different kind of pride: the kind of pride that separates us, that fools us into thinking we are more American, more righteous, more educated, more ethical than another group. That kind of pride is dangerous.
One kind of pride can build us up and the other can tear us down.
Perhaps more than pride, we need togetherness.
We can be proud of our shared experience—laughing, crying, being human.▼
James Adams Smith works as an English tutor at Delaware Technical & Community College and is studying to become an occupational therapist.