Human Rights

When the U.S. Pretends It’s the Center of the Universe

U.S.-centric discourse, content, and attitudes make the U.S. the default or standard, and everyone else the Other — secondary, inferior.

There’s a troublingly pervasive idea that the U.S. is the center of the universe, though it isn’t always expressed as explicitly — or even euphemistically — as that. Instead it’s simply assumed, proffered as truth without a single backward glance or knowing nod to its own megalomania.

As someone who has never been to the U.S. — I was born in Australia and have been living in Latin America for 10 years — I come across U.S.-centrism frequently: in various online spaces, in the attitudes of people I talk to, and of course as a citizen on earth. The U.S.’s attitude in the world comes across as bossy at best, disturbingly violent at worst.

One needn’t look further than the American media landscape to bear witness to our ubiquitous self-obsession and perpetuation. Nearly 3 billion people around the world consume Hollywood movies, and the U.S. hosts 43% of the top 1 million websites; these are the spaces where power is wielded, values are manufactured, and the “leaders” we listen to are created.

U.S.-centric discourse, content, and attitudes make the U.S. the default or standard, and everyone else the Other — secondary, inferior. It’s a casually ubiquitous, jingoistic notion that places the U.S. above all else. And that makes it dangerous. (See: anything and everything Trump.) Especially as the cultures, struggles, history, food, leaders, tragedies, and ideas from other countries are — by definition — just as legitimate and salient to the human experience.

What follows is an incomplete list of all the different ways we see U.S.-centrism manifesting itself in international contexts.

Job adverts that are listed as remote and open to anyone “anywhere,” but it turns out that that means anywhere in the U.S.

Articles and coverage about things that happen in the U.S. as though they happen everywhere — such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas.

Talking about seasons as though the U.S. climate applies to the whole world — “We’ll catch up in spring.”

Talking about U.S. politics as though no other country is currently having to deal with a dangerous, greedy, bigoted egomaniac as (current or future) head of state.

Calling NBA, MLB, and NFL winners “champions of the world” even though the competitions are national U.S. ones.

Referring to the U.S. as “America,” as many of those living on the continent of the Americas are American. While the word has dodgy origins‚ and its boundaries are muddy at best, it has come to represent a regional identity. This isn’t just word play; it comes in the context of the U.S. treating the Americas like its backyard, including the support of conflicts that have led to the deaths of millions of people.

Using the dollar sign to solely represent the USD, when many countries use dollars with different values (Australian dollar, New Zealand dollar, East Caribbean dollar) or use the $ sign to represent their own currency.

Using Fahrenheit for temperature, pounds for weight, and so on, and expecting others to understand, even though the U.S. is the only country—along with Myanmar and Liberia—not using the metric system.

Expecting others to be familiar with U.S. slang, grammar, and accents, while having small tantrums about not understanding other countries’ slang, grammar, or accents. (“Americans” take this as far as being tourists in other countries and asking people everywhere if they “speak English.”)

Treating customs such as Christmas trees and snowy vistas as standard celebratory fare for holidays, even though much of the world isn’t Christian, and many people who are don’t use the trees (in Venezuela, for example, people set up nativity scenes to mark Christmas) or don’t live in climates that are cold in December.

Media coverage based on the idea that the U.S.’s pro-business, two-party system is the only way to do democracy and everyone else is a dictatorship.

Media playing the footage of the 9/11 bombings over and over but never giving the same screen time to the U.S. bombings of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and more . . . or of other tragedies around the world.

The U.S. has 800 bases in 70 countries around the world, but would never permit any country to have a base on its own soil. As Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa put it when discussing the renewal of a U.S. air base on Ecuadorian territory, “We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base.”

While Trump’s desire to forge literal and metaphorical walls throughout the U.S.— i.e. the odious Mexican border wall and his “Muslim ban” — is alternatively terrifying and disheartening, internationalism and solidarity are important antidotes the American people should employ to counter such racist fear-mongering and policy.

Americans owe it to the rest of the world — especially to those countries being abused by the U.S. government and U.S. corporations — to read, write, and rage against injustices abroad, just as those of us outside the U.S. read about growing injustices in the states.

Americans, especially the many many oppressed groups, are suffering under Trump. Here’s a gentle reminder to the U.S. media that can’t stop talking about him, and to others in the country, to also look beyond U.S. borders: Honduras also has a nightmare government, largely thanks to the U.S.-supported coup in 2009, Palestinians are living under apartheid — something else U.S. leaders have backed — Yemenis and Syrians are being bombed by the U.S. military . . . and the list goes on.

Americans are currently obsessed with the notion that the sky is falling because Trump became president, which, while understandable, has even further hindered their ability to care (or write) about the plight of other countries. (Trump’s disturbing antics dominate the headlines of almost every pub every day.) Indeed, part of what so many people hate about Trump is his crushing narcissism and jingoism, but by fixating on the people within your own country, you are, in many ways, behaving in a very similar matter.

Trump wants to put “America first,” but I know that most people in the U.S.—while reeling from socio-political fallout—understand that, in fact, the U.S. isn’t the center of the universe. And I believe they have it in them to put humanity first, instead.

Tamara Pearson is a long-time Latin America based journalist and activist, and author of The Butterfly Prison.

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