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White America

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White America

When I lived in Japan and talked with my friends about Americans, I had a strong impression that my friends think the average American is white. Of course they realize that there are many other ethnic groups in the U.S. but they do not realize the true extent of racial diversity in America. In their minds, an average American has white skin, a tall nose, long legs, wide eyes, and a muscular body. So I wondered what could have led them to this image of the average American. Then I realized that the description sounds a lot like some cartoon hero. Maybe the American heroes in television and movies have had a strong impact on creating images of the average American for people in foreign countries.

There seems to be a strong sentiment among people of different races that putting characters with a wide range of ethnic diversity in T.V. shows, cartoons, or movies just to be politically correct is meaningless. There seems currently to be a strong resentment against being politically correct, even among minorities. While I agree that putting characters of different races into T.V. shows or movies may sometimes be unnatural, I don't at all agree that it is meaningless.

Think of all the American movie, cartoon or television heroes that you know. You would probably think of Superman, Batman, Indiana Jones, James Bond, G.I.Joe, Rocky, Rambo, X-men, Luke Skywalker, Shaft or Zorro. How many non-white heroes did you come up with? Probably fewer than the number you got for white heroes. This may seem natural considering that the majority of people in the U.S. are white, but there are clearly a larger proportion of white heroic characters in television and movies than in the real American population. In the 1990 census, there were 248,709,873 whites (80.2%) 29,986,060 blacks (12.1%) 22,354,059 Hispanics (9.0%) and 7,273,662 Asian/Pacific Islanders. (2.9%) This means that for every 6.6 white people there is a black person. Comparing this proportion of white to black American heroes in television or movies, there seems to be a large discrepancy between the world of reality and the world of imagination. There are many more white heroes than the simple demographic proportion suggests. Then it becomes my suspicion that white people have much more influence on creating these heroes than people of any other race. And along with that suspicion is the fear that the consequence of non-white people being "left out" or forgotten in these television shows and movies is that kids are inclined to think that the American way is the white way. Kids, white or non-white, might be led to believe that Americans conform into one and only one culture, which is the white culture.

As a Japanese man who grew up in the U.S. from the age of three months to 6 years old, I am a good example of a non-white kid who was influenced by the American heroes. When I lived here as a kid, I watched the T.V. show G.I.Joe intently and collected as many of these action figures, machines, and vehicles as I could from the show. I remember reading little stories to my mother because she promised me that she would buy me a G.I.Joe action figure if I read a certain number of stories to her. I learned how to tie my shoes just so I could get another one of the action figures. I tried my hardest not to miss any G.I.Joe T.V. shows. Even when my family went back to Japan, I brought the action figures with me and played with them until I was in second grade in Japanese elementary school. I loved G.I.Joe. The television version was a truly American show. And the creators made that very clear. Its theme says, "G.I.Joe, a real American hero." Its logo is an American flag with words "G.I.Joe" written over it. The good guys, G.I.Joes, wore military fatigues and defeated the bad guys, the Cobras, to save the world. The show clearly created for American boys the ideal model for a young American man. They created, on purpose or not, the ideology that ideal American men are

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