Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March Forth: Usian

The date March 4th has become a personal holiday for me, a day devoted to progress, to progression.

I'd been wondering what moment would bring in the 21st century. 

I had been thinking movement-wise, through the arts, what would be that cultural moment that would define the genuine beginning of our century, would launch the beginning of this millennium. The 50's ended when Kennedy was shot. The 60's started with the Vietnam war. The 70's with disco. The 80's with shoulder pads and greed.  9/11 shocked us into the 21st century, but Obama, no matter which side you're on, has rung us in.

That strange effect of reading Zinn's People's History of the United States, when the result of the presidential election somehow, somehow made the words on the page resonate differently, track forward, literally making history history and not still a present reality.

I've also been wondering how the United States can solely claim the name of two continents as its own national adjective: American.

Being that the 21st century has a whole new set of complexities of its own, not quite able to be articulated with 20th century worlds, out times allow the chance to afford new labels.

Having taken the Implicit Association Test and seeing how loaded yet limited the term American can mean (it can do the dirty work of defining lots of super-mega-mentality dynamics mixed in with self, freedom, will and cash), I 'd like to try out a new word:


It takes a while to get used to anything new. Words need to be used to gather meaning, just like a language needs to be spoken to develop a personality.

My hope is that this is an alternate adjective for the United States, one that does not hog the name of two continents and starts there, onto a new trajectory of thought as to what it is to be usian.

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Blogger tamaribu said...

In a workshop with Marty Pottenger (less than a month after 9/11/01 and convened long before that by the animating democracy folks) we played with US'er, User, user. This felt resonant to me for much of 01-08.

Usian seems more of this Obamanian moment. I'll try it out!

March 16, 2009 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Marc_L said...

"My hope is that this is an alternate adjective for the United States, one that does not hog the name of two continents and starts there, onto a new trajectory of thought as to what it is to be usian."

This idea has a few problems:

1) We are not the only country whose name is "The United States." Mexico's official name is "The United Mexican States." If "American" is offensive when being limited to just the U.S., wouldn't "Usian" also be offensive to Mexico for the same reason?

2) When the European Union finally becomes a single country, it's likely that they'll be called "The United States of Europe." Would we be right in preventing them from using that title?

3) The desire for us to stop using "American" comes from (in part) the mistaken assumption that we are using it intentionally to cause offense. We're not. When the U.S. broke away from Britain, we considered ourselves 13 separate, sovereign countries (states). Since we were united in cause, we called ourselves "The United States." Since this new country was located on the continent of North America, it was called "The United States of America." "American" is simply the most logical portion of that name to use as a descriptor for us.

At the time of the colonies, citizens of colonies were referred to by their colonial descriptor. Georgian for Georgia, for example, or Rhode Islander for Rhode Island. (Canadian for Canada, too). Once we were one country, we needed something to refer to ourselves as. "Citizen of the United States" is long and cumbersome. "Columbian" is taken by Columbia, and "Yankee" is generally used to refer solely to New Englanders, or by Northerners in general by the South.

4) Do you really think one country has the right to tell another what their citizens are allowed to call themselves? Should we tell the Iraqi that they must now refer to themselves as "Mesopotamian" or "Babylonian?" How about telling the French that they're supposed be Gaulian?

Please, come up with a better name, if you desire. There are likely those in the United States who will understand you. However, do you not think that there will be many who will be equally offended that someone from another country is dictating to them what they should call themselves?

May 29, 2009 at 3:26 PM  

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