No offense if you love country music, but I’ve just never been a fan. However, it does seem to be the music most closely associated with good ole American values and the heartland so some songs like I'm Proud to be an American have popped into my head since living in South Africa.
So the other day I’m watching this South African program called Flash! which is like a classier version of E! (sorry E!, I still love you) and Flash! was doing their weekly top-something list and this list was about surprising pairings in music. They highlighted the Tim McGraw and Nelly team-up for 2005’s Over and Over Again. I remember at the time not really liking either artist, but I enjoyed the song. And I was excited about the bridge between country and hip-hop.
Like a VH1 show, Flash! has barely-known personalities discuss their list of the top-somethings. One of the commentator guys goes “I mean, Nelly, he’s so cool and hip and then what’s he doing singing country music? And who the heck is Tim McGraw?”
Ack! I say to the TV! Tim McGraw is like the number one country music singer and his wife Faith Hill is like an even bigger deal than he is! Go to Nashville, they’ll ask who you are!
Then I realized I just defended Tim McGraw to a C-list personality on a South African TV show I’ve watched twice…
This story illustrates how much of a pro-American I have become. I’ve always been proud to be from America, but living in another country has really shown me how excited I am to be American. (So much so that I defend a music artist I'm not really a fan of!) This is, of course, not to say that America is perfect and without flaws (reading the newspaper will confirm that). But people want things to work. They care about what happens to their communities and there’s a sense of pro-activeness in most Americans that I really enjoy. Things just work more slowly here in South Africa; it’s a different culture and the dynamics are different.
Take for instance, being a woman. A woman in America who wants it all – career, family, personal life – may feel guilty that she can’t spend as much time with her child because she’s working. But she still works to provide for her family. And, most likely, her husband supports her in this as they’ve probably discussed the situation at length as they are partners in their relationship.
Here, the cultural vibe (in general) is that a woman working usurps the man’s authority as man and the woman will not work because of this. (I do know of instances in South Africa where women defy this, so like anything else, this isn’t a 100% rule, but this mentality is alive in many men I have met.) I try to keep my social liberalism and feminism in check while working at a men’s empowerment organization, but some days it’s mentally exhausting to accept that this is how it works here – women are truly second class in so many ways.
The organization I work for has conversations with teen boys about “What is a REAL Man?” That conversation makes me cringe. Because the boys answer things like “not gay” or “doesn’t cry.” These boys are being socialized in a way that alienates those boys (or men) who are gay or who feel like crying to release emotions. It’s systemic, social and cultural and it makes me so sad. Articles ask why men are so angry in South Africa. They ask: Why is it that 1 out of 4 men has raped a woman? Well, maybe they’re trying to prove this uber-manhood they’ve been socialized to grow up to.
I don’t have an answer for this. However, it makes me happy to think that in America, we at least have those conversations about it being okay for men to release emotions. There’s more of a social awareness in America about different ways of viewing and living life that I haven’t found here. Then again, that would be individualism and South Africa is still deeply rooted in Ubuntu community culture. (Interesting volunteer blog post about Ubuntu here.) I’m happy that as Americans, we are generally more accepting of who people are (except maybe in small, rural counties in some of those red states : )
I’m not trying to spread “Americanism” or push Western thought here, but I’m trying to at least spread an open-minded way of thinking during my time in South Africa and question what isn't normally questioned. Will it stick? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, I'll keep defending those pieces of American culture that aren't so prevalent in South African media, like country music : )
Sala sentle, (stay well)