The notion of American exceptionalism

On last week’s episode of The Bachelor, Nick Viall had a one-on-one date with Kristina Schulman, a Russian-born woman who was adopted into an American family after being orphaned at a young age. On the date, Schulman recalled making her decision about whether to go with the family or stay in Russia. She remembered one person telling her, “If you stay in Russia, it will be black and white. If you move to America, it will be in color.”  Schulman’s recollections gained significant attention on social media with plenty of people affiliated and unaffiliated with the Bachelor franchise tweeting out their respect for her and her story. It is safe to assume that this advice was given to her by someone from Russia, and her delivery of the statement suggests she feels the person was right. Schulman’s words inform our exploration of the word “America”, relating to the Keywords article America, and also to the representation of American immigration shown in “Meet Kirsten” and “Kirsten Learns a Lesson” by revealing what “America” means to many people.

Schulman’s words reflect a common conception of America by most U.S. citizens, but also, apparently, people abroad: the United States as a vibrant land of opportunity that is thus superior to other countries. The Keywords essay America highlights one conception of America as referring to the United States despite technically meaning to include all of North and South America. The essay also discerns that when people speak of America, they are not just speaking of a region, but referring to a set of shared values. Schulman’s statement almost certainly refers to the United States only, but may also refer to shared values as well. What would figuratively make one country colorful but another black and white? What can we take this to mean? Schulman also relates her statement to the commonality of Russian orphans or otherwise disadvantaged women to turn to prostitution. This clarification supports that the statement of America’s colorfulness is an indication of not only American opportunity, but American values.

In Kirsten’s story, she and her family express similar romanticized sentiments about America. In “Meet Kirsten”, the story begins with Kirsten and her friend Marta “happily” looking out at a “strip of green land,” “dreamily” fantasizing about the first things they’ll do when they arrive in America, like pick apples (1-2). Her family is travelling to America in hope of opportunity and a new life, similar to Schulman. In “Kirsten Learns a Lesson”, Kirsten must also assimilate into American culture and values. The story ends with Kirsten finally fitting into American culture after reciting her poem and realizing the similarities between her old and new culture. But this comes after Kirsten must combat the significant differences between American and Sweden culture and values, along with her initial assumption that American values were superior to her Swedish ones. Therefore, Schulman’s and Kirsten’s stories each affirm the Keywords essay America’s conclusion that to many, the word “America” indicates great opportunity and superior values, also specifying that this conception is common to immigrants from the colonial era through today.

Leave a Reply