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Annette Jones (changed to protect identity)

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Mr. DeLisle
Honors Expository Writing
3 November 2009

Blue Hair, Stereotypes and Our Modern-Day Segregation

When my aunt came home from her adventures in Naples, Italy,


dressed in thick silver, Italian jewelry and filled with recipes for lemon
ricotta cheesecake, she found a horror within the Hood household. She
and her daughters were visiting for my sister’s eighteenth birthday
dinner, while I sat in the kitchen pondering the recipe for Ribolatta, an
Italian soup. With her marathon-winning fingers, she sat down and
waited for Julie to come home, which she never did. After my lemon-
thyme chicken had cooled to the temperature of rocks in a freezer, we
sat down sisterless and ate her meal, while my mother rededicated the
birthday meal for her upcoming marriage. When my sister came home,
a fresh lip piercing and her unnaturally black hair, nose punctured with
a light blue stud, it was eleven o’ clock, way past my cousins’ bedtime.
Somehow, my lava lamp blue hair seemed offensive now, my
own eyebrow piercing a mark of promiscuity. I helped clean the floured
kitchen and then went to sleep. The next morning, my aunt and my
mother sat in the dining room, where the dinner itself had occurred,
and my cousins were sent off to stay with my aunt’s friend, away from
all the blue-haired bad influences brewing in the Hood household. She
then proceeded to explain to me that my younger and impressionable
cousins could not stay at the house, due to the fact that my unnatural,
attention-seeking hair was not a good influence on them. My sister’s lip
piercing, freshly punctured, was another reason: and young children
could not be near this dirty, ill-natured environment.
Rather than acknowledging the person, my aunt acknowledged
the exterior. She didn’t want to expose her kids to people who pierced
and dyed themselves for fear that her daughters would want such
colors in their hair. Physically, she said, it’s important to blend in, to
not attract attention to myself, to not do such negative things to my
appearance. She was basing her belief—and her children’s wellbeing—
on the assumption that those with dyed hair are viewed a different
way, attract negative attention, and perhaps are more likely to engage
in all the horrors of being a teenager. She thought that a way to
succeed was to blend in, to not be noticed, to be the cookie cutter, no-
crust, Band Parents Association form of normal: a way to thrive in
American society.
In the contemporary United States, the idea of being American is
ambitious, busy, searching, prejudiced: always seeking our own
versions of paradise while vigorously defining and categorizing
ourselves into different social, racial, and political groups. Therefore,
the focus of our own self-improvement should be breaking the
stereotypes that define American society and becoming more united
as a country.
America has always been an ambitious country. The very
foundation of this nation was based on the ambition to overcome the
formidable world power of Great Britain. As Lewis Lapham notes in his
essay Who and What is American? “Most
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[nineteenth century pioneers traveling west] didn’t find whatever it
was they expected to find… they were looking for a garden in a
country that was mostly desert” (192-3). Those pioneers were the ones
who acted on an American attitude: to find a garden country, even
though they had little knowledge or assurance that it was there. The
ambition, to see their hopes come to life and find their own version of
Eden, drove them out into the unknown. Therefore, it should be no
surprise that today, just over 200 years later, that driving ambition is
retained in the very spirit of Americans. Ambition is within every late-
night, long hours: it seems every person walking the streets in modern
day aspires for something greater, whether it is simply a promotion
from cashier to assistant manager. There is this unexplainable belief
that regardless of situation, class, race: somehow, one can beat the
odds and prejudice and have their dreams realized. This is the
modernized American dream, the American mindset, “the sense that
some ultimate fulfillment will be realized here, that final happiness can
be created here, that the United States has a unique mission to
redeem the world…” (Brooks 62). Both Brooks and Lapham, however
indirectly, agree that Americans have this drive that forces them into
the unknown, into the desert searching for a garden country: they
believe that they can find true happiness if they push a little harder,
work a little longer and their ambitions drive seemingly impossible
tasks to completion.
Americans are busy. Few people would refute the fact: our stores
are often 24/7, work all through Sunday: our roads are rarely empty.
When a snowstorm occurs, within hours there is salt melting ice, and
snowplows carting away piles of unwanted, dirtied snow: nothing slows
an American down. As Alain de Botton accurately describes about the
natural western-society tendency to never slow down, and “of the
4,000 things there might be to see and reflect on in a street, we end
up actively aware of only a few: the number of humans in our path, the
amount of traffic and the likelihood of rain” (51). American efforts and
mind power focus on little besides what is in our way before reaching
our specific destinations: our jobs, picking up the kids from ballet,
karate or soccer practice, the grocery store, where we buy bargain
brands, or the gas station where we mumble about increasing price of
precious oil. As Brooks mentions the fact that “Americans are the
hardest-working people on earth. The average American works 350
hours a year—nearly 10 weeks—more than the average Western
European” (60). The average American never stops: they cannot sit
still and relax, talk about the weather or listen to the radio: when we
get into a traffic jam and are asked to inch along the parkway, simple
frustration often doesn’t describe it. Rather, rude gestures fly and
horns honk because Americans have little patience and less sympathy
on the road. Both authors agree that people in western societies
cannot slow down, breathe deep, become “actively aware” of more
than what is in our way: we are one of the busiest countries on earth,
and we work the longest hours.
Americans are also a searching people: one that is forever
enraptured with, what Brooks calls the “paradise spell” or “the
tendency to see the present from the vantage point of the future” (62).
They go to completely different states in search of the job that will pay
better or have more vacation time: they dream about the houses
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they have not lived in, about a white picket fence, and the gardens
that haven’t been seeded. It is the paradise spell, according to Brooks,
that causes us to work so hard, to dream so much, to exert more
energy into each activity simply so our ambitions, our aspirations, can
be realized. The paradise spell is the cause of the American’s
searching: the fact that we always see our future, searching for that
happiness that will be there, and are rarely persuaded that such
happiness doesn’t exist. As Lapham so accurately questions: “Who else
is the American hero if not a wandering pilgrim who goes forth on a
perpetual quest?” (190) He goes on to mention the astounding fact
that the “American is always on the way to someplace else (i.e.,
toward some undetermined future in which all will be well)” (190).
Lapham and Brooks both vehemently agree that the average American
is constantly moving, searching: a natural-born “wandering pilgrim,”
but Brooks develops the concept further when he labels it as the
“paradise spell.”
Americans, for all their successes, fail in one major category: the
overall country is rooted in prejudice. We have inherited our past: and
although we try vigorously to uproot the history that has intertwined
itself into our present, there are still areas of American culture that are
blatantly offensive. Americans flock to their categories: we separate
ourselves into groups, whether it be the category of black, woman,
homosexual, straight, man, successful, poor, CEO, minimum wage
laborers. As Brooks puts it so eloquently: “…in the age of great
dispersal [i.e. present day America], it becomes much easier to search
out and congregate with people who are basically like yourself” (57).
Americans live and congregate with those they are comfortable with,
those that match their own social class, political standing, or number of
zeros on their paycheck. Somehow, they have always needed a
scapegoat, someone to blame for their problems: this specific human
tendency is not uncommon around the world, and Americans find
themselves perpetuators of the same human condition. The vital
question presents itself: “When using the collective pronoun (“we the
people” “we the happy few,” etc.) whom do we invite into the club of
the we?” (Lapham 187). Lapham goes on to mention that, after the
cold war where the United States united itself into the image of the
ultimate good, pitted against the Soviet Union, the epitome of evil.
Once the war ended, and Americans no longer had the one evil that
united them all, “[they] search [their] own neighborhoods for fiends of
convincing malevolence and size” (Lapham 187). While interconnected
to the prejudice that spurred the Civil War, we also forsake the true
spirit of our country: the mismatched people that had all categories, all
religions, all walks of life united under one idea that, perhaps, we all
can share a common purpose and a common flag. Instead, we forget
that which binds us all: our ideals of liberty, free speech, and
tolerance. Whether “searching out” those that we find to be most like
ourselves, or simply excommunicating certain groups out of our
overall, national “we,” Americans find themselves pointing fingers,
segregating and hating each other for the differences that somehow
seem so blatantly obvious in American society.
Prejudice has always been an ingrained issue within the United
States. Consider the facts: the Civil War, while on the surface was
claimed to be caused by the

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desire of the southern state’s desire to secede from the United States,
and the Northern State’s refusal to allow them to do so, was truly
about far more than a country split. The Northern and Southern states
had been creating friction between each other for years prior to the
actual war, and never could find common ground on the issue. The
prejudice against skin color was horrific: in modern times, it is almost
considered barbaric. Black Americans were viewed as barely human,
similar to how all nonwhite racial groups were viewed as well. Although
in modern times, the prejudice has broadened itself to categories far
deeper than simply skin color, hatred of those differences has
ingrained itself into our society, splitting it into thousands of minute,
irrelevant categories that often vehemently despise those not
considered a part of their own specific “we.” Although countries around
the world experienced and continue to experience this problem, for
some reason unbeknownst to most of Americans, the United States has
experienced far worse than other countries comparable to its culture.
Scores of nations were moving towards peaceful abolishment of
slavery rather than the bloody onslaught that occurred within America
over the issue. For example, Britain abolished the practice (for the
majority of the country) by 1834, when the Slavery Abolition Act of
1833 came into full force. Sweden abolished in 1847, followed by
Denmark in 1848. Russia had abolished slavery as early as 1723. All
these countries were able to peacefully abolish the practice without a
causality count (Abolition of Slavery Timeline). Why is it that the United
States was not able to do so: that we had segregated ourselves so
deeply against each other that somehow, we could not find a decision
peacefully? How deeply did we despise our other counterparts that we
felt the need to murder each other over it? Somehow, the categories of
northerners against southerners, black against white, an enslaved man
against the free man had caused Americans to become so
disconnected from one another that the similarities between each
group were no longer acknowledged. And war ensued.
It’s because of American history: both the ideals of the
Constitution that promote a unity that other countries rarely
understand, and the hatred that caused a war to ensue over our
differences, that the most important factor of improvement for modern
American society. And it is this segregation, this hatred that is one
that, perhaps, is one of the most impossible issues to fix. Because of
our long romance with prejudice, with segregation, we are not so easily
unattached from habits learned from parents, from generations.
However, it is also the issue that causes us to remain divided on
almost every political issue, divided in our suburbs, flocking to those
we find “basically like ourselves.” It causes our political campaigns to
direct themselves at one group, searching for that scapegoat that will
win their place in congress, the governor’s seat, or the oval office. As
Lapham puts it: “I expect the political campaigns slogans on the
frontiers of race and class. For every benign us, there will be a
malignant them… The strategies of division sell newspapers and
summon votes…” (186). And it is this lack of unity that causes us to
remain within the past, clinging to our stereotypes because it is what
we know and what is easy. Our American spirit, for all its faults and
successes, is tainted by our own prejudiced. We are busy, we are
ambitious, we are successful, but most of all, we are full of hatred for
one another. It
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is this hatred that spurs the division in almost all parts of our lives:
even in our family lives. It is the cause of the fear and disgust that my
aunt felt, when encountering my
blue hair and my sister’s punctured lips. And although we deny and
ignore these facts, it is what needs to change.
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Works Cited

"Abolition of slavery timeline -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web.

01 Nov. 2009.

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline>.