Updated: Aug 10, 2022
When you think of Americans, what do you imagine? Do you think of someone who’s a lazy, obese, racist gun nut? Do you think of a loud, rude person? Or is your view more nuanced?
People have differing views of America and Americans. Some view America as the land of opportunity. Others view it as a dangerous place, both physically and emotionally. Some view Americans as zealous and hardworking. Others view them as stubborn, ignorant, and cruel.
Americans have been the target of stereotypes. Some things, like the Trump administration, have reinforced these stereotypes, making them harder to shake. The international community views Americans in a variety of ways. We’re uneducated, loud, obnoxious, lazy, and obese. We’re overly patriotic, racist gun nuts. We’re racists who are too selfish to care about anyone else.
Life is rarely that black-and-white. Any time we talk about a country and its people, we have to have a more nuanced view than this. People are not a monolith, and leaders are imperfect people who make mistakes.
America has been in the news for controversial reasons, such as the murder of George Floyd, the high number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, and the child separation policy at the U.S.-Mexican Border. Many of these news stories have influenced America’s image around the world. Even though America has had controversies due to questionable decisions, it’s important to remember that Americans are not a monolithic group. People’s beliefs and attitudes are different, and most people fight against injustice.
Today, we’re going to discuss and dismantle some of the most common American stereotypes. While there are many stereotypes of Americans, we can only discuss some of them in this post. If you’re interested in learning about more American stereotypes, click here and here.
Americans are uneducated.
It can be easy to take the ignorant statements of a few and generalize a whole group. However, to say that every American is uneducated is false. In fact, since the mid-2000s, education attainment has increased among every demographic, even those who were historically disadvantaged. For example, in 2003, roughly 84% of people 25 and older graduated from high school. When looking at the educational attainment of individual races, no racial group passed 90% attainment. However, by 2020, education completion rates improved for every race. In 2020, nearly 91% of people 25 and older had a high school diploma, the highest rate recorded.
College degree attainment also increased during this time. In 2003, roughly 27% of all adults 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher. In 2020, that number rose to over 37%.
There are many reasons for this increase in educational attainment. One reason is that first-generation students have been receiving more support, especially in college. In fact, at my alma mater, there was a lot of support in place for first-generation college students. They hired students to help people enroll in college, sign up for classes, and apply for financial aid. Because a significant portion of first-generation college students is Hispanic (48%), my school even found bilingual students to communicate with Spanish-speaking parents. All of these aspects of college are difficult to navigate, especially if no one in your family has experienced them before and you’re a non-native English speaker.
Contrary to popular belief, Americans are well-educated, and educational attainment has steadily increased since the early 2000s.
Americans are lazy and obese.
While it’s true that obesity is a problem in America, the issue is a bit more complex. From 1999-2000 through 2017-2018, the obesity rate increased from 30.5% to 42.4%. The rate of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.
Obesity is an issue, but these rates can vary depending on your race, gender, education level, and income. For example, both men and women with college degrees have lower rates of obesity compared to those with less education. This pattern held for non-Hispanic White women, non-Hispanic Black women, Hispanic women, and non-Hispanic White men.
Some states also have higher levels of obesity than others. For example, 12 states have an obesity rate of 35% or higher among adults. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
There are several reasons why these demographics increase the odds of obesity. For example, people who live in poverty often live in “food deserts,” which are “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.” Grocery stores can be far away, and the food can be too expensive for those who have low incomes. Without assistance, many depend on unhealthy fast-food options, which increases the risk of obesity. If they don’t have a safe place to exercise, this can further increase the risk.
There have been efforts to address obesity. Many individuals and organizations are trying to end food deserts, provide nutritional education, and create safe places for people to exercise.
While it’s undeniable that many Americans are obese, it’s also important to remember that demographics can strongly influence your weight.
Americans are racist and xenophobic.
It’s undeniable that the United States has had a painful past with race and racism. As a country, we’ve had to wrestle with the fact that we treated people of color with disdain, contempt, and hatred. The U.S. government contributed to the racism, discrimination, and trauma that people of color faced. For example, the government:
committed genocide against Native Americans.
deported Mexican-Americans by force during the Great Depression.
Forcibly incarcerated Japanese-Americans during World War II.
These actions and others fueled racism and xenophobia in American society, which contributed to the poor treatment of people of color. All of these factors created a painful past, especially when it comes to race relations.
Over the years, though, things have begun to improve. There have been movements to address what happened, learn about history from the perspectives of people of color, and become anti-racist. We still need to do a lot of work to heal the wounds that racism caused, but many people are working towards this goal.
As a country, we’ve made a lot of progress since the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. In the United States, people of color are a protected class, meaning that it’s illegal to discriminate against them in education, housing, and employment matters, especially if the organization does business with or accepts money from the U.S. government. This law helps to ensure that all Americans have equal rights. If they face discrimination, they can file a complaint with the appropriate agency.
Attitudes have also changed in recent years. Behaviors that were once considered acceptable, such as blackface and using the N-word, are now unacceptable. These behaviors receive near-universal condemnation. People have faced severe consequences for these actions, such as canceling contracts, removing sponsorships, losing their jobs, and even getting arrested and charged with hate crimes. As a result of these changing views, few people are openly, blatantly racist. Those that do so face swift backlash in the legal system and the court of public opinion.
It is essential to recognize and honor these accomplishments. Activists worked long and hard to make these changes a reality. However, this is not the end of the fight. There are still issues that need to be resolved, such as police brutality against people of color, discrimination based on hairstyles, and unequal education attainment and salary earnings.
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, America had a “racial reckoning.” For many white people, this was their first experience with police brutality. They witnessed his death on video. People could no longer deny the issue of police brutality or downplay it. They were outraged and heartbroken. They protested for weeks straight, wrote letters to their representatives and called them, signed petitions, raised money for advocacy organizations, and did whatever they could to demand justice. In the long term, people did what they could to educate themselves about race and racism. They purchased books, had tough conversations with their friends and family, and listened to people of color about their experiences. There was a movement to support Black businesses and to become anti-racist. People saw that this needed to change, and they did whatever they could to improve the situation.
To be clear, this is still an issue that the country needs to address. America has an ugly past with race and racism, and these need to be acknowledged and addressed before we can move forward as a country. However, it’s incorrect to say that all Americans are blatantly racist and don’t care about this issue. People do care, and they’re doing everything in their power to ensure that everyone has a fair chance.
Americans are loud and obnoxious.
One of the biggest stereotypes about Americans is that they’re loud and obnoxious. Are some like this? Yes. But they are in the minority. Their loudness captures people’s attention, and it makes it seem like there are more of them. You can meet people with a variety of personality types in America. Some are loud, obnoxious, and difficult to be around. Others are quiet and reserved. Most people can be outgoing or reserved, depending on the situation. Even though they can seem “fake” or “two-faced,” they're not. They’re simply obeying social norms. For example, most people behave differently with their boss than with their friends. They might be quiet and agreeable with their boss, but they might be talkative and animated with their friends.
Most people have nuances in their personalities. It’s not fair to reduce them down to a few adjectives. If you only focus on one part of their personality, you can miss out on the incredible things that the other person has to offer.
Everyone owns guns.
Not true. Even though Americans own more guns than most countries, demographics determine who is and is not likely to own one. According to the Pew Research Center, 36% of people who live in the south own a gun, and 46% of people in rural areas own one. This trend is due to a variety of reasons. For example, over two-thirds (67%) of gun owners own a gun for protection. It makes sense that there are more gun owners in rural areas because help is farther away. It often takes longer for law enforcement to arrive, and your closest neighbor might be miles away. Until law enforcement can handle the situation, your options might be limited.
Rural areas can also have dangerous wildlife. These animals are often so dangerous that you would need a gun to protect yourself. Depending on where you live, you might interact with a variety of dangerous creatures, such as Cougars, Bobcats, Coyotes, Wolves, Rattlesnakes, Wild Boars, and Bears. Many of these animals are bigger and stronger than humans. They will attack if provoked, especially if they think that their babies are in danger. Most people know to avoid wild animals, but it’s always possible that you’ll have to defend yourself. If a wild animal is attacking you, and you can’t escape, then shooting the animal might be your only option.
Gun ownership embeds itself into families and regional cultures. About 67% of gun owners grew up in a gun-owning household. For people who lived in rural communities, this figure increased to 72%. Out of all of the regions in the U.S., Southerners are the most likely to own a gun. 36% of all southern adults own a gun, followed by 32% of adult Midwesterners, 31% of adult westerners, and 16% of adult northeasterners.
If you grew up around guns as a child, then owning one will be normal behavior as an adult.
Gun ownership can vary depending on where you live. For example, I live in the southern United States in an urban area. I didn’t grow up with guns in my house, and neither did my parents or extended family. I rarely see people openly carrying guns, and most people I know don’t own any. The few that do have them use them for hunting.
From this information, we can see that not everyone owns guns. Your demographics and your upbringing often influence people’s decisions to own guns, not your citizenship.
Americans have no interest in learning other languages.
While this may be true for some people, others have the desire to learn another language. They might not know where to start, or they might lack language-learning opportunities. For most people in the U.S., the best way to learn a foreign language is through school. However, funding for public schools can vary widely, depending on where you live. Wealthier districts can afford foreign language teachers at every school, and poorer ones might have to cut foreign language programs to save money.
At my local public school, they couldn’t afford a full-time Spanish teacher for every elementary school. Instead, my elementary school and another elementary school shared an Art teacher and a Spanish teacher. For the first grading period, one school would get the Art teacher, and the other would get the Spanish teacher. They would then switch schools every grading period. My classmates and I wanted to learn Spanish, but it was hard to do so when we only had a teacher for two months at a time.
In recent years, there has been a decrease in language-learning opportunities. This decrease is especially prevalent in U.S. colleges and universities. In one study, colleges lost 651 foreign language programs between 2013-2016. The reduction in this period was steeper than that from 2009-2013. Reasons for this trend include the effects of the Recession, decreasing enrollment, and colleges dropping their foreign language requirements. As a result, only about 7.5% of college students are taking a foreign language course. At the K-12 level, this figure increases, but only to 20%. Unlike most European countries, the United States does not have a national mandate that requires foreign language courses. The lack of any requirements leaves foreign language programs vulnerable to cuts, especially during recessions.
In addition to the lack of language-learning opportunities, some lack the motivation to learn another language. They might believe that they’re too old, they’re not smart enough, or there’s no point in learning another language. By educating them with facts, they can learn the truth about language learning. For example, a 2018 study found that people can easily learn a foreign language until they’re 17 or 18, and their abilities begin to decline after that. This range is much longer than previously thought. And even though English is one of the most common languages worldwide, only about 25% of the world can speak it. If you are not fluent in another language, this means you cannot communicate with 75% of the world. For most people, if they can find a reason to learn a new language, they will be successful. For example, someone who wants to communicate with a loved one is more likely to be successful than someone who’s forced to learn a new language through school.
In response to these trends, individuals and school districts are trying to increase foreign language learning opportunities. One way is by creating language immersion schools, where children learn two languages at once (typically English and another language). These schools allow English language learners to learn English, and it helps English speakers to learn a second language.
In addition, there are organizations like ReDefiners World Languages that are committed to providing high-quality language learning opportunities to everyone, whether you live in Florida or not. Our goal is to create multilingual, multicultural people and provide equal access to language learning opportunities. We do this by offering foreign language online and in-person classes as well as cultural enrichment opportunities at our Tampa center. In addition to offering classes for kids, we also offer courses for adults, as well as IELTS and TOEFL testing preparation classes.
In short, it’s not that Americans don’t want to learn foreign languages. It’s that most don’t have the opportunity to do so. However, this trend is turning, and the results are language immersion schools and organizations like ReDefiners.
Americans are selfish and only care about themselves.
This idea is a myth. There are Americans who are selfish and self-centered. Unfortunately, these people tend to be louder than the general population, so the media gives them extra attention and coverage.
However, most Americans want to help those in need. They see people who are suffering or disadvantaged, and they want to make a difference. Statistics show that Americans can be generous. In 2019, they gave $449.64 billion in 2019, a 5.1% increase from 2018. The largest source of giving didn’t come from corporations or foundations. The largest source of donations came from individuals, who gave $309.66 billion in 2019.
In addition to money, Americans volunteer their talents. Approximately 77 million people volunteer their time each year. In 2017, volunteers gave 8.8 billion hours of their time to more than 1.54 million charitable organizations, which has a value of around $195 billion. Out of all volunteer activities, the four most popular are fundraising or selling items to raise money; food collection or distribution; collecting, making, or distributing clothing, crafts, or other goods; and mentoring youth.
Covid-19 has impacted people’s ability to give. Many who lost work were no longer able to donate money regularly, and many organizations suspended their in-person volunteering programs. Despite these challenges, people still found ways to give. Those who still had their jobs donated more as a response to such a great need. For example, on Giving Tuesday, Americans chipped in nearly $2.5 billion, a 25% increase from the previous year.
Nonprofits have also gotten creative with their volunteer opportunities. During the lockdowns, nonprofits suspended all in-person volunteering. Even after the lockdown, many organizations limited their in-person volunteer opportunities. Some in-person volunteer activities have been necessary, such as distributing food. At ReDefiners, we’ve organized food distributions for our local community, and we offer many remote volunteer opportunities.
People react to crises in different ways. Some have an “every man for himself” mentality, meaning that they’ll ensure that their needs are taken care of, even if it means ignoring the needs of those around them. Most people want to help others, though, even if they don’t have much to give. You can find helpers in every community across the country if you look hard enough.
Americans are obsessed with their jobs.
Many people in the United States indeed seem to be obsessed with work. In my experience, two of the most common questions people ask each other are “what do you do for a living” and “how’s work going?” And most of the time, people respond that work has been “busy.” If you’re in high school or college, it’s even worse. It seems like everyone wants to know what your education and work plans are, even strangers.
There are several theories about why this phenomenon exists. Part of the reason why Americans work so hard is because of the minimum wage. As of this writing, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and the last time it increased was back in 2009. By working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year, you would make $15,080 before taxes. Depending on the number of people in your household, this would make you eligible for public assistance, such as food stamps. At the time of this writing, if you live in the 48 contiguous states or the District of Columbia, and you have two people total in your household, the federal poverty level is $17,420. That means if you have a minimum wage job and you’re a single parent, you would qualify for public assistance.
Because of low wages, people have two options. They can either accept public assistance or find a second full-time job. In many states, each of these options brings its series of hardships. To qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Texas, you must meet specific requirements. For example, most adults 18-49 with no children can receive benefits for three months in three years. If you’re an adult in that age range who’s single and without children, the maximum monthly amount of income allowed is $1,755 (or $21,060 per year) before taxes. For a family of one, the monthly SNAP amount is $204, although that has increased to $234 through September 2021. For most people, SNAP benefits don’t cover their needs.
Your other option is to get a second or third job where you’re working up to 16 hours a day, especially if you’re working multiple full-time jobs. Earlier, we said that working 40 hours per week for 52 weeks would make $15,080 before taxes. If you worked two full-time jobs, you would make $30,160 before taxes. That still isn’t a lot of money, and it requires working 80 hours a week.
There are many reasons why people obsess over their work. For some, they love their work, and it gives their lives a purpose. Others are obsessive by nature, and they will obsess over every aspect of their lives, such as their relationships, hobbies, or health. But sometimes, people obsess over their work because they’re struggling to pay their bills. In this case, their obsession with working might be a manifestation of anxiety. Instead of making blanket generalizations, we need to step back and see why people are obsessed with work. It might reveal a deeper issue.
Americans are overly patriotic.
Overseas, the stereotype of Americans can be intense. For example, when you think of a patriotic American, you might think of someone standing under an American flag with a gun on their hip, a Bible in their hand, and a Bald Eagle soaring over them. That image can be intense for outsiders to process.
For the most part, though, this is simply a caricature. Most Americans have a healthy respect for their country, and they aren’t afraid to criticize things that aren’t working. They acknowledge that America is an imperfect country with many areas that need improvement.
However, there are Americans who view the country in high esteem and admiration. They often believe in American Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is separate from and better than other countries, even other industrialized nations.
This idea is nothing new. The belief is traced back to America’s Puritan roots. The Puritans believed that they were God's chosen people, and it was their job to be an example to every country. Leaders like John Winthrop interpreted this to mean that New England’s Puritan community should serve as an example for the rest of the world. This idea held throughout time and influenced Americans’ attitudes during the American Revolution and the Cold War.
Many who subscribe to these beliefs argue that the United States is exceptional because, unlike most countries, America defines itself with a shared set of ideas instead of a common heritage, ethnicity, or royal line. They also believe that this country is the “land of opportunity,” meaning that anyone who works hard can find success and make a good life here. Just because you’re born into poverty doesn’t mean you’re doomed to stay there.
However, some have criticized this belief, saying that it justified some questionable actions. For example, many have argued that because of America’s history of slavery, civil rights, and social welfare issues, it can’t possibly be exceptional. They point to the related belief in Manifest Destiny, which was the 19th-century belief that the destiny of American settlers was to expand from the East coast to the West.
These intertwining beliefs were so profound that the government made a series of horrific decisions, especially when it came to Native Americans. The government forcibly relocated tribes from their homelands to the “Indian Territory,” or present-day Oklahoma. The removal of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes from the Southeastern United States to Indian Territory was later known as the “Trail of Tears” since thousands died during the removal process. Even after the government relocated them, many died from exposure, disease, and starvation. Native Americans have since endured many hardships connected to the decisions of the U.S. government, such as racism and discrimination, poverty, and historical trauma.
In response to these and other events, many Americans are now viewing their history with more scrutiny. Many have acknowledged that people’s experiences of living in America are different due to things like race and poverty. This realization has led to a movement to reject the whitewashed history taught in schools and teach history from other perspectives. For example, this could mean teaching about the Trail of Tears from a Native American perspective or teaching about slavery from a Black perspective. Many are pushing for marginalized experiences to be front and center in history lessons.
Unfortunately, many have learned erroneous lessons about the history of the United States, especially when it comes to race. Many believe that racism and racial inequality are phenomenons of the past, and they were eradicated following the Civil Rights Movement and the associated legislation. To combat this view of our country’s history, many have advocated for the adoption of critical race theory in public schools. Critical race theory can mean different things to different people, but it is a school of thought meant to emphasize the effects of race on one’s social standing. In other words, it discusses how a person’s race impacts their experiences in the past and present.
It can seem as though all Americans have an unhealthy patriotism towards the United States. However, these people tend to be the loudest, so they gain a lot of attention. Most people have a healthy respect for their country, and they’re not afraid to voice criticism and take action to correct wrongdoings. The vast majority of us acknowledge that no country is perfect, including the United States.
When you look at another country and its people, it’s crucial to have a nuanced view of them. It’s easy to overgeneralize and say things like “all Americans are selfish” or “all Americans are loud and obnoxious.” If you overgeneralize, you can miss out on getting to know some fantastic people. By developing a nuanced understanding of other cultures, you can get to know some amazing people, whether they’re Americans or not.
If you enjoyed learning about American culture, consider taking a language class with ReDefiners World Languages! We offer English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin. In our courses, you’ll learn how to speak the language and navigate the cultures, equipping you with skills to become a global citizen. For more information, please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.