Let’s jump right on in!
This bitch has heard and read a lot about American Exceptionalism. I first heard it during the Reagan years, but the phrase has recently made a serious come back.
I don’t have a problem with exceptionalism.
My problem is with folks gleefully pointing to the shining city on the hill while they ignore the slums situated toward the back.
I think back to my days as a tennis player. When I was a wee bitch my father introduced me to tennis as a way to manage my angry frustration with bullies. I’d hit tennis balls against a wall for hours and work through all the energy that built up in my system…and I got pretty good at it. Eventually, I began to hit just for the love of hitting…for the thrill of the zing that traveled up my arm when I hit a forehand right in the sweet spot.
I watched tennis on television and practiced with folks at the local courts…and got better and better. When I heard about a tournament, I begged and pleaded and eventually convinced my parents to pay the entrance fee. On match day I put on my new bright white tennis outfit, grabbed my racket and prepared to get my Steffi Graf on.
I lost…every damn game…in straight sets.
When it was over I took to my bed, devastated that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was at my favorite thing to do.
My father let me sulk for a night and then took me aside and gave me a verbal correction that has paid off every day since.
He told me that there was a reason I lost. I was good, but I could be better. I had a weak backhand because I preferred to hit forehand shots…and my opponent exploited the hell out of that by hitting relentlessly to my weak ass backhand. My serve could get better and so forth and so on.
My father explained that I could quit or keep on going as I was going…playing the wall or folks at that courts who I could easily beat…or I could work on the weaknesses in my game and then take on the heifer who trounced my ass in the next tournament.
Now, I never developed into an exceptional tennis player. But I did get a lot better…and I got better by focusing on the parts of my game that needed work rather than running all over the court trying to hit every shot as a forehand because that was the best shot in my limited arsenal.
I got better from playing people who were better than me and from losing and learning something from every loss until I started winning.
I remember watching the French Open and seeing Steffi Graf trounce her opponent in the final. The match took less than an hour and folks marveled at the dominance of Graf’s game. The next day a news report came on about the game and the reporter mentioned that Graf had gone out to practice after that final…to work on her backhand because it had been a little off. I sat back and let that absorb for a moment – Steffi Graf’s exceptional tennis playing self still strove to get better and still had things to work on even though she damn near set a world speed record in her French Open winning match.
For all the talk of exceptionalism coming from the right there is little talk of what isn’t gleaming within the walls of the shining city on the hill. America has great potential…and it can only reach that potential if Americans keep it real. But there are some among us who are comfortable hitting the ball against the wall and picking up matches with weekend players they know they can beat.
It is that lack of examination…that serf mentality crying out that we dare not annoy the rich lest they toss us off their lands…that lack of competitive spirit being applied to those areas that need work...it's that shit that makes claims of exceptionalism a joke.
Coaches across the land probably still preach that "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle
Well, we’ve become really good at talking about how great we are and exceptionally good at making excuses for the shit we don’t do well.
***logs off to do reproductive justice work until justice gets done***