I told myself that I must have misunderstood but she is one of those older women who repeats offensive remarks in case you missed it the first time. So I heard it again. “When I was young, everything was absolutely fine! Now they are out of control. And it’s because we got the word TEENAGER from America!!” Now she could see I was speechless she explained, “Once you give people a category they start to do what they are expected to do. That’s why we have teenage crime in England now!” And she was dead serious. While I was processing this pronouncement, I tried to decide whether I should feel insulted. Perhaps she had temporarily forgotten I am American despite my 14 years at the church and the committees we sit on together. She is older and this was in church so I remained silent and tried to look respectful. But part of me really wanted to give her a piece of my mind – the piece that was thinking ‘Did the birthplace of the “Artful Dodger” actually need to import teenage crime?’
There is no question that labels can be harmful. Think of “underachievers.” Who could adopt that label and maintain a healthy level of self esteem? On the other hand fitting into a category can bring scholarship money, professional credentials and medical assistance. I wanted to point this out also but of course this was not really her concern.
Her concern was America and what it represented for her. She is in her late 70s and so too young to remember the British empire at its zenith but the cultural power of Britain is another matter. The television was invented in Britain but British screens are full of American television shows and movies, pop stars and products. As for the movie theatres, it is difficult to remember you are not in the United States sometimes so dominant is the American presence -especially for young children. She is one of a type I have met quite often in England (less so in the other 3 parts of the UK ) Angry older people in an old country. They need someone to blame so they blame the young people in a younger country. And if they needed more ingredients to cook our goose, there are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the indignity of having the US election covered by the BBC over a two year period. An important and intriguing election? Yes. But it was not their’s and the BBC is financed by the British taxpayer. So our presidents appear to dominate the political news and local Americans in Britain move into positions of responsibility across sectors. It must be tough that even our churchwarden is an American. That would be me.