America’s Need for the Underdog – Generation Justice

One of the most influential tweeters, @pushinghoops, known offline as Ayesha A. Siddiqi, recently graced the public with the release of her podcast, Pushing Hoops With Sticks. In the podcast, Ayesha discusses American pop culture by “exploring what stories this country chooses to tell itself, through whom, and why.” She analyzes American culture from a distance, as both an insider and outsider, whose experience as an immigrant is not mirrored in what “constitutes Americanness.”

The first episode of Pushing Hoops With Sticks is a discussion between Ayesha and Ezra Koenig, the lead vocalist and guitarist of indie band Vampire Weekend. A large part of their conversation delves into how bashing WASPs (White Anglo-Saxton Protestant) and basic white girls serves as a pass for white people to distance themselves from whiteness while avoiding any acknowledgement of white supremacy.

There has been a trend as of late, mainly among white liberals or progressives, to make jokes about basic white girls and/or scoff at affluent white people. I’m completely guilty of this myself. I’ve mocked old white dudes and Pumpkin Spice Lattes and frats bros wearing boat shoes in the desert a number of times in my day. I have felt some sort of disassociation from ignorance or racism for admitting I have “basic” tendencies.

There is an issue with this. “Admitting to lesser charge” as Ezra puts it, sweeps many necessary conversations under the rug. Making fun a white experience that is different from those making the joke creates distance from the privileges they do have, and allows them a comfortable position within the American underdog narrative.

American identity does not exist without the rags to riches story. Not only do we love to root for the underdog we, as a nation, need to identify as the underdog. It’s the narrative that dominates U.S. history textbooks and popular culture, instilling a complicit attitude towards our hegemonic capitalist society. Or as Ayesha explains more clearly, “The underdog narrative is necessary to justify starting from a position of advantage and privilege in a country that’s underpinned by the exploited labor of people of color, the genocide of Natives, and ongoing oppression of Black Americans.” In other words, within a system that already privileges white people, the underdog narrative creates the illusion of a level playing field for everyone.

There’s always going to be a Goliath. I can assure you even Goliath had his own Goliath. Struggle is inseparable from the human condition. It’s necessary for our survival and evolution. When we’re caught up in a race to collect the highest amount of odds to overcome, we lose sight of the big picture. There is a lot of deconstruction needed before we can begin collaboration on a new paradigm that is both inclusive and equitable for everyone.