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Save it for the toilet

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, January 25, 2007

Toilet paper is an immensely valuable creation, without which we’d be relegated to using newsprint, our left hand, or perhaps even discarded sheep’s wool (like those in the Viking age of England did) to unsoil ourselves in the lavatory.

While toilet paper is typically used to clean messes, any high school kid could tell you that it can also be used to make messes – messes of hate, that is.

After all, the juniors hate the seniors. The soccer players hate the football players. The cheerleaders hate the pom-pom squad.

And how do they manifest this hate? By thrusting roll after roll of Charmin onto their enemy’s trees.

The ensuing mess often enrages lawn maintenance-freak fathers and sometimes even prompts principals to hold school-wide assemblies in which they threaten to disband the football team if the “toilet paper vigilantes” persist.

But toilet paper isn’t the only good thing in America that can be used in a bad way. The list even extends beyond eggs, shaving cream or any other of the array of household items that teenage angst teaches high-schoolers to abuse.

In fact, what perhaps tops the should-be-a-good-thing-but-can-cause-trouble list is not actually a thing at all. Yet it leads to hate and fuels a desire in some not only to damage property, but to damage lives.

What is it, you ask? Believe it or not – American Pride.

American Pride can be beautiful – when we resound in chords of “God Bless America,” when we fly American flags from our front porches and when we plop ourselves on lawn chairs on a muggy July night, waiting for the pop of the Independence Day fireworks.

But other Americans take this Pride too far. They plop themselves on lawn chairs in the stifling Arizona desert, day after day waiting for wanna-be immigrants to cross the American border. These Americans might see fireworks too – fireworks made by the shotguns some choose to carry.

Many of these “border vigilantes” profess to be part of a group that describes itself as “a citizens’ Neighborhood Watch on our border.” They call themselves “The Minuteman Project.”

The Minutemen? Most Americans know about the original Minutemen – that rag-tag bunch of Revolutionary War-era New Englanders who pledged to be ready to toil with the Redcoats at a mere “moment’s notice.” History has everafter heralded them as heroes.

But the modern-day Minutemen? Heroes? Hardly.

“We are a nation of immigrants.” President George W. Bush spoke these words over and over again in the spring of 2006. But do most of today’s pride-filled Americans even understand what that means?

It seems as though the only American history many know of is that of the white Lexington and Concord Minutemen, who thrust America into a War of Independence, after which the nation expanded tenfold as a result of a so-called “God-ordained” Manifest Destiny. This led prideful Americans to believe they had the right to enslave the blacks and exterminate the Native Americans as they marched across the continent.

But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of our white ancestors were not marching across a continent; instead, they were sailing across an ocean. They didn’t enter America at Roanoke, Jamestown, Plymouth Rock or any of the other historically romanticized “ports of entry.” Instead, they landed in America cramped and crowded at Ellis Island.

And they were hated. The Protestants hated the Catholics. The Germans hated the Irish. And everyone hated the Italians.

And how did they manifest this hate? By killing one another – sometimes even with hatchets.

But by and large, we don’t see riot-rousing hate between these groups anymore. Americans of varying degrees of whiteness co-exist in the same neighborhoods and even marry one another without thinking twice about it.

While sneaking across the American border is certainly illegal (as is toilet-papering trees, I might add), that doesn’t mean that you, as an ordinary pride-filled American, should sit at the border with a shotgun. True, the immigration debate is a complex issue, but need we further soil the debate by turning it into another mess of hate?

After all, being a modern-day Minuteman doesn’t make you a hero; instead, it makes you like one of those pathetic people who remain frozen in the high school world long after graduation.

Toliet paper shouldn’t make a mess. And American pride shouldn’t make you a bigot.

Liz Coffey is a senior American Studies major and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy minor. Her column appears every other Thursday. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.