The Problem With “All-American Girl”

May 15, 2013  |  


I know I might be in the minority here; but I really love NBC’s “The Voice.” The contestants are some of the most talented I’ve seen on the current singing competition shows and I really like the coaches/artists. When I first started watching the show, I just knew that Adam Levine or maybe Christina Aguilera would be my favorites. What I found though was that Adam was cool but Christina worked my nerves. There were times, last season after all her team members had been eliminated, that she outright pissed on Adam’s team member Melanie Martinez, referencing the set design over her vocal talent.

Ironically, the coach I most enjoyed on the show turned out to be country singer, Blake Shelton. I’d never heard of Blake before the show. But his country accent and the banter between he and Adam Levine quickly made him very endearing.  If you’ve ever seen the show you know that homeboy is hilarious. Long story short I never thought I would relate to an ole country boy as much as I enjoy Blake Shelton. But on Monday night, my boo Blake said something that gave me pause.

He was giving a speech explaining why America should keep voting for his contestant, 16 year old, Danielle Bradbery. He said: “She is exactly the girl that you would think she is, an all American girl.”

I cringed. And playfully imitated Blake’s accent, “an awl A-murr-i-can gurl.” I embellished a bit further: “wit her blue ahyes (eyes) and blawnde hurr.”  For a second I had to ask myself why I was clowning Blake. I love Blake. But that comment rubbed me the wrong way. It only took me a second to pinpoint the resentment. It was just another way in which American black women, and really all women of color in this country, are reminded that we’re not really blended into the fabric of America. Sure, our passports might say American but I’ve never heard a woman of color be described as “all-American.” When black girls or women go missing we don’t get mainstream media attention. “America” doesn’t see themselves in our missing. When a black mother loses her son at the hands of trigger happy police, that officer is not punished, or not punished sufficiently, and laws are rarely put in place to prevent it from happening again. “America” knows that a black life wasn’t worth that much to begin with. When black women are shown on tv, they’re angry or hypersexual. “America” knows that that is who all black women are. And that woman couldn’t possibly represent what “America” is about.

I’m not mad at Blake and certainly not at Danielle either. The girl is talented and is, after all, American. And I’m sure Blake didn’t understand the weight of his words. My own issues made me shutter a bit; because if we want to be technical and historically accurate, a real “all-American” girl would be a Native American. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full-blooded Native American girl, more less heard her described as “all-American.” But we all know how that story goes.

Blake is not wrong for using the phrase it’s just a saying that’s a bit isolating and outdated. But I’ve figured out a way to help him out. I’m just going to start calling girls, minority girls, black, Asian, and Latina, all-American girls. America has been a melting pot for quite some time, so it’s only fair that the word be applied more liberally and inclusively.

Have you ever heard the phrase “all American” girls applied to girls or women of color? When you hear people use it does it make you feel a type of way?

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