I’m Monti Narayan Datta, a professor of Political Science at the University of Richmond (UR). I’ve been at UR since 2009. Over the 2019-2020 academic year, I am proud to teach a First Year Seminar course on the US Image called “The World and the US: Global Perspectives of America, Past & Present”. This blog begins from this course, in which I am inviting my students to participate and drive the conversation.
I first became interested in the US image abroad way back in 1995, when I was teaching English in South Korea in the seaside city of Yeosu. That was my first experience overseas. One afternoon, a Korean co-teacher with whom I taught English classes pulled me aside. “I like you, but I don’t like your country,” he remarked.
I did a double-take. What did this person mean liking me but not my country? I had heard about anti-American sentiment before, but this was the first time I felt it. It certainly wouldn’t be the last. I learned more about US foreign policy in South Korea, and all of the pro- and anti-American sentiment it incited over the decades. And later, whenever and wherever I would travel abroad, I kept my ears open for how and why foreign publics might like or dislike American values, customs, or US foreign policy.
All of this culminated in my first book on the US image, published in 2014 with Cambridge University Press. At the time, under the Presidency of Barack Obama, pro-Americanism was the norm again. I assumed that the tidal wave of anti-American sentiment that had crested during the Bush years was over. But when US President Donald Trump was elected, the conversation came back to the forefront. “The World Hates President Trump.” Political Scientist Daniel Drezner said in The Washington Post.
True, global confidence in President Trump has indeed plummeted, especially among America’s long-standing allies, like England, France, and Japan. But when I think about the US image today, as opposed to when I focused on the subject for my PhD thesis and first book, I now see that another key part of the conversation is how we see the US image inside America. There seem to be so many internal divisions within the United States, by race, class, ideology. And when I think about events like the protests over Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia (not too far from where I live and work in Richmond, Virginia), my thoughts often wonder about the nature of America, the ideal of “the American Dream” and if civil rights activists like Malcolm-X were right that, at least for some Americans, it might be more of an “American Nightmare.”
Some of the questions driving this blog and my current research on the US Image include:
- What are the core values of the United States?
- What is the “American Dream” and how accessible is it for people of different backgrounds?
- What is the US Image today and how does it overlap with the rise of populism across the globe?
- Should the United States be concerned about what the world thinks?
My intention is to develop this blog for the years to come, and grow the conversation. I invite your comments and suggestions.
With best wishes,
University of Richmond