Tell Me, Peggy Noonan, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin: What Does an American Look Like, Anyway?

The conservative pundit’s recent slip says a lot about the way some Americans see other races.

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“He’s a sort of new sort of Republican. Old style was a Boston Brahmin liberal Republican.… What followed that was the scrappy Reagan Democrats, ethnic and working class. This is something new now, regular guy, looks like an American…”

—Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

This is the kind of thing that I’ve come to expect when traveling abroad: Like the time I was waiting in line at the Islamabad Airport, and the Customs official, apparently disregarding my U.S. passport, asked me if I’m Pakistani. Or the Mayan Indian kid in Guatemala, who told me that there’s no way that I could be American. Gesturing at his brown arm, and then mine, he said, “You’re black, like me!” Americans, he told me with all seriousness, are blonde. And male. And loud.

So if you’re hitting up various ports of call, and you don’t look like Brad Pitt—or Michael Jordan, for that matter—you take the don’t-look-like-an-American thing in stride. But when you’re on your home turf, you expect other Americans to know what American looks like. After all, since elementary school, we’ve all been fed the line about that great melting pot. We all got the memo: Anyone can be American!

So how do you explain this?