Friday, February 03, 2006

AMERICANS-the-BEAUTIFUL

In my experience, many wonderful and well meaning folks, in an effort to be ‘politically correct’, spend far too much time separating, categorizing, and labeling their own friends as hyphenated-Americans instead of allowing them to exist under, what in my opinion, is the greatest moniker of all: American.

You’ve probably heard the labels: “Arab-American,” or “Mexican-American,” or “Asian-American.” Yet nobody has once referred to me as “British-Scottish-German-American!”

So what does this mean? Does it means that many people are ashamed to be Americans?

The attempt to be ‘politically correct’ may be stripping America of its most defining quality: the inclusion of diversity. When did being ourselves – being who and what we are – come to mean we can’t live happily together as Americans?

President Teddy Roosevelt (a Republican) said in 1915, “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities … There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”

And just two administrations later, President Woodrow Wilson (a Democrat) said, “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.”

The other day I saw a young man wearing a t-shirt with an image of raised fist that read: “Black Power.” I’ve seen others wearing shirts that read “Viva La Raza” (literally meaning “ long live the race” in Spanish). Can you imagine the uproar that a “White Power” or “Long Live the White Race” T-shirt would create?

Obviously that would be in bad form, and I’m glad those weren’t hot sellers for Christmas. That said, it’s worrisome that not enough of us are asking why it seems to be important that we celebrate race, color, creed, religion and cultural history — provided that celebration doesn’t apply to white Christians.

Two of my closest friends, who happen to be black, refer to themselves as such whenever we’re together in private. However, they admit that while at work, or elsewhere publicly, they refer to themselves as “African-American.” Neither is African; they’re both Americans. And this is why it’s a problem: they don’t want to refer to themselves as “African-American,” yet they do so because they think they’re supposed to. To add insult to injury, another close friend of mine emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa. He, however, is not allowed to refer to himself as African-American because his skin is white.

This ever-present self-separation of hyphenate-Americans causes damage, to be sure. This damage is perhaps tricky to measure, but it is palpable.

Conforming to a point of view (and subsequent behavior) without questioning the possible or even probable future damage it may do to us is irresponsible, especially around the children who learn from us. Are we aware that we may be teaching children to be ashamed to be American?

Too few of us actually stop and ask why this is happening. I think the reason is because we’re afraid we might get an answer we won’t like. We might find that the oft-obeyed mighty 'Emperor of Politically-Correctdom' has, in fact, no clothes at all. It may have been us all along who were playing a game none of us really wanted or needed to play—a good old-fashioned “groupthink.”

Does this mean we should give up on our traditions? Should we abandon all learning about our various cultural histories? Will “Americanization” mean we all have to think alike? Of course not. That idea couldn’t be farther from reality.

I would simply offer this to those of us who are natural born or have been fortunate enough to become U.S. citizens: We all live in the same country.

It is the hard won right, and the envy of the millions around the globe, to be able to call oneself an American. In my humble opinion, we should each be satisfied to stop there.

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