Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Hyphenated Americans

I think one of the worst things that has happened to racial relations in this country is the "Hyphenated-American" trend. The simple action of trying to acknowledge one's ethnic background when referring to them has contributed to more division than it's worth. Why? Simple. White people (European-Americans, I guess...) are the majority in this country. That's a basic fact, though minority groups are growing at a faster clip nowadays. However, it's normally the minorities that get hyphenated designations.

And I think that serves to only highlight "otherness", drawing attention to a difference between them and the majority ethnic group.

For instance - "African-American", the most common PC term for black people. Well, a large proportion of people referred to that way have little (if any) traceable African descent. A large portion of this ethnic group is of primarily Carribean descent (going back many generations) - do we call them "Carribean-Americans"? Of course not.

Or the term "Asian-American". I'd say that's downright insulting. There are tremendous visible differences between the various Asian ethnic groups, and to lump them all together is at least as insulting as I'd think it would be to lump every person with dark skin together as "African-American".

Same thing with "Latin-American". Does that mean Spanish (half of my ancestry), or Mexican? Are Brazilians Latin-American? They don't speak Spanish - their language is mainly taken from Portugese. But people from the countries surrounding Brazil are considered Latin-American, so I guess they count too.

Or in my case, as I just mentioned, my ancestry is roughly half Spanish. But my paternal grandfather actually came from Rhodes (which is currently Greek) with an Italian passport (letting me join the Sons of Italy, I guess). But the Italians had Rhodes at the time because they'd picked it up off the Ottoman Empire after World War I. So maybe that makes me a Turkish-American.

On the other hand, my mother is from rural Maine, but she was actually born in Canada (that's where the hospital was). Thus, my mom can't ever be President, and I could be a Canadian-American.

You see a bit of my point? If someone's parents are both from a particular nation, and they're immigrants here, then referring to yourself as, for instance, Jamaican-American" can be a source of ethnic pride. And that's fine. But to use it in a generic fashion is divisive and potentially insulting.

The best way we can refer to a resident of this nation? How about "American". Or maybe just "human". Because race and ethnicity are mainly artificial constructs that describe tiny physical differences in humans that are mainly alike. With my mixed ancestry, there are nonetheless miniscule genetic differences between myself and people from other races. We have much more in common than otherwise.

In the end, we're all human. And that's what matters far more than anything else.

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