Friday, July 31, 2009

No Such Thing as a Hyphenated American

This might come as a shock to some of you, but I am politically conservative. *gasp* !!!!!!! Like a good conservative Republican I try to be aware of current events, and even go so far as to listen to political talk-radio while driving. My two favorite shows happen to be at the same time on different stations: Rush Limbaugh and Michael Medved. El Rushbo is pretty arrogant and a bit obnoxious, but ya know what? More often than not he is extremely right, and he falls on the conservative side of things far more often than his colleagues. Medved provides more thought-provoking topics of conversation, at least I think so =). In fact, there are three books I’ve read because of his recommendation: a book on the Crusades, his own The 10 Big Lies About America (which I just finished), and a book about Jimmy Carter and the 1970’s.

There are literally dozens of topics that I may end up blogging about over the next few weeks from “The 10 Big Lies About America,” but I wanted to focus on just one of them today. Michael Medved has a chapter responding to the myth that “America Has Always Been a Multicultural Society.” In this chapter he quotes part of a speech made by the beloved Theodore Roosevelt in 1915:

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans. Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all…. The one absolutely certain way of brining this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic. 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.” (Pgs. 103-104).
What cut me to the quick was when I learned that this speech was made to a group of Irish Catholics. The annotation I made in the margins of this page reads: “Never thought about it that way before.” Honestly, I hadn’t. Having been raised in the public school system, and taken an innumerable amount of college courses, I guess I’ve been more influenced to believe that one’s national identity is not first as an American citizen, but rather in one’s ethnic heritage.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with “celebrating” one’s heritage, or identifying and appreciating one’s familial background. But when I think about my friends, classmates and coworkers, and how they choose to identify themselves, it isn’t primarily as an American. Many blacks overemphasize their African-ness. Many whites overemphasize their European-ness. The problem arises when one is more proud of where they’ve come from rather than where they are.

“Cultural Diversity in Education” was one perhaps the single greatest waste of time in my entire life. I remember the professor asking the class one day: “How many of you think racism is a major problem in America today?” Everyone’s hand shot up, except mine. Immediately, I could feel the scornful looks from various individuals in the classroom, including the professor who couldn’t believe her eyes. Puzzled, she asked me why I didn’t think racism was not a major problem in America. I answered: “Because the vast majority of Americans are openly opposed to racism, the Federal and state governments are opposed to racism, and we now have laws protecting against racial discrimination. Sure, there are racists in America, but they are widely condemned throughout the land.” My professor happened to be black, and tried to hide just how offended she was, but continue on with our conversation. “Well, I have been mistreated by many people because of my black-ness,” she said. I expressed my sympathies, but reiterated that the greater majority are opposed to people thinking less of someone simply because of the color of their skin.

That group of students was essential in pointing out to me just how much racism is not a problem. Americans are so opposed to racism that all education majors are required to take courses like “Cultural Diversity in Education.” If we would simply recognize that racism was a huge problem in America, and at the same time admit that we have – for the most part – overcome racism we would begin to stop thinking of people in terms of ethnicity at all. Shouldn’t our goal be to instill in our fellow citizens that we are all equal in value because of our shared humanity, rather than because of our different ethnic backgrounds? Why is it that blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians or any other ethnicity are all equal? Is it not because we are all human? If you’re like me, you’re thinking to yourself, “Yup. No duh, Case.” Haha. The problem is that many liberals do not think this way. It’s true that they believe all peoples are equal in value but they arrive at this conclusion by celebrating ethnicities, rather than recognizing ethnicities all share a common humanity.

Three of four years ago I began to take great interest in my own family history and ethnic heritage. Part of my heritage is Irish, and I am uber proud of my Irish-ness (just ask Scott, who was forced to listen to hours upon hours of Irish tunes on repeat). I have made the mistake of focusing too much on my ethnicity, rather than identifying myself primarily as an American. Never fear, I’m not about to stop enjoying my Irish-ness, but I do plan on clarifying that I am an American first, and Irish second. My loyalty is to this nation, which still represents the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Thanks for reading this American’s thoughts,

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