Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why I don't acknowledge Hyphanated Americans

One of my pet peeves, that is to say, things that have always annoyed me, and things that will always annoy me, is the use of a hyphen to describe an individual. There are numerous examples, Irish-American, Russo-Japanese, African-American, Native-American, and I could go on for hours just listing the ways the hyphen is used in documents and conversation to describe an individual.

To explain my views I should point a couple things out here. When I was growing up, friends of my Parents would come by for a cook out, or just to visit. We would visit them at times too. These people were of all colors, and all races. Looking back, I can't remember a difference in how my Father or Mother introduced me to the visitors. I was introduced, and expected to call them, Mr. or Mrs, or Miss Jones, or Smith, or whatever name you care to choose. I was taught, and am still in the habit of addressing people as Sir, or Ma'am.

We could debate for hours on this topic, so I will tell you what I see as I read it, or hear it in common conversation. The Hyphenated American is not a "real American" but a quasi-American.

Where do I get this opinion from? Well, let's look at the uses in history shall we? The Constitution listed the job of Vice President just like that. It didn't have a hyphen, however as early as the 12th Amendment, we see the usage of the hyphen in the job title, Vice-President. The use of the hyphen drops again in 1965 with the 25th Amendment. The job is listed as Vice President again, no hyphen.

What rule of English governs the use of a hyphen? From what I read, and remember from school long ago, the Hyphen is a modifier, or used to reduce confusion. Re-Cover being used to describe covering the sofa in material again. Recover being used to gain possession of an object again. Do we reduce confusion by saying someone is an Irish-American? No, not really. To be an American, it is generally accepted that the individual is a Citizen, or Resident. If a Citizen, then the presence of the Irish is confusing. If a Resident, then the individual is an Irishman (woman) in America, not an Irish-American. Once citizenship is acheived, assuming it is, then the individual becomes an American, no qualifier, no limits except one.

Wiki says that Hyphenated Americans are used to demonstrate people who are straddling two cultures, or are communicating cultural links, and expressing loyalty to each. I say that is a bunch of baloney.

The hyphen as a modifier, now this is a disturbing possibility. The Dictionary defines Modify in relation to grammar as follows.

Grammar. (of a word, phrase, or clause) to stand in a syntactically subordinate relation to (another word, phrase, or clause), usually with descriptive, limiting, or particularizing meaning; be a modifier. In a good man, good modifies man.

So when I see someone forced into the Hyphenated American category, I don't see the person voluntarily demonstrating their allegiance, and awareness, of their cultural heritage. If you state I am a Norwegian-American (which is literally grabbed out of thin air) I would fail the most basic test. First, I don't know anything about Norway. Second, I am unaware of any Norwegian culture which I have adopted, am proud of, or would defend. Equally if you labeled me with Asian-American, I don't know any Asian culture I may have adopted. I like Chinese and Japanese food, however am aware it is Americanized food.

That leaves the obvious and undesirable claim that I am a Modified American. Subordinate but not true, or whole, or complete. I don't see Modified Americans, I see all Americans as literal equals. The only Constitutional qualifier for any job in this nation is for President, and Vice President. For those jobs only, you must be a Natural Born American. For all other jobs, you can be a Naturalized Citizen. In other words, you can be born elsewhere, and come here, become a citizen, and still become a Senator or Congressman. You can be a Judge, or anything else. I won't debate that topic now, suffice to say we welcome every citizen with the same opportunities.

I said I detested the idea of Modified Americans. What the Politically Correct are saying when they force us to categorize someone into a class of hyphenated Americans is you aren't a real, true, or complete American. Like the term Assistant Manager. There is no doubt to his authority, he isn't the big boss, they aren't the Manager, they are the assistant. Manager is modified to indicate less authority, less power, less responsibility. In this case, American is modified to mean less American.

Now, it may not be your intention to do that, but that is what you are telling me when I read the term on an application. It was explained during a class on Diversity that these labels indicate who the person is, and we can learn what it means to some extent. I answered Pfui. Mathematics teaches us to find the common denominator, not a means of separating the numbers, but a means of combining them. So instead of combining all these people into one big number, we insist on breaking them down, with these labels, and pointing out a lot of differences that don't amount to a pile of used grain behind the cow. I told the instructor I didn't see any of those types here, I only saw Americans, and the rest didn't matter one little bit.

I gained enough time at work to choose my shift, and my manager. I picked the team I wanted to work on. That Manager is generally considered by everyone to be one of the very best the company has. That manager is black. Did I pick him because he is black? No, I could care less if he is White, Black, Brown, Yellow, Blue, or bright Pink. I picked him because he was the very best we had. The color didn't matter, the quality did.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous "I have a dream speech" said it better than I ever could.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Do we achieve that dream by making all people hyphenated? Do we achieve that goal of a color blind society by constantly harping on the way we are different, or by pointing out the common denominator? We are all Americans, that is all I ever see in an individual.

Individuals can achieve greatness in this nation, regardless of the race, and regardless of their ancestors origins. Immigrants and Children of Immigrants (legal) become successful, and could be an inspiration to the rest of us, on what hard work, faith, and family can achieve. Instead we continue to stigmatize these people by making these citizens hyphenated, or modified Americans.

Stop forcing people into that stigmatized category you Liberals. Let them decide if they are going to be Italian-American or whatever background they choose. Let them choose if they are they going to subordinate the American of their own free will. Let them be Americans, just Americans, and that will be good enough for a vast majority of us.

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