Hyphenated Americanism – The Great Divide

Nov 28, 2013 by

…a century ago, hyphenated Americanism was a slur, an epithet, an insult – a means of denigrating immigrants.

As a college student, I fill out more applications than I care to admit, all of which require a disclosure of a plethora of biographical information. Where was I born? Who are my parents? And, of course: What is your ethnicity?

The long list, of which I am expected to check off one, usually goes a little something like this:




Hispanic or Latino

Native American

Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander


There are days I feel especially bold, mark “other,” and write in: “AMERICAN.”

A century ago, hyphenated Americanism was a slur, an epithet, an insult – a means of denigrating immigrants.

President Theodore Roosevelt, in a 1915 speech to the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal organization founded by an Irish priest to care for “Irish-Americans” during a stage in American history not far removed from the formation of an anti-Immigrant party, The Know-Nothing Party), stated: “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 at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s dire warning has unfortunately come to pass; the very embodiment of the mischief of factions, noted by President James Madison within Federalist No. 10, our government was meant to overcome, and yet so embraced and promoted by the Democrat Party.

Today Hyphenated Americanism is worn as a badge of honor by many, a distinction of sorts that separates Americans by skin pigmentation. Our sole identity as Americans has been divided into racial categories, creating a system in which White is American, and all other races are, and always will be, immigrants to this great nation.

And so persons are perpetually connected to, and told to be proud of the color of their skin above the colors of our flag. Attached to the land of their ancestors, having forgotten the warnings of the past and taken on the hyphen as a mark of their unique place within America. This manifestation is a sign of dual allegiance: on the one hand to their ancestors and, on the other, to their country.

In 2010, the U.S. Census began the practice of using “White,” replacing the term Caucasian, for a myriad of reasons that are best addressed to those who constructed the Census. Yet, it was not White-American, it was simply White. ThinkWeek2

When we centralize the normative American race as White, we do a disservice to all. We state, quite clearly, that those persons in this country who are white have no need to identify as Americans, because they are obviously American simply by the color of their skin. Quite an odd supposition, given that the “Native Americans” were anything but fair-skinned European settlers.

Like Teddy Roosevelt predicated, hyphenated Americanism is ruining this country.

Being an American has nothing to do with what color your skin is, it has nothing to do with where your ancestors are from, it has nothing to do with where you were raised. You are either American, or you are not American.

Hyphens are a societal loophole that perpetuate the notion that America is run by old white men who are native to this country, but not its land. Hyphens feed into the notion that America is a country of racial divides, of racist undertones, and facades of acceptance.

If things have gone too far askew to correct, then perhaps we are looking at the wrong place to discover the roots of this acrimony and the way to equalize it. If the addition of the word American to forms is a fix, we have a duty to allow Americans of all races to declare themselves as race.

Introducing White-Americans. We can now stand in solidarity with our African-American and Asian-American brothers.

But, truth be told, I do not consider myself to be White or Caucasian. I pledged allegiance not to the German flag, each day as a child, but rather to the American flag. I do not know Germany’s national anthem, I know the Star Spangled Banner.

The point being, everyone who came to America – by choice, by force, in desperation, or by other means – has a story. We should leave behind the old and forge ourselves into one great nation of immigrants. We are Americans.

Those who cling to their hyphenated status should join hand in hand with those who bare no hyphens and realize the dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr., putting behind the notions of a man or woman born in this country, or who were lawful immigrants, as anything other than simply American.

Fix contributor Patrick Seaworth is a student at The King’s College (New York City).

via Hyphenated Americanism – The Great Divide.

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