Identities in America

“In this country, we have no place for hyphenated Americans.”  Theodore Roosevelt

Many Americans require an ethnic or racial or sexual identity association of some type. How each citizen or non-citizen identifies himself or herself creates an immediate identity. As with communities of color, without a hyphen or group identity, many in this country would feel left out and without an identity. Hyphenation of identities by race, religion, and ethnicity categories has to be politically correct. People will always use their country, religion, or ethnic origin first with their identity and then American. Starting from African, Hispanic, Native American, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican, etc., the lists go on ad infinitum. The same identity association holds true with religion, where we see Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and so forth. Sexual identity has also quickly inserted itself into conversations, where a person’s racial identity might be overshadowed by identity as a member of one of the LGBT categories, for instance.

Identity is part of our conversation. What it means to be diverse and inclusive in a workplace or community is not to have people who look different, but to create an environment where people feel like, at the end of the day, they are who they are. Most people feel the need to find a way that integrates them and dislike feeling trapped in a box; identity, it seems, gives them a way out of the box.

We’re going to have to find a way to talk about diversity that isn’t just about categories but is about the kind of organizations we want to create for people. Everyone should be able to bring their whole self to work and be whole people without reliance on identity hyphens.

The number of words people use to describe themselves can be overwhelming, but it’s important to recognize that these words are often part of a closely held identity. I support associating and honoring your heritage, religion, sexuality, and heritage. Substantial historical context is involved here in the necessity for certain groups such as black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBT, and members of different religions to bring relevant issues to the table and discuss historical discrimination. The discussions, hopefully, can end some discrimination that still occurs. In areas such as housing, employment, and education, discrimination still affects limited portions of the country. The larger issue is not race or heritage but individuals taking responsibility for their actions.

The government is only able to stretch or create so many dollars before the crush of debt stops the treasury presses. Far too many also feel entitled. They contend that they still experience the historical effects of slavery or bigotry from long ago. Some need to consider a major redirection of blame or excuses here because so many other factors are involved, such as personal choices, family status, education, and motivation. The only entitlements we are granted in the Declaration of Independence are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Many feel that the “pursuit of happiness” must be given to them without pursuit in their personal circumstance.  This pursuit depends upon effort or initiative; others who achieve happiness find their own way and utilize their talents. Which way would you feel is the most equitable and fair path for all Americans?

Identity divisiveness occurs when an individual places his or her heritage or religion first in a hyphenated identity. When someone, for example, identifies as a Hispanic American or Jewish American instead of American Hispanic or American Jewish, it immediately places that person into a category of not only being different but also making that more important than being American. How should a white person in America identify? Of course, there are those of Italian, Irish, German, English, or French descent, but there are very few among them who would identify their heritage first. Rather, they would just state, if asked, that they are Americans with a certain heritage or history. An expectation for minority groups to identify and form communities with like-minded individuals has evolved into divisions, created barriers, led to assumptions about others, and created bitterness toward other groups, mainly whites.

Every politician routinely seeks the black, Hispanic, Jewish, or LGBT vote as a block so to speak. They feel as if these “communities” vote pretty much in lockstep with their leadership. No one ever says they want, although they need, the white vote, since they know, even though there are base groups of each party, that most white-voters in the end make up their own minds. I believe we should eliminate the hyphen—or at least have an identity that appears secondary to being an American. Those who feel compelled to identify as hyphenated Americans, please try placing your other identity after American. You may feel more like an American and part of the culture, thus achieving the American dream by assimilation—not by separation or entitlement.

How can we achieve true diversity and maintain inclusion in America when there are those who choose to separate and identify themselves first by race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation versus simply as Americans? It is, by the way, all about us as Americans. To further illustrate this point, a group that calls itself Black Lives Matter believes that it is racist to have an opposing view or to add that Black Lives Matter but White Lives Matter and All Lives Matter as well. The former governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, found that out during a recent campaign appearance in July 2015, when he received a vehement reaction; the vitriol continued and was so great that he actually apologized for saying what he said. Why? Don’t white lives and all lives matter? His sudden retreat from a radical and racist activist group founded conveniently upon a false narrative shows that Governor O’Malley was not ready to be a president, and he eventually withdrew his candidacy. I have read many of the statements of the leadership of Black Lives Matter to gain insight. I do agree with Black Lives Matter on one major point.  They are bringing back to life difficult conversations that went underground and have remained dormant for decades. There is always some, even if limited, common ground to possibly build upon. Inclusion of differences does not mean acceptance of the other’s beliefs; one may acknowledge and respect another’s views even in disagreement. Hyphenated groups and their leaders sometimes make unnecessary, destructive, and counterproductive statements that only confuse and infuriate fellow American which we just witnessed in this election.

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