Monday, 05 June 2006, 18:10:39 EDT
"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 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, 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." -- Theodore Roosevelt, October 12, 1915.
I saw this quote in some guy's signature yesterday when searching newsgroups for some information regarding spark plugs. According to the venerable Wikipedia (a little joke there) this is an accurate quote. Since trusting a signature in a random Usenet post is not the best grounds for making an argument I did some searching to verify its validity. The first link I came to was the Wikipedia article Hyphenated Americans. Whether or not Wikipedia is more reliable than a Usenet post I won't go into here. I believe it is good enough in this instance. Also, in that article is this quote from Woodrow Wilson: "Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready." I like that one too.
I happen to agree with the good Theodore Roosevelt about hyphenated Americans. I think that if you are an American citizen, particularly by birth, then you should be proud enough of that citizenship to call yourself "American." If you are a naturalized citizen I can understand the hyphenation on occasion to denote whence you immigrated. I think in most contexts that is acceptable and not showing allegiance to the mother country. But when someone who was born here, their parents were born here, and their family for generations, refers to themselves as a hyphenated American I get a little upset. In fact, no other hyphenated American term gets me as riled up as the increasingly popular "African-American."
Back in January a friend wrote a post on his web site in which he referred to himself as an African-American. I had never heard him do this before and was intrigued. We later had a discussion about it during one of our card games. I don't think we really came to an understanding of the term in each other's views. If I am recalling correctly (correct me if I am wrong Chris), he has started to accept the term as a social moniker in that it is now more appropriate to refer to a black person as African-American just as it was once more appropriate to refer to such a person as colored instead of negro (I could be wrong on that one too). I completely disagree with this point of view for a variety of reasons. First, not all black people are from Africa (including ancestry). Calling someone from Jamaica an African-American, when they might not even be an American, is just plain absurd (and I witnessed just this thing happen). Second, I'm a white guy. Maybe it is more politically correct to call me a Caucasian male, but if some random person were to refer to me as "the white guy over there" I wouldn't be offended. It is an accurate description. Why isn't "that black guy over there" just as accurate? Why must it be "that African-American over there?" And lastly, is the person African or American?
I think the relabeling of black people in the United States as "African-American" was just the start of a new wave the hyphenation problem. As the immigration debate grows, I think we will many more hyphenated Americans. Not for political correctness, either. I think the political correctness of the hyphenation will be reserved for black Americans while the rest will be proclaiming allegiance to some mother country first and the United States second. I think Presidents Roosevelt and Wilson had it right when they stated their dislike for the hyphenated American. You are American or you are not. It doesn't get much simpler than that.
I have sort of strayed from what I initially intended to write and forgotten what that was in the process. So, I will leave it there. I think you get my point.