January 25, 2021

How to deal with hyphenated Americans

Posted on 22. Oct, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Social/Cultural

I couldn’t be more adamant about it. We’ve got to stop hyphenating ourselves. Just when I thought we had moved beyond the urge to further separate ourselves from one another, here comes the old hyphen back to wreak havoc on all of us, just in time for the political season.

In November of 2008, hyphenated-Americans were vindicated at the polling place. African-Americans turned out with over 92% of the vote for then Senator Obama, and his campaign won over Hispanic-Americans, Jewish-Americans, female-Americans and college-Americans. Democrats were ecstatic. They had defanged the conservative Republicans and spiked the ball in the cultural end zone. Their tactics of laser-guided campaigning worked. By splitting us up into four demographics (race, ethnicity, age and gender) they messaged differently to each one and succeeded in cobbling together a patchwork quilt of Americans for hope and change.

There is a problem with this strategy, however.  It is, quite simply, once you dissect, classify and separate people into groups and sub-groups, how do you re-combine them when you want them to act in unison? What is the unifying element that can make the proudest most vocal sub-group think and act like a truly homogenized American? And why would they want to give up their unique status once they’ve created special interest organizations to promote their cause? It’s not easy to put the ethnic genie back in the bottle.

It appears that the Administration has a solution. They’ve created a common enemy… those nasty, money-grubbing rich people. You know, the ones who already pay a disproportionate share of taxes to our Government, the one that can’t get enough $16 muffins and never met a bail-out it didn’t like.

Class warfare is a strategy that will backfire because our great middle class aspires to be those rich capitalists! Have we forgotten the dot com bubble of the 90s when hoards of middle class software nerds were catapulted to the upper ranks of the tax rolls? Or the housing bubble of the 2000s when other middle class families bought houses and used them as piggy banks to leverage their way to wealth?

It wasn’t so many generations ago that newly-minted immigrant Americans were willing to trade in their differences (not give up their cultures or their history) to become part of a truly exceptional society – the American society. Immigrant fathers and mothers told their children, “We’re in America now. Let’s speak English.” Most didn’t advocate wearing their ethnicity on their sleeves or worse yet blame it for their inability to move up in the world. On the contrary, they encouraged their children to get educated and assimilate so they could earn their way to the American Dream.

Make no mistake, our society has greatly benefited from the differences in its people. Those cultural and ethnic differences have provided the spice to our great American stewpot, but there comes a time when our differences must take a back seat to the intrinsic value of the melting pot.

If we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on our differences we will miss the opportunities that lie in pulling together as one nation. Our assimilation is our greatest strength, and it is the true specialness of America. Millions of opportunity-thirsty immigrants didn’t come to our shores to become hyphenated; they came to be joined together as Americans.

If we fail to live up to America’s promise to provide equal opportunity to all we will be punished by a reversal of our fortunes. We will become the countries that our immigrant grandparents left, societies that gave preferential treatment to one group over the others. The price we will pay will be a disintegration of our collective values, of our laws and our attitudes. Then the advantage will be in the hands of the group that shouts the loudest and uses its hyphenated status to further its own special agenda.

E pluribus unum (out of many, one) is proudly emblazoned on our money. It’s too bad it hasn’t become part of our social currency.

- Editor


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