I’m sick of hyphens. Oh, I still use them, but I’m sick of them. I’m not alone either, because more and more people are starting to lash out about hyphens.
The problem with hyphens isn’t some bizarre issue with a punctuation mark, but the fact that so many Americans identify themselves as some form of hyphenated American. African-American (Despite the fact that most have been in this nation for generations and have never even set foot in Africa), Irish-Americans (see previous), Italian-American (again, see previous), etc., are all prime examples of what’s wrong with this country.
Once upon a time, people came to this nation in hopes of becoming a citizen. An American. They didn’t want to be Irish-American or Iranian-American, but an American.
This nation stood as a beacon of freedom since its inception. That freedom wasn’t perfect, and was completely false for many Americans prior to the Civil War, but that was still the image this nation possessed. People came here in clear hopes of a better life.
This nation, on the other hand, asked people to bring their hopes and dreams – and even their traditions and culture – to our shores to help build this nation into something beyond amazing.
However, by now we have all heard someone refer to themselves as some form of hyphenated American. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Unfortunately, it is a big deal. A very big deal.
While those who use hyphens feel that the hyphenation is nothing but a way to stay connected to their roots, the darker side that many of these good folks have missed is that it also serves as a way to separate us. By hyphenating our nationalities to such extremes, we are segregating ourselves and our children from our fellow Americans.
There will always be things which will divide us to some extent. Politics, religion, sports, or whatever will separate us to some extent, but these are single issues. A Baptist Republican and a Muslim Democrat may well stand together to cheer on the Braves during baseball season, or the Falcons during the upcoming playoffs. While we may have divisions in some aspects of our lives, those divisions can be short lived.
However, when we hyphenate our nationalities like so many have done, we segregate ourselves from our fellow Americans. Those who do so essentially cut themselves off from other people by erecting a barrier that cannot be pushed aside. Over time, people see those from outside their hyphenated groups as something worthy of scorn and derision.
This is especially true in places like New York. While many think of the City That Never Sleeps as a cosmopolitan city that would be above such petty things as ethnicity, the truth is far different. While the Deep South was dealing with racism in the 1960’s, my parents were in New York. My father was in the Navy, stationed at the Brooklyn Naval Ship Yard. There, these two southern kids saw racism to an extreme they never imagined.
For example, the Irish mailman intentionally dropping mail on the floor so a pregnant woman would have to bend over to pick it up…because she had an Italian surname. My mother having to bag up her on groceries at the supermarket across the street from my parent’s apartment, all because she wasn’t Italian.
These aren’t extreme examples. These were common during that time period. People began to identify with their ancestral nationality to such an extreme that they begin to look on fellow Americans as being something else entirely.
So yeah, I hate hyphens. Not because of the hyphen itself, but because of what so many of our fellow Americans are doing with those hyphens. I’d rather we all be Americans and just call it a day.