Throwing Out the Hyphen:

2015 01 02_1099_edited-1When I wrote about being an Irish-Huhnunah some suggested I drop the Irish and refer to myself simply as a Huhnunah when that becomes the new name of our country or as an American until it is. That got me thinking that I actually never refer to myself as anything else than American. All my forebears came from Ireland but I cannot think of any time I actually said I was Irish-American. I was very happy being just plain old vanilla American.

I recalled one day years ago when a Chinese woman from Quincy was talking to me. She said something to the effect “you Americans do it differently.” I reminded her that she too was an American. That I did that made me reflect that in dealing with others it did not occur to me that there were different types of Americans.

Although I have to admit my wife, who is from Ukraine and came here as a young girl and became a nurse and as American as any other young woman I knew, talks about Americans doing this or that which is usually said in a critical manner. Things were always better from the old country. She’s never happy when I suggest to her she too is American. So like with the young woman from China who also was a first generation arrival to our land I should accept that in them lingers some attachment to the native land. In their cases I suppose it is proper to be a hyphenated American. But other than that I suggest it is time to throw out the hyphen.

Those of us born here should consider ourselves as simply Americans. Yet the trend seems to be in the opposite direction which is not good. The more the hyphen is used then the more do we look at others as belonging to different groups, Rather than working together for the common good we are working against each other.

Writing this I am reminded of being in contact with a young woman who was related to me. She was travelling through Morocco. I was speaking to her at that time and she was telling me of the wonderful time she was having going to the marketplaces and riding on camels. She went on to note that there were a lot of African-Americans living there.

In her mind African-American was synonymous with the word black. In the minds of most Americans that would be the case. To be accurate the term African-American must of necessity include many whites as well as many Arabs who do not consider themselves black. But insofar as the term means black then the young woman was correct in identifying black Africans as African-Americans even though they have no connection to anything American.

That is the problem with hyphens in a country like America. A hyphen joins, modifies and adds but overall differentiates. The less we differentiate one from another the better off we will be as a country.

The more we look for racism or any other “ism” the easier it will be to find it. The worst thing that results from such a search when done from those intent on finding it is when they don’t find they infer that it exists precisely because they cannot find it. Thus we are told by would be presidents that despite what we see with our eyes “Race remains a significant challenge in our country. Unfortunately, race still determines too much. It often determines where people live, it determines what kind of education in their public schools they can get, and yes it determines how they’re treated in the criminal justice system, . . .

It is time we get beyond that. Lies like that cause us to go backwards. The true answer on race in this country is that things have never been better. What demonstrates it is that a group like Black Lives Matter can exist and they are tolerated even though the facts behind their message contradict reality. While some bemoan the racial conditions in our country the other day Sixty Minutes had a program discussing the nuclear readiness of the United States. Who do you think our nation has entrusted in our military with the two most important posts in the nation when it comes the matters of cyber and nuclear attacks. You guessed it, two black men.

That is the America I see, One where there are no doors closed to any person. One in which we get beyond color and looking for things to differentiate us rather than things that bring us together. One in which a person is judged by his or her character and work ethic and intelligence not one where mediocrity is put on the same level as excellence.

That is why the candidate who rues the racial problem and alleges there is an “implicit biasin America is adding to our problem as a people. Like the poor we will always have racists among us. What we must do as a nation is to accept that, understand how few they are,  and move forward to improve the country for all. Rather than concentrate on the few bigots we must point to the huge majority of us who want to live in harmony with others who are fellow Americans.


19 thoughts on “Throwing Out the Hyphen:

  1. When I was in grade school back around 1946 we were taught about THE Ukraine, at which hearing every Ukrainian would cringe and immediately correct you: there was no The Uruguay, nor The Uganda, nor The France, so why add an article?

    Nice place, I’m told, by the Ukrainians I meet locally, where they (and yours truly) are all sub-summed into that great hyphenated group of Ireland ‘Non-nationals.’

    1. Have always been curious about that but until now never looked it up. It appears to be a meaningless custom that adheres to many nations, the Argentine, the Netherlands, the Lebanon, the United States, the Sudan, and several more. Explanations are tentative.

      Just part of the diverse, rich and often confusing pattern of our mother tongue English. Thank you.

    2. Henry:

      When I met my wife I called it The Ukraine and she had no problem with it. It was only when it got its independence that the article was considered gauche. It took a while but I finally started calling it Ukraine.

      Don’t know how nice it is. My wife and kids have been there and they have had mixed reactions and none seem too anxious to go back.

  2. So, Matt, you were fortunate enough to marry a woman from Ukraine. I understand her attitude, and that of the Chinese woman, very, very well. My parents were from Ukraine. They became citizens, and they loved the US. There is noone who loved America more than my Dad – with one word – “America” – he would express an entire library about the greatness of this country. My parents brought us up to know Ukrainian culture – language, history, religion, etc. – just like many other nationalities and groups in the US. That did not detract from our identity as Americans.

    But they did indeed have several reservations about some of the things that were or are part of American culture. And, as with other cultures, it is sort of an innate thing for Ukrainians to be a bit overly critical. That comes along with other Ukrainian traits.

    One other thing – when I was growing up, Ukrainians were invisible – invariably a light bulb went on and the response was “oh, you’re Russian.” If you want to get socked in the face, tell a Ukrainian that he or she is Russian. It is beyond extraordinary that today, Ukraine is finally not only recognized, but also at the forefront of the presidential campaign.

    I like cultures of all sorts. I like good movies about blacks, showing the community, the customs, people bonding together like humans – and movies about other cultures as well.

    So here’s to the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, the Germans, Hungarians, Welsh, French, blacks, Chinese, Japanese, and on and on – and to the Ukrainians. All Americans – unless they show, as TR said, that their allegiance is to a foreign country.

    1. Elmer, well said. In the end, when someone says he’s Italian-American or German-American, he’s saying he’s American. It’s the American part that unites us. The hyphens show our diverse histories.
      I like the hyphens.
      TR wrongly proclaimed that the mere fact that you identify as an Irish-American etc, therefore your allegiance is questionable. TR was wrong, dead wrong. We have thrived with Italian-American, German-American, Lithuanian-American, African-American, Cuban-American clubs, associations, cuisine, dance, music, etc, etc, and we are better off for it. TR proposed stigmatizing or abolishing such identifications and associations; the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and association.
      I am Irish-American. TR was Dutch-American. TR was wrong to question the loyalty of those who self identify as hyphenated Americans.
      How about the loyalty of the Irish-Americans who fought in Meagher’s Brigades or the Fighting 69th, or the Harlem Hellfighters or the Tuskagee Airmen, or the Mexican-Americans who fought to defend the Alamo.
      Look at those awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Many self-identified or have been identified by historians as hyphenated-Americans.
      You can’t read American History without the hyphens.

    2. Elmer:

      My wife keeps most of her Ukrainian traditions alive. All of my kids grew up speaking Ukrainian and they still are fluent to a certain degree in the language.They have all visited there and have friends in Ukraine. think it was easy for them to learn the language because I was American whereas in some families where both parents were from Ukraine the kids seemed to rebel at being taught preferring to learn English.

      Danny Sullivan who played for the Baltimore Colts many years ago lived around the corner from me and hung around with us. We knew he was half Irish but thought his mother was “White Russian” – he did not identify as Ukrainian as far as I knew and I did not know he was Ukrainian until many years later when I went to a Ukrainian event with my wife and met his cousins. As a kid he might have said he was Ukrainian but the Irish kids would have no idea what that was so he probably changed it to White Russian. You are right Ukraine was invisible to most of us.

      The year I met my wife I was working in a job with another guy my age who was called Vitaly – we all called each other by our first name but I thought people were calling him by his last name – I went up to him and said “Vitaly what’s your first name.” I felt pretty stupid when he told me I just said it. So you see I knew nothing about Ukrainians before I met her.

      No doubt that would have changed since then. The Soviets did very well keeping the Ukrainians down. The Russians tried too but the last act by Yanukovich and the Russian response did more for Ukrainians to recognize their own country and language than anything else. Now I understand the trident and embroidery are seen everywhere with a new upsurge in pride.

  3. Have heard this platitude all my life. It is called virtue signalling. It is saying I am am better than anyone who recognizes plain as day differences between ethnic groups. It is used by politicians to justify denying reality.

    It is pure double speak – example, all anti-Racists support Affirmative Action. It always ends with a transfer of opportunity and money from the White working class to Others. Do you not ever notice that it is your people who always end up with being given the short end of the stick?

    This political brand of virtue signalling egalitarianism is a denial of evolutionary and cultural differences that will manifest itself especially at election time in the absurd notion that all statistical results must come out equal by any way that you splice and dice the overall population. And if they do not then the government must rectify Nature. And again, who is always chosen to get the short end of the stick? The White working class.

    Stalinists in arguments often say “Objectively speaking….” What it means is that you will be judged by the results of a policy, not by the pious statements that were used to promote it. Or, as they say under the Golden Dome, “You’ve told me your reasons for this bill, now, what is your real reason?” It displays a cynicism that human nature justifies.

    Call your self Huhnunah if you want. To me you are a Boston Irish guy who writes an interesting blog. That latter part is the most important. My ancestors include a lot of Irish and Scots-Irish though they are majority English. My self identification is Swamp Yankee, a people of many virtues and, to be honest, a few vices.

    Swamp Yankees are not just like everyone else. Nor are the Boston Irish. To note that requires no malice or ill will. To deny those handy way of differentiating impoverishes the language. It necessitates masking diversity with an ever changing lexicon to satisfy virtue signalers.

    Example. I use the word Negro to describe a sub group of the general population. It implies skin color and the culture of the majority of that subgroup. Somewhere along the line virtue signalers decided that Black was better and that I was bad. Then Black became verboten and African-American became all the rage. This was dictated by the hostile to the White working class NYC/Washington/Hollywood elite. Now I have become even worse – a Deplorable.

    A new word was not needed. No one has to call me a Deplorable. I’m cool with Racist. It doesn’t irk. Or hurt. The AltRight finds cant amusing and prefers race realism to virtue signaling. Go Pepe!

    1. Tadzio:

      I never heard the term “Swamp Yankee” until I was a young lawyer and worked for an acerbic older smart Irish lawyer JJ Sullivan. He used it referring as I recall if I mentioned some other lawyer he would reply “sure that might be true but keep in mind he’s a Swamp Yankee.” I heard that as some sort of warning that I had to look deeper into the motive of that person. When I left JJ I never heard it again. Maybe you can clear up for me that mystery of what exactly is a Swamp Yankee.

  4. Check out this site:
    Check out the Census of 1990 and 2000.
    Keep the hyphens: Be proud of your ancestry and America’s diverse ancestries.
    Know the past. Live and work together for a better future.
    God bless America (from the Irving Berlin Songbook) sung by Kate Smith or Ella Fitzgerald or the Star Spangled Banner played by Jimmy Hendrix or Carlos Santana: that’s what makes America great. From many hyphens, one. E pluribus unum.

  5. Teddy Roosevelt was wrong. The original Native-Americans and all who’ve come to this country since have contributed to a multifaceted culture that makes America great. From literature to art to music to dance to food to religious worship to cultural traditions to festivals to ceremonies etc, each ethnic group which retains and shares its traditions makes America greater. Uniformity does not.
    America is not one thing. A cowboy. A rough rider. It is many different things, from sea to shining sea; St. Pat’s Parades and Cuban Festivals and Chinese New Years. It is johnny cash and jazz and blues and rock and samba and rap and Rhapsody in Blue.
    It is a melting pot and a stew and multi-course dinner, which is better for retaining its diverse elements, not eliminating them.
    2. Look at the 1990 census and 2000 census. I don’t know who does the counting but somehow we lost about 15 million German Americans and 8 million Irish Americans. By 2010, the Census stopped counting “ethnic groups”: “too controversial”. There is a movement to white wash and bleach out America: to make it bland: white, black, brown, yellow.
    3. Who are we? Genetically, anthropologically, historically, sociologically, culturally, politically? We are a complex amalgam.
    4. I am Irish-American. I am told I am “black-Irish” which means there is Spanish blood in us. Not from the Spanish Armada; but before; perhaps centuries before, millennia before, dating to the time of Viriathus, when Celts on the Iberian peninsula fled the Roman legions, 100 B.C. I’m told of subsequent infusions from Iberia as it was a three days sale from Galway Bay to the Bay of Biscay. Over centuries Irish sailors and Spanish-Portuguese sailors found senoritas and colleens to woe and wed.
    I am part of that history. Other Irish with red hair and freckles have Viking-Danish blood, as do many in Eastern Europe wherever Vikings struck. The histories are fascinating and tell us a great deal about who we are. Historically, culturally, genetically, we are different, but we are one Nation.
    5. I will post a site for your edification. We Americans are of one nation. We are all one nation. We share many cultural traits in common: Sports, music, dress, technology. We have many different histories, traditions, practices and beliefs. That’s the greatness of America. Not T.R.’s enforced monolithic uniformity: T.R. sounds like a No-Nothing to me: Shed your history, traditions, customs, culture, food, music, literature, and arts, and blend into uniformity or leave. I don’t buy it. Hell no, we won’t go!
    6. My friend Harry P. (of Armenian descent, with roots in Eastern Turkey) called himself “a citizen of the world.” Harry and I are Americans with different roots and different world views. That’s what makes America great. Viva la difference!!!

    1. I’d say T.R.’s comments were quite appropriate for the time. I see what you’re saying, but…

    2. I think what you are missing about TR’s speech is the key: “the man who shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land”

      I don’t think TR’s speech rules out keeping one’s heritage at all. The issue is whether one acts contrary to the US and its other citizens.

      I don’t think TR would have required anyone to abandon their heritage.

      After all, the example of people from England becoming citizens of the US had to be still fresh in his mind.

      “Published after Roosevelt’s graduation from Harvard, The Naval War of 1812 was praised for its scholarship and style, and it showed Roosevelt to be a scholar of history. It remains a standard study of the war. Roosevelt waved the Stars and Stripes:

      It must be but a poor spirited American whose veins do not tingle with pride when he reads of the cruises and fights of the sea-captains, and their grim prowess, which kept the old Yankee flag floating over the waters of the Atlantic for three years, in the teeth of the mightiest naval power the world has ever seen.”

    3. Bill:

      1. Teddy was right – it was his attempt to bring the Irish back to the Republican party after they fled following the Blaine election. You say America is a melting pot which implies that the hyphen does not do much for the stew.

      2. I suppose the census recognizes that best we have less groups than more; separation is not the answer. It is not white, black, brown but one America –

      3. We are all parts of the whole America and as we learned our DNA is complicated so rather than clinging to one hyphen or another it is best we stay only as American.

      4. No man is an island; we are all part of the whole.

      5. You misunderstood Teddy. He didn’t ask people to forget their heritage – he welcomed them to bring it here with them and add to the mixture – he just wanted them to identify as Americans and only Americans.

      6. Remember e pluribus unum – it is not e pluribus hyphena unum

  6. 1. I think we should retain the heritage of our ancestry lest it be forgotten, while embracing all that it means to be American.

    2. What you write won’t play well in the “Irish” pubs of Dorchester

    3. “It is time we get beyond that…” In my mind, that’s an argument for something I’d like to see: the eradication of the NAACP (“CP” standing for “people of color” – the only permissible way to say it these days). Their name stinks, and their mission interferes with the true advancement of blacks. Their time has come and gone.

    1. GOK:

      The NAACP has retarded black progress more than it advanced it. It was established by white liberals after a black riot in Springfield, Illinois. Its purpose was to stop the blacks from acting up beyond what the white liberals thought proper. It quickly took over the black movement which had been in the hands of the Tuskegee Institute up to that time because it had the money to prevail.

  7. “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.”

    “This is just as true of the man who puts “native” before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance.”

    “But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else.”

    “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.”

    “The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American.”

    Theodore Roosevelt
    Address to the Knights of Columbus
    New York City- October 12th, 1915

    1. Henry:

      Teddy was speaking to a group of Catholics emphasizing the need for them to be more American and less members of the Democratic party. The Republicans drove most Irish into the Democrats’ arms with their anti-Irish policies. Republican nominee James Blaine of Maine (of all places) sat in an audience when Rev. Dr. Samuel Burchard a Presbyterian minister said: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”

      I agree with him although my motives differ a bit.

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