Monday, August 11, 2008


This weekend, I turned off the DVD I was watching, and the olympics was on. After a few minutes of watching, I realized that this was probably the only time when hyphenated Americans were proudly unhyphenated Americans. When our swimmers kick off, there is no graphic that indicates Mexican-American, or African-American. It just says American. Our national identity is summed up by a simple rectangular graphic of our flag. There is no mistaking ethnic identity with national identity here; the difference is clear as red, white, and blue.

I began thinking about why people feel the need to hyphenate their nationality to indicate their ethnicity, and was reminded of a story a coworker told us. She told us that she was a little ashamed that her grandson (7 years old) came from school, and told her he didn't like the people with the lighter color skin than he, and that kids with the same color skin needed to stick together. I told her that humans are naturally programmed to form groups and hate other groups, and that only with age and experience and philosophy will true acceptance of other people develop.

I only scratched the surface with my coworker, but this time I was thinking more about the root cause of this behavior.

After a bit of thought I came to the conclusion that the problem is that people don't feel special.

People want to feel special and different from other people, so they join exclusive groups. When they find themselves in places where everyone is equal, they actually seek divisiveness to feel special at the expense of others.

The childrens' tale of The Sneetches simply explains this complex social interaction, and makes light of how hopelessly some cling to cosmetic differences in order to feel special.

This is, of course, silly because everyone is different in unobvious ways. But the issue seems to be that the unobvious differences are unobvious. People insecurely only feel different when they know their difference is obvious to others. They define themselves by how other see them.

While this core issue always existed, it didn't always exist in Americans seeking a different national identity. Not all immigrants to America resisted their new nationality. This seems to imply that this is some kind of generational thing, where this generation feels insecure about their national identity. They seem to feel too American, and react by trying to divide their national identity.

The insecurity may never go away, but hopefully this flight from Americanism will dull with time.

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