Recently, I was having a discussion with my soon-to-be wife. We were discussing the way that everyone in the U.S. today seems to qualify his or her "American-ness" with some other descriptor. For instance, you aren't just Italian, you're an Italian-American, and you aren't just broke, you're a Penniless-American.
Fortunately, I am blessed with a fiancée who enjoys discussing topics of great social and political import, as my knowledge of RHONJ will prove. It's part of the reason I'm marrying her, and our latest conversation about just what makes someone American resulted in some very interesting conclusions, or more accurately, some very interesting questions. For what does it really mean to be a citizen here in the United States, and who, for that matter, has the most right to call themselves "American" without having to qualify it with another adjective? What criteria should we use?
Well, the first and most obvious way we could select those individuals who most deserve to be called "American" is to rely on lineage. We could agree that ethnic bloodlines deemed to have been here from the country's inception have the definite right to claim this piece of North America as their country of origin. Well, since our ancestors literally kicked the British off the land to officially form The United States of America, that would give the Brits the best claim to date. Great. That's settled. What? You say that since Christopher Columbus "discovered" America, that would mean Italians have an earlier claim? Hmm. Intriguing. Well, wait a minute, though, by that logic, there has been proof that the Norsemen, or Vikings, were walking on the American soil long before the Italians. I have a feeling that Erik the Red might take issue with The Nina, The Pinta, and the Santa Maria getting the flag-planting credit. So, it's the Vikings then... well maybe not. I've just been handed an update. It seems that the Native Americans want us to know that their ancestors have been here in America since well before 1000 BCE. This is very confusing, isn't it? At least yours truly is in luck, though. I'm part Cherokee, I have ancestors that were Vikings, and my family's relatives came to this country on the boat that followed the Mayflower. I guess that means I win being American!
It sounds silly, doesn't it? That's because it is. Trying to determine who "first discovered" North America is the same as blind people playing strip Pictionary -- no one ever really wins and the prize is pointless anyway. Despite the futility of the endeavor, though, we will continue to fight over who was the first to step foot inside the North American borders. This is because we preach the creed of treating everyone with equality and being blind to race, while constructing a social scaffold that is, quite literally, built on how much we can separate people into different groups. In fact, it's so ingrained in our psyches that we don't even realize we are doing it each and every day. Let me explain.
Say you go to visit a new doctor, and he is of Chinese descent. When you are telling your spouse about him later that evening, do you mention his race? Be honest. What would you respond if someone asks if the doctor was American? None of you would respond with a simple "yes." You would all answer with the PC term and say, "no, he was Asian-American." Does anyone else besides me realize how completely skewed that is? "Thank god I didn't call him American, that would have been ignorant of me. I made sure to call attention to his race first."
This happens because we have been indoctrinated to believe that not using the politically correct term to describe someone is actually an insult, and possibly racist! Instead of simply calling someone American and leaving race out of the equation totally, we bend over backwards to make sure that we qualify being American with the proper ethnic moniker. If just being "American" is an insult, and no one is just American anyway, then why does the term even exist at all? It's like calling someone from Iraq Mesopotamian. The country doesn't exist any more and some would even take offense to it. Well, guess what, folks? No one calls people from Iraq Mesopotamians. What a fantastic way to tear down those walls of racism -- by making sure we all attach ourselves to the same meaningless, possibly derogatory term. That is, until we leave the country.
There is another very interesting fact that I realized after talking out this insane contradiction that we call "politically correct." When I tell you what it is, I'm willing to bet you say to yourself "oh yeah, that is true." Think about this then: we only become dual-named Americans when we are inside the territorial U.S. borders. If we visit any other country in the world, especially in Europe, we are simply "American," and proud of it. When you leave Heathrow airport and the British cabbie asks, "Where from, mate?" do you respond with "I'm Italian-American." No, of course you don't. He would call you a nutter and drive you straight to the looney bin.
No, we are Americans, and the rest of the world better watch out when we deign to visit their craphole country! Americans are the best, and we speak English, so you better also! Anyone who doesn't better be prepared to hear whatever I said again, only much louder this time. It's the most absurd dichotomy I've ever seen. Any time we exist abroad as U.S. citizens, we are "American," or "Yanks," or, in some cases, "Imperialistic Pig-dogs," but never "French-Americans." For some reason, as soon as we cross an international border, our patriotism jumps up tenfold. "What? You don't serve special sauce on your Big Macs? Blasphemy!! Hello? Army? I'd like to request a drone strike... "
Yet, as soon as we board that airliner for the voyage home, we see Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and Italian-Americans fill those seats around us. Why does this happen? Again, it's because of the PC monster that has us terrified to say the wrong thing, but I know a secret that I'm going to share with you. Even though there are a small number of people yelling loudly, most people are just like you and me -- not every little slip up offends them. It's time to take the silent majority view and just start calling ourselves American and that's it. Guess what? Within a generation or two, that's all we'd be! This inane practice of qualifying the word "American" with prefixes like "Italian," "Asian," and "African," needs to be stamped out as soon as possible. If you need more reasons to ditch the double-moniker system, then know that the terms aren't even always correct. How do you think someone from Haiti feels about being called an "African-American?" Je suis haïtien!
The politically correct movement might have had some value early on, but it was gone before anyone benefitted from it. I'm not speaking without experience, either. I'm handicapped, and that's what I call myself. Sometimes I'll even say "disabled," but that carries connotations I don't like. No matter what, though, I never use the term "physically challenged." Unfortunately, others have used that term when referring to me. It's part of a PC movement that is poised to swallow us all like a fat man eating hardboiled eggs. Sorry, I mean a "Robust American," I wouldn't want to offend hardboiled eggs.
Let's smarten up, people. More than ever, other countries are looking to us to lead the world into the next century. Sadly, we are too busy arguing over what network can find the family with the most natural children to throw on a reality show called "Pregnant Since Reagan." The politically correct movement was D.O.A., and as many other countries have discovered, some things you just need to let roll off your back. Not everyone who calls you Chinese even though you are Japanese meant to offend the entirety of the Japanese people, besmirch their rich heritage, and slander their lush culture. Sometimes, people just make mistakes. It's what human beings do - get over it! I don't take offense to being called "physically challenged," a term that should only be used when a contestant on Nickelodeon's Double Dare fails to answer. Marc Summers must be turning over in his grave.... what? He's alive?
You can read all of Daniel P. Malito's work and other stories on his website at danielpmalito.com.