What is an American? Does anyone really know? We call ourselves Americans but there is a deeper conflict going on with the term “American” that has not been addressed. One day, as I scrolled through my Facebook page, I saw a post by a past coworker that said, “My generation grew up reciting the pledge every morning in school with my hand over my heart. They no longer do that for the fear of offending someone. Will it kill you to say the pledge? If you love Mexico so much why in the hell are you here?” He continued on to say, “Well whatever, the other Americans got it” when a mutual friend said that his statement was harsh. Just in that statement alone he expressed the feelings that most Americans have toward people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds in America. In an article called, What Does It Mean to be an American, the writer states,
“To be considered an American, a person did not have to be any national, linguistic, religious, or ethnic background. All he [or she] had to do was to commit himself [or herself] to the political ideology centered on the abstract ideals of liberty, equality, and republicanism. Thus, the universalist ideological character of American nationality meant that it was open to anyone who willed to become an American” (Song, 2009).
This definition hits on the whole meaning of being an American. Collectively we believe the same ideals to press forward and live in harmony with one another. The problem with that is the fact that people think the way that my ex co-worker thinks. The reason behind this thinking is that there are Americans that feel that they are more entitled to the title “American” when regarding people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They feel that the people that are not from America, or are descendants of someone that is not from America do not deserve to be an American if they do not forsake their previous country. The government should be conscious of the fact that the true definition of an American needs to be modernized to fit all the American demographics.
This is a very delicate topic because some people will regard this as a “racism” paper or a “Black versus White” thing but this topic goes farther than that because America is my home. It is the only place I know. I was born here and raised here. I am an American. Nigeria is my father’s home. It is the place he knows. He was born and raised there. He is an American. There are many families in America like mine, multi-cultural, and like me, many children of parents from different countries embrace their parents’ culture as their own just as they embrace American culture in their daily lives, they have pride in their background. Per the Dictionary, “an American is a person born, raised, or living in the United States.” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) Under this definition, my father and I are Americans because I was born and raised here and he is currently living here legally. Even though this confirms our status there are still people that make negative stereotypes about Africans and hit us with statements such as, “go back to your country!” and, “you don’t belong here!”. My only response to such statements is, “who are you to tell me where I need to be and where I need to go?”
The next definition states that an American is marked generally by reddish to brown skin, black hair, dark eyes, and prominent cheekbones (pertaining to Indians of north and South Americans) (Dictionary.com ,n.d.). This definition reaffirms my stance on the fact that people’s thinking is distorted in America because the main people making individuals of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds feel inferior do not in any way shape or form fit into this category. Nobel Prize winning author Tony Morrison once said, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate”. Per an article in the Huffington Post America is starting to truly live up to the “melting pot” reputation because there are more and more people that are biracial and multicultural in America than before. Now-a- days, the average American is of a tinted complexion. They even said that per the 2010 census, the data showed that, “whites would no longer be the Majority in the country by 2043” (Cadet, 2013). That is just a mere 29 years from now and when that time come what will those people be told that they aren’t Americans?
There are some people that believe that this is not an issue in our country and say something along the lines of, “The federal government should not have to modernize the definition of an American because everyone knows their background and if someone wants to alter it, it is a personal dilemma not federal.” This view on the situation may seem to be more appealing to agree with and easier to deal with but, there are some personal dilemmas that need federal attention. Not everybody knows their background and those tend to be the Americans that make the Americans that do know their background feel unwelcomed, and un-American. Those small things are what snowballs into hate crimes which will inevitably end up in a federal court. With a simple clarification to the definition, all of that could be avoided.
With all that has been provided my only question is could this issue be one of the reasons why the United States is not as “United” as other countries perceive us to be? If you really think about it, there is no way that we can rise up and support and or attack other countries if we cannot even resolve simple issues within our own country such as who belongs here and who doesn’t. If any of us traveled to a different country they would call us “Americans” not Black, White, Hispanic, Latino or anything like that. To them we are Americans and We represent power and if this is our kryptonite, we will always lose.