What’s The “American” in ” -American” Mean? The Dashed Identity Syndrome


At the time I attended Phillips Academy (Andover), there were students on campus from all fifty states and twenty eight foreign countries.  At the City College of New York, I was just as likely to hear Spanish or Mandarin as I was to hear English on the yard.  As a member of the U.S. Army, I engaged in daily work and play with people of every color, hue, gender, orientation, and linguistic and cultural background.  As I engaged them throughout my life, I always did so as the African-American, Puerto Rican male from the South Bronx whose family roots ranged from Native America to France to Germany and beyond.

As I continued to learn and grow from such an enriching circle of friends and family, I noticed that we all identified ourselves based on our roots beyond America.  For instance, everyone would identify themselves as Italian-American, or African-American or Chinese-American.  Given that I grew up this way, I found this to be quite normal.  So much so that I never really considered what the “American” in all of those dashed identities meant.

However, something really interesting happened to me when I traveled outside of the United States.  While I was in Geneva, if someone asked me what my nationality was, I would proudly identify myself without hesitation: “I’m American.”  It struck me like lightening the first time I said it.  I felt no need to put a dash in my identity.  No pressure.  No need to explain.  “American” said it all.

So what is it about being home that makes us all feel such pressure to dash our identities when we engage with one another?  What makes us focus so much on the “Italian” or the “African” that the “American” loses it’s meaning?  More importantly, we’ve become so divided in this country that the “American” has even lost it’s bonding affect among us.

In 2012, all it takes is a cursory glance along the racial and class divides of this nation to conclude that we are as fractured a culture as we’ve been since the Civil War.

What happened to the Americans that toiled together tirelessly in the rubble of the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the weeks after 9/11?  From all accounts, none of them cared about the cultural roots or identity dashes of the people digging in rubble next to them.  They were Americans.  And that was all that needed to be said.

Yet today, we find ourselves turning on the news to find one crowd yelling “We are the 99%!” on one end of the divide, while on the other the crowds are yelling “We want our country back!”  I don’t know about you, but for me this all begs two questions: Just who are ‘we?’  And how do we give meaning to the “American” in ” -American?”

What’s your answer?

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2 Responses to "What’s The “American” in ” -American” Mean? The Dashed Identity Syndrome"

  • Heaven Sent says:

    You have enlightened me. I concur your complete concept! In pondering your thoughts I realised something. The only place I see in print where I am asked ethnicity is on ALL legal forms. ie. job applications, home purchases, auto purchases, savings accounts, school applications, drivers licenses, social security , IDs. All that to say it is the government that keeps us at odds.
    The scariest part of all of this is while we fight, dispute, and bicker over NOTHING significant to our existence – our own governments are pulling underhanded deals to obtain funds illegally, using IOU as collateral. Social security, pension, structured settlements, lottery winnings etc. all monies they borrow against and never repay. Governments are brilliant at creating a ruse in the light while they steal or cause chaos from the dark. THEY started that dash…look at how it has divided us. Steve writing the ethnicity dash implies whether or not you receive whatever it is you wrote it for. Saying the ethnicity dash is a learned response, implies we are sheeple.

  • Angela Phillips says:

    I have been complaining about this since like “forever”…this double identity sendrone is because in this country (the US) no one one even “Black” people themselves consider them/us American…Why because of the SLAVERY syndrome. I was just wondering why Jamaicans (who are also called Black and know their history of SLAVERY and know they are descendants of Africans) call themselves Jamaicans and not Jamaican-African like we are FORCED to do here in the US…Hatians are not calling themselves Haitian-African…Why Black people (ESPECIALLY the MULATTOES people of so called mixed “race”) in America call themselves AMERICAN? and are always FORCED to define themselves in some “excusable” way (which is “BLACK”) that is “comfortable for “others”….BECAUSE Immigrants and others see that BLACK and WHITE are CLASS groups in AMERICA and if you are BLACK then you are LOWER CLASS CATEGORY GROUP…if you are WHITE you are in an UPPER class category group. If we stop labeling ourselves (and allowing others to label us) we will always be manipulated and ‘managed” by the people who put us in those “BOXES”….Even though my Great grandfather is Cheeroke, and My great grandmother is German and my great grandpa was African (from where?)…all my folks are mixed…bled, born raised lived and died for hundreds of years right here on this land from the great lakes to the tip of the Mississippi…Yet because I have brown skin and nappy hair everyone calls me “BLACK” (I don’t mind)…but they say I am not an AMERICAN I am an AFRICAN…yet my ancestors have been in America for more than 400 plus the ones the Migrated here and came on slave ships…my family is here, their bones are buried here…Yet I am not considered an AMERICAN, only a Black woman with no Nation no Country and no Homeland. I have been OUTSET-ED from my INHERITANCE via the Legalese of the terms “Negro”, “Black”, “Colored”, and now “African”…(I thought we ALL descended from Africans????)…everybody else that left (the Motherland) get to claim the country they are IN as their Homeland…Yet we so called “Blacks” here in America can NEVER claim the title “AMERICAN” without being challenged and ridiculed by the “others ie WHITES”…how sad. No one challenges WHITE people who call themselves AMERICANS even though we all know they came from Europe and Asia… Yet we have this stupid blog on if Black people in America should hold the title “American” or continue to be disconnected to their homeland by continuing to refocus their MINDS to AFRICA (no country or tribe just a big mysterious place)..while the sons and daughters of the Europeans claim this land, USA as their OWN.

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