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The Divide of the United: Racial and Cultural Categorization in America Sara Ciesiun Essay

During the development of the United States, there were specific ideas of what the country would represent. As laws and systems began changing in the country, things that should have naturally evolved did not. Overtime, America has become a country that is made up of people from different cultures and backgrounds. Properly accounting for the ethnicity of each individual would represent the uniqueness of the United States to the rest of the world and bring it closer together as a country. Until there is uniformity in the characterization of the citizens of America, equality cannot ever be truly attainable.

Solutions to this problem are out there, but putting them into effect seems to be taking a back seat to issues that are deemed more essential. When defining race, having broad categories such as “white” or “other,” and then requiring others to be labeled so much more specifically, creates a perilous divide between citizens. Hyphenating only some races and then generally grouping others together is unfair for everyone. America has long been confused on how to go about defining the racial groups that make it up because “the history of race and ethnicity has been fraught with tension, rivalry, and conflict. (Steinberg. pg 6)

Due to the country’s past issues with slavery and immigration, the manner in which certain races or cultures are referred to in the United States has been a very sticky subject, and the rules on how to do so are extremely distorted. The main goals our founders wanted to accomplish were liberty, equality, and democracy. In a letter written by George Washing that was sent to the governors of the 13 states, he expressed that he wanted the nation’s citizens to “entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. (LaHaye pg. 1)

Unfortunately at that time, the definition and understanding of these three things were completely different than today. Taking into account how much has changed over the years, it is safe to say that labeling or categorizing anything the same way they were between the time America was discovered and the end of the Civil War.. From the moment voyagers set foot on the land of America, confusion and ignorance were prominent qualities within each individual. A prime example of this would be the discovery of the indigenous people of America that were there when they arrived.

When this journey began, Christopher Columbus’ goal was to find a new route to Southeast Asia. Once they finally arrived to land, it was assumed that they were in Indian, causing them to believe the people they saw were “Indians. ” Although it was soon discovered that they were in fact not in India, the name stuck and they continued to be referred to as Indians. (Foster, 2013) Another significant event regarding racial characterization in America is slavery. In the 1600s, hundreds of Africans were brought to the United States to be used as slaves. During this time, they were commonly referred to as black or colored people.

Due to the fact that they were brought to America to serve, they were never considered equal, much less considered American. As time went on, it was recognized by many that the labels given to these groups were not politically correct. For those that were referred to as Indians, it was thought that because they were truly in America before anyone else, an appropriate name for them would be Native-American.

As far as the “colored” people brought over here against their will, it seemed appropriate to acknowledge where they were taken from by calling them African-American. Smutz np) When considering this history, the hyphenated naming system makes sense. However, much time has passed, many things have changed and meanings have been redefined. What was intended to take a bad thing and make it good, has somewhat had the opposite effect in society today. Realistically, in America, race is something that is only applied to “non-whites. ” White people are not named as anything other than that, which slightly implies that they are the cultural norm.

This implication would mean that any “non-white” person is something other than normal, ultimately forcing them to identify what that is. Those that are forced to have a more specific definition feel that they are not being considered a true “American. ” (Ramesh, 2013. ) It is a common occurrence that being white is considered being American. This fact is what has caused the development of the negativity behind being a hyphenated American. If one is not white, then it is necessary for them to specifically identify “what they are” because they cannot be considered an American alone.

Situations such as this are what cause diversity and resentment in a country, and being that the United States claims to be the “land of the free” this all seems contradictory. The issue many hyphenated Americans have with being referred to in that manner is not that they identify their heritage, but that they are being treated as an outcast in their native country. If one group is going to be considered American, and have no other obligation to define themselves as anything other than that, then it should not be any different for anyone else, regardless of their color, religion, ethnicity; etc.

Although it would be fair to refer to all citizens of the United States as American, it would also strip away the ties to the culture and background of each individual’s heritage. This fact is the reality that many white Americans live with. Because it is a general view that white Americans are claiming to be more entitled in the United States, their feelings on their categorization are never taken into consideration. Those that are categorized in general groups are not being given the opportunity to represent and celebrate their culture in the way that hyphenated Americans are.

When a person is referred to as a Mexican-American, an understanding of their culture is automatically embedded and taken into consideration. When a person is referred to as white, they lose their right to have others understand their background. A European-American has traditions and things they identify with in another culture other than American. Coming to America created an identity crisis for many Europeans. At the time when people were beginning to make the move to America, being white was what you needed to be to “fit in” and to be socially accepted.

Unfortunately, many Europeans had trouble fitting the bill, mainly Italians, Irish and Germans. Because of this, many of them left their customs behind and adopted the Anglo American culture. (Hammond, 2010) Another obstacle for many white Americans is they are made up of so many different ethnicities they feel that they “have no observance of these groups beliefs, customs, or language. ” Feeling this way becomes unsettling for most, especially when they are surrounded by others that are so well connected to where they came from.

Not having the luxury of identifying with ones roots can make a person feel lost. A common feeling would be that they have “become invisible” because they “have no ethnicity to authentically claim. Except for the possibility of claiming American as an ethnicity. ” (Hammond, 2010) Long ago, America was nicknamed “The Melting Pot. ” The idea was that many people from many different places were coming together to create a new culture. It is now said that instead of being a melting pot, it is more of a salad bowl.

Reasoning for this is because many different people from many different places have come together, but they have kept their individual traits and traditions from the origination of their families. (Millet, 2000). While most of the time hyphenating allows someone to identify themselves better based on their heritage, it also has the opposite effect. Stereotyping is a huge issue in the United States and it stunts people and corners them into being a person that they do not necessarily want to be.


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