There’s a new strain of divisive commentary in America. In this week’s Time magazine, Suketu Mehta calls it the musings of “racialists” – people who declare that the culture of certain ethnic groups puts them at an advantage in academics, business and just about every other sphere of human endeavor. He cites the recent book by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld who claim that “Asians (like Chua) but also seven other groups — Cubans, Jews (like Rubenfeld), Indians (like me), Nigerians, Mormons, Iranians and Lebanese — are superior when it comes to succeeding in America.”
For me, however, these writers are best described as “reverse-hyphens.” You see, most of us think of ourselves as Asian-Americans or Irish-Americans or Mexican-Americans or Indian-Americans. It’s a way of acknowledging that we all begin with different backgrounds in this country, but we all end up the same – as Americans.
Racialists, however, reverse the order of those words. They see themselves as American-Asians or American-Irish or American-Mexicans or American-Indians. That way, they can ascribe a cultural superiority to whichever group they choose (or represent). It is an insidious form of classism which ignores and potentially threatens this country’s greatest strength – the heterogeneous homogeneity we express with the phrase “We the People.”
As I describe in my “career activism novel” A Multitude of Hope, those words – We the People – affirm that there is only one superior culture in this country – the culture of the United States of America. Why is that so? Because, despite all of our disagreements and difficulties, it is the only culture on the planet that encompasses the attributes and aspirations of those born everywhere else.
We talk about this nation being exceptional – and I believe it is – but that exceptionality is not the product of our accomplishments, but of our atmosphere. The United States is the one place where every person has a chance to make themselves exceptional. While that chance is not as great as it should be for some (and we need to work on that), it is the pure oxygen which invigorates us all whatever our individual cultural heritage.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. You can read an excerpt of A Multitude of Hope here.