An informed discussion about politics. Hosted by a mathematician, a lawyer, and a political scientist.
I'm still trying to figure out why I find these so disturbing. "Jewish American?" And why have a special button for the disabled? Is there a special button in big type for the elderly?
The Law Talking Guy
What's wrong with self identifying as a "Jewish American?" I often self identify as a Danish American or Scandinavian American.
Jewish is not a nationality and is not foreign. It need not be hyphenated at all. We don't say Christian American.
Oh, RBR, the proper term for you is "Ikea-American." =)
We prefer "Dudelmuncher" thankyou very much.I know many people who think of themselves as Jewish are either not pracicing any religion or who only nominally do so. If someone wants to say that their Jewish identity is ethnic, I say let them.
Well, guess what? I want a button that says, "American-American."
While I don't see why "Jews for McCain" wouldn't suffice, I think the larger issue is: wouldn't it be a much better design if the logo's star were adjusted to be a Star of David?Speaking of "American-American", Matt Yglesias has copy of a map here showing the density of the 7% of people that, when asked their ethnicity, identified themselves as "American".
In answer to your first comment LTG, I think they're disturbing because they pigeon-hole so blatantly, and that just leads to divisiveness, rather than viewing all people simply as people.What if there isn't a badge (button if you must ;-p) for your particular group? Does that mean McCain doesn't want your vote? Is there one for "Gay Americans for McCain" for example? Or "elderly white golf gear salesmen"?...
Part of what I think is important about being an American is that I'm allowed to maintain a distinct ethno-cultural identity simultaneously with my identity as an American. I have to say I rankle a bit when I hear people insist that doing so bad for the country. Frankly, a look at the map Bob gave us a link to shows who is the source of this anti-ethnic view. The "I'm an American" crowd are from the least diverse parts of the country. They are from the areas dominated by Scotch-Irish (protestant) and English decent people. So I see the demands for being an "unhyphenated-American" as a movement of forced Anglification of non-Anglo Saxon peoples in this country. I grew up in the Midwest and my father's family has been in the Midwest since they came over from Denmark about 120 years ago. In the little towns they lived in, there were Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Germans, Bohemians (aka Czechs), Ukrainians, etc etc. Families maintain their distinct identities while still coming together as part of the same community.It never occured to me that my ethnicity would be a seriously divisive issue until I got to California. There I was rather bluntly informed that "White" was an ethnic group and that there was a huge chasm between "Whites" and everyone else. This isn't to say that I was unaware of racism until I got to California but I had always seen the solution as being acknowledging that every ethnic identity regardless of skin color or race was as legitimate as any other. But in California they've lost any but the most superficial roots of their identities. They are their skin color.In that disfunctional context I can see the appeal to US West of rejecting any ethnic idenitity. But in California only the most recent immigrants have much connection to their ethnicity. Most of the "White" people in California are lucky if they can trace their roots back to the part of the Midwest they fled when the Dust Bowl hit back in the 1930s.
Button #1. Some people are nervous about how it may sound to speak of "the Jews" so they use more cumbersome phrases like, "Jewish Americans." The phrasing here suggests strongly to me that the people who crafted this button are not Jews. To me, this button feels like a label one slaps on someone else, not a personal badge of pride.Obama's buttons, by contrast, really look like ones that a proud member of one of these communities would make for themselves. The Jewish button is actually in hebrew. (I do not know what it says, but I presume it is "Vote Obama" or something like that.)Or this Obama gay pride rainbow button. (Very gay. Not some drab white button in all caps.) Incidentally, one of Hillary's button, a black-and-white photo of her with the handwritten declaration, I'm your girl! is also very clearly the gay button :-)Or try this button, Latinos for Obama. Simple.Button #2. At a distance, one sees only two words on the second button, "McCain" and "Disabilities." Not the wisest graphical design, perhaps, for a man whose health is already such a concern that he had to release his medical records.Of course, it could just be the words, "... for McCain" that seem so bizarre :-)
The Hebrew button says, simply, "Barack Obama." It omits the word "Hussein" for some reason. And it would be WAY cooler if it gave the Jewish year rather than 2008...
RBR, I really think there's a difference between religion and identity. "Jews for McCain" rhymes with "Catholics for McCain." "Jewish Americans for McCain" is as weird as "Catholic Americans for McCain." But if you're a Christian, and think Christian is synonymous with "American", I can see why you would hyphenate "Jewish-American" but not "Christian-American." My point.I still don't see what the point is of a special button for disabled people. Is the context a McCain button on a person in a wheelchair so hard to miss that they have to spell it out?
With respect, LTG, I think you are wrong about how Jewish people see the relationship between their faith (or lack of it) and their identity. Certainly the racist policies directed against Jews by numerous European and North American societies are based on the assumption that Jewishness runs in the blood not in the spirituality of the individual.
I don't see anything wrong with the phrase per se since, as has been noted, different Jews perceive their Jewishness in many different ways. But I can't think of anyone I know who calls themselves a "Jewish American." So it seems an awkward, circumspect phrasing, as though the word "Jew" alone were somehow inadequate or inappropriate--or just not "patriotic" enough.
I had a professor once who talked about ethnic identity this way:"When I'm in Manhattan, I'm a Jew from Long Island. When I'm in D.C., I'm a Jew from New York. When I'm in Texas, I'm a Jew. When I'm in Israel, I'm an American."
I agree with your professor, except when I'm in another state, I'm a Texan. As far as ethnic identity goes, some people have lost theirs. I know my family has. We are English/Irish and the only thing we do is eat Roast Beef (rare-which is definetly not English) and Yorkshire pudding, mainly because my mom is a Canadian. Also it kind of sounds silly to say you're and English American.
And I can't really call myself a Canadian American.There's a Canadian joke:We could have had British Culture, French Food and American Know-how. Instead we have American Culture, British food and French Know-how.
"Also it kind of sounds silly to say you're and English American."This is the key to that map. I really get the impression that most people who object to hyphenation of ethnic identities come from the dominant, English/Protestant identity. For those of us from family backgrounds that are mostly NOT English, hyphenating is useful. Telling us not to do it is tantamount to ordering us to adopt the dominant English identity.
I must admit I still don't 'get' the whole thing of insisting on being labelled a something-American, instead of just an American, who can talk about their family being descended from wherever if the mood strikes them. Why this need to differentiate yourselves so markedly from each other?As you all know, I'm English, and I live in Australia. I believe that I will always consider myself to be English, even once I finally get citizenship here & an Aussie passport - it's where I was born and brought up, even if this (Aus) is where I now choose to call home. However, assuming I have little people at some point, they won't be English - they'll know that mummy is English and so on, but they will be Australian, because they'll be born & brought up here (they'll just be lucky enough to have dual passport rights from birth - an EU passport makes the compulsory Aussie trip to Europe that much easier!).
RBR, we could have a dialogue on this point indefinitely, but I have never known anyone who referred to himself as a "Jewish American." It sounds terribly contrived. Have you ever heard it? While Judaism is partakes both of being an ethnic identity and a religion, American Jews, at least, rarely view it as a nationality. Hence you might say "American Jew" to distinguish from "British Jew" or "German Jew." To say "Jewish American" is to suggest that, by itself, "Jewish" does not denote "American." This is obviously true with "Danish-American" - without the hyphenation, the "Danish" would leave no possibility of being American also. But "Jewish," like "Catholic" or "Baptist" or "Christian" or Hindu" is entirely compatible with being American, so the word "American" need not be repeated. Indeed, doing so implies that it was necessary. "Jews for McCain" should imply (American) Jews for McCain (why else would they care?). But "Danes for McCain" doesn't. Especially if you put a slash through any of the letters... =)
History Buff, I think "English-American" sounds contrived (to most Ameicans) only because they assume that Englishness is natural to Americans. The fact that our language is "English" confuses the issue. And where you are, in Texas, people have the odd habit of calling non-Chicanos "Anglos" even if their Irish ancestors would rankle at the epithet. On a larger note, this isssue matters because politics in America is so often about identity politics. A Republican says "Jewish American" rather than "Jew" because he/she has an assimilationist view. American is the primary identification, Jewish the exotic flavor. Those who embrace diversity will not quibble with someone who identifies himself as an American, but who simply calls himself a Jew, or an American Jew. Pombat, these issues are not part of your political world because your ethnicity is not contested. But imagine this. I view myself as an American who is ethnically a German-Polish-Jewish-Austrian-English-Scottish mutt. The technical terms are Milquetoast or Whitebread. I'm only part-WASP. In this case, the term "Jewish" refers to a nationality of sorts, to ancestors in Poland and Austria who identified themselves as Jews, and were excluded from ethnically identifying with the Polish and Austrian nations. If my lineage were less mixed, I might have more identification with a particular portion of it, as does RBR. But it ain't. My daughter can now add Swiss and Scots-Irish to the mix. I identify also, to a lesser extent, as Californian and an Angeleno. Ethnic identify and identity politics are a very complicated subject in America. My ancestors came here in the 18th and 19th centuries, and both my wife and I are (curiously) of a distant relation to the same Mayflower Pilgrim. The fact that we note these things matters too.What is my ethnicity, Pombat? If I say I am just an "American," what does it mean that Americans can also be black, brown, Asian, Native, of 350 years' history on this continent or arrived just yesterday? The word "American" can't denote anything about ethnicity, if ethnicity is about blood.
LTG - exactly what do you mean when you say that my "ethnicity is not contested"? I don't really understand the comment.Is the implication that I 'fit' in Australia, i.e. conform to one of the two types of 'Australian' that the uninformed world would recognise (thanks to Croc Dundee) - a white person in singlet top, shorts & 'thongs' (the sandal type shoes), on the beach with a beer, as opposed to the other type, the Aboriginals? Because they're not the only kinds of Australians - a large percentage of the demographic here are of Asian descent, there are people from all over Europe, all over the world basically. And they're all Australians - a good friend of mine is of Turkish descent for example, and has the passport to prove it, yet he would never call himself Turkish or Turkish-Australian - he considers himself to be Aussie.And this is one of the things that horrified me most about the Cronulla riots - white thugs who fit the 'Aussie' stereotype beating up anyone who didn't look like them, because they were therefore not Australian - the worst piece of footage I saw was a Lebanese-looking man reaching out to touch the Aussie flag some thugs had, saying "this is my flag too, I love this flag, I love this country, I'm Australian", and then getting punched. That's just not Australian.In answer to your last question though - if you just say that you are an "American", then to me that means that you come from America, that you are proud to be a part of your home country, your birth country, that you identify with the country, and all of your country men, regardless of whether they are "black, brown, Asian, Native, of 350 years' history on this continent or arrived just yesterday" (or indeed of thousands of years' history on that continent...).You raise an interesting question about exactly what ethnicity is though - if it's all about the blood, how far back do you trace that? Are we all, in fact, Africans?
Pombat asked, reasonably, "Why this need to differentiate yourselves so markedly from each other?" And it seems to me that she nearly put her finger right on it in the very next paragraph, where she described that she would, "always" consider herself English even if she becomes and Australian citizen.Let me try to speak only from the American viewpoint here. Americans have an unusual view of national and cultural. Depending on context, "English" can mean either of those things to us. There is of course the national identity of being "English"--by which we mean one feels allegiance to the United Kingdom. (We don't usually make the distinction, sorry!). Then there is also that grand "English" culture--the BBC and the Beatles and that famous closed politeness.Americans see the word "American" quite differently. Americans have a great deal of patriotic pride--a strong national identity. But to many of us--especially those who believe in a "pluralistic" society, "American" does not refer to a specific culture. We think of it as more of a patchwork of transplanted cultures. For example, Americans consider pizza to be "Italian" but we realize the sort of pizza made over here is quite different from the "authentic" stuff from the old country--ours is an Italian-American pizza, a transplanted and somewhat mutated culture that harks back to Italy.Oh sure, there are things like hamburgers and Coca-Cola which are American culture, but we think of that--wrongly or rightly--as a thin veneer that rests atop the much thicker and deeper cultures, our "roots." So what I am saying is, so far as many Americans are concerned, the word "American" gives a national identity, but only a thin cultural identity. We feel a loss. We call ourselves "Italian-Americans" in order to feel like we have a culture we belong to more than we get from just calling ourselves "American." Common family traditions brought over from a particular old country bring us together especially closely with at least some of our countrymen, and the American part joins us with the rest. So what I am saying in a nutshell is this: When Americans adopt a hyphenated identity, it is not because we are looking for things to differentiate ourselves, but rather because we are looking for something in common. These identities do not divide us, they unite us. This is my stab at our strange psychology. I hope it helps! We look upon people like you, Pombat, with some envy, because we feel you have inherited a full cultural legacy that will be yours forever, while we feel as Americans that our full cultural identity is something we must continually struggle to create.
One more thing. If you look at the unusual American view of national vs. cultural identity from our side, then you will see why (a) first-generation immigrants are Americans in the fullest sense of the word, whereas in many nations that is not so, and also why (b) anyone who would insist on retaining their old identity instead of the American identity (rather than keeping their old identity as a cultural identity in addition to their new American-ness) sounds kind of unpatriotic to us. Because "American" is far more a national identity than a cultural one, you do not have to choose one or the other--you can call out your pride in both your new national allegiance and the culture in which you were raised by being an "Italian-American."
Also, in this country we get pigeon-holed a lot. On just about every public document i.e. the census, social security, financial aid etc. They ask for and ethnicity. But what's really funny is the only choice I ever get is caucasian or anglo. Also Americans kind of consider themselves to be mutts a lot of times because of the mixtures of blood lines that we have here. My children are English/Irish/Spanish/Mexican/German/Polish/Lithuanian/French. Sometimes it's hard to find a culture to identify with, but since we live in San Antonio where the hispanic culture is so strong they identify most with that. But as Dr. S said it is a Tex Mex culture, not a Mexican culture. They are actually quite different.
Pombat, here's a long answer to a short question. What I meant by "your ethnicity is not contested" is this: Englishness is about as clean an ethnic and cultural identity as you can get. Englishness is largely a defined, not politically contested, term. If you were to emigrate to New Zealand or Thailand, you would not become New Zealander or Thai; you would remain English. You could live in Germany a hundred years and never become ethnically German. The term "American" doesn't work that way. People who come here become American. Sort of. American-ness, by contrast, is fraught with difficulty, in that it is neither culturally nor ethnically defined. Some want it to be; others don't. If American doesn't have any cultural or ethnic meaning, then what sort of ethnic or cultural identity can I have? Do I need one? Will a hypenated term like Danish-American fill the need? Why, in that context, does the term "Danish" have a clear cultural/ethnic meaning but "American" does not? Why do other countries get to have an ethnic or cultural identity, but we don't? In 1790, Crevecoeur famously asked, "Who, then, is this American, this new man?" Americans have been asking that question for a very long time. Debates about immigration in Great Britain are, therefore, different from those over here. For example, Brits don't really have terms like "Pakistani-English" or "Irish-English" or "Jewish-English." Such terms would, if they existed, probably refer to some sort of interbreeding, not to immigrants with no English blood. We struggle with one another over what it means to be an American. It's about who is in and who is out, and about what being "in" means. That is, in part, why American politics are so often about which candidate the electorate can identify with, rather than which policies we prefer. I mean, in Britain, nobody would take seriously the Oxbridge politicians calling each other elitist - here, it's a big deal.
Quick few answers/further questions (quick because it's late and my bed is calling).Dr.S: the reason I will always consider myself English isn't because I desperately want to *stay* English, and just English, but because I don't think I have the right to declare myself Australian, just because I've decided to move here. In my view, only people born in Aus really have the right to call themselves Aussies (and they would, rightly, laugh at me if I suddenly declared I was Aussie too). I'll update you if my views change in four years' time when I finally get my dual citizenship though.History Buff: going back just a few generations, I'm at least English, Welsh and possibly a bit French. We don't talk about the French bit though. And the only reason I'm English as opposed to British is that I like the rugby. If I wanted to go back further, I'm sure I could claim to be Danish (Vikings), Italian (Romans), and a whole host of other things. But so could most of the UK, so we don't.LTG: so, if I emigrated to the US, would I become American? And if I wouldn't, (a) why not, (b) what is the criteria for someone to become an American, in terms of their previous culture? Further, why is it that America has to be so flipping complicated compared to the rest of the world? Australia doesn't have these problems with having to label everybody xyz-Australian, and they're a younger culture than you lot (and just as mixed demographically, as you know). Equally, I've not heard of hyphenated Canadians (although feel free to correct me there - you live closer to them), nor hyphenated Kiwis. Why must being American be "about who is in and who is out" - why can't you all just be "in"? (assuming in is preferable to out!)Identity politics exist in plenty of other countries - hell, I knew someone who voted for Blair because she thought he was cute (yes, she was crazy, with very odd taste for an 18yo in 1998) - but this odd hyphenation thing, and insistence that identity politics are important in *our* country, don't seem to. So I still don't get it.(and still want to know if I'm an African or not ;-p)
Yes, Pombat, if you emigrated to the USA, you would become an American. We strongly believe that as soon as you become a citizen, you are as American as every other citizen. 100% yes. Or at least we believe it as a matter of political ideology even if, in our hearts, we really wonder if being "American" really has prerequisites of birth or culture at all. That's the whole issue we're talking about here! And, of course, although you would be 100% American, we wouldn't require you to give up your ethnic sense of Englishness. Nobody would think you less American for having high tea with digestive biscuits, or reading trashy tabloids that masquerade as national newspapers. Hence the hyphenation.For example, many people think speaking English ought to be a touchstone of being American. But America, for all the world thinks of us, is not monoglot. There are towns in Maine where everyone speaks French (I've been there). Cajuns in Louisiana too speak a French dialect as a native tongue. The Amish speak a German dialect as a native tongue. Then there are the few Indian groups (notably the Cherokee, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni) who still speak their native languages. The Chinese in chinatowns. Did you know that Chicago has more Polish speakers than any city except Warsaw? That Italian is the lingua franca of some neighborhoods in San Francisco and New York? And of course there are the millions of Spanish speakers here who are the current cause of so much angst. And then what is English? Black English? Southern English? This is what I mean by a contested identity. If all these people are Americans, then what does American really mean?That's what makes being American different from being English or French or Australian. That's why the whole notion of what it is to be an American is so fraught. As a matter of ideology (not sociology) we don't have a national culture. Our culture is (again, as a matter of ideology rather than sociology) something that comes from our families. On the other hand, it's something to be proud of. Isn't it sad to think that you could never become Australian, even if you moved there, took on Aussie citizenship, and had little upside-down children (Australians, I understand according to my poor American education, have to stand on their heads all the time)?
Pombat, it it so interesting to see how this hyphenation thing looks like from an outside vantage point! It is not something we hear much about.You asked why we cannot all just be "in" when it comes to being American, and this sort of confused me, because we are all "in" here. So maybe there was a misconception: being Italian-American does not mean you are only 50% American. You are still fully 100% American, but with the added bonus of a proud Italian heritage. As LTG, myself, and History Buff have tried to explain, Americans feel like we need that extra bonus because "American" by itself means only an thin, ill-defined, or contested cultural identity. (But as LTG conceded repeatedly, this is much more of an ideological point more than anything sociological.) LTG's list of the polyglot nature of America is fun to read and also instructive. The Australian experience is an interesting comparison. I was amazed at how multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual Melbourne was! There was a Chinatown, an Italian district, Vietnamese and Greek areas--all sorts of neighborhoods--and the population was as diverse as any American city. In fact, Wikipedia says over 1/3 of the city is in fact foreign-born, and only 70% speak English only at home. There was a time when America viewed itself as Australia views itself. What changed us was the racial and ethnic turmoil of the twentieth century: an ugly heritage of racism, discrimination, and slavery. It is critical--absolutely critical--to understand that hyphenation was not the cause of this divisiveness! Quite the opposite, this hyphenation business grew out of this time as an attempt to heal the divisions: hyphenation is an attempt to unite America as a "pluralistic" society that neither excludes minority groups nor forces them to conform to the economically and politically dominant WASP culture. It is no accident that the hyphenation is claimed proudly by people of Polish, Irish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican, and African cultural heritage--while at the same time the term "English-American" or "French-American" sounds a bit pretentious to us. This is because all of the aforementioned groups (and not the English or the French) were strongly singled out and persecuted during some unfortunate era in the past 150 years. Hyphenation is an attempt at balance. Hyphenation is not assigned to others to mark them as being "out". Rather, hyphenation is claimed for oneself as a badge of being 'in'. Except now being 'in' does not mean surrendering to the dominant culture--the hyphenation is there to ensure these persecuted cultural groups finally get a little respect!
And yes Pombat, we are all african under the skin. See Spencer Wells Genographic research at NationalGeographic.com.
I was just reading the Texas Politics Blog for the Houston Chronicle and they were talking about the state GOP convention. Apparently, at the convetion they are selling a black button with white lettering that says:If Obama wins ... will he still call it the White House?I love Texas but this is disgusting!! I sure hope no one bought it.
Oops I misquoted the button:If Obama is elected president ... will we still call it the White House.Which is even worse.
Good-oh, racism's alive and well. -sigh- I s'pose you'd get sued if you slapped everyone you saw wearing one of those?Why don't we hear much about Obama's mum? (she's white, right?) Is it because she wouldn't fit the media view that he's the "black" candidate, or is it a fear from his campaign that being half-caste would damage his black vote?LTG: so what you're saying is I'd become American instantly, and would no longer be 'allowed' to call myself English AT ALL, even if hyphenated? Even though that's where I was born, brought up & educated, that's where I became who I am?...I don't find it sad at all that I can't call myself Australian now - I've only just got here! It may be that over the course of my life here, with time, I will 'become' Aussie, although looking at other immigrants I know, not fully - I'll update you on that in 40yrs time - but the real test is always going to be who I cheer for in the Ashes :-)Dr.S: "As LTG, myself, and History Buff have tried to explain, Americans feel like we need that extra bonus because "American" by itself means only an thin, ill-defined, or contested cultural identity". That I find sad, that you don't feel your country has a cultural identity you can all belong to, and you instead all have to provide your own.You're right about Melbourne, and you're not the only visitor who's been surprised at the mix of peoples here (it's why the selection of food's so good) - someone once asked me why there were "so many Asians in Melbourne this week"...Maybe the reason neither older countries like the UK nor younger ones like Australia have the issues that America does in this regard is a little to do with timing. The UK has, basically, always been multicultural, and had non-racially-segregated slavery thousands of years ago - the Romans didn't give a stuff what colour their slaves were, and of course a particularly good, loyal slave could be granted freedom by a fond master, and eventually go on to be a full member of society. Whereas Australia was too young to have slavery, and to be honest, probably didn't need it, with the convict labour they started out with. The destruction of the aboriginal cultures was a massive sin, and the fact that it took so long to get to Sorry Day is shameful - the indigenous peoples are often referred to as aboriginal-Australians, but from what I understand, they prefer to call themselves by their clan names (e.g. the Wurrkbarbar clan, some of the traditional owners of Kakadu National Park), and the hyphenation is very much a white label.
Some ex-pats living in the US refer to themselves proudly as "British by birth, American by choice." That formulation is usually applauded here. So that's one way of being "English-American" without actually claiming that hyphenated identiy, which as I said is not a term in general use.Pombat writes, "That I find sad, that you don't feel your country has a cultural identity you can all belong to, and you instead all have to provide your own."Yes, I agree. But as I tried to explain, hyphenation is our attempt to respect the sub-cultures and transplanted cultures within America, rather than oppressing them and forcing them to conform to the economically and politically dominant culture. In time, as the wounds of past racism heal, I think the hyphenation will fade away: "American" culture will have become broad enough to encompass all of the wonderful heritages on display here without compromising them.
"In time, as the wounds of past racism heal, I think the hyphenation will fade away: "American" culture will have become broad enough to encompass all of the wonderful heritages on display here without compromising them."I hope so too :-)
I am delighted that racism is out in the open, actually. As Justice Brandeis said (or was it Cardozo, I forget), "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Justice Brandeis was speaking metaphorically, not as a medical doctor.
I truly believe that we have reached the point where technology has become one with our lives, and I think it is safe to say that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes cheaper, the possibility of uploading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about every once in a while.(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=http://knol.google.com/k/anonymous/-/9v7ff0hnkzef/1]r4i dsi[/url] DS OperaV2)
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