On the John
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on October 16, 2001
Please check one: White-American, African-American, Latino-American, Pacific Islander-American, European-American, Asian-American, Native-American, Jewish-American, American. Confused? So am I. It’s time we get rid of these terms that divide our country. We are Americans.
Sure I’m white. But what does “white” mean? I don’t celebrate any white holidays. The holidays I celebrate are Thanksgiving and 4th of July. These aren’t white holidays; they’re American holidays. I cheer during fireworks just like any American, regardless of ethnicity.
Blacks and Whites are considered the two biggest races in America, but they are merely groups that have been constructed with the boundaries of money, power, and skin color. After all, the first European settlers had been living here for close for 200-300 years before the great European migrations during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Yet descendents of Britain from 1620 and descendents of Russia from 1920 would both be categorized as white today.
If anything positive has come out of September 11th, it is the way we have embraced our country and all it stands for. Seeing the flags the past month has made me feel like an American first, and a 19-year-old Jewish male second. Even with all of the hypocrisy, injustice, poverty, and violence in this country, I would still rather live here than any other place in the world. We are a country made up of people from all over the world, and that makes us unique. Aside from Native-Americans, everyone who lives here came over at some point from another country, be it by choice or by force.
One of the idealistic customs of this nation is to celebrate diversity, but we cannot do that until we first recognize what makes us the same. We are tied together by all that is American, both good and bad. We are tied together by American holidays and American values. After we realize that we are the same, we can then celebrate and discuss all of the ways we are different. I am not suggesting that people shut away their ethnicity. Instead, I would like people to stop seeing their ethnicity as something that makes everyone extraordinarily different. An important part of being American is that we are so different from each other.
Race is an issue that frightens a lot of people, mainly because when speaking about it one can unintentionally come off as “racist,” when in fact they are just uninformed. I am not an expert on the subject of race, but I am an expert on myself, just like everyone else. Since the best way to solve a problem is by talking about it, I would like to give everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts. What does your ethnicity mean to you? Do you relate more to what makes you American or what makes you ethnic? What do you think about the terms Black and White? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will display some of the best letters in my column next week.
As we have seen this past month, there are a lot of problems in the world. But there are also a lot of problems in the U.S. that must be addressed first so that we can be unified when we confront those world problems. The country is listening. Start talking.
Copyright 2001, jm silverstein