HORIST: Is the hyphen destroying the American culture?
The answer to the title question is a definitive “probably.” It started innocently enough. Newly arrived immigrants were identified with the new status as American citizens and the nation of their birth.
The women’s movement decided that taking the last name of the male marriage partner was sexist Initially, I viewed it as more of a Hispanic tradition where such name connecting has had a long history. Personally, I never thought my mother less of a woman because she followed the custom of taking the family name of my father, but that is just me.
Like many parents, we preserved family names by using them as middle names. Hence, my first born carries his mother’s maiden name “Kelly” as his middle name and my daughter carries my mother’s maiden name “Trendel” as her middle name. But, that is just us.
I am not terribly bothered by the hyphenated name, like that of the former Democrat National Chair Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz – an ironic combination of iconic Jewish and German names.
The hyphen in more recent years, however, has come to be divisive. It became more the custom of the left-wing feminists. It is sort of like putting an “I am a liberal” tattoo on your forehead – Wasserman-Schultz case in point.
Even worse, America is increasingly obsessed with preventing the melting pot from doing its work by keeping alive our nationality or so-called race differences. When does the hyphenated ancestry drop off? One, two, three generations? When does it get diluted into simply American? Seems only logical that you should have the pedigree of at least fifty percent nation of origin to claim the right to the hyphen.
For generations, government forms insisted that we allege a primary nationality, such as Italian-American, Mexican-American or Polish-American. When such diverse designations were too cumbersome to manage politically and governmentally, we started a less precise but more politically useful designation, such as African-American, Hispanic-American or Asian-American.
In making these designations, politics trumped genetics. The most notable example is President Obama, who is officially designated as an African-American even though he is fully one-half Caucasian. His mother, Ann Dunham, is more or less officially “white” because hyphenating her as an English/German/Swiss/Scottish/Irish/Welsh-American was too much for the space on those government forms. In fact, she is the product of so many nationalities that she is almost un-American. That’s because no one can be allowed to be simply an American in the new paradigm.
I have a similar problem myself. I am according to documents mostly Austrian with Polish, Hungarian and Ukrainian influences. I often think of myself as an internal border dispute. I recently had my DNA analyzed and confirmed that I am 99 percent central European and … (wait for the drum roll) … one percent Nigerian. People like Ann Dunham and myself are often referred to as mongrels. However, that is far too pejorative of a destination to be used officially. Mongrel-American? Really?
Most blacks in America are unique in that they mostly have no national heritage back in Africa. They really do not know whether their family tree originated in Nigeria, Ghana or Somalia. But they are at least all Africans. Or are they?
My black daughter was born in Jamaica – as were her ancestors as far as the family tree can be traced. When entering Knox College, the professor of the new African Studies department said that she would be enrolled in the course, so she could identify with her ancestry – especially since she was being raised in an insensitive honky white family. Okay! That is not exactly what he said, but he might as well have.
I explained that she was actually Jamaican. Spoke Jamaican. Cooked Jamaican. Even dressed with a Jamaican flair at times. The professor condescendingly explained to me that her ancestors most assuredly came to Jamaica from Africa as slaves. My God! That was likely more than 300 years ago. If we apply that same principle to the descendants of our Founders, they should still be referred to as British-Americans.
Unfortunately, in modern politically correct, identity politics America, it is how you look that determines African ethnicity – of even Asian or Hispanic, for that matter. I mean, Egyptians, Libyans, South Africans who migrate to the United States are not allowed to be African-Americans even though they are. We do not call citizens here from mother Russia as Asian-Americans, but they are as much as are Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants.
This may be a bit of a digression, but I just wondered why a lot of southerners are not designated as Confederate-Americans. If you can trace your ancestry back to the days when Texas was an independent nation, are you a Texas-American? Is that any sillier than asking people living in America what their ancestry is so we can hyphenate them into a political category – but not asking them if they are a citizen?
More recently, that innocent looking hyphen has surfaced as the symbol of politically correct censorship. It not only replaces pejoratives in polite conversation, but it upends the accuracy of history. Most notably, of course, is that ubiquitous n-word.
Once quotation marks faithfully represented precision in expressing exactly what a person said. Today that is unacceptable. President Lyndon Johnson once said that passing the war on poverty measure would “keep the (n-words) voting Democrat for 200 years.” Today, it is in bad form to accurately quote him. So, we employ the infamous hyphenated euphemism.
This tendency to soften the words of history led me to wonder what the language might be like if the hyphen advances unrestrained. I imaged a police report involving a fight between gang bangers. As one participant tells it:
“I was standing on the corner with my (b-word) when the mother (f-word) comes up to me and tells me to get my (a-word) off his corner. I tell him (f-word) you. He said if I did not move, he was going to kick the (s-word) out of me. At that time my (b-word) tells him to (f-word) off. He says I better tell that (c-word) to keep her (f-word) mouth shut. He then says, okay you (n-word) (a-word) hole.
It seems in America, the only purpose of the hyphen is to replace reality with politically imposed designations. Maybe, in these days of social media, we need a hashtag, #banthehyphen.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.