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For example, people in the USA like dividing themselves up into groups such as "Country-of-Origin-American".

  • Irish-American
  • Swedish-American
  • African-American
  • Spanish-American
  • Chinese-American

Why don't they simply call themselves "Americans"? No other people does this. Is this divisive or does it help establish comfortable groups for different ethnicities to reside in?

EDIT: Many people have pointed out that the statement "no other people does this" is not accurate. However, I shall leave the statement in the original question to keep the answers relevant.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Philipp Jun 7 '18 at 12:32
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    You guys missed the giant comment thread that has been moved to chat. People have already agreed that USA-ians are widely accepted as "Americans", while other groups do not call themselves "Americans" casually. – Shadowfax Jun 8 '18 at 12:43
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    Just a side comment--Argentinians proudly call themselves Americans, but to call a Canadian an American is considered an insult. Go figure. – Jennifer Jun 8 '18 at 20:39
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    I think there's a sense of wanting to be recognized for your hyphen. Most people are proud of their heritage and don't want to lose it. – n00dles Jun 9 '18 at 20:51
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    And why don't we all call ourselves humans? I guess we like segregating ourselves into labels. – Carvo Loco Jun 10 '18 at 13:34

15 Answers 15

131

"...people in the USA like dividing themselves up into groups..."

Not everybody in the US likes this or does this.

Despite my heritage (there are many hyphenated identities I could apply), I am simply an American.

There is a tendency, often seen in the news media and liberal interest groups, to categorize people into ethnic, racial, religious, gender-based or other sub-groups. However, many Americans reject this collectivist approach to identity, preferring instead to focus on the importance of each individual.

So I would disagree with the premise of your question. Only some people in the US use hyphenated American identities. Others are proud to be simply American.

As to the reasons why people use these terms, they vary wildly. In the early 20th century, referring to people as "German-American" or "Irish-American" was often meant to offend. In current day political campaigns, the terms "African-American", "Hispanic-American" and "Asian-American" are used to categorize electoral blocks. Ethnic pride is another reason. There are countless others.

90

No other people does this.

The USA has a fairly unique history in that the majority of its population are immigrants or descendants of relatively recent immigrants.

In many other countries, this is not the case. If we take the UK as an example, the whole of the population are descendants of immigrants, but for the majority, this immigration happened many hundred or thousands of years ago. I don't think any current UK resident can realistically claim to be a Saxon-British, Viking-British or a Norman-British - and these terms are not really used.

I imagine that many people might self-identify as {origin}-British who immigrated from commonwealth countries or from Europe - or who are descended from recent immigrants from those places.

However there are still distinctions in identity that are important for most UK residents. Many will strongly identify as Scottish, Welsh, Irish, English or as Yorkshiremen etc.

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    Citizens of England may not use those terms, but some of 'em still know their heritage. I met one in the North who told me, "Now, them Normans, they didn't come up this way too often. We was a bit rough for them." – Solomon Slow Jun 6 '18 at 16:59
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    There are many other countries that have similar, if not greater, ethnic/cultural differences than the US. As far as I can see, the big difference is that they usually don't even bother to hyphenate their group with the name of the country. – jamesqf Jun 6 '18 at 19:09
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    > However there are still distinctions in identity that are important for most UK residents. Many will strongly identify as Scottish, Welsh, Irish, English or as Yorkshiremen etc. To be fair, that's more like the fact that I identify as American, but also more usefully identify as Californian. – neminem Jun 6 '18 at 20:58
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    Some more examples to add to this good answer: Catalans could be thought of as Catalan-Spaniards, Bavarians as Bavarian-Germans, Flemings as Flemish-Belgians, Romands as French-Swiss etc. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 7 '18 at 8:20
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    Out of interest, I have seen the terms "British Asian" or "Black British" used in media, but never actually encountered anyone who classifies themselves as such. Generally I find immigrants stick to their country of origin as a nationality, and people who were born and grew up in Britain with foreign parents will say they're "British" if asked. That might differ between location and generation though. For example, I suspect London might be a different case. – Pharap Jun 7 '18 at 17:51
52

Other people do that. Eg in Germany there are "Russlanddeutsche" (Germans from Russia, which are considered "Volksdeutsche") or "Deutschtürken" (People from Turkey that emigrated to Germany themselves, or that have ancestors that did).

You probably hear this more in the US though as it has more large groups of immigrants (or in the case of African-Americans, people who were kidnapped and enslaved). Many other countries are more racially or ethnically homogeneous.

Note also that your list of groups contains very different groups. "African-American" eg is often just another term for "black", while "Irish-American" is mostly about immigration history. You will hear the former a lot more because race is still an issue because of racism.

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Immigration Recency

As others have mentioned, America is a country of Immigrants. To some extent, so are many other countries, including the UK, but differences exist. In the US, the native population is very, very small relative to (historically) more recent immigrants. Not so in most Old World countries. Secondly, a great many of the people here are recent immigrants, the sons or daughters of recent immigrants, or something similar. A big part of being American is the dual pride, pride in your country as the best in the world (however misplaced), and pride in your heritage.

Effect of Heritage on Life

Throughout American history and through to the modern day, what ethnic group you belong to could have a huge influence on where you live, what you eat, what you speak, who you spend your time with, and what job you work. The important things in life, what you spend most of your hours doing (eating, sleeping, working, family life), it all depends to some extent on your cultural and ethnic heritage. Not everybody lives a life so strongly influenced by heritage, but many do.

Staying Connected

One side of my family has been in the Americas going back centuries. The other side came over not less than 30 years ago. I speak both languages, I am a citizen of both countries, and I feel strong ties to both nations. Our family has hosted cousins, brothers, and uncles coming over for work or for pleasure, and we have been hosted in the same way. The connection between our family and the other nation is very strong indeed, and my family is not atypical.

The Feeling of Belonging

Sure, especially as you move farther from the coast and into more rural towns, you find less of the recent immigrant experience, but it is not gone. And sure, there are many "Plastic Paddies" and Cinco de Mayo Latinos, who only join the experience once or twice a year for fun. I do not resent that, and I love to think of folks can share this experience. Part of being American, built into the "American" identity, is the idea that you are from somewhere.

We do not have centuries of ties to our land, and we move often. No one wants Very few people want to feel adrift, to feel like you are from nowhere, belonging nowhere. By holding onto your heritage, you can move across the nation and still feel at home. I would say that identifying with another country makes you MORE American, not less.

It is not hard to see why we still strongly and proudly identify as immigrants and as Americans.

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    America is a country? If I'm not wrong, America is a continent. People from Canada or Chile are also American people. I don't know why some people from USA consider American only them. – Sigur Jun 7 '18 at 14:03
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    @Sigur You're the one with the misconception, not the whole USA. In English, "America" is a VERY common shortened term for the USA. Whether you believe it should be is, frankly, irrelevant. It's how people speak. That's just how language works. Because no other major country has "America" in its name, Americans call themselves Americans and they frequently call the country America. It's not that Americans only consider themselves to be inhabitants of the American continent, they just don't think of the continent as "America". It's "North and South America" to them. Now you know! – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jun 7 '18 at 17:53
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    @Sigur I used the term America(n) because that is what is used in the question. Later on in the answer, I use the Americas in the sense of the American continents. I absolutely do not intend to claim some sort of monopoly on the term. – Dent7777 Jun 7 '18 at 18:03
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    @Sigur The full name might be aptly applied to other federations like Mexico or Brazil (making "the" dubious), Hawaii isn't in either America continent, and we seem to be less united every year, but it would probably be less hassle to change the continents to Vespucciland than get us to change. – user9389 Jun 7 '18 at 23:08
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    @Sigur, I understand that. What you need to understand is that that's just your opinion, nothing more, and your personal opinion doesn't mean anything at all. What matters is what people actually say. That's how language works. Sorry if you don't like it, but people from the USA are Americans and the USA is commonly known as America. That's just reality, and there's nothing you can do about it. There's no point trying to "convert" people on a web forum. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jun 8 '18 at 16:45
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I think you are focusing too much on the formal aspect of the language term here. Not all the XXX-American groups are alike.

Most XXX-Americans consider themselves just Americans in everyday life, and only bring out the XXX in the rare situations when it matters.

Expressed somewhat flippantly: nobody describes themselves as Irish Americans except on St. Patrick's day. And nobody describes themselves as German American except in October.

On the other hand, African American has become the primary designator for the group after several other terms fell out of favor/were frowned upon - even to the point that it's sometimes even used for non-Americans. I've heard Naomi Campbell (British) and Desmond Tutu (South African) described as "African American". I've also seen a few Web sites only offer "African American" as an option despite targeting a worldwide audience.

Another difference is that most of the XXX-American terms refer to very specific, usually small, regions, such as individual countries, rather than to whole continents. Nobody would talk about "European-Americans", but we do talk about African-Americans (and Asian-Americans).

"African American" is more comparable, in terms of how it is used, to "Hispanic" or "Caucasian" than to "Irish-American" or "German-American" or "Japanese-Americans". It just happens to fit a similar pattern.

A third difference is that "African-American" actually tends to refer to skin color rather than origin - descendants of Australian Aboriginals in the USA might well end up being described as "African American".

Since not all the XXX-American terms are alike, I don't think that there can be a general answer to your question.

Edited to add:

One other interesting example here is Barack Obama, who famously described himself as "Kenyan American" which more directly parallels terms such as Irish American.

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    Africa and Asia are both bigger than Europe... maybe rephrase that fifth paragraph a bit? – Tin Man Jun 6 '18 at 18:23
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    European-American is typically pronounced "white" – user9389 Jun 6 '18 at 20:41
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    @notstoreboughtdirt That's exactly my point. That's what makes African American fundamentally different from, say, Irish-American, despite the superficially similar linguistic structure. – Kevin Keane Jun 7 '18 at 16:41
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    @KevinKeane With the addition of your comment I can kinda make sense of what you're going for, but on initial reading, it sounds like "these terms refer to small regions, like Africa or Asia, rather than large regions like Europe." – Tin Man Jun 7 '18 at 16:46
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    I'd have to be shown some evidence that aboriginal Australians in the US are called "African-American" by anyone other than those who aren't familiar with their background. – Obie 2.0 Jun 8 '18 at 1:12
10

Most "other people don't do this", because they don't need to. They live in different kinds of countries.

Most nations around the world, since the late 19th Century, and particularly in Europe since the 1919 Paris Peace Conference after the end of WWI, are organized around the concept of the Nation State. The idea behind this is that the country contains a certain common culture of people, and prefereably all of them. Thus being "French" simultaneously designates a person's language, ethnicity, and citizenship status. Ideally for a Nation-State, there is no difference whatsoever between the three.

One of the drawbacks for this is that, to many people, this is a permanently exclusive concept. If you think this way, a dark skinned African from Senegal might move to Poland, but he can never become "Polish". Nothing he can do will ever make him ethnically Polish. If he's too old to effectively learn the Polish language, that makes him automatically not Polish no matter what he looks like*.

The Untied States is not a Nation State. Our organizing principle is not an ethnicity, or a language, but rather an agreement to abide by a shared set of ideals. There are rules of course, but within them anyone from anywhere can come to the US, go through the process, and become an "American".

But because the country is not a Nation State "American" doesn't specify an ethnicity. The word says absolutely nothing about ethnicity, and only a little about language (Most Americans feel compelled to learn AmE English as a practical matter, but not all do).

So this means if you want a term that specifies ethnic background for an American rather than simple citizenship, you are forced to use the appropriate hyphenated term.

* - Another drawback to this is it makes the difference between a language and a dialect, which should be a simple matter left to linguists, into a huge political football that has been known to drive wars.

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    Good answer. I would point out that even when European Immigration was at it's height, communities of similar national backgrounds would form. It's not uncommon for major cities to hold "litlle nations" neighborhoods like Little Italy, China Town, Little Havana, where the communities lived. One of the most active immigrant communities were the Germans who organized massive community networks until two world wars made being German not something to celebrate. – hszmv Jun 7 '18 at 16:45
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    Your first paragraph seems to suggest that the United States was not envisioned as having a shared common culture. The founding fathers (if their writings are to be taken as their views) would probably disagree. The idea that new arrivals would change the local culture (IE: melting pot) with their addition, instead of adapt to the shared culture, is a relatively new concept from the early 1900s, one that didn't start to effect politics till the late 1900s. – Jack Of All Trades 234 Jun 8 '18 at 13:57
  • @JackOfAllTrades234 - How the USA came to be this way is a really interesting (and probably endlessly debatable) story. I might even be convinced to go into it, if someone asks that question on the History site. However, for the purposes of this question on this site, the only thing important is how it is today. – T.E.D. Jun 8 '18 at 14:53
  • I am not sure if France and French are the best example of the opposite approach as the French nation emerged by melting many different groups of people. That didn't happen in areas like the Austrian Empire where even within the small Kingdom of Bohemia Czechs and Germans became sharply divided. Actually the Deutsch-böhme can even be an example of a group from the original question, although defined mainly using their language (and only theoretically using ethnicity as too much mixing and germanization of Slavs happened). – Vladimir F Jun 10 '18 at 21:49
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    @VladimirF - Actually, I think its a great example for that reason. At its founding the entire lower third of the country's predominant dialect was much closer to the language spoken in Barcelona than it was to the dialect that is now standard French. "French" being descriptive of a language, a country, and a people all at the same time (IOW: The existence of a "French nation") is a fiction. Probably no "nation" in the world is 100% purely that. But in the case of "French" its a fiction most of the world has bought into. – T.E.D. Jun 11 '18 at 22:23
9

The phrase "_____-American" mostly gained traction when trying to find a kinder way to describe people of Africa descent while still acknowledging that history. While certainly other countries use similarly awkward phrases, it is uniquely appealing int he USA because of high national pride, among the highest in the world, and the fact "American" is not a race.

People identify as having a rich racial history, while still wanting to be a proud American. Rather than race and nationality being the same, they are very different here (and many other places are recognizing their own country's diversity in a similar way). These kinds of phrases try to encapsulate both, because in many historical contexts a nation, culture, and race were all the same, and this attempts to respond to that.

That said, it is just as often a term applied to people by others, rather than an individual feeling the need for such a clarification about themselves.

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    African-American came about because Jesse Jackson wanted to be a hyphened American like the Irish-Americans and other hyphened Americans that exist in the New England area. When this happened in the 1980's, it was the right and place for the meme to spread and stick. – Walter Jun 9 '18 at 0:25
  • @Walter Good to know! Learn something everyday! – wedstrom Jun 12 '18 at 16:21
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Most countries do this in some form or another. Every nationality consists of multiple cultures. Sometimes it is class based, sometimes religion, tribe or race. Sometimes, like in the UK, people are divided up based on their accents.

Why do some people divide others up like this?

Some people do it to try and take advantage of our human instinct for tribalism. Some people can't persuade others with arguments, so they break Americans up into blocks, undermining their country in an attempt to get votes.

Some people do it to get some perceived status. For most of history, people might pretend to have more aristocratic origins - or pretend their family have been in the country/town for longer than they have. In the USA, among some circles of people, the more aggrieved groups you can claim to be a part of, the higher your social status. These people might be noisy, but they are not nearly as plentiful as they like to think.

Sometimes, though, it's just an easy way to talk about things. There are differences between X-Americans. Even between groups of white-picket-fencers. Take 4 people, divide them up into two groups, and there will be differences. We shouldn't be afraid to talk about them.

  • The difference between "meaningful groups" and "bullshit groups" are whether anything changes if you paint the borders differently. In your example, if you choose different two groups from those 4 people, do the groups make more sense? If I have 4 people and divide them based on hair color, any conclusions about their rail-modelling skills I attribute to each of these groups are going to be purely accidental. On the other hand, if I divide them based on their rail-modelling experience, those attributions are going to be accurate - while attributions of "rail-modelers are blonde" are silly. – Luaan Jun 7 '18 at 6:51
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"American" usually denotes nationality ( in the sense of "American nation"). XXX-American is used to describe ethnic origin. So the terms are not interchangeable -- at border control, for example, you will simply be recorded as "American", if it is your citizenship, regardless of your ethnicity.

As to why people wish to indicate that they (or others) are of specific ethnicity, there can be a ton of reasons.

This seems to happen in all countries, by the way, where this distinction is culturally or otherwise important. Even in my small country there are in the passports different entries for nationality/ethnicity (eg. Latvian, Russian) and citizenship (Latvian).

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    It may be worth noting that in many countries and/or languages, "nation" and "nationality" are used to denote the concept that is in the USA known mostly as "ethnicity"; in the US, "nationality" is typically a near-synonym to "citizenship," denoting a purely legal construct ("nationals" may have fewer rights than "citizens," as they do in US law and in Mexican law). This answer could be confusing to readers who are unfamiliar with these differences in usage. – phoog Jun 11 '18 at 17:40
  • @phoog It was exactly because citizenship is not 100% equal to nationality, that I used the clarification ('in the sense of "American nation"'). It is open to debate whether a resident or a national can be considered "American" (as opposed to citizen) in common usage. In my opinion, definitely "yes", regardless of what would be the possible legal constructs, but I am sure there will be opposing opinion. I am quite aware that nationals/residents/citizens can and have different legal rights, but that does not seem to be what OP is asking about. – Gnudiff Jun 12 '18 at 17:14
  • I was principally alluding to the use of the word "nation" as it was used, e.g., in the phrases "German nation" or "Italian nation" before Germany or Italy came into being. This is the sense of "nationality" whereby a citizen of Latvia may have Russian "nationality" without having legal ties to or status in the Russian state. In US formal usage, though, such a person's "nationality" could only be described as Latvian; to describe the person's Russian aspect the usual term would be "ethnicity." In my experience many people are unaware that "nationality" can have these rather different senses. – phoog Jun 12 '18 at 18:33
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When demographics of Americans have unequal political power, unequal wealth, and unequal justice under the law (in America, they do); you can't speak about these inequalities without having terminology to address the demographics.

Also, there have been many kinds of minority underclasses that face discrimination in other countries and have identifiable demographic names. It is dishonest to try to claim that this is a situation unique to the United States. For example, during the Holocaust, when there was a genocide directed at Jewish Germans, it would have been asinine to say "I don't see ethnicity. All I see is that some Germans are killing some other Germans, and there doesn't seem to be a methodical pattern to who is killing who. Let's please not get hung up on the fact that it's the Nazis doing the killing and the Jews who are getting killed, because that just divides us." There's the genocide of Rohingyas in Myanmar. The genocide of homosexuals in Chechnya. The racial discrimination and segregation of black South Africans committed by white supremacist South Africans during Apartheid. Again, it would be asinine to say "Look, I don't see race. Forget about who is doing the discrimination, forget who is being segregated against. All I see is that some South Africans are discriminating against some other South Africans for some unknown reason. Let's not get hung up on the whole Apartheid. Let's not bother identifying the problem, let's not eliminate the problem, let's just come together under a false sense of unity while the discrimination continues."

As far as using terminology like "African American" to denote a demographic, this is about as scientifically accurate and precise of terminology as you're going to get, and it came after a lengthy succession of disparaging slurs being part of mainstream use. After society was all too comfortable to call them *****s, ******s, ********s, *****s, etc. and no one questioned any of these slurs, now that there is finally mainstream acceptance of a scientifically accurate and respectful demographic term, suddenly we have to do away with using any demographically identifying terms. But the racists in power who continue to do the oppressing have not stopped seeing Americans as blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, gays, "libtards," etc. When the majority in power is still seeing Americans as being divided into separate wedges whom they can oppress, then the minorities themselves who are oppressed can't afford to be color blind and ignorant of the cause of the oppression.

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    Starring out those words makes no sense. Either spell out the words, or remove that part altogether and shorten to something like “… call them various slurs”. – chirlu Jun 7 '18 at 21:47
  • I'm clear how distinguishing between European ancestries fits into this. – user9389 Jun 7 '18 at 22:36
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The unusual part of the phrase "Irish American" is not the statement the one is of Irish decent, it is the assertion that one is also American. Identifying with one's country of birth or ancestral home is very common through the world. For example, Algerians in Paris are refer to themselves as Algerian even when they have French citizenship.

America is generally proud of being a nation of immigrants. Americans also have a strong sense that their shared set of civic beliefs are noble and good. Public displays of patriotism are very common in American society. It is therefore normal that as immigrants integrate into American society people want to assent that they are Americans while also recognizing the immigrant community the are a member of. Becoming an American is often a very important event in peoples lives. The naturalization ceremony often has the pomp and circumstance of a religious right of passage.

Contrast this with Britain. There are many immigrant communities in Britain. They are Indian or Jamaican, not Indian British or Jamaican British. This is not because they are less British, it is because the British is implied. Britain was a nation of empire. Immigrants to Britain were always British. It just goes without saying that an Indian in Leeds is also British. This assumption that people in the community are British extends to immigrants who not from the Common Wealth.

Britain does have the peculiar phenomena of people identifying with their locality and ethic group. Someone may be an East Ender (from east London) and Pakistani. This is not new, the topflight “London Irish” ruby team was founded in 1898.

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In part because to many being "American" means being white and Christian. Historically, the right kind of white and Christian. "Hyphenated-American" is a reminder that we are a nation of immigrants, not just white Christians. It's a reminder that there are very much two Americas.

As each immigrant wave comes to America they undergo a sort of hazing period by the previous immigrants who are now "American". Each of the groups you mention (except maybe the Swedes) underwent, or are still undergoing, this. The Irish, black people (doesn't matter where you're from, you're seen as "black"), "Mexicans" (again, doesn't matter where you're from, you're seen as "Mexican"), "Asians", Italians, Germans, Poles and other Slavs, Jews... It goes beyond race. LGBTQ, Catholics, "Muslims" (which can be any number of central Asian religions)... And the Native American holocaust we perpetrated.

"Hyphenated-American" labels have their own problems. They can be used as politically correct tools of discrimination via othering, lumping groups of people together to over-simplify and dismiss them. Many black Americans point out that they aren't from Africa, their heritage is from the Carribean, or South America, or Europe. Or their families were slaves and their culture and history destroyed and forgotten. They're just "black". "African-American" lumps together all black people no matter what they consider their heritage to be. Many "Asian-Americans" point out that lumping "Asians" together wipes out the cultural distinctions between the diversity of Asian culture: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Mongol, etc. Instead it allows them all to be lumped together as "Asians" who all act the same according to whatever caricatures and stereotypes go along with that, "all look same". "Muslims" cover 1.8 billion people with a huge diversity of sects and beliefs, but "Muslim" in the US can be used as shorthand for "radical Islam".

So even these labels are fragmenting into more refined versions according to the push and pull of cultural unity vs distinctiveness. These refinements can be used to educate the rest of the population and break their ideas of cultural homogeneity.

Most of these are still ongoing. Some groups have transcended and gained the privilege to be "American". Mostly older white immigrant groups (Irish, Italian, German, Slavic) and Christian sects, particularly the Catholics. The rest continue to live with individual or systemic discrimination and the knock-on effects of old discriminatory policies.

For example, Oregon has a long history of persecuting black citizens and Asian immigrants. Here in Portland, Oregon those scars are still there in how the population of the city is laid out and segregated with the black population still concentrated in one quarter (and rapidly being pushed out by gentrification) and why Portland, Oregon is still the whitest city in the US.

As another example, this 115th Congress is the most diverse... which means it's 80% white representing just 60% of the population. In 1984 it was 94% white representing 80% of the population. On the religious end, 90% of the 115th Congress is Christian while only 70% of the country is. Much of this comes from grossly underrepresenting Atheists and non-religious people: 23% of the population, only 1 representative in Congress.

For myself, as a third-generation American from Irish, German, and Italian grandparents, and someone who studies history, I've seen how my own racial heritage went from persecuted to accepted to "American". As an atheist I grew up during an era when atheism went from the next worst thing to "devil worshiper" to acceptable. But Atheists aren't yet "American". God is still on our money and our pledge (introduced in the 1950s). The 23% of the population that is "unaffiliated" gets 1 national representative.

So to some, saying "let's just call ourselves American" says "let's pretend none of that ever happened" or "let's pretend that's all in the past" or "let's pretend we're all white and Christian". Let's pretend we're "post-racism" when clearly we are not.

Saying you're a "Hyphenated-American" is not divisive. Instead it highlights the existing and historical divisions caused by historical and ongoing discrimination in the US. Rather than sweep the problems under the rug and accept the status quo, a status quo in favor of "Americans", and pretend we're united as "Americans", it reminds us that there's still a lot of work to do to bind these wounds. And it probably will never end.

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    "highlights the existing and historical divisions ": True, and +1, but a more optimistic way of looking at it is as a way for people to preserve and communicate their cultural heritage while also being American. Americans can celebrate Diwali, the feast of San Gennaro, or whatever as well as Independence Day, and they can cook Spätzle or Pad Thai or whatever in addition to typically "American" food. Telling a new acquaintance that you're "Something-American" is an efficient way to suggest that certain cultural elements are near and dear to your heart. – phoog Jun 11 '18 at 17:52
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If you push out all the indigenous peoples, then, by definition you are a nation of immigrants. "Americans" is not adequate because the Americans are only Americans through immigration.

National origin becomes a bit relevant, at least early on, because immigrants bring their cultures with them.

Up until recently, the United States at least pretended to embrace immigrants, even if the reality was somewhat short of the ideal.

  • There's been a legacy of oppression, genocide, and displacement against indigenous civilizations in the Americas, but they certainly haven't all been pushed out. – Obie 2.0 Jun 8 '18 at 4:26
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    @Obie - they haven't been exterminated, but it's not like there is a shared governance going on. They have zero voice in the government of the nation, and their own tribal governance is strictly allowed at the whims of the US federal government (huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/12/…). It's not like they picked the most prime real estate and said "we're going to keep this for ourselves." So, yeah, pushed out. When you talk about "America," the Native Americans have zero say in what that is, which is what I was focusing on when I say "pushed out." – PoloHoleSet Jun 8 '18 at 13:32
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Is this divisive

It's only divisive to those that like to make it divisive. Those people tend to support discrimination against groups but like to paint it in a different light.

ie, they're not "against gays" but "for religious freedom".

ie, they're not "against black Americans" but "support those in Blue".

Etc.

Essentially, recognizing them as distinct groups--who are often discriminated against--weakens their arguments for supporting discrimination.

or does it help establish comfortable groups for different ethnicities to reside in?

That's perhaps a small part of it, but your question implies an either-or scenario. Which is simply false. Anyone that calls themselves *-American also calls themselves American.

We're a very diverse society.

0

people in the USA

United States of America. The "of" is important. Nations exist within America which predate the United States. The United States is but one of many nations in what is loosely called "america", "amerika", or "amaraka", et. al, etc.

The concept of america predates the Constitution of the United States, which is the founding document of the United States.

There are 562 federally recognized sovereign Indian Nations in what is now called the United States whom predate all hyphenated usage of america as used by individuals today.

The question could also be asked as to why individuals do not refer to themselves as Turtle Island'ers?

Why don't they simply call themselves "Americans"? No other people does this. Is this divisive or does it help establish comfortable groups for different ethnicities to reside in?

Some might reside or have domicile in the United States yet not self-identify themselves as "americans" at all, even where their ancestry traces back centuries in the land that others call "america" constantly. Self-identification with a nation or use of a term to describe oneself is an individual choice.

It is interesting to note the modern frequency of the usage of the word "america"; some within the solemn fervor of the patriot, others within the criticism of the policies of the ruling class therein; few of those individuals whom use the term actually question the origin and meaning of the word - hyphenated or not - outside of popular literature euphemisms, or what the word embodies to them.

An individual whom might decide to look further into the etymology of the word "america" could find its origin in the Maya, or the Amerrique, or the Caribs, or in the ancient four words: a me (or ma) ri (or ra) ca (or ka).

Another individual might nod their head to the hook of a song which to is more than an adequate summary of the modern history and current reality of the word

This is America

Don't catch you slippin' up

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