There was a quote floating around Facebook a few days ago from Toni Morrison, one of the greatest writers America has produced. The quote went something like:
“Only White people are American, everyone else is hyphenated.”
I sat there, staring at my computer, re-reading the sentence. I then asked myself, have I ever felt American? Of course, I’ve eaten a million hot dogs on countless Fourth of July’s and waited for Jolly Old Saint Nick when I was younger. I have about a hundred Halloween stories I could tell, but do all these things make me an American?
I guess many would say yes, considering the fact that I was born here in the United States. They would say that, by default, I am American. My response, however, would be that I don’t feel connected to America or the general idea of what it means to be an American in the way I should if I am indeed American.
Perhaps it’s because every day of my life, I have been reminded in various ways that I am in fact a Black man in America. If anyone labels me as an American, there is always an African beforehand. In many ways, I feel more connected to Africa, even though I have never set foot on the continent. I feel as if I would be more accepted in places like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, or Kenya than in my own American neighborhood.
So where does this leave all of the non-Americans born in America, myself included? It leaves us in a perpetual state of confusion and disconnection. Essentially, you are told that you are American – you were raised as an American, act more or less like the typical American, yet you aren’t treated as an American.
Instead, you are constantly reminded of American exclusion, whether it’s on that new hit show on MTV you love, or demonstrated through the nominees at your favorite award show. If you are not part of White American culture, American society tells you that you simply cannot be American.
Many may roll their eyes as they skim pass this article, mumbling that I am yet another minority playing the race card. To an extent, they are right. My race is different, my experience of America is different, yet my nationality is identical to theirs. My race matters. My right to be an American matters and it is the same right that they have to be an American.
In a country that prides itself on being an inclusive melting pot, it certainly does not live up to its standards. We must remind ourselves and those who refuse to look at the facts that America is not, and was never, a country exclusively for Caucasians. In fact, we must remember that the typical “American” and their forefathers were originally foreigners to this land.
It is tragic that America is a country where you may be banned, threatened, even killed if your skin, your religion, or political views do not match that of the typical American. It is at this pivotal moment that all of us, Americans and “disconnected” Americans, must come together and remember that our great diversity is one of our greatest qualities as a country.
If we want this country to recover, unite, and disembark on the road to greatness, then we all must practice tolerance. A true American understands that America is inclusive and open to all who strive for greatness. All Americans want the right to live their lives as they see fit.
Those who decide to disrespect someone else’s life due to cultural differences cannot be truly American. Let us not repeat America’s bloody past but learn from it, because if we cannot learn, then we have lost what it means to be American.