Being an American Means More
than Just Living Here

By Rod Hemphill

For some time now, political correctness has been getting a little old. In fact, it's become the butt of innumerable jokes. And it gets us into some ridiculous situations. But the bottom line is (in my opinion) ―it's just plain wrong!

For the last quarter century, our society has been dividing itself into every imaginable kind of group, whether by age, race, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation --the list goes on ad infinitum. Every group seems to have those elements which are more self-conscious of their uniqueness in society than they are about being part of that society, and are quick to take offense at every perceived slight. Indeed, it has come to be assumed that one of our Constitutional rights in this country is the "right" to not be offended.

But how can we live together in a society when anyone can claim he has been violated for anything he can imagine? And how can we say anything without running the risk that someone will be offended by a perceived slight we could hardly have thought of and certainly didn't intend? This isn't reality. This is stupid. And this is wrong.

As a result of the catastrophes on September 11th, the American public rose up in revolt against at least one of these issues of political correctness –the use of the word "God" in the public arena. And then the people of this great country had the audacity to say things like, "proud to be an American." But at last the pundits of political correctness recovered from their shock of having momentarily lost control of public discourse, and again began insisting on making fools of themselves and as much of the public as these effete snobs of cultural elitism can intimidate into uncomfortably following their lead.

With that September attack on our people, our nation, our personal security, Americans rallied together and discovered something both wonderful and forgotten –the oneness we have together as Americans. We didn't come together as people of any particular color, age, ethnic background or sexual orientation. We came together as fellow members of a great society, fellow citizens of a great nation, fellow members of a common humanity, keenly aware that when those terrorists struck at some of us, they attacked all of us. And all of a sudden, we discovered that we weren't black Americans, white Americans, gay Americans, Irish Americans, or any other kind of Americans. We were all there together, and we found that we were all simply Americans!

The categories by which we used to identify ourselves and others, and use that identification to separate ourselves from them, no longer divided us. Instead of division, the new theme became diversity. Division separates, instills suspicions, keeps us from working together for the common good. But diversity enriches the whole and enhances the sense of unity while maintaining the individual uniqueness. There are nations which have a single culture because nearly all the people there are of that ethnicity. There are other nations which appear to have a common culture, but it's via suppressing all expressions which do not conform to the accepted culture, the politically correct culture. These cultures of imposed oneness may appear to be monolithic, but under the façade of singularity are the cracks of divisiveness. Still other societies are but a collection of many cultures, languages and allegiances which divide the people one from another and hinder the commerce and holistic identification of a nation's people, which in turn holds back that nation's rise to greatness and the elevation of the standard of living of its people.

American culture is unique because it has been flavored with elements from so many cultures. But it is itself an identifiable culture –not a collection of other cultures. Even our regional nuances are still subsumed within the American culture itself. Political correctness is based in part upon the fallacious assumption that all things are equal, and that they all therefore deserve equal acceptance. But heretical as it may sound, the plain observable fact of reality is that not all cultures are equal in elevating humanity. Not all religions are equal in the values they teach (a lesson vividly painted on New York's skyline), to say nothing about religious concerns as to what they teach about spiritual matters.

Years ago, some sociologist used a soup kettle as an analogy of American culture. Since we are a nation of immigrants from all over the world, all of these cultures had been thrown together into the cauldron of this land, and what came out was a wonderful blend to which each part had contributed. To look at the soup analogy, the carrots are still there and identifiable as carrots, so also the peas, potatoes, celery, and whatever, but the soup is more than the sum of its parts. There is a flavor, a consistency that would not be there if any of those ingredients were missing. And when we eat the soup, we are not thinking, "Now I'm eating a carrot, now some potato, etc." The soup as a whole has its own flavor and consistency. So the soup kettle is a good description of how the American culture has many ingredients, ingredients which are still identifiable, but which no longer stand out as separate from each other. They have all taken their place as part of the larger culture, the American culture.

A few decades later, the social climate changed with the advent of the civil rights movement, which in its beginnings, served to prick the conscience of American society regarding the disparate treatment of blacks in our society, because this disparate treatment was not part of the American way. And black culture had already made magnificent and innumerable contributions to the American culture, so much so that if they had all been suddenly removed, it would have been obvious that something was definitely the matter with this "soup." However, the civil rights movement expanded its concern to champion equal rights de facto (not just in theory) for every ethnic minority and then for every minority of every description. And with this emphasis, American culture came to be seen not as a sociological soup bowl, but as a mixing bowl –a salad bowl, in which all the ingredients are mixed together, but each stands alone in the mixture. Together they form a collection of ingredients, but do not create a new thing –the soup, the overall culture, the American Way.

So over the last quarter century, while we have made gains in bringing equality under the law to our disparate parts, we have been emphasizing how different all these parts are. While we accepted groups other than one's own as equal parts of the American scene, we found ourselves alienated by the awareness that their ancestral heritage is not our heritage and their individual cultures are not our culture. In their concern that none of our parts be offended, the pundits of political correctness insist that we keep affirming the equal value of distinctively different groups. But this has served to fragment the overall culture rather than enhance it.

Political correctness does not accept that every ethnic group's heritage be just a part of American culture, enriching the whole. Political correctness insists that each group's heritage be equally and visibly represented in this culture because –supposedly—no one culture is superior to another. Therefore, we should be a collection of cultural neighborhoods rather than a community of like-minded (however different) people. This is the reasoning that asserts that it would be arrogantly presumptuous for anyone to be proud to be an American inasmuch as that might be taken to be a put-down to the people of other cultures among us.

This is the reasoning that insists that we should teach children in the language of their ethnicity. However, language is a principle delineator of ethnicity and prevents people from moving beyond the boundaries of their group to become part of the larger American society, a fact not lost on most of the parents of ethnic minority children, who do not want their children taught in any language other than English because they recognize that fluency in the English language is the principle gateway to success in America, and that without it, their children will be doomed to the lowest paying jobs. It is curious to observe, therefore, that while the politically correct ideologues represent themselves as the defenders of the minorities, they have more love of their dogma than compassion and benevolent interest in the ethnic minorities they would seem to be championing. By holding the whole nation hostage to the tyranny of the minorities, they prevent these ethnic groups from entering the mainstream of American life.

The bottom line is that being American means more than just living here. It is a celebration of what we have in common rather than flaunting what distinguishes us as different. It's being glad when my Korean neighbor becomes successful through his hard work, just like the rest of us. It's the spirit that moves the black man to rescue the white woman he's never seen before. It's this spirit that causes young men and women to enlist in the armed forces to fight off those responsible for "the pestilence that stalks in darkness [and] the destruction that wastes at noonday."(*) In the aftermath of September 11th, when one Muslim woman was afraid to go out of her house, it was the American spirit that compelled a Jewish woman and a Christian woman to go with her and see her safely home again. It's the American spirit that is sensitive to respect those who come from other lands, to accept them into American life, and encourage them to succeed. And it's the American spirit that rises up in the face of political correctness to fly the flag, and say "God bless America," and sing, Proud to Be an American!

(*) Psalm 91:6

Other Articles by Rod:
When the Party's Over
How to Take Over a Country Without Firing a Shot
The "Holy" Bible? Who Says So?
Critique of the Da Vinci Code
Essay On Terrorism's War Against Civilization