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Who IS a 'Real American?'

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Special note: I too have problems with claiming that those in the United States are "Americans" as it disenfrachises those who live in Canada and Mexico - North Americans; those who live in Central America, and those who live in South America. "Americans" all! In the context of this article, I will use "America" and "American" in their common (and incorrect) usage. I don't know about you, but I have had it with the ever narrowing circle of who is a "real American." For sure this is not something new. We have seen it over and over in U.S. history, and always it has been tremendously destructive. The bombardment of who is not a "real" American has been the bread and butter of the Republican campaigns. However, the effects of it will last long after November 4, 2008. Palin came out with her constant references to "Hockey Moms" and "Joe Six-Packs" which stereotypically define a white population. Then we had Bill Ayers introduced an Obama "paling around with terrorists." We have heard Palin's talking about "real America" followed by her denials, followed by more references to draw lines of "real" "patriotic" Americans. We have heard oft repeated that Obama is a Muslim. Most recently, the accusation is that Rashid Khalidi is a PLO supporter (which he is not) and that Obama supports him (neither here nor there). The contagion has spread to other Republican campaigns. We have Congresswoman Michelle Bachman (R - Minnesota) arguing that members of Congress should be investigated for being "anti-American." We have Senator Elizabeth Dole labeling Kay Hagan as a supporter of "Godless Americans"." We have McCain calling Obama a "socialist" for wanting to "share the wealth." What is up? We already went through, (and survived mostly) the "my country right or wrong," if you don't support Bush, if you don't support the war, rhetoric of (real) American versus anti-American. I can understand the frustration and anger that drove Sojourner Truth to stand up at the 1851 Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio presenting what has come to be called her "Ain't I a Woman" speech. It was not a prepared speech, but a fit of passionate response to the hypocrisy of the arguments. The "Real American" conflict goes way back; however, current claims rest on that deep and institutionalized foundation. In 1790, the U.S. Congress immortalized what was then already a common bias with the United States first naturalization legislation - Naturalization Act of 1790. The U.S. Congress restricted the right to become a naturalized citizen to:
"any alien being a free white person who shall have resided within the limits and jurisdiction of the United States for a term of two years."
Thereafter, there was deep legal and cultural institutionalization of the concept (and reality) of who was a "real American." Being a U.S. citizen depended on one's race, and that race was "white." This almost consistently has become intertwined with the claim that the United States is a "Christian" country. While we could argue that culturally, most "whites" identify as "Christian," the U.S. was not founded on Christianity. In fact, every effort was made to keep Christianity (and religion in general) out of the founding principles, Constitution, and government. Why? To protect religion. While there are governmental references to "God," (for example on the U.S. currency) that was not aimed at a Christianity. In fact, in the Declaration of Independence, it states (emphasis mine):
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The concept that won the day was actually Deism and not Christianity. Deism is the belief in a supreme being, and that reason not revelation was the path to truth. However, in the construction of whiteness (which has evolved over time), race, and religion have become entwined to a degree. Therefore, claiming that someone is a "Muslim" has been constructed to mean they are not "white," and more recently that they are "terrorists." Therefore being called a "terrorist" raises racial classification, and being a "friend" of "terrorists" means one is a (white) "race traitor." Given the twisted, conceptual, and stereotypical interlinking where "white" means "American," then non-whites (and non-Christians) by default are under suspicion of being "not American." However, throwing in the "terrorism" claim makes them "anti-American" as well. The definition of the "Real" American gets narrower and meaner. It is becoming (if it has not already become) and very small circle of white, fundamentalist Christian, militaristic, imperialistic, anything goes if my "president" says so, ideologues. The (glorious) end justifies the (immoral) means. This is not the "America" I was taught, nor the "American" I want to -or can - be. I am sick and tired of waving the (heroic) troops as those who have fought for our "freedom," or paid the "ultimate price" for our nation. While most of those who have served under uniform may have thought they were fighting for our "freedom," they were largely fighting to further political and economic agendas of the powerful. Fighting the (illegal) war in Iraq, does not protect our freedom of speech or association in the United States. It does not protect the people of the United States from the abusive use of power of the government. It doesn't even make us "safer." What about those who did (and do) fight and die for our freedom? What about those who were freedom riders, and those who marched in the streets for civil rights? What about the abolitionists and suffragettes? What about the millions who have marched against wars, police brutality, racial profiling, the right to vote? What about those who have fought to ensure equal protection under the law? What about the union organizers and activists who gave us protection from abusive employers and worker safety standards? What about the environmentalists who struggled and have laid down their lives to protect us from hazardous wastes? What about the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACORN, Public Citizen, and a thousand other "grass roots" organizations? DON'T THEY COUNT?!! Being American is not an economic ideology. One can be a "real" American and be a capitalist, a socialist, a communist, or none of the above. Being American is not a political ideology. One can be a "real" American and be of any political party or ideology. Being American is not a racial ideology. One can be a "real" American and be of any race or combination of races. Being American is not a religious ideology. One can be a "real" American and be Hindu or Deist; Muslim or athiest; Wiccan or Christian; Buddhist or Jewish. Being American is not a social class placement. One can be a "real" American and be living under a bridge, or move between your numerous houses across the country. So what does it mean to be an American? Where is the essence of "American?" That is more difficult to answer concisely, but I believe possible. A real American is one who wants to see the United States be the best it can be, and works to make it so. A real American realizes that the uniqueness of our nation lies in the belief that freedom and self-determination go hand in hand and must be protected. A real American understands that one cannot have freedom without equality and voice in our daily lives, and so fights to extend the protections of liberty to all members of our society. A real American believes in fair play, honesty, and opportunity. A real American believes that dissidence is critical for a functioning society that is "of, by, and for the people," A real American realizes that we are not in this alone; that we depend on our neighbors and our communities. A real American realizes that we, as a nation, are part of a world - not the masters of it. A real American realizes that peace is better than war. A real American realizes that there are principles worth fighting for, but that there are many ways to "fight." A real American feels empathy and a responsibility to those in need, to those downtrodden. A real American realizes that the quest for power and control by the few will always be there, and that it takes constant vigilance to ensure that we are on the good path, with the broadest participation in the social fabric possible. A real American realizes that the process matters; the ends do not justify the means; that democracy is not a goal, but a dynamic endeavor. A real American takes her/his citizenship as a sacred job - a vital part in the governmental and political process. It is not just voting (or choosing not to vote). It is working in small ways and large as a participating member of this society, this nation. Being a real American means we all have the right and the courage to "speak truth to power." Being a real American is a big and difficult job. It means not only listening to those with who we disagree, but fighting for their right to continue to annoy us. I hope that the narrow version of "real" American does not become the prevailing definition. If so, most of us are lost. Items of interest Naturalization Act of 1790. Actual document from the Library of Congress. Sojourner Truth and "Ain't I a Woman?" Voters, church leader speak out against Dole's 'godless' ad. Zagaroli. Miami Herald. 10/31/2008.
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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.

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Feel free to sound off - I did.... by Rowan Wolf on Monday, Nov 3, 2008 at 8:08:49 PM
I searched the site and only found the post of min... by Steven G. Erickson on Thursday, Nov 6, 2008 at 9:30:28 PM