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The Hyphenated American

Our identities are getting way more complicated.

by Deedra Abboud in Political, Social Views
March 29, 2016 0 comments

America has become a society of labels.

Recently I attended an event where I learned a new label, Cisgender. Cisgender is a term for someone who has a gender identity that aligns with what they were assigned at birth. The term was created for referring to “non-transgender” people without alienating transgender people.

Who knew?

Our identities are getting way more complicated.

History and Evolution of the Hyphenated American

Hyphenated designations in the United States were originally meant as a disparagement of certain groups: German-Americans, Irish-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans. The insinuation, and disparagement, was that these groups were loyal to a foreign country rather than the United States – Not ‘true’ Americans.

Today, many groups have chosen to identify themselves as hyphenated Americans to demonstrate their pride in their ethnicity: African American, Afro-American, Chicano American, Latino American, Indian American, Indo-American, Native American, Arab-American, European American, etc. The list goes on and on. A few years ago I heard Anglo-American for the first time. Even the very groups that were hyphenated for disparaging reasons in the past, now wear their heritage hyphens with pride.

But have you ever heard someone label themselves as a Christian American? Have you ever called yourself a Christian American?

Probably not – unless the situation or conversation was around the topic.

Some would claim it is because America is a Christian nation so the “Christian” part of American is assumed.

I’m not buying that, and neither should you.

Not only is it not true in general but it has not always been true for every American claiming to be Christian. Catholic or Mormon anyone?

The Judeo-Christian Nation

Designating the United States as a Judeo-Christian country has also become fairly common. But what does it mean?

  • The term “Judeo-Christianrefers to something that has its source in the common foundations of Judaism and Christianity. The Bible includes the Jewish Scriptures of the Old Testament, so the moral foundations laid down in Judaism are upheld in Christianity.

Interesting definition.

The Bible does include the “Old Testament” which is basically the Jewish Scripture, so Christianity could be accurately described as having its source in the common foundations of Judaism – though the details going forward are a bit different.

Whether the moral foundation laid down in Judaism are upheld in Christianity is a little less clear. Only three of The Ten Commandments are enforceable by United States Law – and these days breaking any of The Ten Commandments holds no consequences for Christians among Christians, not even a stern talking to, much less a loss of social status.

Muslims believe Islam is a continuation of God’s messages as given to the Jewish and Christian scriptures and include the same moral foundations, particularly of Judaism. Islam is an Abrahamic Faith with all the same prophets but with one additional messenger and prophet from God.

The Quran also confirms many of the lessons and stories in the Torah and Bible – though some of the stories a bit different. For example, everything about Lot in the Quran is almost exactly the same, but Lot impregnating his daughters is completely missing. Muslims interpret such omissions to mean God vindicated the prophets from such sinful and disgusting accusations. How could a man be a participant of such sickening acts and yet be chosen by God to lead the people?

But like many Christian minority sects have found in the past, just having the same stories, prophets, and basic belief system is not enough.

Likewise, the Jewish have found just being included in the Christian evolutionary line is no protection against discrimination and hate crimes either.

Jewish Americans

Since World War II, many Jews in the United States made very conscious efforts to hide their Jewish identity in order to avoid discrimination and abuse. Many changed their names so as not to be identified. Other than places like New York with distinct Jewish neighborhoods, no one wore a Yarmulke in public. Synagogs were usually deeply hidden from the general population.

Only in the last twenty-five years has this changed. People now proudly display, and publicly embrace, their Jewish heritage. These days you might actually hear someone say they are Jewish American or Judeo-American.

Though Jews are different in that they consider Jewish to be a culture, an ethnicity, and a religion.

Only recently have people of other religions begun hyphenating their religious affiliation with their American identity: Baha’i-American, Buddhist-American, Hindu-American, etc.

Perhaps these hyphenated identities are less familiar to you. It could be because not all members of these groups have chosen to use hyphenated identities or these groups are such a small minority in the United States that you barely know they exist here. You might not even have ever met one in real life, that you know of. . . .

Though among these groups may or may not choose to hyphenate, for them it is still a choice based on pride and a desire to show the diversity of America’s religious population.

Muslim American or American Muslim?

Not so for Muslims. For Muslims, the hyphenation has been a defense. Yes, Muslims are proud to be Muslim and proud to be American. But prior to September 11th, the majority of Muslims were just American, or some other hyphenated ethnic group.

Muslim is not an ethnicity or culture, it is what a person who self-identifies as a follower of Islam are called.

Muslim is to Islam as Christian is to Christianity.

Only after the terrorist attacks did the fact that we were Muslim and American matter – and then we were questioned about which one came first.

Because so many Muslims were not identifiable by dress, ethnicity, or name, a lot of people actually never knew Muslims were in the United States – like poof! we just landed on September 12th!

A lot of people were downright shocked to learn their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, their doctors, their neighborhood convenience store workers, were, in fact, Muslim. The sudden awareness of a Muslims presence equally led to people, who were not Muslim, fitting the profile and having to deny the “allegation.”

Hyphenated Americans, every single one of them, place the ethnic or religious identity in front of the word “American” (i.e. African-American).

Additionally, Christians, particularly Protestants, are just as likely as Muslims to place religion before country.

“God, Country, Family” – “For God and Country”

But to this day, Muslims are the only Americans that are required to decide the order and defend the order.

We really have to ask ourselves why that is the case.

It is not simply because Muslim Americans are less trustworthy or hold less allegiance than any other Americans. That is a fallacy and factually untrue. Muslim Americans are just as concerned about Islamic Extremism as other Americans.

Some interesting tidbits about American Muslims:

1% of people living in America are Muslims, about 3.3 million people
30% of American Muslims are white
60% of American Muslims are native born
40% of American Muslim women do not wear the headscarf
26% of American Muslims hold a Bachelor’s Degree or higher
10% of doctors in the United States are Muslim, roughly 20,000
American Muslim’s top priorities are Economics, Civil Rights, and Education
American Muslims are more engaged in community than politics
American Protestants favor role for their religion in law slightly more than American Muslims
American Muslims condemn targeting civilians – whether by military or by “individuals or small groups.

When a person uses an identifier along with American, it is either an identifier of type or a qualifier/modifier of type. For example, a Christian American sounds like a type of American, but an American Christian sounds like a Christian of an American version – like a Christian that is not American is a different kind of Christian. That is not what is meant by the label.

Notice I used both Muslim American and American Muslim throughout this article. That was deliberate according to the issue I was discussing.

A Muslim American is a Muslim who also identifies as an American, just like an ethnic designation would mean. However, in the list of tidbits, I deliberately used American Muslims because I was not talking about Muslims who identify as American but Muslims who have American citizenship – because that is reflected in the poll and survey sources.

Muslim American is an identity, American Muslim is a fact. Just because a person can have the identity does not mean a person has the identity or wants to use the label.

Remember the Cisgender word I learned? I can have the identity, because it exists and I fall under the criteria, but I doubt I will begin calling myself Cisgender-Female anytime soon. For now, it is simply not part of the identity that I feel strongly enough about to use.

Female works fine for me and whatever labels others want to call themselves is also fine with me.

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