On What We Have
Ethnicity is a fact of life. Everyone is ethnic. You, me, everyone. No one can escape this truth.
Of course, if you’re like me, you’re wondering, “What the heck is ethnic?” Or rather, “What do people mean when they use the word?”
And when you look around, you discover it’s not so easy to define and often more difficult to apply.
The word is frequently invoked these days but that doesn’t mean it is clearly understood.
You hear it often because it is the new political catchword for both liberal and conservative policymakers.
Even worse is the fact that the word often connotes one of two negative vibes: condescension or smugness.
General discussions or even a passing reference to any ethnic group comes across as condescending:
Those poor people. How strange!
And if you happen to be a member of said group and you find no way to stop the conversational finger-pointing, you eventually develop a smug, defensive attitude, which becomes the impetus for political action or in extreme cases, revolution.
The last two US Presidents illustrate the point. Obama was perceived as ethnically generous. Trump not so much. Obama spoke respectfully of those who didn’t fit in with mainstream America. Trump wants to build a wall. But both, regardless the predisposition, spoke/speak downward.
And it must be remembered that the President, whatever his bias, presides in the highest office in a country whose message to every immigrant is:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free!
Those masses come from every possible direction. They have many things in common. Ethnic identity isn’t one of them.
Like it or not, the US populace is a living, breathing, ever-changing example of ethnic blending. The American Way is a hybrid and stays in a constant state of flux.
More importantly, the laws of the land, at least in the US, don’t define individual tastes. They don’t create ethnic boundaries or allow ethnic shaming but they do regulate how citizens respond when preferences conflict.
That is the important truth to remember. The US version of democracy doesn’t feature one ethnic background at the expense of all others. The ground rules are established for all. In theory, anyone breaking those rules regardless their ethnic background is judged and penalized accordingly, meaning fairly.
I’m sure some will blanch at the idea, but the US has slowly formed into an equal ethnic opportunity. All must work. All must pay their own bills and make a reasonable contribution. None are allowed illegal entrance but ethnicity is safe as long as it doesn’t abuse the law or the rights of others.
But back to the word itself. [Read more…]