As if we aren't already divided enough by race, class, gender, political party, economic status and sexual orientation, the federal government is reportedly thinking about creating a new category of Americans just in time for the next census.
According to the Associated Press, "The U.S. Census Bureau will test the new Middle East-North Africa classification for possible inclusion on the 2020 census if it gets positive feedback about the proposed change by (last) Sunday, when the public comment period ends."
Americans of Arab descent have previously been classified as "white" in the census, but carving out a special category for them will allow this group access to federal dollars and likely create another group to which politicians can pander for votes.
The unofficial "motto" of the United States has been E. Pluribus Unum: out of many one. The traditional idea behind the slogan was that the Founders were creating a single nation out of many (13) colonies. It wasn't about uniformity, but unanimity. While people then differed about politics and all sorts of other things -- and still do today, sometimes vehemently -- the Founders identified a strain running through the new America that united us not only in language, but in the singular pursuit of liberty and religious freedom. Our identity as a nation would not be where we came from, if an immigrant, but where we choose to live.
With the exception of World War II and more recently the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, in modern times that unanimity has been fragmented by "groups" competing for national attention, face time on TV, political influence and money. Our national motto today could easily be, "out of one, many."
Hyphenating Americans dilutes our sense of what it means to be an American, just as pouring water into a glass of milk dilutes and eventually replaces the milk.
Thomas is a Welsh name, but to my knowledge my ancestors never saw themselves as "Welsh-Americans." In the mass migration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people came from other countries to America because they believed this land was a better one for themselves and their children than the one they were leaving. They wanted to assimilate and for their children to become fully American with all of the opportunities that the name implies for people willing to work.
Division does not serve the interests of the country, or the interests of a divided people. It only serves the political interests of those promoting division. Promoting division along racial and class lines is driving us apart at a time when our enemies seek to destroy us. While fomenting internal strife might get you a TV program, it does nothing to guide people toward a better life.
Comedian Whoopi Goldberg resents being called African-American. She has said, "I've visited Africa ... and I'm American." She has also said such hyphenations "divide us as a nation and as a people." She is right.
The Founders were concerned about divisions, beginning with political parties. John Adams said: "There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution."
George Washington agreed. In his farewell presidential speech, Washington said: "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism."
They were talking about divided parties. Imagine what they would think now that our divisions have multiplied and America now resembles a family quarrel with no winners and much to lose.
No good can come of this. None has.