Responses to Fran Korten's "We're All Hyphenated Americans"

Dear Fran Korten:
I am an amateur linguist who practices law for a living. I was drafting a complaint today in a civil rights case involving racial discrimination. The original draft contained the sentence "[Plaintiff} was an African-American female and [Witness] is a white male who are engaged to be married." My question was whether the sentence sounded funny using the term "African-American" for one person and "white" for another. I checked several of the resources I had in my office (Including the Dictionary of Bias Free Usage) but was not able to find a good answer.

I found your article, "We're all Hyphenated Americans" on the Internet. Although I still can't say for sure how I'll ultimately come down on the question, I found your observations helpful. I am looking forward to seeing what your readers say about the term.
Gerry Schulze
Attorney at Law

Dear Fran Korten,
"Language shapes consciousness" is a powerful concept. I see your point. However, if you are designating heritage in title, does New Englander or Southerner etc. as well as European-American or Asian-American enter the picture? Those are certainly well established heritages. But are probably dwindling in degree of difference at present.

Also the various countries in Europe or Asia etc. differ from each other. Better to call everyone American and leave heritage out of the picture except at a secondary level. The old-fashioned term, "American of Japanese descent" is more to my liking.

Emily C. Duffy

You've done it again! Only better than ever! Just to read Fran's "We're All Hyphenated Americans" on page 60 set my heart to humming. Thank you for pointing out the obvious which we have been hiding in our language. Now we can all better see the light! I join you in commitment to this clearer, and more adventurous languaging and will be using it with all our guests who, themselves, come to us from all over the world.
Sami Sunchild
European-American (with a little Chinese, Sioux and Maori thrown in)
Red Victorian Peace Center Bed & Breakfast
San Francisco


Dear Fran Korten,
I am an elderly woman: African-American, African in America, Black, Negro, Afro-American, colored and many other names. I answer to all of them. Black was claimed as a political term back in the sixties. It is
not the opposite of white as in white people. It is not about color, as many people acknowledge there are no Black, white, Red, Brown, or Yellow people. At one time all of the oppressed people of the British Empire
identified as Black whatever their skin color or race. If I am not mistaken, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people identify as lavender and rainbow people.

I have very mixed feelings about what to call people whose ancestors are from Europe. You don't mention that some people identify as Irish-American, German-American, Italian-American, etc.

Some people pretend that African-American is an ethnic category. During my lifetime, ethnicity had to do with the nation that our ancestors came from. I and most African heritage people don't know what nation our ancestors came from. We probably came from many different (African, Indigenous, Asian and European) nations.

In the US, we colored, aka known as Black people had to fight to have our identities recognized by capitalizing the various names we chose or inherited. Black is a political term like American, Italian, Greek,
Chinese, South African, etc. I refer to white people as white people with lower case 'w' as white people refer to Black people as lower case 'b' even though we claimed the term as a political term. I use white to refer to term invented by ruling class white people as one of the tools in creation of white supremacy, also known as systemic racism or racial oppression.

I also speak of white people as European-American for the same reason that you gave. Using the term European-American does not do anything to end white supremacy, racism, etc. It reminds me of the white people who have just discovered that there is only one human race and get angry with people of color who identify as Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, white, etc as being racist for using racial rather than cultural terms.

Thank you for this opportunity to clarify my thinking.

Until white people (collectively) understand nature, history and consequences of racial oppression, I will continue to use both terms to reflect the historical and contemporary racism as well as the choices that white people have. Most of my life, white people have not identified as white people. They were hyphenated people, European or American. If there are no white people, what does the white in white supremacy refer
to? Changing your name and the name of the white people of the world is not enough.

The challenge for those of us living in America is to recognize systemic racism as military, economic, political, police, Christian and cultural power plus propaganda and addiction that kills, dominates, exploits and oppresses the majority of the human race, providing economic and psychological privilege to the numerical minority peoples of the world. This system also hurts and separates white people from themselves and all others in very painful ways.

I support your personal decision. I wonder how many will join you and more important to me how many will seriously take on challenge of racial and economic justice in the world.

Justice is the way to peace.

Barbara Imboden, Lecturer in Communication, Univ. Of Texas at San Antonio

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