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We're all Hyphenated Americans

We're going to use a new term in YES! magazine. It may elicit groans from some of you, dear readers. So as a pre-emptive strike (I understand those are in these days), let me share with you the evolution of my own thinking—and our editors'—around the change.

Those of you who have been reading YES! for some time are aware that we host a series of retreats called the State of the Possible. Grace Boggs' article on page 58 tells of the most recent gathering in the series. Each retreat brings together a diverse group of transformational change leaders to weave a web of connection and understanding across the divides of movement, race, ethnic heritage, age, and sector. The retreats have provided a venue for exploring our individual heritages and identities. At this last retreat, in the middle of such a discussion, I became acutely aware of a gaping chasm in the way we referred to one another. Many people in the room were referred to by their heritage—African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native-American—not by their skin color—black, brown, red, yellow. But the rest of us were referred to as “white.” Why is that, I wondered? Why am I referred to by my skin color in these discussions of identity? Well, maybe that's because I don't need to be some special kind of American because I'm the norm, right? I'm just the regular kind of American.

Regular? Who gets to be regular in this multicultural country? And, actually, I do have a heritage. My great-great grandparents came from various parts of northern Europe. So doesn't that make me European- American? If I'm that, instead of “white,” then I claim my heritage. When I call myself a European-American person, I put myself on the same footing as others who claim their heritage. Nobody gets to be “the norm.” We all come from some place.

Editor Sarah Ruth van Gelder, who was also part of the retreat, was thinking along the same lines. She suggested we extend this practice to YES! So European-American is the term you'll see where previously we used “white” to refer to race.

OK, so now you get to groan. You may be feeling that's just too much of a mouthful. YES! magazine can do it, but few others will.

Maybe so. But I want to make a really un-PC confession here. Many years ago, when feminists began to call for ridding our language of the use of “man” to stand for all humans, I was among those who thought it was a bit much. After all, everyone knew that “man” stood for all humans. I had no problem with Captain Kirk wanting “to boldly go where no man had gone before.” (It was the split in finitive that annoyed me.) The s/he construction drove me nuts.

But over the years, I changed my mind. I now see how language shapes consciousness. I've come to appreciate the use of humankind rather than mankind, chair rather than chairman, letter carrier rather than postman. I see myself more clearly included in this new usage. The shift in language was both a cause and a reflection of the massive shift in our consciousness about the relationship between men and women.

Then I watched the environmental movement turn “swamps” into “wetlands.” Everyone wants to drain a swamp, which is full of mosquitoes and alligators. But wetlands serve critical ecological functions. That shift in language—and in consciousness—has moved billions of dollars to preserve and restore wetlands with real consequences for flooding, fish, birds, and beauty.

So becoming European-American feels to me like a similar step in consciousness. If the term feels awkward, my hunch is that it's because a great many of us still see this country as being basically white, with people of color some kind of exception—and maybe not quite American. I want to celebrate and participate in the multicultural nature of my country. The mix of cultures, perspectives, food, art, music, and appearance adds immeasurably to my life. To become fully a part of that multicultural reality, I need to claim my heritage. So that's why I now consider myself European-American.

Is this a positive step in consciousness? Or an unneeded burden for the politically correct? I invite your thoughts—groans included. We'll post them on our website. In the meantime, watch for the shift in the language in YES!—and just maybe in the way we think.

More new staff
In the last issue of YES! I introduced four new PFN staff. Since then, we've hired two more amazing people.
Nicole Pearson is our new Retreat Coordinator. She replaces Rod Arakaki, who is now our Operations Manager. Nicole brings a background in social action, networking, dance, theater, and lots of inner work, which makes her well-suited to coordinate our State of the Possible retreat series.

Bruce Haedt is our new Development Coordinator, picking up from Donna Trost, who left to tend to her newborn second child. Bruce worked for years in business. He's also an accomplished chef (yes, he's definitely upgraded our breakfast meetings), a musician, and a photographer.

We're delighted to welcome these two magnificent people to our staff.

 


 

Fran Korten is Executive Director of the Positive Futures Network.

 

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