Freedom to Dehyphenate
Once I was hyphenated. It was all the rage back in the 70’s, along with using only the letter of your first name followed by the other two. J. Snuffy Smith, for example, sounded much more sophisticated and presumptuous that simply James Smith, and we were convinced that German - American and Irish - American and African - American or Cuban - American or whatever - American added an air of aristocracy to our mundane American lives that belied our untraceably mixed racial identities and multi- geographic heredity. In other words, we are all here in America now and our past did not follow narrow genealogical paths to result in us. None of us has ancestors of just one color, type, race or only one geographic area. The people that came before us traveled the seas and the deserts and the mountains and really didn’t have time to worry much about genealogy or hyphenation when they were mostly concerned with basic stuff like food and not getting eaten by a shark or a grizzly bear.
Don’t misunderstand. Hyphens in between last names to honor family members or adoptive parents or grandparents are a different thing. That’s an old and honorable tradition and perfectly acceptable under the terms of the non-hyphenation society rules of order and extradition treaty. On the other hand, I doubt very much that those adopting geographic hyphenation would be willing to move back to the homeland they say they are honoring. I suppose honor only goes so far if you have to give up amenities. I have found that geographic hyphenation is an affectation and has a perceived social status intent rather than real meaning.
Have you ever tried to trace your families’ history? I did for a while, but found all the deaths and remarriages and divorces and abandonments and blank spots too much to follow, even when I tried to make a genealogy tree. There were just too many limbs and branches and offshoots to document or follow, but I did discover that sometimes when you find a dead end on a person it meant they were hanged for horse stealing or shot for cheating at cards or married their sister or just disappeared into the wilderness and either died or changed their name to get a restart on what had, at least to them, been a not so good start in life.
I also noticed, being an Arnold on my Dad’s side, that it was very difficult to find out any pertinent information on Arnolds in America before 1800. Mama’s family I could trace way back to the Mayflower with only a few skips or leaps of faith that may or may not have been genealogically sound practice. It took me a while to figure out why that hadn't been done for my Dad’s family,, and I’m pretty sure it’s because none of us wanted to dig too deep into the Arnold history and find out that great great great great great grandad was named Benedict. That’s not a branch of anyones’ family tree you want to bring attention to if you can help it. The whole point of knowing where you came from, after all, was to find somebody relatively famous (or at least notorious) that you could point to with pride and say “that’s MY ancestor!” The only exception I could find to the “notorious” label was, of course, traitor. Nobody wants that on their permanent record.
I also noticed that nobody seems to give a rip whether you, your current relations or your ancestors are white or black or brown or red if they live next door or in the same neighborhood or work together, and that skin color only becomes an issue when we are reminded by politicians or the news that it’s supposed to be a dividing line. In the America I live in we may have disagreements and be different but that doesn’t mean we have to hate the ones we disagree with. I really like my neighbors regardless of their color or beliefs or noisy animals.
So what I really learned was that the great majority of us were either born here or worked very hard to get here to make our country their home. While we may have traveled back to visit our supposed homeland, we came back to here , which is the place we call home now, and didn’t stay wherever it was our genealogical roots were supposed to be. What I mean is that maybe you can create an artificial sense of worth and superiority about something your ancestors did or didn’t do, but who you are at this moment is defined by what you do and how you behave and what you personally achieve and stand for and not what they did. There’s never been another place like that on earth since Eden, and I would hate to see all that come to an end so politicians could have a nice life at the expense of everyone else. I have become convinced that all of this stuff about hyphenation, if it has a point, is just another method meant primarily to point out our differences rather than our commonalities. It seems to me there are more commonalities than there are differences if we just take the trouble to look.
We have come to expect that the majority of us have a place to live, own cars, have multiple sets of clothes, carry an individualized computer in our hand that not only costs hundreds of dollars but allows us to communicate almost instantly with almost anyone almost anywhere on earth. There are literally thousands of local restaurants that would love our business if we don’t have the time or inclination to cook, and will deliver food if we use our communicator effectively. We spend more on our pets than most people earn in a calendar year in many other countries, and we can attend or not attend church as we decide and not because we are told to do so - unless your Mama is still alive, then you are going, like it or not.
We have the freedom to use plastic cards that allow us to spend, in the blink of an eye, money we have but can’t see, and we can also buy gas for our cars and travel any number of hours in practically any direction just to see the sights in a different location and discover for ourselves if the people in that area really do talk funny. We have doctors and hospitals in almost every town and locality now that can and do provide health services that would have been not just unavailable but unimaginable only a few years ago.
Our standard of living is higher than any other place in the history of the world, and we have conveniences that other cultures can’t imagine or comprehend. Women are regularly afforded opportunities to work in positions not just equal but superior to men in corporations and companies and positions that would be impossible in other countries. If race were a primary factor for most of us would we really have doctors of all colors or CEO’s from every combination of race possible or college students representing every color, creed and belief system known to man? Yeah, but what about women? It often amazes me that women would want to be thought of as equal to men when any man who has ever been married learns quickly of their superiority, so I don’t see any advantage in them settling for equality.
Many of us can work remotely from home, and our standard work week is 40 hours. Most of our predecessors spent more time than that hunting and gathering food for their families. We spend countless hours watching movies, shows, sports or “news” on video devices in our homes, and in many families those devices are found in pretty much every room of the house. They are controlled by a wireless device with buttons that allows us to move from show to show, and to pause the program if we would like to visit the kitchen for a cold drink from the refrigerator or a quick visit to the inside toilet. The video devices and our handheld communicators are connected wirelessly to a satellite circling the globe or in stationary orbit miles above it. We can use our personal computers or our handheld communicators to order anything we would like or can afford from services that will have them delivered to our homes in less time than it would take a covered wagon to cover 25 miles across the prairie. Would you like to guess how many generations of people in the history of the world have had all those conveniences? Three. And you and I get to be part of it.
I freely acknowledge there are problems and there is injustice and there is crime and there are senseless murders and cruelty and homelessness and all sorts of inequality, but I do not see how arguing with each other about whether black lives matter or white lives matter or no lives matter or if any life matters more than the other life matters helps solve any of those issues. That includes politics. Politics has become a disease that demands everyone be hyphenated in one way or another, and political hyphenation is designed to divide. It divides races, it divides political affiliation, it divides social strata, it divides economically and it divides geographically. How many Democratic - Americans do you know that hate Republican - Americans. How many Republican - American do you know that hate Democratic - Americans? How many Democratic - American and Republican - Americans join in despising Independent - Americans? Where does it say that if you disagree with someone you have to hate them on a personal level? Where does it say that a Southeastern American or a Western - American or a Northeast - American is supposed to be vilified because of where they are from or what their politics might be?
I despise the fact that disagreement has become synonymous with hate, and that political affiliation is now used as an identifier for friend or foe, and I simply refuse to participate. I think we should begin a movement of civility; one where just because we disagree on politics or religion or might be from different places or different races we should remember we are all Americans and have that in common if nothing else. I believe the only people that qualify for the “dislike” label should be those that hurt or take advantage of others, like politicians or others engaged in criminal behavior.
I learned all this from my Mama. She told us in word and deed from our birth until she passed that anger was not a prime motivator, and usually distorted rational thought. “My anger is my own,” she said, “and I don’t have to share it. There are people I don’t like, but I can avoid them or ask God to give me patience when I’m around them. I would rather let them stew in their own anger than get caught up in responding to it. It serves them right. I simply refuse to allow their anger to influence my thoughts or behaviors.”
I believe we can overcome at least part of the divisive rhetoric between us today by practicing social distancing from angry responses and not falling for the snarky comments or statements designed, as Mama would say “to get you riled up.” Turn off the news, scroll past those comments that are supposed to elicit a negative response, and be responsible for your own happiness by doing nice things for others. You will be surprised at how much easier life becomes when you implement The Golden Rule. Try it and see, but like Mama used to say “I don’t care if you are mad at your brother, if you get into a fight both of you are going to get me a switch.”