Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another bad thought

Perhaps the  socially constructed national identity long known as American no longer exists. (Very few modern national identities are not historically constructed, btw, even Italian or German or French.)

The problems faced by the European Union include the fact that there are local identities --in the last 150 years, national identities-- which are far more consequential than the overarching European identity. No one is surprised by this. Although these peoples all share the same race, they speak different languages and cluster in usually quite distinct areas. Only recently has the notion of a single European identity, much less state, made much headway.

There is, in reality, no actual European nationality. It's just an idea.

The powerful local State identities which gave rise to a country composed of United States are long a thing of the past. Where they do exist, they are an object of note or humor. Texas, for instance.
That the Founding Fathers would consider Virginia or Massachusetts their country, their national identity --which they long did-- is foreign to us contemporary Americans.

But I suspect that we are more like Europe than we have been led to believe. Certainly one chunk of the "United States" tried to dis-unite in 1861. And regionalism has been a constant force in our national history. But recent events  --events of the last 50 years, not just of the last month-- lead me to believe that there are more powerful national identities within the borders of "America", national identities not at all unlike the European ones. But here they are racial.

It makes more sense, to me, to think now of Blacks living in America as a different nationality. And this is and will be, I suspect, true also for Hispanics. "American", which once, like it or not, really meant White --and White Christian at that, and fundamentally Protestant, even though a few Catholics signed the Declaration (1) and the Constitution (2). When you hyphenate American with all sorts of qualifiers, what you are really saying is that the qualifiers, not the common adjective, are the realities. You try to paper over with PC Newspeak the fact that the common American-ness of the groups is vanishing.

If the Northern and Southern States --all controlled by White Protestant Men--had the capacity to think of themselves as different nationalities --the Southerners certainly did-- then I don't see why the notion that "Americans" of different races could not develop the same de facto differentiation.

Part of our problem, I am thinking this morning, is trying to make believe that what are in fact several nations are one nation.

Just because you put Austrians and Hungarians under one Crown does not --did not-- transcend their real national identities. Calling Hutsi and Tutu "Rwandans" was apparently a flawed idea. I could go on.

Because we grew up together, so to speak, and speak the same language --sort of-- and have populations that, while remaining as segregated as we can manage, are spatially enmeshed and forced to interact, etc. we are asked to believe that we are all Americans. But that does not mean that a White American and a Black American --or increasingly, a Hispanic American-- are really parts of the same country, by actual identity and actual attachment. If we'd been spatially clustered and separate, like the Europeans, it would be pretty obvious that we are separate nationalities.

As I often do, I perform the thought experiment of separating the races into their own North American countries and speculating on the outcome. The only group that has any attachment at all to American values other than equality are the Whites. The splits among us here are really no different from the splits in Europe between the native Whites and the Third World immigrants from Africa and Islam. Our long histories of co-habitation have only made the enmity so chronic as to seem normal and inevitable.

If we were a couple in a traditional marriage, we'd be locked into a contract we could not find an exit from, but while living in the same house, we'd avoid each other as much as possible and when we did interact, the mood would range from cold politeness to murderous rage. The races in America are in a really bad group marriage.

This morning I am thinking that continuing to believe everyone who lives in America is an American is a mystification and a fading dream.


PS. I since discovered this eloquent Independence Day jeremiad from a man quite convinced that "America" is gone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The cultural split up of the country was an interesting and revealing exercise; a racial/ethnic split up should also be interesting!

Analyzing the country by racial/ethnic ancestry, I found some interesting facts. German is the most common ancestry in 23 states. Which leads to an interesting division of the states. Hawaii is mostly Japanese. Massachusetts and New Hampshire are mostly Irish. Maine, Vermont, and Utah are mostly English. California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are mostly Mexican. Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia are mostly "American"; that is a self-identification, so I don't know how valid that is. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are mostly Italian. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware are mostly African. Everywhere else is mostly German.

Except for a few outliers (Florida, Alaska, Maine, Utah, Vermont), all of these states are contiguous with each other. They could easily be carved up into separate countries, though unless we were willing to permit/mandate mass migrations similar to what happened after the breakup of the British Raj, each of these countries would still be ethnically and racially diverse. And figuring out where people should move to would be a pain. I would make Utah's designation "Mormon" rather than "English," if only for the fact that Mormonism is such a distinct part of the state's makeup, it only seems right.


Next, economic and political breakdowns!


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