In This Country, American Means… Toni Morrison

I’ve been thinking about this quote lately.

 

In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.

 

“But what are you really?”

“Where are you from?”

“No, where are you really from?”

“You don’t look like a _______________. They usually have [insert stereotypical feature here].”

There is so much truth to Toni Morrison’s statement. Everybody else has to hyphenate. So I’m supposed to be an African-American writer? A Caribbean-American writer? An Afro-Caribbean-American writer? A West-Indian-American writer?

There are far too many hyphenations to be considered. It’s amazing that when I tell people I’m an American writer, they end up hyphenating it anyway. I can’t be just an American writer, I have to have something else attached to it in order to distinguish myself. A series of hyphenations, no matter the combination, will never define who I am as a writer. It is as if someone is saying that in order to add some sort of validity to my writing, I “have” to be a hyphenated American writer because my writing is automatically speaking only to the Black experience.

This is not true at all. Race is not the only way to have shared experiences. Class is not the only way to have shared experiences. You can’t judge a book by it’s author before you’ve even read it, simply because the author is a hyphenated American writer. When you judge writing before you’ve read it, you’re potentially missing out on common experiences and feelings that you can relate to. Reading in all it’s forms is supposed to unite us, not divide us.

Are you considered a hyphenated American? Does it instill a sense of pride in who you are, or do you see it as an unnecessary division?

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