“Lenworth Archibald is a 33 year old African-American male with Crohn’s Disease.”
The above is the very first sentence in a report written by my gastrointestinal doctor. He is a good guy, very intelligent and one of the few who has been able to actually make some inroads to assisting me with my disease. But he committed — from my own point of view — an unconscionable crime … and he was not aware he did it. Nor would anyone else unless someone spoke up. Luckily, I have never been one to shy away from doing just that.
I am not African-American. No, really. Stop laughing. This is serious business to me.
As an immigrant, there are still cultural differences between Canada and the United States that I still find myself adjusting to. Honestly, there are not that many — but there is one huge elephant that glares at me constantly that I have never been able to fully shake since I arrived here: culture-hyphenation. The idea that you can balance the culture of this nation along with the culture of whatever nation you or your descendents emigrated from. African-American; Chinese-American; Arab-American; Italian-American, and so on and so forth.
Anyone who knows me well is more than aware of what my response would be when someone asks of my nationality. Canadian. Proud of it, too. I was not born here, so there is nothing rooted in my DNA that makes me “American.” Also, my own cultural heritage is 1) a terribly mixed bag and 2) is recognized no farther than my great-grandfather, who was from Jamaica.
But, Lenny, your great-grandfather was a descendent of African slaves, right? How dare you ignore his lineage. Actually — and it has always been one of those weird conversation pieces — my descendents were the slave owners. I honestly do not know how this came to be. I fully intend to investigate how the bloodline of my family somehow migrated from Scotland, Syria, Italy and England, wound up in Jamaica and scattered the rest of us throughout Canada and the U.S. But this is not about the “lineage” of my family; this is about breaking away from the idea of “American, but other.” Those who do not check themselves off as “Caucasian” for a survey are hopefully aware of connotations by identifying themselves as something hyphenated with American, instead of simply American. When it comes to myself, there is nothing African or American about me — and I am fine with that, because it is the truth.
This week marks the 150th anniversary of perhaps the second most important piece of legislature since the documents that founded this great country: The Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves throughout the southern states. No matter where our heritage originted from, we should be proud and know our history. We should not sweep our past under the rug of the melting pot and learn farom our mistakes. I also think that we may have an easier time relating to each other in the 21st century if we learn to identify ourselves as individuals first, and not hyphens that are well-meaning declarations of assimilation but actually divide us further.
While pondering over the culture of hyphenation we have become terribly accustomed to, I created a little poetic expression that I feel best symbolizes how we have allowed Western culture to effectively box ourselves in:
Exit polls for political races focus on nothing more than “political races.”
Or if you want something a little more familiar, you can’t go wrong with The Beatles:
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”