The Race for a De-Hyphenated America

“It’s my firm belief that the concept of the hyphenated America, of these labels that put a person’s ethnicity before nationality, fosters the racial divide in this country”

Nicole Draffen

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In her book “Hyphened-Nation: Don’t Check The Box,” author and thought leader Nicole Draffen asserts that “America is the only country that hyphenates their citizens by ethnicity before nationality.” This view highlights the sentiments of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who once remarked that a “hyphenated American is not an American at all."

Draffen’s book has sent a meteor across the landscape of race and nationality as it offers a sobering account of how the use of hyphenations like African-American, Latin-American, Asian-American ends up marginalizing large groups of people who we should be seeking to uplift. 

Hyphened-Nation was inspired by her travels overseas, and time spent living in the United Kingdom which she describes as a life-altering experience. Draffen explains how despite having lived in the U.S. her entire life, she “never truly felt more like a real American than when I was treated as one outside of America.” 

Says Draffen: 

“I grew to understand certain aspects of American culture better, the longer I lived overseas. This book is about my insights, and experience of being treated as an American, rather than as a hyphenated one. The difference was startling, and led me on a journey to understand why The United States is one of the only, if not the only country, that hyphenates its citizens by ethnicity before nationality.” 

The book highlights how hyphenation often serves as a roadblock to economic, educational, societal, and cultural advancements in an America that is becoming increasingly more diverse by the day. It examines the cultural and media differences between the U.S. and Europe in terms of how nationality is portrayed.

Notes Draffen: 

“The hyphenation of your nationality minimizes your standing in the nation. The hyphen might as well act as a minus sign. Both are represented by the same symbol and have the same consequences. Just as a minus “takes away” a numerical value, its counterpart hyphen lessens the value of your nationality.“ 

Born and raised in California, she laments being classified as African American based on her skin color when in reality she’s an amalgamation of African, French, Scottish, and Native American ancestry.  She contents throughout the book that the use “hyphenated” distinctions do a disservice to who we really are, sowing disunity and separation. 

Challenging the book’s readers, she notes: 

“What about people born in Africa of Caucasian ethnicity? Are they forced to call themselves “European-Africans” if they have ever set foot in Europe?” 

In a raw admission, Draffen offered this sobering thought: 

“All too often people either judge me immediately based on racial perceptions or go out of their way to make sure I know they aren’t judging me. They just have to mention they have black friends or make sure to drop Aretha Franklin or John Legend’s name in the conversation.” 

She says that the common tendency to use ethnic hyphenations is equivalent to saying, “Stay back! You are almost an American, but not completely, because of your ethnicity.” 

In the end, her hope is that the book will not only foster spirited dialogue about this issue but serve as an accelerant for changing the mindset of this generation and those to come.

“I would love to see Americans make a step towards removing it entirely (hyphen) from not only our vernacular but our own minds.” 

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