Essays

The Nomenclature of Ethnic Identity in America

What’s in a name?

by Matt Koehl

AT ONE TIME, America embodied a racial concept. Up until 1941 the United States was overwhelmingly White, and it was considered a White country, just like all the countries of Europe. It remained such for several more decades, when — following drastically revised immigration legislation adopted in 1965 — the demographic pattern of the country began to change and to assume an increasingly multiracial character.

In its origin, the word “America” entered our consciousness as a racial, as well as geographical, expression. North America was settled by Europeans and became a new White nation. As an overseas extension of Europe, the concept did not include Blacks or the aboriginal Indians, although it did allow for a handful of Sephardic — and later Ashkenazic — Jews to slip in as “White.”

It was not necessary to say “White American.” When one said “American,” one immediately understood by it a White, European-descended person in America. So it wasn’t necessary to put a descriptive in front of the word “American.”

Later, more recent arrivals not part of the original Anglo-Saxon settlement, sometimes referred to themselves by specific ethnic labels: “German American,” “Irish American,” “Norwegian American,” “Polish American,” “Finnish American,” and so on. Whatever their particular origin, however, all were expected to embrace the over-arching, White, national identity that was America.

Today, of course, America no longer has any racial or ethnic meaning. Someone holding U.S. citizenship can be just about anything: White, Black, yellow, red, brown, or a featherless biped of any color. By itself, the designation “American” tells us nothing about a person’s identity.

This does not mean that racial/ethnic distinctions do not exist, especially among America’s growing non-White populations, which maintain a sense of group identity unknown to most Whites, who would rather avoid any distinct, “racist” labeling. The separate, original ethnic roots of most American Whites today have, of course, merged into a generic “Caucasian” amalgam. Thus, those Whites who still do possess a sense of racial feeling usually refer to themselves with a qualifying adjective, such as “White American,” “Aryan American” or “European American.”

There is one group in America, however, which stands apart from this typical ethnic designation: the Jews. Unlike other racial/ethnic groups, they prefer to call themselves “American Jews,” in that order. There are exceptions, of course, where the term is inverted and “Jewish American” is used. But this is done more often by non-Jews than by Jews themselves.

What is the significance of such self-identification? What is the difference between the two terms? Is there really any difference at all? Or is it simply a matter of switching a noun and an adjective?

It should be noted that words, labels like these, are the expression of one’s core, group identity. They disclose one’s basic racial attitude and reveal what one feels comfortable with as part of a common gene pool. When, for example, the noun “American” is used, it suggests that that is one’s primary identity and that, in the final analysis, one should have no objection to genetic exchange with others in the body politic, so long, of course, as they are fellow citizens or carry green cards.

For Jews, the most important self-identifier is the substantive — “Jews.” The adjective, “American,” is of lesser importance. This explains the attitude and actions of so many American Jews — from neoconservatives like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol to spies like Jonathan Pollard and David Tenenbaum — who disclose their true loyalty by consistently putting the interests of Israel ahead of their country of residence.

By contrast, when one says “German American,” “Norwegian American,” “Irish American,” or a generic “white” or “European American,” what one is saying, in effect, is that one is an American first, that the substantive — the noun — “American” is more important than any qualifying adjective. It sets the stage for inevitable integration and amalgamation in the great American melting pot. (One exception to word-usage here are those non-White groups which have adopted the customary convention, while retaining a strong sense of racial/ethnic identity as “Latino Americans,” “Chinese Americans,” “Korean Americans,” “Indian Americans,” et al.)

And so, by implication, our relationship to other “Americans” — red and yellow, brown and Black — is expected to be closer than that to other White people, especially if they dwell outside the political boundaries of the United States. In other words, our association is expected to be stronger with other U.S. denizens — regardless of race, color or creed — in an integrated, red-white-’n-blue, Yankee Doodle, consumerist, reality-show “land of opportunity” than with our racially similar relatives in other parts of the world.

I, for one, categorically reject this notion. So, does that make me any less of an American? Does it mean that I don’t love this country?

Yes, of course, I love America the Beautiful. In the totality of its vast acreage, one would be hard pressed to find a finer piece of landscape on the planet. Indeed, except for Lower Manhattan, Las Vegas, Gary, Indiana, and some of its people, America possesses some of the most exquisite geography imaginable. And it is in this great, geographic expanse that, as a White man, I dwell.

But a country, a nation, is about much more than beautiful geography. Unfortunately, America is not a people, not a race — not a Volk. Apart from its wonderful natural environment, it is not organic. It is an artificial political construct set upon a given territory — a Raum ohne Volk: a geopolitical space without a people to give it organic substance and character.

Somehow, I do not find this concept very appealing. Think of it: the idea of the individual existing as a mere economic cipher, a debt-ridden consumer in a big shopping mall, a voting herd-animal caught up in a meaningless, media-hyped election cycle — “from sea to shining sea.” That does not define my true being. It does not describe my real, organic identity as someone who is more than a mere protoplasmic blob without spiritual or moral content.

The Jews have long known that they constitute a people and have acted accordingly. When they refer to themselves first of all as Jews, placing the adjective of a particular country before that particular ethnic label as a descriptive, they are simply stating the obvious.

Should we fault the Jews for thus giving their first loyalty to their own people, their own tribe? Aren’t they simply doing something, after all, which is perfectly natural? Instead of criticizing them for it, perhaps we should take a lesson from them and do likewise? In so doing, we might recognize more clearly our own identity, while at the same time learning something important about existential survival.

So who are we, then? Are we Americans? Yes, of course, we are Americans — just as we are fauna, mammals, primates and hominids.

But at the same time we are something more. We are White people, Europeans, Aryans — Aryans in America: “American Aryans” — the cousins, brothers and sisters of Aryans in Europe and all other White countries. And just as Jews regard themselves as Jews first, regardless of political geography, so likewise must our affections and primary loyalty become vested in our basic identity as unqualified — Aryans first!

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Source: New Order

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