Proud to be simply an American

Published in the Jersey County Journal, October 14, 2015

Published in the Jersey County Journal, October 14, 2015

Earlier this month former Disney star Raven-Symoné, best known as grandbaby Olivia on The Cosby Show, caught Oprah Winfrey completely by surprise during an interview. She told Oprah, “…I’m American not African American. I don’t know what country I’m from in Africa, but I do know I have roots in Louisiana. I’m an American, and that’s a colorless person…”

Oprah warned the young lady that she might come to regret that declaration and the Twitter blow-up that was guaranteed to follow. I am not here to start yet another argument rooted in racism, but I have to say that I believe this young woman showed an unprecedented amount of strength by making such a statement. I also have to say I agree with her.

As the interview progressed, Raven-Symoné further defined her stand. She said that the majority of today’s Americans are descendants of immigrants to this country. Our ancestors were first English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, African and so on. When they colonized the land here and motivated our forefathers to create the United States of America, they became Americans. While their homelands were still very much a part of them—their values, culture, traditions and beliefs—they were, in fact, Americans now.

Most of us are familiar with certain lines of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, “A New Colossus,” that appears on a tablet within the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands. I think we might also need to become much more familiar with a preceding line: “…From her beacon-hand…Glows world-wide welcome…”

Our country was founded on the premise that we are a “melting pot.” As a nation, we pride ourselves on embracing a world-leading culture of openness and acceptance. I am not here to argue race, religion, sexuality, or any other such divisive issue. I write this column to simply say that perhaps it’s time to lose the stigmas that comes with racial identification and bias.

Tradition would have me labeling myself as a German-Dutch-Irish-English-American, or something like that. With my children and all my other future descendants, it becomes even more complex. And I, like Raven, identify hardly at all with the homelands of my ancestors. But I can certainly tell you all about my roots and growing up in Jerseyville, Illinois and what life is like here in the UNITED States of America…