The concept of the American identity involves many contradictions and one of them is denial of existing disparities in cultures, traditions, and language dialects. Therefore, the American model of assimilation and formation of new identity created a number of challenges for different ethnic groups scarifying their beliefs for the sake of creating equal opportunities. All these tensions are explicitly illustrated in Studs Terkel’s C. P. Ellis, James McBride’s The Boy in the Mirror, and in Rereading America by Colombo, Cullen, and Lisle.
The readings prove that creating a myth of equal and individual merits for the American people was set as a kind of compromise for people to escape from the emergent ethnic conflicts and create a single identity, a new state for the sake of better future. However, renouncement of previously established traditions and identities, people’s reluctance to reconcile with their origins to defend their individual opportunities, and fear of racial and ethnic superiorities create an illusionary vacuum that is no congruent with the reality of that period. While striving to equality and freedom of human rights and creating individual opportunities for development, the American people rejected the previously established traditions and existing identities. The priority of human rights over culture is depicted in Terkel’s C.
P. Ellis where the protagonist, a white man, tries to perceive himself and surrounding people as individualities, but not as cultural stereotypes for sustaining justice and equality. At the same time, joining the Klan provides Ellis with a chance for personal self-recognition and becoming a part of identity: “They said they were with the Klan and have meeting close-by. Would I be interested? Boy, that was an opportunity I really looked forward to! To be part of something” (Terkel 202). Like the majority of people, the hero prefers togetherness to separation and solitude, which endows him with more individual opportunities. The case is a bright example of how the myth of individual merits can be dispelled.
Similarly, McBride’s story also underscores the character’s feeble attempts to affiliate himself to a particular identity whose ethnic background presents a great mystery: “Now, as a grown man I feel privileged to have come from two worlds. My view of the world is not merely that of a Black man, but that of a Black man with something of Jewish soul” (McBride 79). In this way, the author gives tribute to his mother and creates a new identity for himself. Being embedded within an imaginary world prevents the American people from understanding their origins and defending their individuality. In this regard, the idea of the American identity embedded in a commitment to the main values reveals a number of misconceptions, denying the existence of heterogeneous society. Pursuing these ideological ideals, “the drama of becoming an American has deep roots: immigrants take on a new identity – a new set of cultural myths – because they to become…equal members with all the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of their fellow citizens” (Colombo, Cullen, and Lisle 374).
Similar tragedy can be viewed in McBride’s deliberations on ethnic origins and identity. In particular, the author clearly views the world in which his mother lived: “White folks, she felt, were implicitly evil towards blacks, yet she forced us to go to white school to get the best education. Blacks could be trusted more, but anything involving black was probably slightly substandard” (McBride 22).
The author, nevertheless, manages to strike the balance between ideological identity existed in the America in the first of the past century and his individual goals and aspirations. McBride deliberations on identity are also reinforced by the assumption that people yield their origins and traditions to creating a fair and equal state that distinguish people according to their virtues, but not according to their racial and cultural affiliation. However, the assumption is false because “instead of the equal and harmonious blending of cultures, it proposes a racial and ethnic hierarchy based on “natural superiority” of Anglo-Americans” (Colombo, Cullen, and Lisle 374). Being under the influence of “melting pot” ideologies, people forgot about their roots and significance of reconciling cultural identities. In fact, the myth about a new state with ideals and rules can be easily dispelled if taking into consideration the existence of those superiorities in the 40s of the twenties century.
By proving the contrary, Terkel discloses the protagonists’ decision to be guided by individualistic approaches rather than by stereotypes within “the American Dream context” context. Criticizing these influential mechanisms, the authors states, “[p]eople are being used those in control, those who have all the wealth…But those who have it simply don’t want those who don’t have it to have any part of it.” Interpreting this, the concept of the American identity was created by the prevailing majority that strived to suppress any displays of heterogeneity.
In conclusion, all the novels withdraw the idea of the American identity enabling people to fulfill their goals. Indeed, rejecting to the ethnical identities and heterogeneity, desire to get equal opportunities for development, and fear of racial superiority contributed greatly to the creation of false identity. Terkel and McBride, together with Colombo, Cullen, and Lisle have managed to debunk the myths about individual opportunities through revealing a true picture of hegemony of the White class dominating over marginal groups.
Colombo, Gary, Cullen Robert, Lisle Bonnie. Rereading America. US: Bedford/St. Martins, 2007. Print.
McBride, James: The color of water: a Black man’s tribute to his white mother. US: Riverhead Books. 1996.
Print. Terkel, Studs. C. P. Ellice. in American Dreams: Lost and Found. US: The New Press.