History study is all about maintaining things in perspective. The United States is a victim of such as it has a tendency to turn to past religion that employs myths of radical novelty. Nonetheless, Eric Foner’s work in his book, “Who is an American?” aimed at establishing the definition of an American. Various interpretations relating to an American definition have been explained by various authors. As a result, Foner presents the argument that the question “Who is an American”, has never had an absolute, fixed response. This paper seeks to discuss, Foner’s mythical argument.
Foner advocates that difference and commonality are intrinsic parts of the American experience. Consequently, various groups of the American society have, over time, spoken a similar political language whilst different interpretation to a few vocabularies. Moreover, it is the differences and exclusions that have exclusively contributed to the historical construction of universal principles and moral values. Nonetheless, there exists an overwhelming obsession amongst the people in establishing the definition of “Americanness”.
Foner criticizes the Americans’ debate regarding their nationality as an inconsistency to the Western tradition. He points out that the West emphasizes on “Liberty” as a universal human right and resulted in the intervention of the term “race” which ascribed to its predictive powers with relation to human behavior. The United States, a continent governed by nationalism, should, therefore, envision the nation as a community, based on shared political institutions. The majority of American scholars identify the US with the French model. For this reason; an ideology of democracy, liberty and equality are vital entities that attempt to define an American.
The American constitution does not point out the definition of a citizen of the United States, his/her privileges and immunities, as well. Individual states were to determine the boundaries of citizenship. In 1970, the Naturalization Law granted Congress the powers to control nationalization process and consequently restricted the American citizenship to the “free white people” that lasted for 80 years. Not until 1870, the Blacks recognized as American citizens whereas Asians were later permitted to be citizens in 1940.
The concept of Americanism extracted various explanations consequently making it intricate to establish the answer to the question, “Who is an American?” One such example emerged from the civil war. The Civil Act of 1866 declared that persons born in the United States, except the Indians, were national citizens and spelled out the rights they were to enjoy equally regardless of their race. Moreover, other concepts essentially raised discrimination aspects based on race and gender.
I am of the opinion that Foner has effectively explained the complexity in defining an American. Using Benedict Anderson’s celebrated definition; a nation is more than a political entity or a state of mind, “an imagined political community” with borders that are as much intellectual as geographical. Therefore, it is unnecessary to attempt to establish the meaning of an American. Consequently, national identities are inherently unstable and are subjected to continuing efforts to draw and redraw their imagined borders. As such, an “American” has been referred by philosophers as an essentially contested concept, where its nature is subject to multiple and conflicting interpretations.
Secondly, most vocal advocates of Americanism adhere to racialized definition. The American Federation of Labor popularized identification of high wages with national identity, insisting that Blacks, Asians and new immigrants from Europe were ready to work for remarkably little wages and were identified as Americans. The immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were referred to as “lower races”. Undoubtedly, it is evident that, in the attempt to define the term Americanism, some definitions have lengthily explored racial prejudice.
Throughout this course, American history has extensively been discussed in Foner’s writings. Arguably, essential facts are derived from Foner’s writings that have been in the entire course. Tentatively, the discussion has rooted deeply into attempting to respond to the question, “Who is an American?” As such, Forner attempts to explain the various aspects that effectively explain the American history. Foner’s argument provides a basis for education as students easily comprehend and trace the American history.
Unquestionably, Foner’s arguments, fail to trace the definition of an American. Essentially, learners learn to look at the definitions for a broader and wider scope in comparison to prejudiced descriptions on prejudice. Tentatively, nationality has been promoted among its readers, as well. Conclusively, obsessions in comprehending the true meaning of an American citizen may be a catalyst for political conflict. Arguably, it is predictable that community boundaries of the 21st century would continue to be the source of political conflicts among its members.