Nativism and Who Is Considered a "Real American"Roundup
tags: citizenship, Nativism
Caleb Elfenbein is associate professor of history and religious studies at Grinnell College and creator of Mapping Islamophobia. Peter Hanson is associate professor of political science at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.
Are you American?
What do you think about when you answer this question? Do you think in terms of citizenship? Cultural attributes? Certain values?
When Grinnell College, where we are both faculty members, polled Americans on what they most associate with being a “real” American, the vast majority of respondents identified a set of values as more essential than any particular identity.
Ninety percent said treating people equally is very important to being a “real” American. Eighty-eight percent said it included taking personal responsibility for one’s actions. Accepting people of different racial (81 percent) and religious (78 percent) backgrounds also ranked very high.
We found the widespread support for these core values to be encouraging at a time of rising hate crimes and during an administration that regularly fans fears of immigration.
And yet, around 25 percent of respondents espoused nativist attitudes, ranking being born in the United States or being Christian as essential to being American. For these respondents, even the most patriotic new immigrant is not a “real” American, and the “Americanness” of someone born and raised in the United States who is not Christian will always be in question.
Nativist understandings of who qualifies as an American have received renewed attention since the surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016, but questions about Americanness have always been at the heart of public life in the United States. The answers that have come to the fore in different historical moments have informed decisions about perhaps the most important public matter of all: whether to deny or extend the full rights of citizenship to particular people living in the United States.
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