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Moats: Beyond Categories

During the recent election campaign I got tired of hearing about what white American males believed, what African-Americans believed, and Latinos and suburban women and old people and young people.

It was sociology run amok.

I know — the campaigns and the media poll different groups to figure out where the candidates stand with the voters. Hillary Clinton’s inability to hold onto the white working class hurt her, but so did her inability to inspire enthusiasm among other groups.

Then again, she inspired enough enthusiasm to win the vote by more than 2 million, so most generalizations seem specious to me.
They’re also divisive.

I think about my own family’s origins in the usual smattering of boring northern European nations - Denmark, Germany, Wales, and who knows where else.

But marriage has turned my family into a virtual United Nations.

We’re Chinese-American, Japanese-American, African-American, Native American, Hawaiian American, Latino, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Buddhist and none of the above. We include recent immigrants from Europe and Asia.

Anyone who says anything derogatory about anyone essentially insults my family, and I think most Americans are in the same position, to a greater or lesser degree.

This multiversity of peoples is enriching, not just for the recipes, which make Sunday dinner among relatives an event to look forward to.

It’s enriching for the way it anchors us all within the larger human family. It’s like walking down the street in New York or Paris or Burlington, where we’re all citizens of a wider world.

The week before the election, trumpeter Ray Vega performed in Burlington, and after his set, he made a statement with a larger meaning.

The music he plays is jazz with an infusion of the Latin sound of the Caribbean and New York City, and he made the point that, yes, this is Latin music, in the jazz tradition with its African-American origins.

“But this is American music,” he said. This is what American music is.

Duke Ellington used to say, if it’s good, it’s “beyond category.”

And we as Americans are beyond category. Each individual has a unique story. We may be subject to the influence of the group around us, but reducing us to a category robs us of our humanity.

And in the years ahead, it’s our humanity that will keep alive the values of our great American democracy.

David Moats is an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
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