Statement of Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA)
Speaker of the House
Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight
Hearing on Multiracial Identification
25 July 1997
MR. CHAIRMAN. America is a nation of immigrants. We have, in America, people who have, for various reasons come to America for a better opportunity. Before there was a nation called the United States, Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution, landed in a place they called the New World. In the 1800's the Irish came to these shores fleeing a famine which had devastated their country. As recently as the 1970s, Vietnamese fled a homeland wounded by decades of war. These and so many others saw hope and opportunity in America. They came here for a chance to succeed. They made the conscious decision to become part of a new family — to become Americans. And becoming an American is a unique experience, which comes with certain responsibilities, certain habits that one has to absorb and accept to successfully finish the process.
An American is not "French" the way the French are or "German" the way Germans are. You can live in either of those countries for years and never become French or German. I think one of the reasons Tiger Woods has had such a big impact is because he is an American. He defines himself as an American. As Tiger described himself, "I just am who I am, whatever you see in front of you." I think we need to be prepared to say, the truth is we want all Americans to be, quite simply, Americans. That doesn't deprive anyone of the right to further define their heritage — I go to celebrations such as the Greek festival in my district every year. It doesn't deprive us of the right to have ethnic pride, to have some sense of our origins. But it is wrong for some Americans to begin creating subgroups to which they have a higher loyalty than to America at large. The genius of America has always been its ability to draw people from everywhere and to give all of them an opportunity to pursue happiness in a way that no other society has been able to manage.
Andria Brown1, writing in the Chicago Tribune on April 18, 1997, wrote about Tiger Woods: "We might be saved by the amazing grace of golf. And by a kid with a swing, whose mixed heritage could be a recipe for hope, proving to the world that it's not what color you are, but the way you carry yourself and the way you persist to reach your dreams. When he steps to the tee, Tiger Woods does not represent the struggle of African-Americans. When he sinks a putt, the athletic future of Chinese-Americans does not rest on his shoulders. Rather, what Tiger Woods does embody each time he walks a golf course is the potential of youth and the reward of diligence…What Tiger Woods typifies is the best of what we all can be."
America is too big and too diverse to categorize each and every one of us into four rigid racial categories. The administration has made a decision to force us to choose artificial categories that do not accurately reflect the racial identity of America. Millions of Americans like Tiger Woods or my constituent, Ryan Graham, who testified before you earlier this year, have moved beyond the Census Bureau's divisive and inaccurate labels. We live in a technicolor world where the government continues to view us as only black and white.
It is time for the government to stop perpetuating racial divisiveness. It is time to treat individuals as individuals and to adopt the attitude about our fellow Americans that Lou Ann Mullen, a Native American Texan who fought valiantly to be allowed to adopt two Black children, expressed about her own family when asked about their multi-racial make-up, "We are often described that way but I don't think of us that way. To me we are just my family."
That should be our goal for the way we as Americans feel about one another. That is why, ideally, I believe we should have one box on federal forms that simply reads: "American."
But, if that is not possible at this point, we should at least stop forcing American into inaccurate categories aimed at building divisive subgroups and allow them the option of selecting the category "multiracial", which I believe will be an important step toward transcending racial division and reflecting the melting pot which is America.
(1) The quotation attributed to Andria Brown is inaccurate. The first two sentences of the quotation did not appear in her Chicago Tribune piece nor in any of her other writings. The original source of these sentences is unknown. The full text of Ms. Brown's column on Tiger Woods can be viewed at http://home.midsouth.rr.com/declines/tiger.html