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Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

When Being “American” Becomes Divisive

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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

One professor tells Detroit Today that we’re losing part of our national identity, at least in part because many of those who think of themselves as American now use that term to divide themselves from others.

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Cara CunninghamJake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Cara Cunningham

What label, if any, defines you as a member of society? A progressive or conservative? A gun owner or a gun control advocate? Would it be your race or your religion? Maybe the state or city you live in?

What about the word “American?”

University of Detroit Mercy Law School associate professor Cara Cunningham says that’s a label that used to unite us, one that that bound society together so that it wouldn’t fall apart. But we’re losing that part of our identity, at least in part because many of those who think of themselves as American now use that term to divide themselves from others.

So, what does that mean for us as a nation or a society?

Cunningham writes about those questions in a new essay that appears in the Washburn Law Journal, “Outing Otherization: A Means to Enable Cooperation in a Post-Truth Era.”

When you’re looking at issues as us-versus-them, you’re really letting the other side off the hook,” Cunningham says during an appearance on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson. “If you say ‘I disagree with you and let’s talk about common sense solutions,’ that’s where we can make change.”

Cunningham says there are other things that we can do on an individual level to cut against these forces, including by making informed and strategic decisions in the voting booth.

We’re not as powerless as we may feel sometimes,” she says. “There’s this perverse incentive in politics today to otherize.”

To counteract that incentive, she says “support candidates who are talking about the issues. Don’t reward politicians who are trying to trigger you.”

Click on the player above to hear UD Mercy Law associate professor Cara Cunningham discuss her research on “otherization” and “post-truth” America.


Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.

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