Who Is Us?

Who Is Us?

“Who Is Us?: A Project on American Identity” is a research project based on the premise that the severe fragmentation of American society is a direct threat to our democracy. To promote cohesion, we must more deeply examine the multiple narratives that define the American story in order to forge greater consensus around the contours of American identity. This project is created in partnership with the Democracy Fund.

Context
We are in a moment when fundamentals of American identity are hotly debated. On one level, American identity is based on our founding ideals — universal principles of equality and liberty. On another level, American identity has always been understood in particular racial, ethnic, and religious experiences. The gap in interpretations of American identity has widened as severe inequality and dramatic demographic and technological shifts are remaking our society. In the context of divisive culture wars, polarized political debate, and a reckoning with our history of racial injustice, two distinct sides are increasingly trying to superimpose their vision of America on the other.  Such an outcome would neither serve the ideals of our nation nor the interests of the American people.

The topics being explored through this project are critical to the health of American democracy both socially and politically, and they are especially relevant today. On the one hand, a national crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic can strain existing divisions, highlight societal inequities, and result in blame and recrimination. But there is also a more hopeful opportunity in this moment: the prospect that in this time of shared risk and shared sacrifice, we might succeed in coming together with a clearer sense of purpose and a more nuanced understanding of not only what being American has meant historically for different segments of our country, but of how we want to be American together as we walk toward our shared future.

To address the challenge and opportunity of this moment, we hypothesize that as Americans, we should embrace the many identities that we have, and to recognize that different identities can be experienced at once.  Through exploring and articulating the omni-cultural story of America, we believe we can help to equip ourselves with the language, the common understandings, and the mutual respect for difference that will enable us to develop a shared narrative of what it means to be an American.

Our Approach
Through this project, we will explore how Americans from a multitude of backgrounds are grappling with the question of what it means to be American today, and ultimately how this impacts the way American democracy functions.  With a working hypothesis that a new American identity may be omni-cultural, (that is, neither monocultural nor multicultural but a transcendent synthesis), we aim to engage Americans from different geographies, ideologies, ethnicities, and religions to unearth answers to the question of who we are, collectively, as Americans.  On the basis of this input, we will make actionable recommendations in terms of values, processes, and skills that will help put a more inclusive American identity into practice in a range of contexts and institutions. By articulating an inclusive sense of what it means to be an American and a vision of our collective future, we can in turn enhance the quality of our democratic life.

If you are interested in being involved in this project, please contact Caroline Hopper at caroline.hopper@aspeninstitute.org or Ashley Quarcoo at ashley.quarcoo@aspeninstitute.org.