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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Hyphened-Nation: Don’t Check the Box by Nicole Draffen is a non-fiction philosophical memoir wherein the author provides insight into her transformative outlook following a spell of living in the UK. Draffen focuses on the differences she encountered as an ethnically diverse woman who is outwardly perceived as black and how this perception manifests the pigeon-holing of the hyphenated African-American label. This designation was non-existent during her time in the UK, where she was simply an American and was not compartmentalized by a double-barrelled nationality description that should not exist. This is, of course, the 'African' anterior portion of African-American. Draffen makes a compelling argument on how the hyphen further marginalizes black men and women, as well as those who are perceived to be black, and does so based on her experiences of living in two countries.
Like Nicole Draffen, I am a California girl who also lives in the UK, and I was immediately drawn to Hyphened-Nation. My maternal family is Chinese-Filipino, and I am married to a man of color. I can absolutely confirm that mixed-race relationships and melanin are almost entirely ignored in London, corroborating that Draffen's perspective of American exceptionalism does not apply to those who have their Americanism diluted with a hyphen. An interesting chapter for me was six, Notes on the English Language, where Draffen addresses formalizing the acceptance of Ebonics as a dialect. I raise the topic of this chapter to highlight the literary merit of the book and its genuine ability to provoke thoughtful, academic consideration in the sense that, while I do not personally agree with Draffen's position of Ebonics as being detrimental, the writing is a high standard. There is an incredible irony in this, where most people reading this chapter on—literally—the importance of using traditional English in its “proper” form, Draffin's credibility is heightened because of the vernacular. Would her book be received with the same consideration if the vernacular had been different? And herein lies the complex bedrock of the implied 'other' when African is a precursor to being American. I highly recommend reading this enlightening book.