Monday, March 28, 2011

"America - The Melting Pot"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“America – The Melting Pot”
March 28, 2011

As far back as 1782, the concept of American exceptionalism was widely understood. In his Letters from an American Farmer, John Hector St. John de Crevècouer wrote, “Who is this American man? He leaves behind his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the mode of life he has embraced (and) the government he obeys…Here individuals are melted into a new race of men…” In 1845, Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to America as the Utopian product of a culturally and racially mixed “smelting pot.” Frederick Jackson Turner, the American historian and author of The Significance of the Frontier in American History, wrote in 1893 that the frontier functioned as a crucible where immigrants were Americanized. Henry James, in The American Scene (1905), noted the same phenomena in New York City: The City is a “fusion, as of elements in solution in a vast hot pot.” In 1908, Israel Zangwill wrote a play, The Melting Pot, in which he stated: “America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting Pot where the races of Europe are melting and reforming.” It is this unique combination – a diverse population living in a country, large in area and rich in resources, under a Constitution of 4400 words that were agreed to by a small, mostly homogenous group of wise men, representing differing political, social and philosophical views – that has made us the luckiest people on earth.

The release of the 2010 Census last weeks is proof that America continues as a beacon, a “city on a hill,” for people from all over the world. More than half the nation’s population growth in the past decade (about 15 million of a 27 million person increase) was a result of immigration, both legal and illegal. I worry that the press and the government’s desire to demonstrate diversity overwhelms the importance of the concept of the crucible. The report from the government reflecting the number of Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, non-Hispanic Caucasians, etc. is reminiscent of the elite American university that looks upon such statistics as proof they are truly diversified. The consequence is the absence of a well-rounded individual, but a diversified class of entering freshman. The American Anthropological Association, in commenting on the 2010 Census section on “race”, stated: “Eventually, however, these classifications must be transcended and replaced by more non-racist and accurate ways of representing the diversity of the U.S. population.”

Diversity is important and it makes all of us better, but the real story is the continuing integration of people in producing that unique and exceptional characteristic that becomes the American man and woman. During the past ten years, among American children, the multiracial population increased almost 50% to 4.2 million (out of 63 million children under the age of 14) making it the fastest growing youth segment in America. My paternal grandmother, born in 1875 was a pragmatic woman who spent six years studying at M.I.T. Once, during the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the mid 1950s, she told me that the answer to the race problem would come when everybody would be the same color. That day may be coming sooner than even she expected.

Politicians and businesses that target specific groups have been at the forefront of an attempt to compartmentalize our nation’s people. Schools that cater to immigrants by teaching in languages other than English do a disservice to their students. Politicians who segregate Hispanic, Asian or African-American voting blocks discourage the natural tendencies to integrate that de Crevècouer wrote of two hundred and thirty years ago.

A failure on the part of the immigrant to assimilate does him and his new country a disservice. On the other hand, England, which incorporated Islamic law two years ago, allowing Shiria courts to rule on Muslim civil cases, is a terrible precedent and, in my opinion, a form of Apartheid that will serve to segregate Muslims within their adopted country. A country is unified in three basic ways – language, customs and laws. A common language is imperative for basic communication and in permitting each individual an equal opportunity. Customs are fluid. Naturally, immigrants do influence customs, but the change is normally glacial and virtually unnoticeable. Laws are integral to a civil society and all people – rich and poor, native born or foreign bred, no matter race or heritage – must be subject to the same laws. A Shiria court is an encroachment of religion into politics and makes distinctions between people – a precedent that will come back to bite.

America has not been free from xenophobia. Many, if not most, immigrants throughout our history, no matter their heritage, religion or race, have been victims of discrimination and venality. Such attitudes unfortunately persist today. However, in a generation or two, most groups have assimilated into American life. The history of our success has been that while pride in one’s heritage is natural and positive, pride of being American should take precedence.

The single biggest problem facing the U.S. today is debt. For better or for worse, the country has embarked on a mission of providing entitlements for our citizens, guaranteeing the debts of banks, building up beachfronts, becoming the insurer of last resort and the cleaning up of disasters – man-made and natural – both here and abroad. For example, every time we launch a Tomahawk missile into Libya it costs a million dollars. And, in the first day we launched over a hundred. The country has done all this through borrowing, not taxation. Sating today’s desires, not focusing on growth for tomorrow, has been driving government. We are coming close to a point, as Mark Whitehouse writes in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, where we “won’t be able to bear the cost of another disaster.” On the other hand, most immigrants are young, willing and able to work. That is why they come here, for the opportunity. They do not add to the problem; they are part of the solution.

The Census tells us a lot about our country, not only about immigration and race, but as to which regions are growing most rapidly, the attractiveness of certain cities and the demographics of age. Virtually alone among western nations, the U.S. continues to grow, both naturally and through immigration; it is that melting pot concept that persists in attracting people from all over the world and which adds to the exceptionalism of America. It must be encouraged.

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