Melting pot makes an American masterpieceSept. 20, 1996
Lariat Assistant City Editor
With America's 'melting pot' culture, diverse ethnic groups are often expected to mix together and form one harmonious group.
The combination of many different ethic groups creates a strain, but this collage makes America unique.
Americans, like any other members of a mass culture, hold certain ideas and goals close to their collective heart. The importance of remaining an individual and a general distrust of government are two examples of deep-rooted group philosophies which shape many of our social interactions with other Americans and foreigners. Another ingrained metaphor for the United States is that of our country being a 'melting pot' of the cultures of ethnic minorities, genders, sexual preferences and lifestyles. Much like the turn of the century Horatio Alger penny novels, everyone is perceived as accepted into the manifold bosom of Lady Liberty and given the opportunity for any hard worker to climb to the top.
But is this perception realistic or even beneficial to society?
The concept of the great American 'melting pot' suggests to me the notion of everyone chipping in his or her differing cultural characteristic to form a group identity shared by all citizens of our country.
The belief can best be exemplified in the phrase, 'It doesn't matter if you're black, white, yellow or purple, because we are all Americans.'
While very optimistic, the 'melting pot' concept is too simplistic and naive to the point that holding onto it is detrimental to the social development of our country. For generations, Americans have fought, struggled and resisted pressure to adopt a vanilla-flavored group identity, opting for their own unique subcultures. Wars have been fought, laws have been passed and thousands of people have lived lives of fear and repression because of the persistence of the idea. While racial violence and intolerance is still a real problem today, the true threat to American diversity is the insistence on mashing people of all ethnicities, persuasions and creeds into a single mold: The American. This type of poorly planned thinking has resulted in idiotic ideas such as imposing a single national language, school busing between racially different school districts and affirmative action.
While it may appear that I am arguing for separatism, which always leads to the formation of a corrupt power hierarchy, I am in fact asking for something extremely difficult to undertake. It is very easy to develop a legislative frosting to cover racial problems and then file them away in hope that they fix themselves or disappear, but to actually solve the problem is not nearly as easy. Many people have the misconception that American racial problems were solved during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s; however, the only thing that really occurred was the recognition of a problem lying dormant in our country for hundreds of years. Granted, the laws passed by Congress and Supreme Court decisions changed how minorities are viewed as citizens in the eyes of the law, but little was done to help change how minorities were viewed as people and the critical role they play in our country's social, political and cultural contexts.
There is no permanent way in which legislation can regulate how ethnic groups in the United States feel about each other because the laws do not address the root of the problem. The underlying cause of racial distrust and disharmony is the essential human fear of change and people and things that are different from those we are used to.
If we, as American citizens, can learn to appreciate differences and see the strength that they give us instead of repressing them with impotent laws, then hatred can not stop us. Instead of the false icon resulting from a melting pot effect, we can appreciate our country for what it was truly intended to be: a collage of cultures, each singular in its own right but contributing to the masterpiece called America.
Copyright © 1996 The Lariat
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