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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Stew of ideas about inclusion, exclusion, nativism and assimilation

   This Post is likely to be less strident than some of my others.  Also, a fair warning here, it will be longer.

In the Title, I reference a "Stew", so it's appropriate to begin by discussing ingredients in some detail

1.  The "Melting Pot"

    I learned about this when I went to grade school.  The idea was that America was a Nation of immigrants, and that each new group of immigrants was introduced into the Melting Pot of American society and culture, where they were gradually absorbed into that culture.  A sometimes overlooked aspect of this concept is that when each new group was absorbed, it would add its own flavor, customs, whatever, to the pot and, by doing so, change the overall "flavor" of American society.  In short, the melting process would change and absorb the new groups while they themselves changed the flavor and texture of American society.  This is wildly different from other countries' views of group absorbtion.  The one that comes to mind is the French, which seems to be that the outside groups will adapt themselves and fit into some pre-existing basic rubric of French culture and society without themselves changing that basic rubric.  Obviously, this difference arises at least in part because we are, self-consciously, a nation of immigrants.  Except for Native Americans,there was no real uniform (and theirs wasn't that uniform), pre-existing culture.  While the colonists were largely of a simlar ethnic background, each colony had a different origin, and often a different religious focus.

     Now, as I became an adult, I realized that this "easy" absorbtion story line was part myth.  The absorbtion was never quick and easy (see the discussion of Nativism below, and, certainly, when I was a child, African Americans and Asians were still excluded.)  (this Post will not discuss women, the disabled,  homosexuals and (pick your group), because the Melting Pot image was really about ethnic and religious groups).

2. Hypenated Americans and the "Salad Bowl".

   In the 60's, a Black Power movement began to emerge, that, at least in part, rejected the myth(?) of the Melting Pot.  The idea seemed to be that a group had, to stand up for itself, take an agressive pride in its own distinct identity, and reject the idea that it somehow had to "fit in".   As might be expected, once one large racial or ethnic group bought into this idea ( I am not implying that it was either a good or bad idea), others began to do the same, in part from a perception of "self-defense", as if the African Americans were asking for specific protections and economic favoritism as a group, other groups would essentially see a pie being divided up, and want to make sure that their own rights were not adversely affected.  This is not to say that people were not very conscious of being Jews or Greeks or Catholics or Chinese prior to the 60's (quite the opposite), but my recollection (and I was just a kid) is that it had relatively little to do with how we identified ourselves as Americans or how we expected the Government to treat us.

    This has gradually led to the idea of the "Salad Bowl" as a new ideal, supplanting the idea of the "Melting Pot".  In the Salad Bowl, while everything mixes together to create the salad, each item retains its own distinct shape, flavor and identity.  The tomatoes remain tomatoes (and proud of it!), and so on.  I, personally, do not like the idea of the Salad Bowl, because it impliedly rejects the idea that there is some basic shared identiy into which we are all absorbed and which, in itself, is distict from the individual ingredients.  Be that as it may. . .

   This, in turn, led to a very negative reaction to "hypenated Americans" (or that idea) in general.  Part of the negative reaction is due to an increasing perception of the existence of minority groups and a feeling that they must be (or are already overly)protected by the Government.   Sometimes the negative reaction is just visceral (we may not like the protected group).  Sometimes it may be based on economic reality (If preference is given to minorities in entering the Police Academy or College, it means fewer places for someone more "theoretically" qualified who is not a minority).  Sometimes it is based on a belief that the Government should not be able to tell me what I must do - who I must serve at my restaurant, or hire, or rent my apartment to. Sometimes it is based on a psychological feeling that the mnorities are rejecting the Melting Pot" and what is perceived as "real" American values, or the primacy of identifying one as an "American" first. And sometimes I probably couldn't even begin to guess . . .

     It may be that this negative reaction and resentment is felt most by the white, Anglo-Saxon(?) Christians that view themsleves as "just plain Americans".  However, it is not exclusive to them.  I can tell you it is shared by many of my fellow Jews, at least sometimes.

3.  Pluralism

As readers of my previous posts will know, I am a great believer in pluralism - the right of individuals and groups to act and believe differently.  Now seems like another good time to quote Barry Goldwater:

“Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.”

And, just for the Heck of it (Barry was not a "social" conservative), here are a couple more, which also relate to pluralism,

“It’s time America realized that there is no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.”

"You don't need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight"

["emaniciaption of creative differences".  I'm going to come back to that line.]

4.  Nativism

   Americans have not always felt kindly about the prospects of new and different Americans.  We have a long tradition of not liking people and/or groups who are different.  Some examples: 

First, from Benjamin Franklin in 1751 [I would add here that I am a big fan of Mr. Franklin.  He was, however, like all of us, a product of his own time]

"Why shouldsssshhShoulsh
sh s     the Palatine Boors [ Germans from the Palatine region of Germany] be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexionn as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.
WHY should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.
That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Compexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.

Second, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Know-Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, though its efforts met with little success. Membership was limited to Protestant males of British lineage over the age of twenty-one. There were few prominent leaders, and the largely middle-class and entirely Protestant membership fragmented over the issue of slavery. Most ended up joining the Republican Party by the time of the 1860 presidential election.[1][2]
The movement originated in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party. It spread to other states as the Native American Party and became a national party in 1845. In 1855 it renamed itself the American Party.[3] The origin of the "Know Nothing" term was in the semi-secret organization of the party.

Third, an article about anti-Chinese sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th Century

Critics blamed recent immigrants for causing crime, being "un-American" in their language, religion, and family lives, and for concentrating in cities where their votes were controlled by machines--a circumstance unavoidable for many immigrants who faced residential segregation and dire poverty. In the mainstream press, socialism, communism, and anarchism were widely depicted as "alien" political beliefs brought over from foreign soil. Labor organizers argued that large influxes of new workers undermined wages; indeed, industrialists and railroad magnates (such as Collis Huntington and Jay Gould) sought to import workers to de-stabilize unions and provide a large labor pool.

Fourth, also from Wikipedia, [and my apologies if I seem focused on anti-semitism.  It's because I am]

Antisemitism in America reached its peak during the interwar period.[citation needed] The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the antisemitic works of Henry Ford, and the radio speeches of Father Coughlin in the late 1930s indicated the strength of attacks on the Jewish community.
One element in American antisemitism during the 1920s was the identification of Jews with Bolshevism where the concept of Bolshevism was used pejoratively in the country. (see article on "Jewish Bolshevism").
Immigration legislation enacted in the United States in 1921 and 1924 was interpreted widely as being at least partly anti-Jewish in intent because it strictly limited the immigration quotas of eastern European nations with large Jewish populations, nations from which approximately 3 million Jews had immigrated to the United States by 1920.

[In 1922, educational discrimination became a national issue when Harvard announced it was considering a quota system for Jewish students. Although it was eventually dropped, the quota was enforced in many colleges through underhanded techniques (as late as 1945 Dartmouth College openly admitted and defended a quota system against Jewish students). To limit the growing number of Jewish students, a number of private liberal arts universities and medical and dental schools instituted a quota system referred to as Numerus clausus. These included Harvard University, Columbia University, Cornell University, and Boston University[citation needed]. In 1925 Yale University, which already had such admissions preferences as "character", "solidity", and "physical characteristics" added a program of legacy preference admission spots for children of Yale alumni, in an explicit attempt to put the brakes on the rising percentage of Jews in the student body. This was soon copied by other Ivy League and other schools[citation needed], and admissions of Jews were kept down to 10% through the 1950s. Such policies were for the most part discarded during the early 1960s although the last vestiges were not eliminated at Yale University until 1970.

Jews encountered resistance when they tried to move into white-collar and professional positions. Banking, insurance, public utilities, medical schools, hospitals, large law firms and faculty positions, restricted the entrance of Jews. This era of “polite” Judeophobia through social discrimination, underwent an ideological escalation in the 1930s.

During the 1930s and 1940s, right-wing demagogues linked the Depression of the 1930s, the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt, and the threat of war in Europe to the machinations of an imagined international Jewish conspiracy that was both communist and capitalist. A new ideology appeared which accused “the Jews” of dominating Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, of causing the Great Depression, and of dragging the US into WW2 against a new Germany which deserved but admiration. Father Charles Coughlin, a radio preacher, as well as many other prominent public figures, condemned "the Jews," and Henry Ford reprinted The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his newspaper.[3] Gerald L.K. Smith, a Disciples of Christ minister, was the founder (1937) of the Committee of One Million and publisher (beginning in 1942) of The Cross and the Flag, a magazine that declared that "Christian character is the basis of all real Americanism." Other anti-Semitic agitators included Fritz Kuhn of the German-American Bund, William Dudley Pelley, and the Rev. Gerald Winrod.

In one 1938 poll, 41 percent of respondents agreed that Jews had "too much power in the United States," and this figure rose to 58 percent by 1945. In 1939 a Roper poll found that only thirty-nine percent of Americans felt that Jews should be treated like other people. Fifty-three percent believed that "Jews are different and should be restricted" and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported.[4] Several surveys taken from 1940 to 1946 found that Jews were seen as a greater threat to the welfare of the United States than any other national, religious, or racial group.[5]

Fifth, from 2010

Buchanan: "[A] Western nation that opens its doors to mass migration from the Islamic world is taking a grave risk with its unity and identity." In an August 24 column, Pat Buchanan defended prejudice against Muslims by stating that while there are millions of "decent, peace-loving Muslims," "one would have to be obtuse not to understand that a Western nation that opens its doors to mass migration from the Islamic world is taking a grave risk with its unity and identity." Buchanan further stated:
This is not an argument for war with Islam, but for recognition that "East is East and West is West" and America cannot absorb and assimilate all the creeds of mankind without ceasing to be who we are.
Prejudice is prejudgment. And if prejudgment is rooted in the history and traditions of a people, and what life has taught us, it is a shield that protects. Only a fool would reject the inherited wisdom of his kind because it fails to comport with the ideology of the moment.
[SIGH]

[I am deliberately not touching the question of anti-Mexican sentiment here, because it is so tangled up with the general question of border protection and illegal immigrants, which opens up more issues than I want to talk about here]

4. "Integration" v. "Assimilation" and the view from inside the smaller group

    I was recently reading an article about controversy in Germany concerning a politician's criticisms of  the Moslem community there.  One of the Moslem leaders was quoted as saying something like;  "He's wrong.  We do want to integrate into German society; we just don't want to assimilate" .  Wow.  Very interesting distinction, and it goes directly to the distinction between the "Melting Pot" and "Salad Bowl" models

    My ancestors were (as am I) Jewish.  They came to this country from Eastern Europe between 1905 and 1910.  They wanted to be part of America: to fit in.  My Mother, born in 1911, sometimes bemoaned the fact that her Yiddish was spotty because her parents forbade her from speaking anything but English at home.  My particular forebears focused on assimilation rather than mere integration, in part because I do not think that the idea/possibility of limited integration occured to them as a practical means towards becoming "real" Americans.  They were similar to the protagonist in "The Education of Hyman Kaplan", and really, really wanted to be accepted as Americans, perhaps because they had never been accepted as "true" Russians or Poles or whatever.  Some other Jews, particularly those who were more focused on traditional observance, may have viewed the situation differently.  Certainly, no one was interested in going back to Russia or Poland. [Israel was (eventually) a whole other question, which I may or may not talk about, also eventually].

   Today, however, there is a clear divide in the Jewish community, as well as in other ethnic communities.  Orthodox Jews clearly want to integrate but not "assimilate".  They want to absolutely retain their separate identity, individually and collectively, as Jews.  It is probably their highest moral, political and social priority.  Not me.  I'm Jewish. I'm proud of being Jewish.  I hope my kids will remain Jewish, as will their kids,  but what I really believe in, in an almost religious sense, is what I view as central American ideals.  My parents may not have felt comfortable if forced to say  whether they were American or Jews "first".  I don't know; they never siad and I never thought to ask.  I am willing to say.  I am an American, who happens to be Jewish. When I pledged allegiance to the Flag, and so on, in grade school, I really internalized it.  Unfortunately(?), however, assimilation is a slippery slope.  It is less likely that my grandchildren will be Jewish than my children are.  They are clearly going to date and marry whomever they like (as did I).  They are less connected to a generation or generations whose primary identity was Jewish and who lived through real oppression and discrimination.  (My Grandmother Ida spoke about hiding in the woods from the Cossacks; she was certainly Jewish first).

   So, my own attachment to the "Melting Pot" model, America and assimilation is likely to result in the eventual "melting away" of my particular segment of my own ethnic group into the pot.  I have very mixed feelings.  On one hand, I believe in assimilation and "mongrelatiztion".  I think it makes for a stronger, "better" and more dynamic society.  It also allows for my children and their children to have more liberty to run their own lives and make their own decisions.   On the other hand, I am aware that my beliefs are based on my perception of the compatibity of my own "American" and "Jewish" values.  As Mordecai Kaplan pointed out in "Judaism as a Civiization", what happens when secular values change and my descendants no longer have the "rock" or a religious foundation to simply be carried away with the wind is a troubling question.n

   My personal dilemma, and that of my religious group, is not unique.  It may have been stated well by the German Moslem who spoke of "integration" rather than "assimilation".  Indeed, I suspect the "elders" of every religious group are not comfortable with assimilation into a culture in which they are not the majority.  Certainly, many leaders of the American Jewish community, Greek community, Chinese community, and others are very focused on continuing the traditions, culture and/or religious practices of their own groups.

    This is even more true overseas.  The French occasionally make a conscious effort to purge english words from daily use in France.  More fundamentalist Moslem countries try to heavily restrict their people's exposure to TV, miniskirts, blue jeans, rock and roll, women's skin in any form or other "western" depravities.  The Communists (!!)were (and maybe still are) not totally dissimilar, trying to eliminate exposure to decadent and materialistic influences.  And this gets me to another slippery slope.  The more extreme groups seem to believe that if they are to maintain their integrity, they must restrict or limit exposure of their members (particularly their young) to "bad" or "foreign" influences that might cause them to stray. [How're Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm, After They've Seen Paree? (Hopefully, many of you are old enough to be aware of the song I'm talking about)]

  Well, in my view, this is one big difference between us and the Taliban.  We (I hope) believe in the free marketplace of ideas, pluralism and the right of individuals to follow their own paths.  I have heard a lot of American parents worry about their children being overly preoccupied  with video games.  I have not heard any Americans complain about the fact that many of these video games were and are very Japanese.  We're simply big enough, tolerant enough, and maybe arrogant enough to not care a whole lot about "foreign" influences, at least in a cultural context .  [There was an hysterical South Park episode a few years ago based upon the premise that Pokemon were really a covert attempt by the Japanese to achieve both revenge for WW II and world domination, but I don't count that]

   However, the main point I am trying to make here is that the desire to keep a group separate and not part of the Melting Pot often comes from within the group itself as well as from the external, larger society of Americans.  This often leads to resentment directed towards  those who consider themselves "hyphenated Americans".  The majority may ask "How can [insert your disliked group here] demand to be treated like the rest of us when you have divided loyalties? 

 [In my lifetime, the most frequent suspicions of this have been directed at American Catholics, from John F. Kennedy to the present day.  I read a so called liberal commentator recently bitch about how the Supreme Court could not be fair because six of its members were Catholic, and would, impliedly, do whatever their religion compelled  I really think anti-Catholicism may be the last form of "socially acceptable" religious bigotry, at least among liberals]

So where does this leave us, or, at least, me/ What's the recipe?/How do we prepare the dish?

   Well, after that long list of ingredients, I guess it's time for me to try to create a coherent "stew" of some sort.  For those who fell asleep some time ago, here are the ingredients:

1.  The "Melting Pot"

2. Hypenated Americans and the "Salad Bowl".

3.  Pluralism,  and

4. "Integration" v. "Assimilation" and the view from inside the smaller group

    The key to the stew is that it is a stew, and not uniform or even smooth or pretty.  If there is some wonderful recipe to tell us how we should combine these ingredients to get the best taste, I do not know what it is.  I will, however, go back to Barry,  again:

“Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.”

I would focus more on "liberty" than "equality", at least in how I understand the terms - but, as you read those lines, you can see that Goldwater is referring to not just "1984" (which he had read), but also to the Taliban, which did not yet exist.

When viewed in this light, one can argue that even the Nativism I despise [I have been known to lump together Newt Gingrich and the Taliban in this context] may serve a valuable function.  ("creative differences") The tendency of the larger group to insist upon primary allegiance and at least some degree of assimilation as a condition for acceptance provides a valuable and critical balance against the tendency of the "new" group (or at least its leaders) to resist change and assimilation. We tend to feel on some level that if you want to be considered one of us, you have to act or speak or even (in some senses, like a belief in freedom of religion) believe like us.  "Sure, you can keep some of your customs; most of us do.  But on some basic levels, we have to think of you as "in" or "out"." 

  I'm a wimpy liberal, so I accept a lot of people as "in".   Yet I strongly prefer the Melting Pot to the Salad Bowl.  Contradictory impules?  Absolutely.  Perhaps I should to view this as a gradual, natural sociological process, taking care to always allow for and even encourage joining into the Melting Pot.  Even as some of us may say to a group, "you're not there yet"; we have to allow both ourselves and the "foreign" group to believe that its members will or at least can be part of "America."  Some groups will do this with a greater degree of assimilation; some with less; some may not at all.  The texture of the Melting Pot will change.  It may even become a Salad Bowl, but I hope not. But, it's really not that simple and/or consistent.

Our country, God (assuming He or She exists) Bless it (and yes, I'm serious about that), is based on both Democracy and change.  Both processes, are, at least when done properly, inherently messy.  Enough

Thanks for reading.

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