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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Melting Pot and the Salad Bowl

It used to be common to refer to the United States as a melting pot. It was considered a place where the people and cultures from around the world blended and melded into one united entity. Assimilation was assumed to be the goal of immigrants; they came here to be American, and they were expected to become such.

Sure, there was racism and xenophobia at times. Primarily this was due to fear of job competition and political power struggles. Irish immigrants reduced demand for labor, lowering wages and affecting working conditions. Therefore, anti-Irish sentiments developed and were expressed. The same was true of each wave of immigrants. Gradually, however, they melded into the common culture and identity as Americans.

In the past few decades, however, something important has changed. I experienced this in college, and it bothered me quite a bit. I was majoring in ethnic studies at the time, when I realized that each class was simply a gripe-fest about being mistreated at some point in the past. I also realized that each ethnicity I studied found it an imposition to be asked to assimilate. Professors claimed that learning English was an unreasonable expectation, that the adjustment of old attitudes and thought patterns to fit the American paradigm was cruel and insulting. It didn’t take me long to decide to change my major.

We are now told that America is more of a salad bowl, that cultures are to touch but not necessarily blend. This is a tragedy. Cultures are dead when they cease to adapt and evolve. Indeed, to deny that is to deny the history of mankind itself. English came from a blend of influences, primarily proto-German, Latin, and French. The primary religion of the United States came from the Middle East—Jesus was a Jew living in Israel, after all. Our cuisine is a blend of dishes from all over the world, including quite a few from right here in the Americas.

Lately, it seems, we are hearing more about our differences than our common purpose as a culture. Organizations that exist for the sole purpose of creating animus between the races have driven a wedge between segments of society that were beginning to merge. It serves no useful purpose to perpetuate grievances from past generations, especially when those issues do not apply to the current generation. It creates a Balkanized society instead of unity based on a commonality of purpose, a state in which each subgroup sees itself as being in a state of competition with the rest. Thus it is that we feel we must hold one group back so that another may rise; in an ideal world, we would realize that we can all rise together.

There are those who benefit from the current state of affairs. These leeches prey upon old wounds, opening them up time and again so they can offer their services as physicians. Like the worst examples of medical malpractice, these quacks keep their patients sick in order to keep the money rolling in. If their patients were well and the symptoms gone, they would be out of business. Therefore, they exacerbate latent conflicts in order to set themselves up as false messiahs. It’s a good scam, but it’s terrible for America.

Somehow we’ve got to heal these wounds. We have to offer hope instead of defeatism, forgiveness instead of anger. We must demonstrate that the alternative to self-segregation is superior, that therein lays success. To accomplish this, we will have to expose the opportunists for the lowlifes they are. It will take a while. President Obama squandered a unique opportunity to lay aside past injuries and start anew. He could have paved the way to a fresh start for millions of youth, promoting the message that America is a land of equal opportunity for all. Instead, he has only made things worse.

I hope to see a united America one day, a nation in which all races and creeds celebrate their commonalities more than they worry about their differences. We will have to regain much ground on that front. Our leaders and opinion-makers have the opportunity to make great strides in this endeavor.

Here’s hoping they make the effort.

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