Tag Archives: American assimilation

What’s in the melting pot?

Recently, journalist Tom Brokaw was called out on comments he made on Meet the Press where he suggested that Hispanics were not doing enough to assimilate.  He has since apologized but the conversations continue online, on buses and in taxis, at barbershops and salons, in breakrooms and over dinner as to what he meant and more specifically, what it means to be American.  To be sure, I am glad that he said it out loud.  Rather than pretend or tolerate persons from other cultures, give voice to your fears and the secret checklist that you only take out in with friends and family.

Because you can’t exactly take back that some persons are struggling with whether or not they  “want brown grandbabies.”  As ignorant as it is insulting, it is a racist belief that human beings who are not socially colored white should be treated as unwelcomed and rejected upon sight, that we know all there is to know about the baby boy or girl based on the social coloring of skin.  Most people are descent enough not to call a baby unattractive but to outright reject the possibility of the child, to abort the idea of a little one because they are a member of a culture that others have deemed inferior is heartless.  Persons who espouse this belief are pre-hating, pre- stereotyping, pre- segregating their families.  Before it even happens, they are drawing lines around their hearts and their homes with their tongues.

This is who my family is and who we always will be.  All others: Do not enter.  Keep off the grass.

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We want persons to become American, to become one of us but how much of themselves must they give up?  Deny?  Reject?  Why can’t they keep their heritage, their culture, their language, their name?  Why do they have to lose themselves altogether?  Who has the recipe?  The measuring cups?  Are we eyeing the amount or is it exact?

When I was a child, I was told that America was a melting pot.  If this were the case, then how is it that the flavors of all the cultures that have entered are not reflected?  That persons after jumping into the pot are still being told to “go back to where you came from”?  This makes me wonder who is in charge of the ingredients?  Who is the taste tester and who is this dish being served to?

Who are we becoming as Americans and who says that we are what our founders and fellow Americans intended?  Who has the right to say that someone is “un-American” and where do these meanings come from?  Frankly, I would like to see the checklist.  I want persons to come to the table and say how they really feel about “brown grandbabies”– because they are not coming but already here.  They are in the so- called melting pot, whether or not you want them to touch you, to rub off on you, to be associated or affiliated or closer still, related to you or not.

I am convinced that we are making a myth, that what is in the pot is a false hero narrative of the founding of this country and of a people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps versus those who choked the life and culture out of people who are indigenous to what is now the United States (Sadly, the names of the people have been snuffed out.) and who tied a rope around Africans to enslave them, to lynch them and then to limit them through segregation and the Black Codes that continue even today.

We have to talk about it; if not, comments like Brokaw’s will merely stir the pot.

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Jumping Out Of The Melting Pot

Acccept it: racial supremacy. Blend it: melting pot. Ignore it: color blind. Deny it: white privilege. We have come up with many potential solutions to the presence of race in American society. None of which have rid us of the tension of this socially constructed human difference. When I was in elementary school, the image of the melting pot was presented as a means of explaining how the different cultures of American society come together.The textbook went on to discuss the many dangers of mixing: American slavery, The Trail of Tears, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow segregation and the like.  Still, in the pot, no one stands out but all are gathered to make one grand cultural dish wherein all of the cultures and their traditions are evident, named, seen, experienced and equally represented. But, we all know that this was not true in the 1990s and is certainly not true now. I did not know at the time but the term was made popular by a play performed in 1908 (A copy of the playbill is pictured on the left.). The image has since been challenged and today, America is described as both a “salad bowl,” wherein each of the ingredients remain distinct.

But, while many might agree that the idea of the melting pot is problematic, it is still viewed by many as the American way. Wait. I’ll prove it to you. The melting pot is about acculturation, assimilation and more importantly, identification as persons are melted down to an homogenized image of what it means to be an American, which is raised as the standard and in turn, becomes our golden calf. It is the image that we bow down to; this image of whiteness that was presented to the Italians, Jews, and those from Poland who first immigrated to the United States. The Chinese immigrants faired worse as they were often ostracized and forced to form their own communities of support, referred to as “Chinatown.” Today, we hear the same arguments that were presented beginning in the 1890s when there is discussion of immigration laws, America’s borders and the “browning of America.”  The mixture of equal parts or at least the illusion of such must be maintained. We are deciding who gets to be in the pot.

And the melting pot begs the question, “What are we attempting to make?” And since we’re on the subject: Whose recipe are we using? Who decides which cultural groups get to go in? Who is adjusting the heat? Who is responsible for the mixing? How will we know when the melting is complete? What is the desired appearance of the mixture, the end result, the desired outcome? And are we mixing and melting in order to form an image?  And if so, of who or what? At least for me, it would call for one who is not able to be mixed in, who must remain pure and whose presence is not a requirement. Who is removing the dross and what classifies as such? Who is standing over the melting pot? Finally, “Is God calling us to jump into a melting pot?” I don’t think so and I’m jumping out.

Additional Readings

The Changing Face of America, The Daily Mail Reporter, May 27, 2011.
Making America Home: Racial Masquerade and Ethnic Assimilation in the Transition to Taking Pictures
Roediger, D, Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White
Roediger, D, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class
Roediger, D, Toward the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics and the Working Class
Roediger, D, Gook: the short history of an Americanism. Monthly Review, March 1992.