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 ReadingsThe 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.