Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Multiculturalism, including massive immigration, not a problem for America

Unlike what many conservatives and Tea Party folks feel. The prime reason is that America, is based on a set of ideas instead of on the folkways of any ethnic group and so can assimilate a wide range of people without losing any sense of identity. Ever since the Revolution the thing that's defined the U.S. hasn't been, say, that the original colonists (mostly) came from England but values like liberty, democracy, hard work sort of, and the idea that anyone can be anything. All imperfectly realized, and in the case of hard work often exaggerated, but there as binding forces. What people learn, from many sources, when they get to the U.S. are these very general cultural values, that they then interpret themselves according to their own cultural background, which then goes out again and becomes part of the greater society. It works. There's harmony, at least if people don't hate each other. Folks assimilate to whatever extent they choose to the dominant, mainstream, culture, and add their own unique contributions to it in resisting assimilation and maintaining parts of their own heritage. But either way the same ideals maintain.

The U.S. is not dominated by a single ethnic culture. 'White' is not an ethnic culture, it's a grab bag term for a number of ethnic cultures that have to one extent or another either given up or retained unique traces, while contributing to the whole. On the whole, however, 'white' is pretty generic, not really being rooted in anything whatsoever, not England, not Ireland, not Scotland. It's not really a culture, even, just a rough sort of category that a lot of people find themselves in. As such, it's more the default choice rather than anything. For most people, white people I guess, 'white' is something that's transparent, that's not even thought of as being part of one's identity unless you're interacting with someone who's a racial or ethnic minority, whereupon implicit prejudices often come to the forefront. Most white people don't go around thinking 'I'm White', they go around thinking that they're a person. And I'm pretty certain that racial and ethnic minorities would like to think the same about themselves, only they can't because of prejudice. The point is that 'white culture' can't really be threatened by immigration because outside of some general guidelines it doesn't exist as a real defined, static, culture. And besides, being an American is not about being white but about subscribing to common values. Besides, race and ethnic culture aren't the only identities that define us as Americans. There's regional identity, religious identity, political persuasion, rural or urban identity, and others, many of which are much more important in white people's day to day lives than the fact that they belong to the white culture in America.

"America" refers to Americans as a whole, of all races and ethnic groups. White America refers to a subsection of Americans and is not the same as "America" as a whole. It's also not quite 'mainstream America' since minority communities have made substantial gains since the '60s in asserting their place as being as 'mainstream' as white people and not some sort of second class citizens. If only more white people would fully recognize that as the case....

So I don't see immigration as being a great problem to the integrity of America as 'America', even though it might threaten the identity of bigots who do make the equation of white culture with America. There's no connection there, because the values are universal and not bound to any particular ethnic group.

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