America has traditionally been referred to as a "melting pot," welcoming people from many different countries, races, and religions, all hoping to find freedom, new opportunities, and a better way of life. The term is often associated with the words seen on some American coins,"e pluribus unum," the Latin term for, "Out of many, one."
In fact, the term melting pot was popularized by American immigrant playwright Israel Zangwill. In 1908 he foresaw an America as a place where all races and ethnicities melted happily into a harmonious whole. In his view, the melting pot of immigrants and their descendants were discouraged from maintaining close ties with their countries and cultures of origin and, instead, were urged to adopt the American way of life.
These days you don't hear a great deal of praise for the American melting pot. Perhaps it's because there is a growing realization amongst Americans that historically the melting pot was more virtual than real. A frank look at the evolution of the race relations across America's history throws the melting pot idea into question. It is legitimate to ask how a country where racial segregation was legal over much of the 20th Century can proudly describe itself as a melting pot. One wonders whether many enthusiastic supporters of the melting pot are suffering some form of amnesia.
These days you don't hear a great deal of praise for the American melting pot.
So attractive did the melting pot concept become to so many Americans that they successfully exported the myth north of the border where it was ultimately embraced by critics of multiculturalism in Canada. The latter often referred to the American melting pot as a model for our country to imitate. In light of America's continuing challenges in the area of race relations, the critics should be very cautious in insisting that America's incorporation of immigration and diversity as a good example.
Thankfully it has been a little over fifty years since the legalized segregation of African Americans has been abolished. There are nonetheless frequent reminders that too many young African Americans face powerful prejudice in the United States.
Those driving the melting pot rhetoric might argue that it refers to the immigrant experience and is therefore not about the American-born black population. That observation however makes illusory the melting pot objective of creating a harmonious whole. As regards immigrant acceptance in the American melting pot, the success of Donald Trump's campaign has also served as a reminder of the high levels of anxiety and hostility towards immigration and diversity. Then again, perhaps the melting pot theorists were thinking about melting white European and not Hispanic immigrants. Well, so much for the idea that the American model of diversity seeks to make one out the many.
It's difficult to give credibility to misinformed critics that point south of the border to offer a better alternative.
In a thoughtful essay in a 2012 edition of the journal National Identities , northeastern University political science professor David Michael Smith notes that the success of the melting pot rhetoric is attributable to the concept's ambiguity. It simultaneously represents both uniformity in its end product and the presence of diversity which it must somehow incorporate. Smith observes that "...in the first instance, attention is focused on the creation of a 'new race'' or ''new compound' which is nonetheless homogeneous in character." It by virtue of this ambiguity that the concept it used across a spectrum of Americans that rally those who are favorable to immigration and those opposed to it.
Paradoxically, when it comes to describing cultural pluralism in the United States, the trend amongst several American thinkers is towards some variant on the idea of multiculturalism. For some time, the tired melting pot adage has been giving way to a depicting the country as a "salad bowl" with a mixture of various ingredients that keep their individual characteristics. Even the most ardent American proponents of the melting pot acknowledge that it is increasingly difficult to defend the idea.
Sure Canadian multiculturalism has historically and continues to confront a set of important challenges, but it's difficult to give credibility to misinformed critics that point south of the border to offer a better alternative.
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