Is Multiculturalism a Feasible Solution for the American Society?
The United States is the country that is almost entirely made up of immigrant population. Inevitably, citizens making up the population of the country consist of many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds that are sometimes radically different from each other, and this fact has caused tremendous amount of social tension among different groups which has a potential to become very destructive to the country unless properly addressed. Lucius T. Outlaw explains in his article, “Racial and Ethnic Complexities in American Life” that “the U.S. is still an experiment in nation making. The goal of the experiment is expressed in the Latin phrase that appears on the nation’s seal and coins: e pluribus unum, ‘out of many, one.’ That is, to forge a stable, long-lasting nation-state in which justice for all prevails, one that provides for domestic peace and tranquility out of a population of diverse races, ethnicities, and nationalities with different cultures and life orientations and sometimes conflicting and incompatible beliefs, values, orientations, and agendas”1. Set of guidelines that express the above principles in founding a new nation are clearly stated on the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitutions. I think I can safely assess from the recent incident involving the reverend Jeremiah Wright and the Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama that the current situation in the United States is still very far away from achieving the goal of creating a strong unified country consisting of diverse groups of people. The presence of social tension has always been felt by the members of the American society and those who have been exposed to the related problems know that its presence is clearly destructive and counter-productive to the society that it must not remain unsolved. The main reason for the rise of social tension, I believe, is due to the confusion among many Americans who struggle coming up with the uniform answer to their cultural identity. Consequently, this widespread confusion among people leaves them seeking for more coherence in the formation of new distinctive American cultural identity that can define the ideal behind this country that vast majority can agree. This paper is my attempt to find that missing coherence in today’s American society through the promotion of multiculturalism as opposed to monoculturalism, the idea that emphasizes how American culture exhibits its distinctively Western root and the importance of preserving such tradition. It is the goal of my paper to present the ideas of each side and explain why the one side opposes to the other side in a relatively unbiased manner. I believe this process will allow me to reveal the strengths and the weaknesses of multiculturalism which I believe is essential for further consideration of multiculturalism as the feasible theory that is applicable to the American society.
It begins with my assumption that multiculturalism is the most accurate representation of ethnic interrelationships in America. I support this assumption with my observation that through out the history Americans, while successfully forming a new cultural identity and values of a new nation that are unique, still retain the old cultures of the countries of their origin, regardless of their race, and this leads to the formation of dualistic cultural identity among many Americans. It is truly difficult to see the same kind of phenomenon anywhere else in the world. Also, through my observation I was able to find the problem that is only unique to this country; the existence of different cultures other than the dominant culture (i.e. Anglo European culture) is sometimes viewed as posing a threat and challenge that shakes the unity of the American society. This is the general attitude that is shared by the advocates of monoculturalism in America. The importance of maintaining a strong unity in this country would have been much less of an issue only if it was not for the fact that the population of America is made up of people of such diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but since that is simply not the case in today’s America, monoculturalists strongly insist that America allows only one culture to maintain its existence. Clearly, this idea directly opposes the idea of multiculturalism and the two different groups with the radically different interpretation on the American culture launched the battle against each other.
Monoculturalism is the idea widely shared among many Americans that America is a country that is based on Western culture and particularly of Anglo-Saxon culture. The advocates strongly argue for the importance of America retaining its traditional Western culture by staying to its Western root. This is certainly true in much sense as there are several facts that strongly support this argument; the first major settlement in America was done by the group of English puritans and the Founding Fathers all had the English origin and the sources of their ideas embedded in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitutions go all the way back to not just England, but also the ancient Greek city of Athens, the place known for giving birth to Western culture and Democracy. However, those who advocate multiculturalism have a radically different point of view that directly goes against the one shared by monoculturalists. John A. Garcia, one of the multiculturalists, in his short essay, “A Multicultural America: Living in a Sea of Diversity” summarizes his personal view on traditional American culture and its potential problems in a straightforward manner; “The U.S. American ethos values individualism, egalitarianism, equality of opportunity, and emphasis on Western Cultures, among other things. These values have historically been ingredients of a pervasive American tradition that serves as a cultural core that all members of society internalize, thus ensuring societal stability and gradual change”2. Anyone who does not share this old tradition can be seen by the majority as a radical who is disrupting the core values of America. According to Garcia, it is tremendously disadvantageous for anyone to not participate the dominant culture as “being different from the dominant culture implies incompatibility, inferiority, and non-integration into the wider societal sphere. Thus multiculturalism is believed to represent, at minimum, a challenge, but more likely a threat to the foundation of this country’s “greatness” and strength.”3. Hence, in Garcia’s view, the movement towards multiculturalism is a form of strong rebellion against the traditional values and the participants must prepare themselves for the challenges waiting ahead of their path.
Retaining the traditional Western culture and its core values implies that many different groups of Americans who came from different parts of the world who have not been previously exposed to the Western culture are mandated to learn the new culture as well as forego of the old culture which conflicts with the new one. Dinesh D’souza, a well known advocate of monoculturalism, in his book What’s So Great About America, argues that this is the process that all of the new immigrants must go through in order to fully become American citizens; “the new comer who wants to become an American is embarking on a journey that is likely to cut him off from his native country, so that he becomes a stranger to people he has grown up with. Some immigrants never manage this transition between cultures, occupying a tragic middle position in which they are at home neither in America nor in their homeland”4. This form of argument seems to ignore the underrepresented, yet nevertheless a significant number of minority groups who have came from all over the world with each group having its own unique cultural background that is quite different from Western culture. Many Americans, I believe, have long forgotten the enormous amount of pain and efforts people have to endure in this assimilation process. Requiring that the new immigrants let go of much of their old customs and quickly adapt to a new one in such an abrupt transition is a daunting task to say the least. What I see that makes the transition to the new country even more difficult for newly arrived immigrants is that while they are expected to completely change and learn English, there really is not much of an encouragement or help readily available for these people. I find out that some people are more successful than others in adapting to the new culture and they are often praised by Americans for their efforts while those who failed this task get blamed for the apparent lack of efforts or not willing to change at all. I had personally experienced this phenomenon back in my high school year when I was living in a small Mid Western town of Ames, Iowa. I had a Mexican friend who happened to have a very active outgoing personality and spoke pretty decent English. He quickly got out of the ESL course and quickly blended in with American students. He was loved my many students and even got nominated as the Prom King. He was blessed with the ability to quickly adapt to the American way of life very successfully and ended up being very popular. I also knew two students who came from Sudan as the war refugees who happened to spoke almost no English at all. It did not help too much that they both shared a personality that was more shy and introverted and I always saw them having a lunch by themselves with some other immigrants, forming their own small ethnic community. Unfortunately, the ESL class was not very helpful for them in improving their English skills or familiarizing with the new culture. What I am trying to get out of this story is that not all immigrants are very successful in this cultural transition and a lot of those who have failed are left by themselves alone in an alienation while they are not given any kind of attention that they are desperately in need. In the end, I believe that this story serves to show how the idea of monoculturalism can put an enormous amount of burden on the shoulders of immigrants and the ethnic minority groups by measuring their success of becoming Americanized by how well they have assimilated to the dominant culture. While it is tempting to conclude without much dispute that people who have immigrated to this country gave a non-verbal consent to the America core values of freedom and individuality by their decision to come here and it is also quite likely that the new life in the new world will substantially change people’s life styles as well as their beliefs, the idea of a complete cultural transformation of a person into a new one is a something that I still do not find very convincing. What I am trying to argue is that while some degree of cultural transformation is bound to happen to immigrants when they come to America, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to completely change the one person from another as the culture plays an essentially role in the formation of personhood. Many people still exercise their culture in one way or another from the old countries no matter how subtle or readily visible they are to other people. It can be as subtle as cooking a meal from the old country or as visible as celebrating St. Patrick’s day on the main street of a big city.
Now that I have done explaining the idea of monoculturalism, it is the time to focus on multiculturalism, the idea that stands at the opposing end of the spectrum. It can be somewhat daunting for someone to clarify this seemingly broad definition. I believe Garcia has done a successful job in representing the ideas behind the multiculturalists: “Multiculturalism goes far beyond an appreciation for, the maintenance of, and better understanding of diverse cultures and groups; it focuses on the empowerment of racial and ethnic group”5. According to Garcia, the main goal of multiculturalism is to empower the disempowered racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States who have been forced to conform to what it has been “believed to be” the core beliefs of America. Of course, this goal directly conflicts with the goal of the monoculturalists that is to maintain the power of those who are already in the power. The idea of multiculturalism is the major challenge to the traditional societal norm as its effort on the redistribution of the existing power means the loss of power for those who already possess the power. Garcia explains, “The issue of multiculturalism also confronts the prevailing social order of power relationships, defining and interpreting the meaning and value of American life and the empowerment of multicultural groups more distant from the dominant culture”6. The key word is the “confrontation” which implies that these two radically different beliefs cannot peacefully coexist in harmony.
For those who still find the concept of multiculturalism somewhat vague, Maria Lugones, in her essay jointly written with Joshua Price, “Dominant Culture: El Deseo por un Alma Pobre” (The Desire for an Impoverished Soul) introduces a firmer definition; “multiculturalism is a political stance. It proposes to claim that the U.S. is a multicultural society and its many cultures should inform “institutionalized civic, economic, and social life.” It also means “rejecting the ideas of assimilation and cultural destruction” by the dominant culture7. According to Lugones, multiculturalism “is an injunction and a challenge, as well as a statement of one’s presence in society as a member of one culture among many”8. By promoting the minority groups to inform to the public of the strong presence of their diverse cultures as “ones among many”, Lugones is reaffirming the idea of multiculturalism while rejecting monoculturalism at the very same time. Her depth of understanding on multiculturalism shines even more when she explains, “multiculturalism sees that there is more than one culture, evaluates that there should be more than one culture, and argues that there should be more than one culture where it counts, rather than merely ornamentally”9. Lugones argues that instead of remaining private or ornamental, “The society’s many cultures enter the political terrain asserting and protesting that they exist, demanding to exist, to flourish, and to inform the important threads of life. The claim that all our cultures ought to exist is advanced from the very position of existing”10. The very last sentence of this paragraph best captures the ultimate goal of multiculturalism that is trying to achieve in the American society. Just acknowledging that America is a multicultural society is simply not good enough. Lugones truly believes that anyone who advocates multiculturalism must insist that diversity of different cultures ought to exist in America in order for this country to flourish. My personal belief echoes with hers as I believe that different groups of people have rights to maintain as well as to demand accurate representation of their cultures without much distortion by the dominant group of the society.
The advocates of monoculturalism strongly oppose the view of multiculturalism and some of their arguments demand good amount of careful analysis. I believe it is very important to inform everyone that the two opposing sides have very different ways of interpreting the ideas of each others and this has caused two groups to argue against each other on a very different ground. Next few paragraphs of this paper will be dedicated to show how monoculturalists interpret the idea of multiculturalism very differently from multiculturalists and why they believe it has a devastating effect on the American society. The first argument against multiculturalism is that its idea can potentially become a major threat to the unity of this country, for no one could deny the fact that the American society is a multi-ethnic society and there needs to be some kind of a common ground that could help unite and bond different people tightly together. After all, nobody wants or expects Balkanization of this country where different racial groups with different cultural backgrounds fiercely hate and fight against each other until death in order to claim their dominance. I believe this is the role of America’s founding ideas that are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitutions. As D’souza mentions that “my beliefs in freedom of expression, in self-government, in equality of rights under the law, and in the universal principle of human dignity –they are all the products of Western civilization”11, I must fully admit that the origins of these ideas are very Western in every sense, but they do not, in any sense, attempt to give one race or culture superiority over another. For example, the idea of individual freedom, paving ones own destiny, and the freedom of upward mobility through materialistic gains prevail strongly among the vast majority of Americans and yet not many people realize as observing these commonalities in people requires a conscious efforts and a good amount of self reflection that not many people have a time to dedicate. Nevertheless, these ideas enable seemingly different groups of people in America to work together and share the same environment without causing them to fight against each other. My interpretation of the role of the founding ideas is that they serve as the frame for the American society that while allowing different cultures and ethnicity to flourish and coexist harmoniously, also brings a strong unity at the same time. Unfortunately, I believe there seems to be a bit of a problem with this theory of the role of the founding ideas. It is the emphasis on the importance of “individuality”, the idea that is not familiar to many cultures, including some of the Western cultures as well. If anyone who came from the different culture just simply refuses to adapt these ideas, then the problem arises. The role of the founding ideas as the civil religion of this country, can no longer function as the frame of American culture that guarantee its unity. After all, there is some level of sacrifice that is required in becoming American. I should also note that some multiculturalists, such as Maria Lugones, take a different approach to creating a unity from the idea of the civil religion. She explains that “unity must take seriously the complexity of our communities, our cultures, our relationships, and ourselves. Thus, unity in this sense arises out of complex communication: communication that is open to understanding one another as fundamentally different in desires, beliefs, ways of using language, and ways of using one’s body. This unity can give rise to complicated knowledge that does not reduce us to being simply images of each other”12. She is emphasizing the importance of people’s realization of the complexity in ethnic and cultural interrelationships in the America society and the necessity of effective communication among different groups of people which would allow people of deeper understanding of different cultures that they are not familiar with. These actions will ultimately result in mutual respect among different groups of people that is a must in the pursuit of stronger unity.
The second argument against multiculturalism is that its idea only serves to accentuate the differences of people’s race and culture. D’souza, in his effort to defend the American conservatism in preserving American culture, claims “The multicultural objective is to encourage nonwhites in America to cultivate their separate identities and to teach white Americans to accept and even cherish these differences”13. He further claims that “they (multiculturalists) believe that Americans are a divided people: not even a nation, but a collection of separate tribes. The multiculturalists actually proclaim this to be a good thing, and they strive to encourage people to affirm their differences. If, however, the multiculturalists are right in saying that ‘all we have in common is our diversity,’ then it follows that we have nothing in common”14. However, I believe this is just his misconception of multiculturalism and here is why; differences already do exist among different groups of people and while monoculturalism, the idea behind the advocates of dominant culture, only try to hide and avoid the differences, multiculturalism attempts to confront them by accepting them and trying to build respect and tolerance for each other. Nobody is going to mistakenly see me as a white person instead of Asian and nobody is going to mistakenly find an African American as a white American. Everyone must know and accept that whites, Asians as well as black people have came from very different cultures that are unique to each other and they all live in the one country called the United States of America. What is remarkable about today’s America is the fact that people of different races and cultures somehow get along without causing much violence that results in death and this is very unlike the present day Balkan Peninsula. I am not trying to claim that America shows absolutely no tendency of social tensions between different groups of races as the Rodney King incident proves it, but now days they are nowhere as severe as they were a several decades ago and the situation is steadily improving. The reason for this positive recent trend, I believe, is due to the fact that people have gradually learned to get along with each other over the history as they have learned from expensive lessons such as Civil Rights movement of 1960s that continual build up of social tensions can create such a destructive force in the American society. Unfortunately, the problems have not disappeared yet and the advocates of multiculturalism must strive for the goal of complete disappearance of racism and intolerance for the cultural differences. I would like to remind monoculturalists that the ultimate goal of multiculturalism is not to accentuate the differences of races and cultures, but to encompass them in a way that people can live harmoniously together without hesitating to exercise different cultures and show respect to each other.
The third argument is that the idea of multiculturalism is decisively Anti-Western and the advocates depict white people as evils who have succeeded at the expanse of other people of different races. This attitude is shown in D’souza arguement that “multiculturalists are teaching our young people that Western civilization is defined by oppression. They present American history as an uninterrupted series of crimes visited on blacks, American Indians, Hispanics, women, and natives of the Third World”15. He also accuses that “multiculturalists also seek to fill white Americans with an overpowering sense of guilt and blame so that they accept responsibility for the sufferings of minorities in America and poor people in the rest of the world”16. Although I cannot just easily dismiss what D’souza says, as I have actually seen many minority people blaming white Americans for their suffering, I do not necessarily think it is the multiculturalists’ idea that has caused the negative depiction of Western culture. In multiculturalists’ view, Western culture just happens to be one of the many cultures that has contributed in the formation of American culture. Western culture has been more influential than many other cultures in America up until now and accordingly, it has established itself as the dominant culture in the American society. Though I believe the existence of the dominant culture and the minority cultures in the society should not be translated into the superior culture and the inferior cultures. The goal of multiculturalism is empowerment of the disempowered minority groups and even if it results in the loss of power for the dominant group due to the redistribution of power, it does not necessarily mean that multiculturalists’ ideas are Anti-Western. Multiculturalism might look Anti-Western on the surface because of its tendency of deemphasizing of the dominant culture and emphasizing of the minority cultures, but in reality, the minority cultures have not only been not given adequate amount of attention, but also been misinterpreted by the dominant culture. Also, the advocates of monoculturalism must never forget what has happened in the past history of America. It is the fact that the ethnic minority groups have, indeed, suffered through institutionalized exclusion and segregation based on skin color. African Americans in particular suffered even more through slavery that has now long been abandoned, but the legacy still remains in the today’s American society. I do not think anyone has a right to tell the minority people in America to simply “get over it” and “what’s done is done” as for the same reason no one can tell Jewish people to get over the Holocaust and stop reminding Germans of their horrible past. Nevertheless, I do not, in any sense, want to promote a life style of playing a “blame game” on every situation that went wrong for the minority groups. People should not forget what has happened in the past, but blaming the past every time for today’s struggle, perhaps, is not the most productive way of spending one’s life.
The fourth and, the most crucial argument against multiculturalism is that its ideas are based on cultural relativism that would eventually lead to moral relativism and the destruction of the morality of Americans. D’souza argues that “in multiculturalists’ view, the United States cannot be morally superior because no culture is morally superior to any other culture. The multiculturalists hold that there are no universal standards by which cultures can be judged better or worse. All cultures are basically equal. This, of course, is the multicultural doctrine of cultural relativism. Multiculturalists are committed to cultural relativism in large part because they see it as a weapon against racism”17. It is really difficult for me or anyone who believe in multiculturalism to claim that “all cultures are equal”. Looking back at the history, there has been a few cultures that were notably more successful, or superior as monoculturalists might argue, than the others and they have prevailed while many disappeared. There is no argument that for a last few centuries, Western culture enjoyed the position of not only being the most dominant culture, but also the most technologically advanced culture as well. The number of European colonies at the peak of Colonial era shows how enormous the influence of Western culture was through out the world. D’souza uses these historical facts to back up his argument that “if one begins with the multicultural premise that all cultures are equal, then the world as it is makes very little sense. After all, we live in a world where, by virtually any measure of achievement or success, some cultures are advanced and others are backward. To take one measure of success that everybody seems to want, –economic development- it is obvious that the West is vastly ahead of everyone else”18. Surly, many developing nations in the world today follow the same path that Western nations have pioneered; adopting the market economy and democracy. In other words, the whole world seems to have become “Westernized” over the past few decades and the word “westernization” has become synonymous with the word “industrialization”. This fact seems only strengthen D’souza’s belief when he claims that “the ideologues (of multiculturalism) who proclaim the equality of all cultures simply cannot account for why so many people around the world seem perfectly willing to dump their ancient cultures and adopt new ways of thinking, feelings, and acting that they associate with America”19. At this point, I have to ask multiculturalists a few very serious questions: are they really utilizing the idea of cultural relativism “in avidly seeking to downplay Western political, economic, military, and cultural superiority”20 as D’souza puts it? Is cultural relativism being used to hide the inferiority of non-Western cultures through out the world? Do they really think all cultures are on an equal plane? I have another set of questions, but this time they are aimed at D’souza and monoculturalists: is it true that the majority of people in the world are giving up their own cultures in the adaptation process of Western culture? If non-Western cultures really are inferior to Western culture do they even deserve to exist any longer? Is it true that cultural relativism lead to moral relativism? If it is true that the ideas of multiculturalism lead to moral relativism, then D’souza is perhaps right in saying that “by denying that there are universal standards of human rights, multiculturalists become de facto apologists for tyranny. They are so concerned about one culture “imposing its morality” on another that they ignore the fact that such impositions are sometimes indispensable to protect human dignity”21.
Answering the above questions that I have mentioned regarding multiculturalism vs. monoculturalism defined by Western culture is a daunting task for me. I am not even sure if is possible to answer all of the questions with my limited knowledge in this particular field. Though the over all impression that I get from the both parties is that each group has some good points in their arguments against the other party, but neither one of them seems to be reflecting on their opponents’ arguments as possible threats that could dismantle their idea. For example, I believe multiculturalists must take the argument against cultural relativism very seriously. Especially, they have to address the distinction between cultural relativism and moral relativism and how it is possible that the one idea leads to another. Also, they have to anticipate possible cultural clashes between two radically different cultures and the feasible solutions if multiculturalism is to be accepted as the norm of the society. For example, can the Western idea of individualism peacefully coexist with the Eastern idea of emphasizing group bonding? Can fundamental Islamic tradition survive in America where Christianity played an immense role in forming the cultural background? What about the idea of individualism vs. religious practice that sometimes require women to put on veils to cover their faces? What about the female genital mutilation that is still practiced in some parts of the world? Can anyone allowed to say that these practices are oppressive toward women? All of sudden, these questions start challenging not only cultural differences, but also morality issues as well. If moral relativism allows different cultures to have different moral standards then how can anyone blame Hitler and Nazi Germany for the Holocaust if they truly believed that what they did was ultimately good for the society? Even if multiculturalists try to avoid these problems by arguing that there are absolute moral standards that is universal, how can they possibly explain where their beliefs are originated from? If their beliefs in absolute moral standards are, for example, based on Western culture, how can they possibly claim the universality of their beliefs?
Monoculturalists also have tasks of their own. They have to clarify how one culture can have a superior position over another other than on the economical basis. It is true that many countries in today’s society have adapted the Western method of development, but it does not necessarily mean that those countries totally get rid of their previously existing cultures altogether either. For example, Japan and Korea, two of the well developed countries in Asia, are considered to be very Westernized in many sense. They both adapted democracy as well as the market economy quite successfully as the high living standards for the citizens of both countries prove. One can find the abundance of American fast food chains in many cities as well as personal automobiles. The clothes they wear are no different from the ones that people in Western societies wear. So have they really ditched their traditional cultures as D’souza claims? The answer is clearly no as anyone who stays there for a just short period of the time can immediately recognize the striking cultural differences. Many Eastern Asian countries exhibit similarity in their cultures such as respect for elders, importance of the group over individuals, modesty over pride and etc. If Western culture really is far superior to any other cultures as D’souza claims, why didn’t they ditch their traditional cultures altogether and become fully westernized? It is because they find important values in their own cultures that Western cultures do not provide. While utilizing some of the Western ideas to modernize their countries many Asians have not gave up on most of their cultural values that they find important. I believe that while the idea of cultural relativism can become dangerous, so does measuring superiority of one culture over another.
Since the first half of my paper was dedicated to addressing the potential danger of multiculturalism through the monoculturalists’ perspective, the second half of my paper is going to be dedicated in addressing the danger of monoculturalism through the multiculturalists’ perspective. Lugones defines monoculturalism as “the politics behind a culture’s becoming dominant. It is a politics that advances the adoption of certain way of valuing, perceiving, and acting that make the existence of a dominant culture desirable and that lead people to promote it in everything they do in their daily lives”22. I believe it is very important to discuss what makes the idea of monoculturalism potentially very dangerous. In the process of making the dominant culture desirable, the advocates of monoculturalism exhibits a certain attitude towards the non-dominant cultures that is unique that is hard to detect by untrained eyes. In regard to culture, Lugones explains that “anglo act, whereas non-Anglo practice their culture”23. She further develops her argument that “When ‘culture’ is used in this way only non-dominant cultures are declared to be and turned into cultures. In contrast, Anglo culture conceives of itself as expressive of what is universal, and so beyond ‘culture’ in a narrow, provincial sense: it is postcultural, it is not a ‘culture’ at all”24. This is when the dominant culture transforms itself into the “way of life” that people conceives it as something that is automatically given to them at birth. Conformity to the dominant culture almost seems to me as the process that is happening unconsciously in people’s mind that when the validity of its practice is questioned by someone, the practitioners would answer that this is just the universal way of life and not a part of any culture at all. Lugones further examines the important aspect of the Anglo domination of American culture that is potentially problematic as she explains that “there is an impression of down-to-earth common sense built into the perception that Anglo culture expresses the American way of life, the best way of life, and the human way of life”25. She continues that “this down-to-earth, commonsense character of the universalistic extension of Anglo culture hides from itself its dominating character”26. If the majority of the people who practice the dominant culture perceive the Anglo-conformity as the way of life, then the minority of people who do not practice the dominant culture all of sudden become someone who do not understand the human way of life that any decent human being should be capable of understanding without much difficulties. In other words, the society perceives these minority groups as somewhat uncultured, sometimes barbaric, and some kind of odd-balls who just simply need to put some serious efforts into catching up with the rest of the humanity on how to live a life of a fully human being. Accordingly I see many people of minority groups who are ashamed of their minority cultural backgrounds and instead of celebrating their roots of origins, they detest them and try to hide them in front of the majority of people. Lugones seems well aware of this problem as she asserts that “monoculturalism can attempt to destroy the evidence and therefore achieve a reality that is monocultural. But it cannot exhibit reality as monocultural as it attempts to erase other cultures”27. When the status of the dominant culture transcends into the human way of life, it can totally blind people in a way that makes them unable to recognize their culture as a “culture” as Lugones points out that “its (Anglo-culture) status as a culture can only be named from a multicultural political position”28.
Having explained what multiculturalists believe it to be the potential danger that lies within monoculturalism, I would like to further examine on how the dominance of Western culture in the U.S. has victimized and caused suffering among the minority groups in America according to multiculturalists. Cornel West in his book, Race Matters, explains that the problem of race issues, especially of African American, is the perception that people of color are “problems” and accordingly, they are treated as “others” and not as full agents or citizens. He explains, “hence, for liberals, black people are to be ‘included’ and ‘integrated’ into ‘our’ society and culture, while for conservatives they are to be ‘well behaved’ and ‘worthy of acceptance’ by ‘our’ way of life. Both fail to see that the presence and predicaments of black people are neither additions to nor defections from American life, but rather constitutive elements of that life”29. I believe his argument applies not only to African American population, but the entire minority population in the United States; they have to literally “beg” for the acceptance to the American society and without the acknowledgement from the majority they remain as the “outsiders”. My interpretation of West’s argument is that the majority of the population does not “get it” and by which I mean the majority of the white population think of the minority population as either additions or defections to the further development of America, but not as the constitutive elements, or an important part of what makes America. Lucius T. Outlaw expresses his frustration in dismay; “Again, the contradiction inscribed in the nation at its founding was confirmed: for all of the rhetoric celebrating the “essential quality of all Man”, power in America was gained and exercised along the lines of racial (and ethnic) groups for the benefit of a particular race, to the detriment of other race”30.
Through out the American history, groups that do not identify themselves with the dominant culture have been depicted by racial and ethnic stereotypes and the society expects those groups of people to act within the boundaries of stereotypes. For example, Asian Americans are often depicted by the mess media as the “model minority” who have successfully assimilated into the American culture by high academic achievements and the standards of living that often match the level of white Americans. There are many negative side effects that have arisen with this term; Asians are expected to be smart people who are skilled in math and science, but displaying shy and introverted persona who are afraid to speak their own opinions in the public. Another example of racial stereotype against Asians that has been depicted especially by the Hollywood movie industry is their oriental “otherness” and “exoticness” in Western culture. In the movies such as Memoirs of a Geisha and the Joy Luck Club, Asian women have exhibited common characteristics that are passive and submissive that is radically different from American women which strike as somewhat exotic and sexually appealing to many Americans. On the other hand, Asian males in the movies have characteristics that are nerdy, asexual and emasculated or sometimes having profound knowledge in martial arts. I find it very unfortunate that, so far, the dominant American culture’s depiction of Asians in the media, in many ways, has been served to perpetuate the perception among many Americans that Asians will always remain foreigners in American soil. After all, many Asian Americans still hear the same question from fellow white Americans; “where are you from? Orginally?”
How did the terms such as “oreo” and “banana”, used to depict those African Americans and Asian Americans who are, in every perspective, acting like white Americans contrary to their outward appearances, originated? While monoculturalists such as D’souza argue that the multicultural ideas of heightening the differences among different groups of people as the cause for these racial slurs, I must counter such an argument, from the multiculturalists’s point of view, by explaining that it is the idea of assimilation to the dominant culture and the “peer-pressure” from the society that sometimes force the groups of minority people to associate themselves only with the white people who represent the dominant culture while consciously avoiding their own races. Many minority people suffer from this “identity crisis”, being forced to either conform to the dominant culture or to remain in the small ethnic enclaves of the minority society. It is a lose-lose situation for minority people, because if they choose white approval then they are bound to lose the support from their own race and if they choose to stay to their own “root” they will be blamed for refusing to assimilate into the mainstream American culture and will remain alienated. D’souza claims that “thus we find that any group that is trying to move up in America and succeed is confronted with two possible strategies—the immigrant strategy and Jesse Jackson strategy—and it is an empirical question as to which one works better. So far the evidence is overwhelming that the immigrant approach of assimilating to the cultural strategies of success is vastly better for group uplift than the Jesse Jackson approach of political agitation”31. Unfortunately, many of those who chose the immigrant strategy of assimilating into America’s dominant culture, while succeeding financially, still remain vastly unhappy and constantly frustrated over their limited roles enforced by social stereotyping of minority people that is still widely exercised in the American society. Daniel H. Choi, an Asian American man in his article, “The Other Side of the Model Minority Myth”, points out that “Our status as an academic and economic "model" minority also encourages us to repress the uncomfortable awareness of our social inferiority among white Americans. In recent years, with the phenomenal success of rap music, house dancing, Spike Lee films, and Malcolm X caps, "blackness" has become a hot cultural commodity among young Americans, while Asian Americans have never won the cultural interest of America outside the mystic cult of Bruce Lee. Like the stereotype of the money-grubbing Jew, the hilarity of Long Duk Dong and the inscrutable effemininity of Charlie Chan is the price Asian Americans paid for their material success. Asian Americans, while they have managed to assimilate into America’s economic and academic mainstream, continue to suffer especially from a special variety of social and sex-linked prejudice. The "glass ceiling" is far from being the last barrier to our inheritance of the American Dream.”32 D’souza argues that “the multiculturalists want immigrants to be in America but not of America”33. I must counter his argument as it is monoculturalists who want immigrants to be in America but not of America, and not multiculturalists.
The wide used phrase, “assimilation to American culture” held by the majority of Americans is another topic that, I believe, must be subjected to further scrutiny. What I find very interesting is that multiculturalists and monoculturalists have such radically different views on this topic. Multiculturalists such as Garcia oppose to the idea of assimilation as he argues that “the myth of American melting pot has been scrutinized and dismantled. Group social identities do persist beyond the first generation of multicultural groups, and the dominant society’s responses and actions toward them helps to accent the differences”34. Contrary to the monoculturalists’ belief, Garcia argues that his observation reveals that ethnic minority groups are strongly inclined to maintain their cultural identities over next several generations and the dominant group of the society depicts this action of cultural preservation as “refusal” to assimilate to the American culture. This attitude can be observed in D’souza’s argument as he states that “from the multicultural perspective, asking the immigrant to “become American” is forcing him to give up who he is. In this view, assimilation is an expression of bigotry, because the non-white immigrant is required to put on a white cultural strait-jacket. Multiculturalists say that white Americans should be the ones who adapt: they should learn to respect and cherish cultural differences. The multiculturalists regard the melting pot as a racist concept. In their view, immigrants should maintain their native identity and their traditional customs”35. If assimilation to become an American merely means conforming to the dominant culture and completely abandoning one’s culture from his or her previous country that has long became a part of one self, how can anyone not call this act giving up of one self? Cleary D’souza does not share my view as he explains, “But this does not seem to be what most immigrants want. The reason is simple: if the immigrants wanted to preserve, intact his native culture, if he wanted to be the same person that he was in his home country, then why come to the United States?”36 I partially agree with his point that immigrants come to America not just to remain the same, but to change as to become more successful and eventually to achieve an “American Dream”. On the other hand, I must ask him a question; “does becoming Americanized involve a mandatory complete transformation of a person into a new one with a completely new cultural identity?” Culture plays such an important role in the formation of a personhood as it gets naturally and unconsciously embedded into a person while he or she is exercising it. Naturally, when people are introduced to a new culture that is vastly different from the old one, they will slowly adjust to a new one by adapting new ideas, learning a new language, and creating a new social network. Nevertheless, any idea suggesting that immigrants have to and will completely lose the culture of their origin altogether if they were to succeed in the new society is too much of a stretch as it has long became an important part of their lives. In fact, it is not so difficult to see different cultures that immigrants bring to America thrive on for a long period of time as the previous generation pass on their cultures to the next generation that sometimes get mixed up with the mainstream American culture. Think about the American style pizza, Taco Bell, or Chinese Buffets; all of them have been influenced by the immigrant cultures that drastically changed their original forms to better appeal to the American population.
What about the idea of the melting pot that has been closely associated with the assimilation theory? D’souza successfully grabs the essence of it in the following sentence; “The melting pot concept is that immigrants bring something new and valuable to America, just as America has much that is new and valuable to offer them. So immigrants change America, and America changes the immigrants”37. Should multiculturalists really dismiss the melting pot theory as a racist concept as D’souza argues? As I have previously mentioned, once the immigrant cultures remain long enough on American soil they evolve to fit in to the America style of life and contribute to the evolution of American culture. In this sense, it is kind of difficult for multiculturalists to call the melting pot theory a racist concept as, for the most of the parts, the process is voluntary rather than involuntary. This does not necessarily mean that immigrants lose all of their unique cultural identities either. A lot of them still keep their religions and hold on to their tradition. The reality of the today’s American society is that many minority cultures coexist with the dominant American culture. Or to put it in another way, American culture as a whole is already a mixture of very ethnically diverse cultures that defining a distinctive All-American culture that distinguishes itself by exuding an aura of “true American-ness” sounds almost self-delusional. The problem that makes me scratch my head is that many Americans who hold the monoculturalistic view on American culture seem rather clueless in how to deal with the inflow of new cultures as Garcia cries out loud that, “this country’s efforts to deal with differences (especially racial, linguistic, and cultural ones) have been influenced by ideas of supremacy, pervasive Western standards of worth, and domination for conformity. It comes as no real surprise that tensions and clashes arise over the perceived notions of multiculturalism that this process entails”38. Instead of trying to embrace different new cultures as the nation of immigrants should, the monoculturalistic America is forcing new comers to conform to the dominant culture. On the other hand, I find out some Americans who claim that they see no race when they meet new people and Stephen Colbert’s own character in Colbert Report comes across my mind immediately as he perfectly fits into this category. Multiculturaists are wary about this kind of idea as Lugones explains, “we have encountered many people who are fond of saying that they do not see white people, Anglos, Latinos, Blacks, Native Americans, or Asians; they merely see human beings. Although this thought may appealing to some, it is dangerous because it commits one to monoculturalism. Such a stance erases differences from perception and thus participates actively in the process of cultural domination through cultural leveling and turning differences into ornamental. It is central to our argument and central to multiculturalism that cultural, racial, and gender differences count in the construction of perception and the construction of society”39. How I interpret her argument is that there do clearly exist the differences between different cultures, ethnicities as well as genders and deliberately ignoring these differences in the name of the creation of strong unity artificially alters people’s natural ability to perceive existing differences among people and give them an impression that differences are bad for the sustenance of the social stability.
America has a seemingly difficult task of uniting her citizens of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Nevertheless, nearly every American seems to have a strong desire to fit into the society and be called Americans without being alienated. Considering this unique situation, I believe that multiculturalism fits better than monoculturalism in the American society despite its obvious flows I have previously mentioned, because the proper form of multiculturalism should encompass different cultures and ethnicities without alienating specific groups as the outsiders by promoting better understanding of cultural differences that leads to tolerance as well as respect for cultural diversity. Monoculturalism, while accusing multiculturalism for accentuating cultural differences and destroying the unity of this country, alienates those who are not the part of the dominant culture. I advocate multiculturalism because I believe it is very important that people of minority groups are not treated as lesser Americans who are to be continuously trained to become more fully American by accepting the values of the dominant culture and giving up their unique cultural identities. It should not be the case that just because someone never enjoys watching Seinfeld, one of the most popular American situational comedy shows among majority of white population, nor understand its humor he or she should not be laughed at as someone who lacks the knowledge about American culture. Nor anybody should be peer-pressured to have sliced ham and carved turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner just in order to conform to what is conceived to be the quintessential American culture. The American society is rapidly changing and so is the racial and ethnic make up of American population. It is estimated that by the end of the 21st century, white population will no longer make up of the majority of the population due to the rapid migration of people from Latin America. Can America possibly and successfully maintain the idea of monoculturalism throughout the 21st century and the far future when Western culture loses its dominance? America is rapidly changing and becoming ever more so diverse and so should its culture. I strongly believe that multiculturalism represents this country much better in the current situation as well as in the future of ever changing America.
Harris, Dean A., ed. Multiculturalism from the Margins: “Non-Dominant Voices on Difference and Diversity.” Bergin & Garvey, 1995.
Garcia, John A. “A Multicultural America: Living in a Sea of Diversity.” Multiculturalism from the Margins. Ed. Dean A. Harris. Bergin & Garvey, 1995. 29-38.
Outlaw, Lucius T. ”Racial and Ethnic Complexities in American Life: Implications for African Americans” Multiculturalism from the Margins. Ed. Dean A. Harris. Bergin & Garvey, 1995. 39-54.
Lugones, Maria, Price, Joshua “Dominant Culture: El Deseo por un Alma Pobre.” (The Desire for an Impoverished Soul) Multiculturalism from the Margins. Ed. Dean A. Harris. Bergin & Garvey, 1995. 103-128.
West, Cornel Race Matters. Beacon Press, 2001.
D’souza Dinesh What’s So Great about America. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.
Choi, Daniel H. “The Other Side of the Model Minority Myth.” Yisei Magazine Spring (1992)
1 Harris, Dean A Multiculturalism from the Margins p.39
2 Ibid, p.29
3 Ibid, p.30
4 D’souza, Dinesh What’s So Great about America p.98
5 Harris, Dean A Multiculturalism from the Margins p.33
6 Ibid, p.35
7 Ibid, p.106
8 Ibid, p.106
9 Ibid, p.107
10 Ibid, p.107
11 D’souza, Dinesh What’s So Great about America p.57
12 Harris, Dean A Multiculturalism from the Margins p.126
13 D’souza, Dinesh What’s So Great about America p.28
14 Ibid, p.187
15 Ibid, p.27
16 Ibid, p.28
17 Ibid, p.170
18 Ibid, p.39
19 Ibid, p.74
20 Ibid, p.41
21 Ibid, p.174
22 Harris, Dean A Multiculturalism from the Margins p.105
23 Ibid, p.105
24 Ibid, p.106
25 Ibid, p.105
26 Ibid, p.106
27 Ibid, p.108
28 Ibid, p.106
29 West, Cornel. Race Matters p.6
30 Harris, Dean A Multiculturalism from the Margins p.42
31 D’souza, Dinesh What’s So Great about America p.130
32 Choi, Daniel H. “The Other Side of the Model Minority Myth”
33 D’souza, Dinesh What’s So Great about America p.95
34 Harris, Dean A Multiculturalism from the Margins p.35
35 D’souza, Dinesh What’s So Great about America p.95
36 Ibid, p.95
37 Ibid, p.96
38 Harris, Dean A Multiculturalism from the Margins p.36