America as a Multinational Society Term Paper

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In years before, America was a collection of Chinese, Germans, Italians, Scots, Croats, etc., all craving freedom. Today, even the simple concept of an English-speaking nation is fading off the continent. In the past, immigrants were taught in English in the public schools. In America today, children are taught in German, Italian, Polish, and 108 other languages and dialects. Most of these schools are funded by 139 million federal dollars. "The linguist's egalitarian attitude toward dialect has evolved into the multicultural notion that dialect as a cultural feature is part of one's identity as a member of that culture."

Due to their ethnic or cultural heterogeneity, multiethnic societies in general are more fragile and have a higher risk of conflicts. In the worst case such conflicts can cause the breakdown of these societies. Recent examples of this were the violent breakdown of Yugoslavia and the peaceful separation of Czechoslovakia. Forced mixture or coexistence of ethnically different populations might be the reason for the outbreak of nationalistic and racist tendencies, which over the years can become so strong that they are able to destroy a multiethnic society.

Until recently, emigrants in the United States longed for admittance in society's mainstream. Now these groups demand separation from society, to be able to preserve and conserve their customs and languages. The biggest problem with this demand, is whatever accommodation takes place, must be done and accepted by the receiving society. The increasing accommodations directed toward immigrant culture worries many Americans. Americans fear the special treatment granted to immigrants will affect the unifying force of the country. Today, the trend is toward multiculturalism, diversity and adapting the newcomer, rather than on the newcomer adapting himself or herself to a diverse society.

One of the reasons frequently given for American "exceptionalism" is immigration and the consequent blending of different ethnic groups. While the theory of Anglo-conformity has always been the dominant one in America, in 1908 an English Jewish writer named Israel Zangwill gave a particularly eloquent rendering of this popular view. In that year Zangwill wrote a drama entitled the Melting Pot, in which he had several soliloquies that developed a melting-pot theory. His view saw Americans as the result of a unique blend of the best cultural features of various immigrant groups.

The idea of the melting pot has been challenged by various theorists of cultural pluralism. Will Herberg (1955) in Protestant, Catholic, Jew wrote that the idea of the melting pot was misleading and that the nation was actually a transmutation pot wherein immigrants adapted to the dominant culture. Citing such evidence as the increasing number of intrafaith marriages of people from different nations, Herberg actually saw three transmutation pots differentiated by religious heritage. Within the three pots, national origin was decreasing in significance.

Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1970) in Beyond the Melting Pot criticized Herberg's thesis. They maintained that national origin was still very much alive in this country. While Glazer and Moynihan are correct, their thesis was true mostly of the family values of each group. Certainly the successful ethnic groups coming to the United States have accepted, rather than challenged, the "American way."

Multiculturalism is a policy that emphasizes the unique characteristics of different cultures in the world, especially as they relate to one another in receiving nations. The word was first used in 1957 to describe Switzerland, but came into common currency in Canada in the late 1960s. It quickly spread to other English-speaking countries. On the large scale, the term is often used to describe societies (especially nations), which exhibit a range of distinct cultural groups, usually as a result of immigration. This can lead to anxiety about the stability of national identity, yet can also lead to cultural exchanges that benefit the different cultural groups. Such exchanges range from major accomplishments in literature, art and philosophy to relatively tokenistic appreciation of variations in music, dress and new foods. "Multiculturalism, as long as it is conceived within the existing framework of the hegemonic nation-state or bloc of states founded on inequality and hierarchy, cannot offer the means to realize justice, fairness and recognition of people's singular identities and worth around the world. The multiculturalist respect for the other's specificity may be the appropriate form of asserting one's own superiority."

Ethnicity has never been the divisive factor that race has been. The United States lost more than 624,000 men in the fight over the slavery issue, but only a fraction of that number in ethnic violence. Racism is still very much with us today; it haunts our every discussion of the nation's past, present, and future. While immigration has been an important factor, it is of secondary importance to the racial division. Indeed, all white immigrant groups were placed above blacks in American society. In fact, new immigrants economically and socially benefit from the racism that provides a permanent caste of workers to do the most unpleasant and least- rewarded tasks in the nation.

Indeed, the ethnic system in the United States is an extension of the racist system - it is similar to what is known in criminology as the pyramid scheme. White ethnic groups are generally expected to start at the bottom of the white ladder of social mobility and work hard without complaining in their climb to the American dream of relative economic wealth. They are not expected to ask for governmental assistance, since the attitude of the dominant groups is that new immigrants should be thankful for being allowed into the country in the first place. Obviously, white ethnic groups that arrived earliest in time greatly benefit from this system of economic exploitation and help ensure conservative political views.

One of the difficulties of accommodating multiculturalists is that defining a multicultural society, curriculum, or institution seems to be determined by one's perspective. A commonly held view suggests that being multicultural involves tolerance towards racial and ethnic minorities, mainly in the areas of dress, language, food, religious beliefs, and other cultural manifestations. However, an influential group calling itself NAME, or the National Association for Multicultural Education, includes in its philosophy statement the following: "Xenophobia, discrimination, racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia are societal phenomena that are inconsistent with the principles of a democracy and lead to the counterproductive reasoning that differences are deficiencies."

It is not uncommon for advocates of multiculturalism like NAME to begin with the assumption that truth is culturally based. It is argued that a group's language dictates what ideas about God, human nature, and morality are permissible. While Americans may define reality using ideas from its Greek, Roman, and Judeo-Christian heritage, Asian or African cultures see the world differently based on their traditions. Multiculturalists conclude that since multiple descriptions of reality exist, no one view can be true in any ultimate sense. Furthermore, since truth is a function of language, and all language is created by humans, all truth is created by humans. This view of truth and language has a spokesperson in Dr. Richard Rorty, humanities professor at the University of Virginia, who argues that truth that transcends culture is not available because "where there are no sentences there is no truth, and sentences and their respective languages are human creations."

Part of the problem with multiculturalism is that it allows for a broad definition of cultural groups. There is both a gay culture and a feminist culture in America. In fact, any group can identify itself as a marginalized culture group. The homeless become a cultural group, as do single mothers on welfare. Should their perspectives get equal treatment in our schools? Are their moral values as valid as all others? The problem is that to be considered multiculturally sensitive, one must be able to place oneself into the perspective of the oppressed group completely, at the metaphysical level, not just to sympathize or even empathize with them.

Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, warned that multiculturalism, as it is taught in the United States, is dangerous for a democratic, multiethnic society because it encourages people "to think of themselves not as individuals, but primarily in terms of their membership in groups." By focusing on differences instead of commonalities, Shanker said, this kind of education does not increase tolerance; on the contrary, it feeds racial and ethnic tensions and erodes civil society, which requires a sense of the common good, a recognition that we are all members of the human race. Shanker noted that multicultural education teaches cultural relativism because it implies that "no group may make a judgment on any other." All societies must establish basic values and guidelines for behavior.

The keys to successful ethnic and race relations are the reduction of ethnic competition and weakening of ethnic identification. This needs to be backed up by powerful efforts to promote equality and fight unfair discrimination by raising the costs of racism and discrimination. Bigotry can be fought and beaten, but similarities and unity must…[continue]

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