With the commencement of the millennium one might think that what is known as the melting pot of the world would interact more smoothly than what is portrayed in the media. We have long lived in a society that is segregated, not because it has gone unopposed, but because no one wants to take on the responsibility of breaking the Berlin Wall of segregation. We have, however, come a long way from the kind of segregation that was imparted in our country’s fledgling stages, slavery being the number one offense of segregation.
A quarter-century ago, race was part of everyday public discourse; today it haunts us quietly, though on occasion – the Rodney King beating or the Simpson trial or Eric McGinnis’s death – it erupts with jarring urgency. At these moments of crisis, during these squalls, we flail about, trying to find moral ballast. By then it is usually too late. The lines are drawn. Accusations are hurled across the river like cannon fire. And the cease-fires, when they occur, are just that, cease-fires, temporary and fragile. Even the best of people have already chosen sides (Kotlowitz, 414)
To have any race or sect serve another because they believe they are higher and mightier than the other is preposterous. By our own nature we, as a society, strive to dominate others and become the King of the Hill. This is our major downfall, by doing this we injure our society and the bond that holds this country together. Why does this occur you might ask? That is a question to be answered only by anthropologists and sociologists; for students do not have the time or inclination to sort through behaviorisms and psychological mumbo jumbo.
Many of our youth were taught to stay within their own ethnic groups. This mentality is what gave rise to the Klu Klux Klan, the Chinese prisoner camps of World War II, and the ethnically segregated neighborhoods of today. Some are taught to hate other ethnic groups, some have preconceived notions of how other cultures act, and still others have had bad run-ins with other ethnic groups and judge them all from the one incident. As William Booth, a Washington Post staff writer, said in his essay One Nation, Indivisible: Is It History,, Houses of worship remain, as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. described it three decades ago, among the most segregated institutions in America, not just by race but also by ethnicity.
Think how difficult it is to measure the ratio of cultures and ethnic backgrounds to how we integrate with each other. Whites account for seventy-four percent of the population, Blacks twelve percent, Latino ten percent, and Asians three percent (Booth, 395). It is easy to see how Whites could be perceived as the oppressors because of the shear evidence of the numbers, showing Whites as the majority. Morrow lends a good point when he says this might be because of the simple fact that most of America’s celebrated heroes are White. Then again, with rising minority populations across the country, soon we will all be on a level playing field, speaking the same language and things of that nature.
Language is a big issue in today’s society. With dozens of ethnic backgrounds, and the languages that come with them, which do we teach in our schools? How do we
discern which to offer and which to adopt as courses in our schools? Then there is the issue of our native tongue. Do we dare change the language that is so well known in our country? And if so what would we change it to? Until we have answers to these questions, they should be looked over and the immigrants who decide they would like to live in America should abide by our laws and policies as our forefathers dictated in the Constitution.
It is all about perspective which has everything to do with our personal and collective experiences; from our histories we build myths, legends that both guide us and constrain us; legends that include both fact and fiction (Kotlowitz, 411). This, in fact, is how each of our respective ethnic groups derives the reinforcement for our stereotypes and prejudices.
Throughout the sixties and seventies, I watched one group after another – African
Americans, Latinos, Native Americans – stand up and proudly reclaim their roots while I just sank back ever deeper into my seat. All this excitement over ethnicity stemmed, I uneasily sensed, from a past in which their ancestors had been trampled upon by my ancestors, or at least by people who looked very much like them. In addition, it had begun to seem almost un-American not to have some sort of hyphen at hand, linking one to more venerable times and locales. (Ehrenreich, 415) We banter over who is right and who is wrong like squabbling children when we do not see what is going on right under our noses. Most are more interested in winning a battle when we need to band together to win the war. All of America should look at the facts of the matter and collaborate, not separate. Morrow, a columnist for our revered student newspaper The Quad, explains it best when he says, When others seek you out, don’t look down on them with arrogance.
As our society exists today we can not eliminate prejudice or stereotypes. We must change and adopt all cultures and ethnic backgrounds as our own. Americans need to treat each other as a conglomerate, not as separate groups. But the persistence of ethnic enclaves and identification does not appear to be going away, and may not in a country that is now home to, not a few distinct ethnic groups, but dozens (Booth, 397). We can only hope that some day, as Americans, we can learn to accept and share the significant things every ethnic background has to offer.
Ackley, Katherine Anne, ed. Perspectives on Contemporary Issues: Reading across the
Disciplines, 2nd Ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt, 2000.
Booth, William. One Nation, Indivisible: is it History? Ackley, 393-399.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Cultural Baggage. Ackley, 415-417.
Kotlowitz, Alex. Colorblind. Ackley, 411-414.
Morrow, Carl E. Minority role models in communities are difficult to come by. The
Quad 29 Feb. 2000: The Forum, page 9.