I have a problem when I hear people describe the US as a “melting pot” of races. First, it’s not true. Our country has not lived up to that image. Second, I don’t ever want it to be true.
I read an article recently about an African-American woman who was so fair-skinned she could and did pass for a white woman occasionally growing up. For her it meant better jobs, housing, education, and more respect. I’m not criticizing her for this (code switching is very useful), but I think it’s a shame that she had to deny part of her identity in order to be accepted in society. That’s what the melting pot does. It makes you shed part of your cultural and personal identity in order to fit the mold of the white majority. It teaches you that the part of you that is different, that is non-white, is not valued or worth recognition.
Patricia Williams, when she spoke at my school, said that the US has waves of minorities that eventually get pushed to be either white or black. Italians and other Eastern Europeans that immigrated to America were once discriminated against, but are now considered white and enjoy those privileges. They were assimilated because they were able to pass. What happened to the rich culture and traditions of those assimilated? They were abandoned and replaced with other traditions more suited to the majority. For me, that’s a sad thing. Everyone deserves to be valued for their differences and be able to maintain the integrity of their culture, without it being denied or watered down by a desire for better jobs and treatment.
I’m reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison right now and there is a part of the book (CH 10) that I think applies here. The main character gets a job at a Liberty Paint factory where they make the purest white paint in the world. How? They put ten drops of a black chemical into each bucket. They mix it in until it disappears. I don’t want black culture to disappear. I don’t want any ethnic culture to disappear.
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t speak Hindi around me or my sisters. They wanted us to learn English. How I wish they had taught us Hindi too! I know a lot of families that do the same thing. Perhaps if I had learned Hindi, I would feel a stronger connection to that part of my identity. This is an example of culture being watered down, and it was a result of my parents wanting a better life for their children by emphasizing their white identities.
So no, I don’t want America to be a melting pot. If we really desire to be a multicultural nation, we have to accept each culture as different but not deficient and see the value in diversity. We need to become a salad bowl of awesomeness.