MULTICULTURALISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS:
PERSONAL MUTTERINGS AND MUSINGS
by Tom Lovell
submitted to the Raleigh Tavern Society
I awoke October 17 reluctantly resolved to close out my reading in order to get down to the task of writing this paper. I counted on flesh and spirit merging to make that a day, not of business-as-usual frivolity, but one of trepidation and trial, requiring the usual lashing-to-the-mast regimen all authentic writing days seem to demand.
Acting on habit I arose over French coffee and the Houston Chronicle. It wasn't until I had finished the front page portion of the paper and settled into the Metropolitan section that the meaning of the words I had been rather perfunctorily reading began to register on my brain: at that moment, with teeth-grinding affirmation, I vowed October 17 would indeed be a "writing day".
I say this because of 32 news stories appearing in Section A of the Chronicle that Friday fully a third in one way or another touched on the "culture wars" which for long years have assaulted this writer's sense of fair play and teased his weakness for indulging moral indignation. But beyond personal pique and disquietude I just happen to believe that what we're living through these days is an apocalyptic
showdown which has everything to do with deciding our identity as Americans. Indeed one of the battles being fought in this "war" (singular) is what this essay is about: namely the struggle to determine the kind of country we can expect to live in the foreseeable future.
Pertinent in this regard was a front-page story below the fold having to do with a Houston developer's intention to remodel moldering Gulfgate Mall so as to "focus on Hispanics", that is to cater to Hispanic customers by stocking products designed to meet their needs and whims, even going so far as to include cinemas offering films with Spanish subtitles. At first blush such a decision is clearly driven by bottom-line, good business sense, reflecting a well-established trend among American retailers. No doubt Julian Simon, the University of Maryland economist who seemingly favors unlimited immigration as a stimulus to both economic growth and entrepreneural instincts, would yawn at such an undertaking, viewing it as nothing more than offering a temporary way station for hard-working immigrants on their road to inclusion into the American mainstream. But as this paper will try and show the proposed mall makeover presents a troubling marker of our growing separateness and alienation as a people, a phenomenon pointing more to "E Pluribus Pluris" than "E Pluribus Unum."
Parenthetically I am duty bound to report on the other stories that appeared that day in the Chronicle including one in which the NAACP threatened a boycott of dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster for persisting in defining the word "nigger" as a "black person"; one puzzling over whether or not the top enlisted man in the U.S. Army, who is black, would charge the prosecution in his sexual harassment court martial with racism; one on Louis Farrakhan's attempt to hold a "day of atonement" as a follow up to his Million Man March; one questioning the validity of a recent sex harassment survey conducted by the American military; and one in which Vice President Al Gore praised Hollywood for portraying homosexual themes in what he averred was a long-overdue exercise in even-handed openness.
But there was more still: the front page of the Metropolitan section included a story on attempts made by the admission officers at Texas law schools to ingeniously circumvent the Hopwood decision outlawing affirmative action in college admissions and a story reporting on HISD's attempts to admit students to local magnet schools without requiring racial and ethnic quotas.
And finally, not to be outdone, even the business section got into the act with a story about a female pilot for Continental airlines who had won some $900,000 in damages in a lawsuit in which it was alleged she had been sexually harassed by her male counterparts when the latter hung pictures of nude women in the cockpit they jointly occupied.
I submit that such is life on the front lines of the cultural wars on any given day in America. And such is life particularly in the pages of Houston's lone daily newspaper. (Three days later the Sunday Chronicle included a story in its State section on how Hispanics in New Braunfels successfully lobbied the town's council into canceling the crafting of a municipally-sanctioned flag honoring that Hill Country community's German founders.)
While it might be argued that not all of the above accounts touch directly upon the topic under discussion, i.e., multiculturalism and its more salient discontents, they nevertheless co-exist in an environment made possible by assumptions and intellectual underpinnings shared by the multicultural project.
But definitions are in order. For openers multiculturalism has been described as a realistic expression of the rising tide of new ethnic minorities that have appeared in this country since passage of the Immigration Act of 1965. Multiculturalism, then, is simply a freshly coined term for the new arrivals' inclusion within the traditional mix of Anglo-Saxon and Eastern European types, who, along with descendants of black African slaves, largely made up this country's population in the recent past.
And in keeping with the spirit of the "melting pot" this is probably all to the good: "Viva la difference"! Or, if you wish, "Long live multiculturalism"! (It should be noted that one of the reasons opponents of multiculturalism, as that term will be defined here, have experienced heavy sledding in making their case is because public opinion often validates the above bland and rather elevated definition to the exclusion of all others.)
The working definition of multiculturalism that will apply in this paper is indeed antithetical to the above version: instead of endorsing the concept of the "melting pot", the committed ideological multiculturalists I have in mind renounce that hoary metaphorical receptacle as an insidious construct of hegemonic oppression which has allowed the privileged white majority to impose its cultural will on minorities in such a way as to denigrate the latter's respective cultures and force upon them a loss of collective, as well as individual, respect, or--to be more politically correct--esteem.
So instead of an alloy of assimilated Americans, cast as it were in a die allegedly designed by a hierarchy of WASPish metallurgists, what is required and indeed what is now all but in place is a "mosaic" of clearly defined, sharp-edged, ethnic, racial and sex-defined tiles, laid out on the American patio with each demanding due recognition including access to their respective share of political power. And finally, to drive the metaphor over the cliff, because the tiles representing blacks, women, and Hispanics, have in the past been unduly scuffed and trod on they now require a compensatory amount of buffing and polishing. As tortured and rather vulgar as all this may appear, it, nevertheless, captures the spirit of multiculturalism as it is being implemented in America today.
The intellectual origins of the American variant of multiculturalism (there are even more pronounced MC campaigns being waged in Canada, Great Britain, and Australia, primarily because of their own vexing immigration policies and pre-existing ethnic minority problems) are numerous and complicated. For example there is cultural relativism brought to this country in the early and mid Twentieth Century by German and French anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Claude Levi-Struass. They basically taught that all people had a "culture" (the totality of its social practices) and that all cultures pretty much were equal, if for no other reason, because there existed no neutral principles for judging them; in other words, it was impossible for the observer to be fair in evaluating another culture because the measuring rod applied, of necessity, would have been forged by that observer's own culture. The logic of this intellectual Catch-22 has found a welcome mat on many an American university campus where it has fit snugly into the expanding radical egalitarian sensitivity so riotously espoused during the 1960s and so doggedly adhered to ever since.
The late Allan Bloom described with enviable clarity this co-mingling of egalitarianism and relativism on college campuses. To Bloom such a combination had been taken up and transmogrified into a moral sanction requiring an unsurpassed "openness" to all ideas and cultures--holding none superior to the other--and that this had led to a sad, pervasive conformity of thought amounting to an ironic "closedness" of "the American mind" to ideas that sought to challenge this received wisdom.
An associative influence that bizarrely has ridden shotgun for multiculturalism, at least in academia, has been the congeries of postmodern ideas frequently yoked together under the heading of deconstructionism. There is little question that the reigning presence here is the French philosopher Jacques Derrida whose convoluted theories of literary textual analysis, centering on his coinage and application of the term "logocentrism" has gone far in unseating the notion of hierarchical standards of excellence, particularly as they might apply in determining the canon of Western literature and philosophy. To Derrida, written language reigns supreme over spoken and reflects the unique creative meaning of the author rather than transmitting universally recognizable meanings and truths. But even more significant is the role of the reader-interpreter whose subjective judgment of a given text is what is most significant and philosophically interesting. In dismay the socialist critic Irving Howe in an essay written shortly before his death described such theorizing as "metacritical, quasi-philosophical., and at times a stupefying verbal opacity. . . . "
From this and other similarly inclined intellectual bases have such scholars as Edward Said, a Palestinian Christian and professor of comparative literature, teed off on traditional Western scholarship as it has applied itself to non-Western cultures. Said's charge is that the West has unfairly viewed the East, or the Third World in general, through a pre-conceived prism constructed with the help of Western privilege and power to a priori find the Other inferior, primitive, and, in a host of other ways, wanting.
The use of the word "Other" with an upper case "o" reveals a favored locution employed by multiculturalists to suggest a prejudicial tendency on the part of those in the West to inordinately and alternatively fear and deprecate people from non-Western cultures; when you hear the word or see it in print used in a didactic manner you can almost guarantee you're in the presence of a died-in-the-wool multiculturalists, someone who in the recent past relished spelling America with a "k". I make the latter point not to be gratuitously snide and meanspirited but simply to remind the reader that just below the surface of your average multiculturalist lies someone holding deep-seated grievances against the United States or what he or she thinks the United States stands for. This is usually couched, however, in the rhetoric of disappointment over America's failure to live up to unrealistic expectations of social justice and cultural comity and her disinclination to embrace one-world globalism in which nationalism, not to mention patriotism, is deemed gauche, provincial, obsolete, and even dangerous.
Lynne Cheney. President Bush's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, in a recent book, quotes an MC activist professor at the University of Georgia as saying she believes multiculturalism has the happy "potential for ideologically disuniting the nation". Cheney also quotes the classicist Martha Nussbaum who fears that teaching patriotism in our schools will lead Americans to think themselves worthy of "special respect". American exceptionalism is to be discouraged at all cost.
Also present in the multiculturalist profile, or so I will claim, is not only a garden variety type of guilt that rues the disproportionate advantages enjoyed by this materialistic country's higher living standards, but a barely veiled claim to moral approbation. There seems to be some kind of human calculus at play here with dollops of approval ladled out in accord to the level of abuse heaped on the United States and particularly on the white American male whose "culture"--unlike those of homosexuals, feminists, blacks, Hispanics, or the Others of the Third World--fails to escape a good old-fashioned judgmental evaluation. The pose often taken here is one of tolerance (a much valued token on the multicultural tote board) for other cultures which is demonstrated by one's willingness to joyfully take traditional American culture to the woodshed.
Other precincts of academia, of course, are not immune to multicultural influences. For example, MC ranges widely across the sociology curriculum heavily impacting research projects, and a colleague of mine in psychology assures me it abounds, at least in introductory textbooks, in her field. In history it has all but taken over the shop. This is best demonstrated by the glowing endorsement the major professional history organizations bestowed on the controversial 1995 History Standards project, which brimmed over with multicultural themes and values. And I haven't even warmed up to the cross-cultural programs, highlighted in so-called studies of women's issues, the environment, and world peace, the likes of which represent the very model of modern--decidedly left-wing--multicultural undertakings.
Once all this is said, it is fair to note that the roots of multicultural thought, as well as its practical application, by no means are monolithic. In a 1995 convention of the National Association of Multicultural Education panelists included not only the usual suspect advocates for the alleged victimized oppressed--in this case a New Age-chattering feminist whose concerns were "gender-specific"; a twofer spokeswoman for American-Indian program at Howard University, who made no bones about his "concerns and caveats" with how multiculturalism is being taught (too much fluff and a penchant for covering the forest and missing the trees) and with what he called the "right-wing" versions of Afro-centrism by which he had in mind the black supremist views of Leonard Jeffries.
Then there is the respected writing of Charles Taylor, a political theorist who teaches at McGill University in Toronto. Taylor's essay on multiculturalism entitled "The Politics of Recognition" is widely viewed as the best stated moderate interpretation of multiculturalism around.
Taylor repeats the idea first famously expressed by Frantz Fanon, the French-speaking black Algerian psychiatrist who became an iconographic figure of 1960s' radicalism, that Europeans, in looking down their noses at the colored peoples of the world--many of whom they had colonized--had imposed on the latter, negative perceptions that had been internalized so as to grievously affect their sense of self worth. Taylor is sure this kind of thing does happen and that it can be a form of oppression.
He also is convinced that we have entered a new day of universal and international dignity and equality that is successfully being recognized the world over. This dignity along with a new authenticity which celebrates one's particular identity--part of which might well be determined by one's cultural ethnicity--marks the decline of hiearchial Western societies all of which Taylor sees as a good.
Often involved in this therapeutically astringent transformation of values, Taylor contends, is a political struggle between those who wish to stake out their autonomous individual identity, shaped in part by their respective group, and a majority that insists on an assimilation process which traditionally leads to a diminishment of individual differences. To Taylor, this is bad.
There is much here requiring a cataloguing of definitions which makes for slow and tedious reading. But in his favor Taylor does take a crack at the deconstructionists for holding that all identity decisions are determined by who has the power; this would of course suggest that when the multicultural crowd possess sufficient political power they will impose their own identity straitjackets. This kind of thinking offends Taylor's passion for maintaining an open democratic dialogue, a much repeated refrain. What I find encouraging about Taylor and his colleague Amy Gutmann is at least they appear to be willing to admit the possibility of error, an attitude unlikely to be shared by the zealots in the trenches busily implementing MC policies. It's interesting to contrast Taylor's vision of multiculturalism as the building of some kind of therapeutic, egalitarian paradigm with that of the conservative black economist Thomas Sowell, a scholar who has built a second career as it were on studying how race and culture interact and in so doing act out a kind of Darwinian war in which some cultures dominate and absorb each other while yet others go about selectively borrowing, one from another.
Anyone with the slightest familiarity with higher education knows well the power of MC's clout. Other than the nasty curricula debates to which I have alluded, one thinks of the emergence in the last ten years of theme dorms which divide on-campus living quarters by race and ethnic group; of speech codes officially precluding public utterances deemed to be hateful to minorities, including homosexuals; and to the affirmative action battles joined over student admissions and faculty hiring. Such recitations bear witness to a field that has been plowed many times by conservative critics with, I might add, limited success in rectifying the situation.
In the single best article on the woes MC has imposed on the university, Clifford Orwin, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, frames the problem as well as any. Orwin describes well how the MC influence has eroded the nineteenth-century Matthew Arnold version of the university, one devoted to holding up the highest standards of what is "best" in the Western tradition so as to provide "a place for reflection upon society precisely because it [the university] is not as an institution simply reflective of society." Orwin contrasts this with the MC version of the university which "leads society by following it" into discrediting "the dominant 'culture' ".
While the multicultural headwaters often begin in our universities, a significant tributary has cut a swath through the entirety of K-through-12 public education. Evidence of this abounds among the professoriat and within the curricula of colleges of education; the professional associations of public school administrators; the national secondary education library, social studies, and English teaching organizations; and, most telling, the politically powerful leadership of the National Education Association. The Clinton-appointed heads of the Department of Education and their bureaucratic staffs should also be mentioned if not always in the same breath. Textbook publishers, meanwhile, long ago scouted out the territory and detected MC smoke signals in abundance, which explains the expansive number of women and minorities portrayed conterminuously with white males, especially in history books.
But there is a least one self-described multiculturalist knowledgeable of our public schools who finds much to criticize regarding MC's implementation there. I'm speaking of Diane Ravitch. Ravitch is something of an anomaly in that she appears regularly in the publicity literature of the multiculturalists while hobnobbing with MC's angriest critics among the neo-conservative intellectual set.
To Ravitch as with one of the earliest liberal critics of affirmative action, Nathan Glazer--a recent but reluctant convert to the Ravitch point of view--multiculturalism is indeed a fact of American life, but a reality that can and must be lived with. For more than two decades, Ravitch, a respected historian of American education, has accepted, if not necessarily embraced, the notion of "cultural pluralism" which, to employ the Ravitch spin, argues that cultural differences are part of the American scene and fortunately Americans have the option either to assimilate into a "unum"--the melting pot--maintain their separate heritage, or to do both simultaneously.
Our children [she writes ] now "learn that cultural pluralism is one of the norms of a free society, that differences among groups are a national resource rather than a problem to be solved. Indeed, the unique feature of the United States is that its common culture has been formed by the interaction of its subsidiary cultures. It is a culture that has been influenced over time by immigrant, American Indians, Africans. . . and by their descendants. . . . . . Paradoxical though it may seems, the United States has a common culture that is multicultural".
Ravitch's ire is raised, however, when she discovers the multicultural agenda I have described above being forced down the throat of the public schools through state dictate, i.e., by means of activists lobbying state legislatures to pass laws favorable to the implementation of MC and by the former's epigones burrowing into the state education bureaucracies where they affect curricula and hiring policies.
Ravitch refers to these rogue multiculturalists (who, by the way, I insist are mainstream) as "particularists" who teach that the identity of children is determined by their " 'cultural genes' " whereby "something in their blood or their race memory or their cultural DNA defines who they are and what they may achieve."
As central as our institutions of education are in the grounding of MC, the phenomenon has metastasized to almost every corner of American public life: the military with its squabbles over sexual harassment, women in combat, and homosexual disclosure; affirmative action policies, ranging from civil service hires to preferential treatment in the letting of government contracts--the pending vote on the Houston affirmative action referendum providing a good example; mortgage lending regulation; the selection of juries; legislative redistricting; law school faculties where critical-race theorists have made their mark; and the major charitable foundations, especially Ford, Carneige, Mac Arthur, and the Pew Charitable Trust, long in the hands of liberal trustees who have spent millions funding one MC project after another. Then there's the transformation of the media into a veritable rainbow coalition, with TV networks--local and national--mandating the display of an ethnic, racial, and sex-balanced smorgasbord of news readers and celebrity journalists.
This clearly is reflected in Houston and applies most inappropriately to taxpayer-supported KUHF-TV where liberal Mexican-Americans have taken over management decisions and clearly imposed a greater than usual leftist slant to that station's local programming.
Even liberal newspapers are not immune with both the New York Times and the Washington Post, over the last few years, having to answer to mini-scandals in which white male reporters either were let go or passed over in new hires in favor of women and some allegedly unqualified minorities. The Houston Chronicle, meanwhile, with a much ballyhood diverse board of editorial writers, has become the "amen corner" for every MC-tagged issue to cross its desk.
But the most surprising source of strength for multiculturalism has issued from corporate America's boardrooms where "diversity management" has become an entrenched part of doing business. Never, I would wager, in American history has a single word exploded out of its humdrum traditional dictionary usage into such an over-night ubiquitous, in-your-face, presence, as has the word "diversity." The only thing running it a close second is the obsessive, multifarious expansion of the word "culture"--as in multiculturalism. Is there a noun left standing in Webster's that has not of late acquired a "culture" of its own? As in the culture of the, well, aardvark? It obliges one to resuscitate the infamous line attributed to Hermann Goering, apparently made in reference to a loathing for the high modernism so ostentatiously showcased in Weimar Germany, to the effect that "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver!"
But back to business! Frederick R. Lynch, a professor of sociology at Claremont McKenna College in California, in his new book, The Diversity Machine, while acknowledging the need for management to back off from its white Old Boy hiring network and face up the reality of doing business within an increasingly multiethnic population and a growing global market, clearly thinks the multicultural-diversity "machine" (his phrase), has gone too far. Lynch complains that the "changemasters," as he calls them,
have far more in mind than limited reforms. They are extending affirmative action's top-down hiring campaign into a broader multicultural revolution in the American workplace and beyond. Both the ends and the means of this policy movement pose a substantial threat to the values of the generic liberalism enshrined in modern American law and culture: free speech; individualism; nondiscrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, or standards, and procedures; democratic process; and, above all, a sense of national unity and cohesion embodied in the spirit of E Pluribus Unum.
To Lynch, diversity management is an extension of the philosophy of multiculturalism that seeks to transform Western values by targeting the "allegedly monocultural white male workplace.: It's Lynch's position that during the 1980s the old-time religion version of affirmative action began to lose steam only to be picked up and dusted off by a group of consultant theoreticians who saw the possibility of fusing multiculturalism with the new burgeoning demographic forecasts and threatened "glass ceiling" regulations (designed to promote women as bosses) into a new visionary management formula. What followed was a core of organizational advocates teaming up with consultants to produce a "diversity machine". Designed as part social science and part ideology and promoted through conventions, newsletters, and a growing professional literature, it acquired liberal foundation funding and took as its touchstone the Clinton White House's slogan of building a government that "looks like America".
According to Republican Party activist James Pinkerton, multiculturalism is now "permanently embedded" in U.S. corporate culture. If further evidence is required one need only examine the donor list of contributors to the recent campaign in Houston to defeat the pending anti-affirmative action referendum. Enron, Brown and Root, American National Insurance, Texas Commerce Bank, Browning-Ferris, and Shell Oil aren't exactly mom and pop operations. Whether this reflects the corporate equivalent of the Social Gospel, an insurance policy against possible Jesse Jackson boycotts and lawsuits like those that befell Texaco and Dennys, or perhaps confirmation of the theory that big corporations thrive by coopting the regulatory state, is not clear. (On the day of this presentation the Wall Street Journal opined that this attitude represented an attempt by the business establishment to maintain "racial peace" in a city not known for racial conflict" in other words passing the charter amendment would hurt Houston's public image and be bad for business.)
Once these points have been made, there remains two looming presence's in the multicultural firmament that drive most of the public policy decisions made in its name: one consists of the feminist movement which appears in guises numerous and about which I will have more to say in a later paper. The other, of course, is the African-American minority. The felt needs of this largest and most historically deprived American minority group commingled with the enormous burden of blame and appropriately borne guilt of the white majority packs a wallop sufficient to sharply rein in all arguments critical of multiculturalism.
One might craft a wide range of valid and logical points to rebut the MC juggernaut only to have them crash to earth with a thud when someone rises to demand: "But what about the blacks!" When today one is called a racist--and this applies even to black conservatives--and there exists not a shred of evidence to give merit to the charge, the word alone, as far as the party on the receiving end is concerned, becomes both an expletive and potential epitaph. Few possess the courage called for by the late intellectual historian Christopher Lasch, who in his last book published prior to an untimely death, urged that those called racist for demanding high academic standards of their students accept the term "as a badge of honor, to flaunt it, with studied provocation, in the face of those who want to make racism and minority rights the only subject of public discussion."
This kind of bravado notwithstanding I submit there is a real fear involved here and that it goes a long way toward explaining the growing disinclination of Newt Ginrich and the Republican Party in general to take a strong stand against affirmative action policies, wherever initiated. White America, it seems, has still not moved beyond those TV pictures of police dogs gnawing on black marchers in Birmingham and ketchup dumped on the head of Sunday School-clean Negro students sitting in at Woolworths.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s triumph in melting the hearts of white America, especially a critical mass of those in the South, turns out to have triggered one of the great unintended outcomes of American history. The heavy white guilt which King so brilliantly tapped into and then later sent into combat for a righteous cause has helped usher in the insoluble dilemma of our present multicultural America, namely the daggers-drawn, no compromise stand-off between black and white America, poignantly reflected in the O.J. Simpson decision, and appallingly and disingenuously addressed of late by Clinton's commission on race whose final report is as predictable as next year's Chicago Cubs' pennant prospects.
Clearly it was this burden of guilt that caused the white establishment in the Sixties to flinch in resisting the riotous and unruly black masses and thus by omission help legitimize the rise of black power nationalism which in large measure prepared the Petri dish wherein the most critical strain of multiculturalism was able to grow and flourish.
And it is from black America's role in the multicultural pageant that contradictions tumble over themselves one by one: in standing up for black separatism and Afrocentrism--as opposed to the dream of integration inspired by King and the then NAACP leadership--blacks have fallen behind rather than advanced. Meanwhile, Hispanics, or at least their activist representatives, piggybacking on the presumed success of black nationalism and bulked up numerically by the post-1965 immigration flood, have evolved into a nemesis-in-waiting, poised to contest black prerogatives both politically and economically particularly in designated urban communities throughout the country.
Already in a variety of the above municipalities, including Houston, we see an alliance of whites and browns ganging up against blacks over access to local spoils and perquisites. Multiculturalism, in a virulent form of identity politics that makes the heydays of the Daley Machine and Tammany Hall look like beanbag, has become a fixture of our political landscape.
Mention Hispanics and one immediately is presented with the most idiosyncratic integer in the multicultural equation. Call them Hispanics, Latinos, Chicanos, or whatever, they are divided by country of origin--from which they bring a distinct "national culture" of their own--be it Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central America, or Mexico; by length of time lived in the United States; by class; by resident status; and increasingly by variations of Christian worship.
Thanks to the prevailing family-oriented immigration laws and a fecundity of births, they have grown to numbers that have radically changed politics in California and are well on the way to having a similar effect on Texas. Whether their numbers will reach the totals predicted by some population mavens seems to be determined by what demographic crystal ball one peers into. What makes their story particularly interesting, as concerns this essay, is the "ambivalent"--to use the political scientist Peter Skerry's term--manner in which they have been brought into the multicultural camp.
In World War I Mexican-Americans, at least in Texas, fled the draft by crossing into Mexico. In World War II more Congressional Medals of Honor were handed out to Mexican-Americans than any other ethnic minority, save perhaps the Neisse Japanese. I would assume, this latter described shift in loyalty suggests a push toward acceptance of, and willingness to assimilate into, the greater American culture. In my youth the leading Hispanic in Houston was Felix Tejerina, a restaurateur, who spent much of his time teaching Hispanic kids the value of mastering English. Nowadays he would be considered an Hispanic "Uncle Tom".
This move to assimilate or to become "Americanized" (more on this later) was slowed not only by the rush of legal and illegal immigration that since the Seventies has flooded the country but the realization by a growing elite of outspoken Hispanics--mostly Mexican-Americans--of the fruits of multicultural politics. One might call it the Caesar Chavez syndrome, where the late California labor leader and his confrontational farm workers' union was elevated by the liberal media to a position of secular sainthood replete with iconographic images of hapless compesinos.
The possibilities made available by this attention were not lost on the new Hispanic leadership. It was quick to pick up on the assumed gains black Americans had enjoyed as a result of the new affirmative action-multicultural politics; gains which derived not only from the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the Sixties, but the interpretations placed on these laws in court decisions and tortured bureaucratic formulae. The irony was that to access the plethora of welfare programs, set asides and entitlements proffered by the newly generous nanny state, Hispanics had to back off from thoughts of assimilation and emphasize their color, and, if you will, "cultural" differences. But it was their cultural differences along with their close physical proximity to their homelands--a fact that made them essentially unique among American immigrants--that had delayed their assimilation all along. And unlike immigrants from Asia who blossomed in their adopted country from the complex of values--including an emphasis on education, delayed gratification, hard work and thrift--that made up Confucian culture, Hispanics, and particularly the Indian and mestizo peasant immigrants from Mexico, were adversely affected by an Iberian culture which included mistrust of those outside the family; a flexible ethics code (the first thing ever stolen from me as a child was a coffee can filled with blackberries that was spirited out from under my see saw in Hermann Park by a button-eyed Mexican kid); a passivity among the lower classes; negative attitudes about work and saving, or, in the words of former AID executive Lawrence E. Harrison, "the consequence[s] of a present-oriented, zero-sum world view."
The neo-conservative activist Linda Chavez summed up this contradiction well when she wrote: "To succeed in the affirmative action game, Hispanics had to fail in other areas." And nowhere was this quest to establish their government certified inferiority better illustrated than in the implementation of bilingual education which slammed the door in the face of Hispanic assimilation. Outside of the barrio of multiculturalist zealots who see nothing wrong in an unassimilated population of polyglot tribes, and educationists who have carved a career out of soldiering the system, is there a sentient being today who really believes that after twenty years of demonstrated failure that this idiocy really works. As the educationists like to say, "the data shows," and what the data shows is "nada."
Next to bilingual education and a multicultural-laced public school curriculum that ranks the contributions of traditional Anglo-America as retrograde in comparison to that of the Golden Horde, the biggest hurdle Hispanics and to some extent African and Asian aliens in this country need surmount before melding into the American mainstream, is a citizenship process that has jettisoned all pretense that newly-minted American citizens are just that: seriously committed individuals desirous of shucking off their old ties in favor of zestfully taking on a proud new identity.
Some of this is due to the recent shameful actions of the NIS in the 1996 elections where thousands of applicants were hurriedly run through in order to assist Clinton's re-election. This is not fancy, having participated in my in-laws' naturalization process last year I turned up in the middle of the muddle with a front-row seat. What I found particularly appalling was the ceremony at the Brown Convention Center at which my mother and father-in-law were sworn in. I believe as many as four thousand were in the hall waiting to take the oath, most of whom appeared to be Mexican nationals, and of these the vast majority didn't seem to have a clue as to what was going on at the dais. I can only assume that this was due to their inability to understand English. When the soloist commenced singing the Star Spangled Banner, my voice appeared to be one of only a handful to join in. I contrast this to other naturalization ceremonies I have attended in the past where the inductees seemed to take in every word with solemn reverence.
Georgie Anne Geyer's new book, Citizenship No More, goes into painful detail regarding the Nationalization and Immigration Service's policies and procedures for admitting aliens to naturalization status. Her most damning indictment comes in revealing the contents of the booklet distributed to applicants in preparing them for their final interview which determines whether or not one "passes" and is granted a certificate of naturalization.
The answers provided to the fundamental question of "why do you want to become an American citizen?" are, as incredible as they might seem, 1) to be eligible for government benefits, and 2) to assist my family in coming to America. One wonders what ever happened to "live in a country where there is liberty and justice for all."
What kind of people are those who design such things? And who are these Hispanic leaders insisting that Hispanic children be taught in Spanish, and that Hispanic adults be allowed to cast ballots in their native language and vote in districts in which Hispanics make up the majority. And why do these leaders insist that their ethnicity entitles them to a certain percentage of jobs and college admissions; and why do they insist that illegal immigrants from Latin America be granted the same government benefits as those who arrive legally? Why do they insist on doing these things rather than leaving no stone unturned to facilitate the assimilation of their brethren into the traditional culture of their adopted country?
The answer to these questions lies, one would think, less in their passionate devotion to the idea of multiculturalism with all of its piquant enticements, especially its patina of moral superiority, but to the acquisition of power. Obviously we're not referring here to a C. Wright Mills' kind of scenario but more of an Antonio Gramsci-like "assault on the levers of culture" so as to better takeover societal institutions. And who these days can ignore what has been achieved so far in the pursuance of such an end.
Christopher Lasch, one of the original architects of the New Left, who in time charted a new course somewhere between cultural conversatism and Populist class war, inveighed against a "betrayal" of America by the intellectual elite's of which he assuredly was a card-carrying member. To Lasch the modern American intellectual's decision to abandon "middle class nationalism" with its common standards and common frame of reference in favor of multiculturalism has left a society susceptible to dissolving "into nothing more than contending factions." The very thing the Founding Fathers sought to prevent!
Multiculturalism's passion for openness and cultural diversity, Lasch continued, erodes the standards of civic virtues rightfully imposed on society by the old "privileged groups" and when those standards are vitiated by the dictates of MC the masses are left adrift without competent guidance. Modern liberalism's conviction that it can live without old-time civic virtue in favor of liberal institutions is outright wrong. The character of its citizenry is what holds a polity together and that character is shaped by moral and religious traditions to which MC intellectuals have given short shrift. Tolerance alone, Lasch fulminates, is not sufficient to hold democracy together.
These views are not unlike those of the remarkable target of one of the Unabomber's bombs, one David Gelernter, a professor of computer programming at Yale. Gelernter's recent memoir about his life following the bombing amounts to a bitter assault on the kind of America that multiculturalism has helped shape: an America compelled to make "victims" of almost everyone and determined to pull up by the roots the deep-seated need to be "judgmental."
And who is responsible for creating this fiasco but a new class of intellectual elite's who have come to the fore since World War II. This "new class"--by no means a new idea, neo-conservatives like Irving Kristol employed the same concept at least 15 years ago describing the same phenomenon--has, in Gelernter's words, made the civil rights movement their religion and in so doing have envisioned "a morally gross majority" [white America], oppressing "a minority struggling for justice." And this has become, at least for this class of intellectuals, the equivalent of the Christian Passion and the Exodus for Judaism: in short, a face off between devils and angels with "tolerance" brandished as the latter's Excalibur.
And finally Gelernter claims acerbically that the reason earlier immigrants to this country had scant difficulty assimilating themselves is because there was no "intellectualized elite hectoring them" not to.
In reading writers like Lasch and Gelernter or another sharp critic of multiculturalism, the old New Deal liberal historian Arthur Scheslinger Jr., one is struck by the quality of the voices that have been raised in opposition. And there are, of course, rays of hope, if not for stopping it in its tracks at least for slowing it down. One brings to mind the Hopwood decision and the best bet likelihood that the Supreme Court--admittedly by a 5-4 vote--will uphold it if called upon; then there's the success of Proposition 209 and the call for another California referendum designed to deep six bilingual education.
But these are the exceptions. There is still too much evidence of gloom and doom. For openers I remind the reader of the cowardice of the Republican Party and the business, peace-at-any-price, cartel in Houston. Another worrisome fact is that the most avid, Indian-Death-Lock committed foes of MC are approaching their dodderage, while others, as indicated in this paper, have already arrived at the Pearly Gates. This is nothing less than an expression of the rapid demise of the pre-Boomer generation who actually attended college during a time when liberal professors had guts.
But of late this crew's been dropping like flies. This November I turn 61. Will it be, "after me, the Deluge?" Whom among the younger generations are rising above the trench line? More importantly, who is charging across no-man's land? When a full professor of law with some thirty years in front of a black board in one of the more prestigious law schools in the land has garbage dumped on his reputation for all the nation to see, with a cohort of seemingly level-headed politicians calling for his scalp and only a paltry few non-politicians coming to his defense, one begins to realize the state to which we have fallen.
But when I hear the much respected Nathan Glazer, sociologist and policy analyst who years ago sounded the alarm against affirmative action, throw in the towel with a book not only conceding defeat but attempting to view multiculturalism through rose-colored glasses, I am bound to pause and reconsider. To Glazer, proponents of MC are simply seeking the time-honored American goals of equality and liberty which explains why the opposition can't gain much traction.
Glazer attempts to disarm critics like myself by implying that the totalitarian (my word) methods employed by the MC crowd are only temporary and that after the minorities have achieved "inclusion" much of the angst will pass. In other words Glazer is convinced the fears that MC will initiate an American version of the Balkans or Shri Lanka is greatly exaggerated. He even portrays MC's rewriting of American history as a right-thinking tool to rectify the injustices left over from the days of excessive boosterism and glorification of the past. (Sometimes I ask myself why I don't remember this kind of sugar-coated, super-patriotism being taught when I was in school? Am I just in denial or is it this negative interpretation that is exaggerated? I wonder!)
But Nathan Glazer is Nathan Glazer and an honorable man to boot! Glazer's final word on the subject is to argue and argue aggressively, if not always persuasively, that multiculturalism is nothing more nor less than the price America is paying for failing to break down the color line so as to assimilate blacks. This is our Original Sin for which we are paying a condign punishment. But, Glazer optimistically concludes, assimilation in the long run is inevitable.
So what am I, soon to be a 61-year-old white American male descendant of English and Scots-Irish ancestors, to think about this Brave New Multicultural World already in place and avidly undermining the traditional vision of the American past, present, and future that I have longingly clung to all these years, and, I think--if rightfully understood--still provides a vision fittingly and properly capable of bringing about a true "inclusion" of all Americans regardless of how "diverse" they might be.
This vision of mine might well be romantically sentimental and maudlinly nostalgic, but, if adequately explained and aggressively fought for, it still can prevail. And much can be said in its defense.
One begins with what today in MC America would be a bold disclosure: British culture has the strongest claim on the American past. Russel Kirk in speaking the obvious noted that the English language, the rule of law, representative government, and those unique mores Tocqueville himself noted, i.e., moral habits, customs, modes of thought, and the meaning of manners writ large, all originated in Great Britain. These would include a general chastity within the family, courage, willingness to sacrifice, household independence, and shrewd practical intelligence.
David Hackett Fischer in his behemoth of a book, Albion's Seed, calls some of these values "folkways" and avers they are inherited from Britain. According to Fischer, "Today less than twenty percent of the American population have any British ancestors. . . . But in a cultural sense most American's are Albion's seed, no matter who their own forebears may have been." The likelihood of observations of this order making their way into today's public school curriculum is slim and none, and the jury probably would be out as to their appearance in many college history courses.
I conclude with the assertion that unlike most multiculturalists I am convinced assimilation of the American population is a bottom-line necessity for the peace and tranquillity of this country. And that such still can be obtained in the old traditional American way. As of old, three rules must be made mandatory: all should 1) accept English as the national language; 2) expect to take pride in one's American identity, including the acceptance of liberal democratic and egalitarian principles; and 3) expect to live by the Protestant ethic demanding one to be self-reliant, hardworking, and morally upright.
Once such a formula is lived up to by all Americans, immigrants and native born alike--including our fellow black citizens--assimilation will lead to a brisker pace of intermarriage which is sure to spell the end of our newly acquired taste for an identitaterian, hyphenated America, and in the long run will be our salvation as a united people.