political differences are about means rather than ends. For instance,
no one likes war and we all prefer peace, but folks have very different
ideas about the best foreign and defense policies to achieve that
end. Likewise, no one desires an impoverished nation and everyone
wants prosperity, but there is much disagreement about which policies
are best for the economy.
But it's not
so clear that this is the case with respect to racial and ethnic
relations. There may have been a brief moment when there existed
something of a national consensus a shared vision eloquently
articulated in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream"
speech, with deep roots in the American Creed, distilled in our
national motto, E pluribus unum. Most Americans still share
it, but by no means all.
There is now
a lot more disagreement about the kind of society that people envision
a disagreement not just about means, but also about ends.
Left vs. Right vs. Right
It is fair to say that we have a tripolar model with respect to
these visions. The hard left sees an American society that is not
only multiracial and multiethnic, but multicultural as well. People
will speak different languages and have very different traditions,
behaviors, and lifestyles. Governments, universities, companies,
and other institutions even statues must ensure that
these different groups are all represented. "Underrepresentation"
vision is rejected by the Right, but in two different ways. The
first conservative vision tries to avoid multiculturalism by avoiding
multiethnicity. The best way to ensure that Americans continue to
share a common culture is by being very careful about admitting
very many people from non-Western, non-Anglo countries.
The third vision
is also conservative and also rejects multiculturalism, but without
rejecting multiethnicity. It envisions an America of many racial
and ethnic groups, but with a common language, common values, and
a common culture. It favors liberal immigration policies, but insists
on the assimilation of immigrants. In this vision, no group is entitled
to a particular degree of representation in any institution; the
standards are based on merit, and the chips are allowed to fall
where they may.
There are some
on the left who may insist that they share the third vision ultimately,
but that for the time being believe that institutions should relax
merit standards in order to achieve broader representation. And
there are some on the right who likewise insist that they also share
this vision ultimately, but that for the time being believe that
immigration must be severely limited because assimilation cannot
be achieved very quickly for non-Western, non-Anglo immigrants.
Fair enough, although we'll see why I'm dubious about both fence
But for those
willing to admit cheerfully to either the first vision or the second,
Martin Luther King Day is not for you. If you really want a balkanized
America made up of ethnic enclaves, or if you are comfortable with
the notion that race and ethnicity is part of what defines America
well, right or wrong, you'd have to admit that Dr. King's
vision is not yours.
Unfortunately, the third vision is not as we lawyers say
self-executing. Those who share it have to grapple with the
issue of how to encourage assimilation. If assimilation is unattainable,
then the third vision is unrealistic. On the other hand, assimilation
is important not only for immigrants, but also for those who have
been here for a generation or two or more but have
never joined America's culture or have more recently rejected it.
with the fence sitters, in my view, is that the process of assimilation
requires the rejection of racial and ethnic preferences, as well
as the mind-set that sees oneself as a member of a racial or ethnic
group first and as an American only second, and thus must reject
a policy that uses them, even temporarily. Furthermore, since in
my view the process of assimilation has and can take place efficiently,
effectively, and rather quickly, relatively high levels of immigration
can be tolerated, even of non-Western, non-Anglo groups.
these propositions, however, we have to define what we mean by assimilation.
Americans need not all eat the same food, listen to the same music,
dance the same dances, or celebrate all the same holidays. But assimilation
does mean that we must all aim to have certain things in common.
Here are, as
suggested before on NRO, ten basic principles to which all Americans
must subscribe. They are not outrageous, but they are irreducible:
anyone else's race or ethnicity;
Learn to speak English;
Don't break the law;
Don't have children out of wedlock;
Don't demand anything because of your race, ethnicity, or sex;
Don't view working and studying hard as "acting white";
Don't hold historical grudges; and
Be proud of being an American.
it: If each ethnic group were to adopt these ten tenets, would high
immigration levels be a problem, and would any racial or ethnic
group recently immigrated or not be shunned?
If these are the values that ought to be accepted not only by immigrants
but by all Americans, then how do we go about inculcating them?
The broadest discussion of how to improve the assimilation process
is John J. Miller's excellent 1998 book, The
Unmaking of Americans: How Multiculturalism Has Undermined America's
Assimilation Ethic. Linda Chavez addressed the issue for
Latinos in particular in an earlier book, her 1991 Out
of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation.
More recently, Michael Barone's 2001 The
New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again drew from
Miller's work (as Miller drew from Chavez), and the discussion that
follows borrows from all three.
naturalization should focus on assimilation or as Miller
puts it and as many others used to put it Americanization.
In its proposed reorganization of the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, the Justice Department would create a new "Bureau
of Immigration Services" that it says would be aimed at improved
"service" to its "customers" i.e., immigrants.
as John Fonte of the Hudson Institute and Miller have pointed out,
this is the wrong approach. It should be a "Bureau of Americanization,"
and it should be focused on creating citizens, not serving customers.
For the same reason, we should also make the naturalization process
more rigorous. The standards now are dumbed down and nonuniformly
applied from region to region.
There is a
step even prior to that, however. We should encourage those who
plan to make America their home to become full-fledged citizens
in the first place. For instance, it is ridiculous that citizens
and noncitizens even illegal aliens receive equal
weight in congressional reapportionment schemes.
most crucial part of the assimilation process in naturalization,
but also before and after, and even for some people whose families
have been here for some time is learning English. We simply
have to be able to communicate with one another, and that means
a common language, and that means English. So-called bilingual education
that is, teaching English to non-English speakers only slowly,
in segregated classrooms, for only an hour or two a day has
proved to be nonlingual: Students never learn English, and their
Spanish isn't so hot either.
California and Arizona were so right to ban such programs in favor
of English immersion. The importance of English fluency as a common
civic bond also makes it outrageous that the federal government
requires ballots to be presented in languages other than English
in many neighborhoods. It is also to be hoped that the Bush administration
appointees will end the Education Department's coercion of school
districts into adopting bilingual education, as well as the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission's war on companies that, for perfectly
legitimate reasons, want employees to speak English when they're
on the job.
Government, Timid Politicians, Poisonous Elites
It should be now be apparent to the careful reader that, when it
comes to assimilation, the federal government is not just failing
to help matters, it is frequently making them worse. Those of us
who oppose one liberal program or another are often cautioned by
political experts that it is not enough to be against something
one must also be in favor of something. I always hate that,
especially when government programs are the issue. As Ward Connerly
used to say, when a doctor says he wants to remove your cancer,
do you demand to know what he's going to replace it with?
of the conservative agenda in this area, at least in terms of government
programs, is negative. That is, we would be satisfied in large part
if the government stopped doing things to hinder assimilation, because
it would take place naturally if the government played no worse
than a neutral role.
We cannot pass
a law that bans people from having children out of wedlock. But
we were right to begin removing some of the incentives for doing
so that existed pre-welfare reform. It also makes sense to remove
other incentives for not working, and to keep in place disincentives
for not working, whether it's in the workplace or the schoolroom.
John McWhorter has argued persuasively that the progress of African
Americans is retarded by affirmative action "There is
no such thing as a human being doing their very best when they are
told they only have to do pretty darn well" as well
as by the mind-set that sees studying hard as "acting white."
We have plenty
of laws on the books that prohibit racial and ethnic discrimination
and harassment; unfortunately, we also have plenty of government
actors that (unconstitutionally) award preferences in employment,
college admissions, and government contracting on the basis
of race and ethnicity. In doing so, they send and reinforce the
message that people ought to think of themselves in racial and ethnic
terms, rather than simply as Americans. And they create a resentment
that further divides us from one another.
is accomplished not just through the law, of course. It is also
a product of social pressures and, in particular, the attitudes
of elites. And herein, of course, lies much of the rub in 2002.
Once upon a time, the politicians and intellectuals believed in
America enough to believe in assimilation; now they don't.
wrote a decade ago in Out of the Barrio, "Assimilation
has become a dirty word in American politics," and Michael
Barone concluded in The New Americans last year, "The
greatest obstacle to the interweaving of blacks, Latinos, and Asians
into the fabric of American life is not so much the immigrants themselves
or the great masses of the American people; it is the American elite."
Neither major party is willing to talk about assimilation, for fear
of being thought anti-immigrant or racist. And the academy seems
to think multiculturalism is just a fine idea.
number of studies have been published showing that some minority
groups especially blacks and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics
make up a disproportionate number of prison inmates. The
instinct of the grievance elite has been to attack the police and
laws as therefore biased. But this instinct is not only misguided;
it reflects and encourages a rejection of civic solidarity between
minorities and nonminorities.
there is some controversy these days about the extent to which more
integration is necessary for improved race relations. Certainly
integration was a big part of King's vision, and a major point of
divergence from the world wanted by both white segregationists and
black separatists like Malcolm X. Many liberals still insist that
integration is essential for racial understanding and harmony
in other words (though they wouldn't use the word), for the kind
of assimilation I'm talking about. But this gets cause and effect
backwards. Integration is difficult or impossible if assimilation
has not been achieved first. But once there has been assimilation,
integration is easy. People want to live next door to people like
themselves and will shun those who reject their values, whatever
the neighbors' skin color and ancestry.
to Be an American
The last item on my list pride in being an American
is much more critical now than when I first compiled the list in
2000. In obvious ways, wartime can dim the prospects for assimilation
but it can also strengthen them.
Barras wrote an op-ed on October 28 titled, "Many Blacks Have
Doubts. Here's Why," arguing and justifying that
"More blacks than whites question or object to the so-called
war on terrorism." That "so-called" says it all.
Fortunately, I have seen little evidence that Barras is right. I
say fortunately because, if any group wants to accelerate its acceptance
as Americans, then it should pledge solidarity with the country
in its time of need. And if any group wants to guarantee that other
Americans will treat them as second-class citizens, then they should
act like second-class patriots.
book Why We Can't Wait was filled with patriotism, and it
justified the ideals of the civil-rights movement as much by the
desirability of freedom as by a cry for equality. King quoted Lincoln
and Jefferson, refers to the "founding fathers," and concludes
his famous letter from Birmingham jail with a reference to "our
great nation." King even referred to "our beloved Southland."
is essential to bringing Americans of different races and ethnicities
together. It is a neglected ingredient even a secret weapon
in the continuing improvement of race relations in this country.
Patriotism is important both for what it says to whites and nonimmigrants
and for what it says to minorities and immigrants.
As to the former,
patriotism requires adherence to the American creed, and an essential
part of that is embracing one's fellow Americans, whatever their
skin color or ancestry. Bigotry is un-American.
Gene Autry's ten-point "Cowboy Code," written in 1939,
not only must "The Cowboy never shoot first, hit a smaller
man, or take unfair advantage" (requirement #1), he "He
must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant
ideas" (requirement #5). Requirement #10, by the way, is "The
Cowboy is a patriot."
old war movies with a multiethnic roll call: Adams, Berkowitz, Callahan,
. The point was, is, that we were, are, all on the
same team. In An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal concluded
that, in the long run, America's founding ideals and the angels
of our nature would spell the doom of Jim Crow, and he was right.
We really are
a nation of immigrants, and if someone comes here and learns our
rules and plays by them, the bargain is that those already here
must accept him as a brother, whatever his color, creed, or ancestry.
also requires everyone to embrace America its ideals, history,
and culture. That is the other side of the bargain. To be accepted,
one must assimilate.
doesn't mean you must forget your ancestors and your roots, eat
nothing but hamburgers, listen only to country music, and give up
polkas or tangos for square dancing. But English must become your
and, especially, your children's primary language, the Fourth of
July must be celebrated more loudly than Bastille Day or Cinco de
Mayo, and you must bury your historical grudges against the foreign
or domestic ancestors of your fellow Americans. You must work hard,
follow the law, and join the bourgeoise. All this, again, applies
to native-born Americans as much as immigrants.
analogy: You find yourself living in an apartment building with
many other tenants, some of whom are proud, long-time residents
and some of whom are newly arrived like you. What is the likely
reaction of the long-time residents if you never miss an opportunity
to tell them what a lousy apartment building they have and what
a lousy job they have done over the years in maintaining it? Remember:
It's your home now, too. It's all right to make suggestions for
how to better fix up the place now, but the present should
be the focus rather than criticisms of the past.
and assimilation are maligned today by the intelligentsia and, especially,
the self-appointed spokesmen for racial and ethnic minorities in
the grievance elite. By denigrating America, laughing at patriotism,
and encouraging identity politics, these elites are ensuring balkanization
and mistrust. America is multiracial and multiethnic, it is pluralistic,
but it is not multicultural. E pluribus unum: Out of many,
and assimilation ought not to be dirty words, least of all for racial
and ethnic minorities. To the contrary: Pride in being an American,
and love for America and among Americans, is the best civil rights
policy we could have.