As the New Year begins I am already beginning to dread the inevitable weeks, months and events we set aside throughout the year to honor whichever particular group happened to have enough political clout to lobby for one. My thoughts turned to this topic when I read this week that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was lobbying for a new national park celebrating Colorado’s Hispanic Heritage. This is the part where the politically correct mind will begin regurgitating arguments in support multiculturalism. I would rather take a moment to argue in support of our uniquely superb American ideals.
Multiculturalism is a belief that all cultures and worldviews are equally valid and should be celebrated. I would argue that this is exactly the wrong attitude, and a cowardly one. Take an honest look at human history and tell me that all ways of thinking are morally equivalent. I submit that you cannot. From government to academia our institutions should be supporting one primary narrative. That narrative is that the United States is great because this is the place where you can cast off the hatreds and divisions of the old world and joins us in creating the new one.
The United States has historically and rightly viewed itself as a melting pot. We are all aware of the imagery and sort of understand the reasons but I doubt few of us really get how truly powerful and important that concept is. There is no American religion or race. There is no creed or color or ancient history which defines America. America was founded as an idea and it is from this idea that we draw our strength as country and a people. It is an idea rooted in the principles of our founding and it makes us exceptional. English and Irish, Germans and free Blacks, along with others, were all part of our original founding. The visionaries who gathered to create our country conceived of a nation based not on blood ties and genetics, but on a commitment to principles of liberty, private property and individual rights. It was not just about removing a king; it was about changing the nature of the human experience.
We have often failed to live up to our principles, as all people do. What sets us apart is that we always find our way back to them. Throughout our history, Italians, Chinese, Eastern European Jews, and many other ethnicities took their turn being the new wave of immigrants. They all faced discrimination because fear of “the other” is rooted in the dark side of human nature. This is how the story usually ends in every other part of the world but in The United States this is where the story begins.
I will use Italians as an example since that is the story of my own family. When they first began arriving on our shores in large numbers – with swarthy complexions and oddly spelled food – Italians faced incredible discrimination and hatred. Relegated to their own communities and barred from certain types of employment, Italians were routinely looked down upon by their fellow Americans. Italians were lynched in New Orleans and the mainstream media of the day regularly attacked Italy for using America as a “dumping ground” for Italian criminals. That seems unbelievable today because today Italians are just white people.
Every group can tell a similar story. In the late eighteen hundreds, factories regularly posted “NINA” in their windows signifying “No Irish Need Apply”. What makes America better is that here the story ends differently than it does anywhere else because America is different than anywhere else. North Africans have never been able to become “French” the way anyone can become “American”. Similarly, second and third generation Turks living in Germany remain keenly aware that they are not “Germans”. This is not because of anything particular to France or Germany, but because of something so unique and special about America. This is why we should always focus on the ideas and commitments that unite us instead of focusing on our divisions. America is the place where the old divisions don’t matter.
This brings me back to my point about ethnic set-asides. From the months and weeks “honoring” blacks or women or gays to special monuments dedicated to certain sub-divisions of hyphenated Americans such activity goes against what America stands for and hurts us far more than it benefits. Humans are very good at identifying “the other” and segregating themselves. Americans should be better than that. Thomas Jefferson, Booker T. Washington and Caesar Chavez are not elements of White, Black and Hispanic history, they are figures in the story of our common American story. This is the story we should be telling.