Is American society moving toward racial/ethnic segregation or integration? Do we mean our national motto e pluribus unum - out of many, one - or would we rather live, work, and play in isolated clusters with our own kind?
The answers to these questions will determine in large part not only what kind of a country we will be but also what role we will play in the world.
The Supreme Court's school desegregation decision in 1954 was taken by many Americans to point toward an integrated society, but that has not happened. On the contrary, a recent report by the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation concludes that "a class and racial breach is widening again as we begin the new millennium." There is evidence that neither blacks nor other minorities want total integration in all institutions. Even before school desegregation, the National Theatre in Washington closed rather than admit blacks. After a few years, the theater relented, but few blacks came. That is still mainly true. Church congregations continue to be largely segregated by choice, because different groups prefer different services. Meanwhile, there has been an unprecedented wave of immigrants from third-world countries. These have not assimilated as well as the 19th and early 20th century immigrants who were mainly from Europe. The US has been proud of its role as a melting pot, but the pot is getting bigger. There is a question of when we sacrifice diversity for homogenization. In fact, the melting pot never melted everybody in it. In the 19th century, Chinese immigration caused such a prejudiced backlash that Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. That remained the law until World War II when it was repealed in deference to our ally in the war against Japan. Even the European immigrants (and, now, their descendants), have not assimilated completely. Customs and religious practices brought from the old country still prevail in the ethnic neighborhoods found in most major cities - Scandinavians, Poles, Germans, Irish, Mexican, and Chinese prominent among them. But these characteristics are more a celebration of diversity than a recognition of separateness. It is difficult to draw the fine line between diversity and separateness, especially in a time when the people are quick to see racial or ethnic discrimination or harassment where none exists. Sometimes policies or actions intended to promote diversity have the effect of promoting separateness instead. …