Taking Stock of America's Attitudes on Cultural Diversity: An Analysis of Public Deliberation on Multiculturalism, Assimilation and Intermarriage*

Article excerpt


Since America's inception, both social scientists and the public have grappled with the issues associated with racial and ethnic inclusion. In 1835, when commenting on American race relations, de Tocqueville (1900:361) proposed that the presence of an isolated and subjugated black population amounted to the "most formidable of all the ills" threatening the stability of the United States. More than one hundred years later, and shortly after the brief but compelling ascendance of melting pot theory, Myrdal (1944) referred to the very same phenomenon as An American Dilemma and proposed that the integration of minority groups into the mainstream might provide for the equality of all individuals, regardless of their color. Most recently, multiculturalism and its doctrine of equal respect, has emerged as a major theoretical framework for analyzing and resolving intergroup relations (Gordon and Newfield, 1996). In effect, while the appraisal of racial and ethnic inclusion by social scientists and the public vacillated over the years, the presence of an abundant supply of ardent antagonists has ensured the constancy of the assimilation-pluralism debate. Today, the debate persists as American deliberation on multiculturalism and cultural diversity endures.

Yet, because scholars and social analysts infuse this debate with most of its energy, much of what we know about America's position on racial and ethnic incorporation is based on their ideas/ideals or anecdotal evidence. While they have produced countless articles, anthologies, texts and monographs on the subject (e.g., Gans, 1997; Glazer, 1997; Nolan, 1996; Manning, 1995; Pincus and Ehrlich, 1994: Goldberg, 1994), attitudinal research on America's position on cultural diversity remains largely unreported, and virtually neglected in the research on racial attitudes (Downey 2000). Available research on this issue tends to focus on political mobilization (Downey, 1999), symbolic issues (Byron, 1999; Alba, 1990), and culture wars and cultural diversity issues (Higham, 2001; Downey, 2000; Schlesinger, 1998; Lipset, 1996; Giroux, 1995; Gitlin, 1995). Of the extant attitudinal research, few studies empirically situate social attitudes toward the central concepts in the debate on cultural diversity--assimilation and cultural pluralism.

In this paper we attempt to remedy the gap in the literature in this topic area with a two-fold research agenda. First and more generally, we seek to more clearly identify patterns of support and opposition to multiculturalism among the public in the United States. More specifically, we aim to expand the scope of the attitudinal analysis in order to scrutinize how the presence of intermarriage correlates with attitudinal formation on cultural diversity. Intermarriage's longstanding, scholarly reputation as a topic of interests for sociologists--as a measure of social distance, assimilation and intergroup harmony (Lieberson and Waters, 1988), gives the second, more focused research question a compatible, timely and pertinent place within the broader research ambitions stated above.

What part does the burgeoning numbers of multiracial, multiethnic families have to play in this national debate on multiculturalism? Some researchers believe intermarriage is more than a measure of the structure of race relations. For them intermarriage itself becomes an engine of social change (Root, 2001; Goldstein, 1999; Yancey and Yancey, 1997). While scant attitudinal research exits on multiculturalism, empirical analysis deliberating on intermarriage and attitudes on cultural diversity, appears to be absent in the literature. Employing a recently administered nation-wide survey, we employ logistic regression models in order to empirically situate the attitudes of Americans on multiculturalism and intermarriage--a deliberation which thus far appears to elude consensus.


Assimilation While the central concepts employed in research on racial and ethnic inclusion possess multiple meanings and at times lack conceptual clarity, a generic notion of the meanings attributed to assimilation and pluralism exists in the literature (Downey, 1999). …