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That remained the law until World War II when it was repealed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. …