The State of American History

By Herbert J. Bass | Go to book overview

Ethnicity: A Neglected Dimension of American History

RUDOLPH J. VECOLI

Twentieth-century sociological literature is replete with notices of the imminent demise of ethnicity in America. In 1945, W. Lloyd Warner declared: "The future of American ethnic groups seems to be limited; it is likely that they will be quickly absorbed."1 A decade later, Will Herberg confirmed that ethnicity, if not dead, was rapidly dying.2 These epitaphs to ethnicity, like Mark Twain's obituary, have turned out to be premature. Recent events have shattered the assumption that the melting pot has worked its cultural alchemy. Ethnicity, by which I mean group consciousness based on a sense of common origin, has demonstrated renewed vitality in the second half of the twentieth century.

Clearly this resurgence of ethnic consciousness, this "new tribalism," springs from deep-seated social and psychic needs. The "Black Revolution" appears to have served as a catalyst, energizing other groups to both defensive and emulative responses. Just as in Canada, where the French nationalist movement has spurred Slavs and others to assert themselves, so black militancy has elicited responding ethnic nationalisms. "Black Power" brings forth echoes of "Irish Power," "Polish Power," and so forth. Inspired by the example of black Americans, white ethnics tend to see themselves engaged in an analogous struggle for liberation from the stigma and burden of inferiority.3

Only the true believer can any longer sustain his vision of America as a "homogeneous society of undifferentiated men" where race, religion, or national origin do not matter. The inability to transmute

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