Richard Nelson Current
Abraham Lincoln is a dead white male. He was a honkey. He was a WASP. His world was quite different from the world we inhabit today. You might wonder, then, what relevance his memory could possibly have for the question of the validity and desirability of multiculturalism. The question is a very serious one. It amounts to this: What is--and what should be--an American?
The current buzzword "multiculturalism" means different things to different people; the issue is, in part, semantic.1 As some use the word it refers to efforts to en-____________________
Before "multiculturalism," the catchword was "cultural pluralism." I have discussed Lincoln's position on cultural pluralism in Unity, Ethnicity and Abraham Lincoln (Fort Wayne, Ind.: Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, 1978), which is reprinted in my Speaking of Abraham Lincoln: The Man and His Meaning for Our Times ( Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 105-25. I have also criticized the idea in "The 'New Ethnicity' and American History," The History Teacher 15 ( November 1981), 43-53, which is reprinted in my Arguing with Historians: Essays on the Historical and the Unhistorical ( Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), 162-73.