Ethnic Diversity In America: Strength Or Weakness?

One of the biggest markers of American society is the vast cultural differences between pockets of society.  Are these differences a strength of our society, enabling us to deal with other cultures better?  Or is it a weakness, causing strife and discontent?

First, let us agree that the degree of ethnic diversity, and the continuing sense of some pre- or non-American ancestry is amazingly a fact of American life. And it will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Even as it is a fact also, as Sollors and others have shown, that much of our ethnicity is an invention within and of the American scene.(2) The 1980 census, e.g. for the first time asked for the ancestry/ethnicity of its respondents. There was an “open-ended” question about this – no pre-listed categories; respondents could write in what they wished. About 83% reported at least one “non-American” ancestor. That is, about 188.3 million out of a total population of 226.5 million. And of those, about 167.5 million – almost 89% of the 83%! – reported derivation from 50 European group designations (these were 128 all together as derived from actual responses) (Magoesi 133-168). These are astonishing figures, however you may interpret them, however elastic the terms “ancestry” and “ethnicity” are. With the great increase the 1965 revision of our immigration policies produced in immigrants predominantly from Mexico, the Philippines, Cuba, Korea, China/Taiwan, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, we can be sure that the 1990 census will continue to show an extraordinarily high degree of ethnic diversity. The greatest growth will be in non-Europeans, in people of color and Latins. The U.S. census projected that by the year 2000 the white population would be somewhat over 221 million, the Black almost 39 million, Hispanic over 25 million. They did not, interestingly enough, predict the number of Asian Americans and Native Americans. We know they, especially the Asian Americans, will be considerable, in a trend that will continue into the 21st century. The changes, the mix, the diversity are indisputable. What arouses anxieties among mainstream historians and cultural observers is undoubtedly the spectre of racial conflict so deep and apparently unrelenting in our culture, and how to deal with or accommodate seemingly exotic and alien populations. (Every student of our previous nativist history and debates will experience a sense of dija vu at these phrases and the ones that follow). Different races, “impossible” languages often with “weird” alphabets, often religions that are outside the presumed Judeo-Christian foundations of the United States. (I say “presumed” because this too is a social and historic construct, I would argue, but cannot develop here.) No wonder Higham asks us to go “beyond pluralism.” But let us not dive into despair or empty rhetoric.

Chametzky, Jules. “Beyond melting pots, cultural pluralism, ethnicity – or, deja vu all over again.” MELUS 16.4 (1989): 3+.

It is hard to say for certain.  It is thought that cultural diversity would reduce the ethnocentrism of a society.  Homogenous societies could fall prey to ethnic superiority – a huge detriment in the long term.

America does have a rather checkered past when it comes to racial and cultural equality.  However, our ability to learn from our mistakes and better our society (even though it might take time) is one of the hallmarks of our nation.

One of the biggest cultural turning points is happening with the tipping point of gay rights in the United States.  The interesting thing is that it would appear that the influence of social media has quickened this change in society.  Although change was happening slowly through the 90′s and 2000′s, it is clear that the biggest changes happened in the last couple years, spurred on by social media.

Will social media and electronics spur other changes?