Friday, May 16, 2008

Multiculturalism


The Wall Street Journal has published an editorial on immigration by Jason L. Riley, arguing for immigration and against multiculturalism. Despite his ostensibly taking the opposite view, part of his piece reminded me of Robert Samuelson's "I wish candidates would tell everybody else what I want to hear" editorial. My parodic expansion of Samuelson's thoughts,
"Now you're of course asking me, 'How are you going to keep those 'south of the border types' out'? I'm not. Oh, I might promise stepped up border patrols, fencing the entire U.S.-Mexican border, or other expensive forms of window-dressing, but at the end of the day I'm simply not the type of politician who is going to ask the agriculture industry to pay the type of wages that will draw citizens to pick our nation's fruits and vegetables, the hospitality or retail industry to pay that type of wage for maids and janitors, or the construction industry to pay that type of wage for workers.
Riley's explicit thoughts:
The problem isn't the immigrants. The problem is the militant multiculturalists who want to turn America into some loose federation of ethnic and racial groups. The political right should continue to push back against bilingual education advocates, anti-American Chicano Studies professors, Spanish-language ballots, ethnically gerrymandered voting districts, La Raza's big-government agenda and all the rest. But these problems weren't created by the women burping our babies and changing linen at our hotels, or by the men picking lettuce in Yuma and building homes in Iowa City.
I guess some pro-immigration, pro-assimiliation right-wingers are willing to be explicit - they see immigration exclusively as an "us against them" with Mexico, but are content with the idea of allowing "them" to work as maids and nannies, or pick vegetables, as long as they don't (dare I say) cling to their cultural heritage.

Which brings us to the glory of assimilation. Riley confabulates a powerful special interest group that opposes assimilation:
If American culture is under assault today, it's not from immigrants who aren't assimilating but from liberal elites who reject the concept of assimilation. For multiculturalists, and particularly those in the academy, assimilation is a dirty word. A values-neutral belief system is embraced by some to avoid having to judge one culture as superior or inferior to another. Others reject the assimilationist paradigm outright on the grounds that the U.S. hasn't always lived up to its ideals. America slaughtered Indians and enslaved blacks, goes the argument, and this wicked history means we have no right to impose a value system on others.
The fact that you would be hard pressed to name even one such person? I guess that only shows how insidious they are. But you know as well as I do, when people go to the polls and are looking for opinion leaders on these issues, the first place they turn is to "multiculturalists, and particularly those in the academy". Whether its anti-immigrant sentiments, anti-gay marriage laws and ballot initiatives, "English language only" laws, whatever, those darn fictional ivory tower elitists get in the way of right wing populism at every turn.
The political right should continue to push back against bilingual education advocates, anti-American Chicano Studies professors, Spanish-language ballots, ethnically gerrymandered voting districts, La Raza's big-government agenda and all the rest.
Ah, so there we go... the evil leftists unmasked.
  • Bilingual education advocates - these, presumably, are the people who respect studies demonstrating that bilingual education is effective at keeping immigrant children at grade level as they learn English. These programs can even take the form of rapid immersion, with bilingual elements phased out over a relatively short period of time. The horror.
  • Anti-American Chicano Studies professors - these must be the "multiculturalists ... particularly those in the academy" previously mentioned. How many "Chicano Studies professors" exist, and what subset of them is anti-American? That's beside the point.
  • Spanish-language ballots - Letting citizen immigrants read ballots in their native language, so they can fully appreciate what they're voting for? Can't you see, the sky is falling!
  • Ethnically gerrymandered voting districts - Darn those liberal, multiculturalist Republican gerrymanderers. Darn them to heck! Wait... other motives may be involved? Well, go figure.
  • La Raza's big-government agenda - Who? These guys? I guess I'm in the wrong part of the country, because I'm not seeing them wield any influence in these parts. Anyway, as we previously covered, when we say "you guys should assimilate" we mean by "burping our babies and changing linen at our hotels, or ... picking lettuce ... and building homes", not by petitioning the government for redress of grievances. Stop your anti-American antics!
It's also interesting to note that people like Riley have a very narrow view of what it means to assimilate. You won't hear them crying in their milk over our nation's having "too many churches", and how we really need to assimilate into a single [Christian] religion. You won't hear them whining about Scottish heritage festivals, and how the nation would be significantly improved if only we banned the caber toss. You won't hear them lament that we're still referencing the Scots-Irish heritage of residents of West Virginia. You won't hear them calling for the shuttering of ethnic restaurants. You may hear them whine about the "decline" of American culture, and in particular about the evils of popular culture. When you do hear that complaint, it will typically be uttered with the same degree of contemptuousness - because the problem is not the origin of the culture, it's that the culture is alien to them and they don't like it. (A response we might get? "It's different this time, and I'll tell you why shortly, but right now I'm taking the family to Taco Bell as soon as I get my kid to turn off Dora The Explorer.")

You see, there's "good multiculturalism" and then there's "bad multiculturalism". "Bad multiculturalism" necessitates railing against the latest major immigrant group and declaring that they're somehow going to ruin America. "Good multiculturalism" involves celebrating the heritage of the group you once despised, while completely overlooking the fact that multiculturalism and assimilation can and do coexist, and contribute to what we now see as "American" culture. There are many examples in our society of groups that are regarded as 100% American, but who hold on to elements of their historic culture.

I don't want to unfairly brand Riley as myopic, so I'm fully prepared for somebody to send me his editorial, which certainly must exist, lamenting our nation's St. Patrick's Day Parades, or decrying the continued presence of "Chinatown" or "Little Italy" districts in many of our nation's major cities.

2 comments:

  1. What would a day be without a few nits to pick or just gratuitous comments to make . . .?

    1) There are “radical multiculturalists” out there. You met some of them at Law School. They tend to be better dressed and younger, but basically they always reminded me of the people who wear tin foil under their hats. (I.e. amusing and incapable of rational thought, but basically harmless.)

    They were the silly people who would be in favor of requiring the American legal system to acknowledge the “cultural rights” of immigrants . . . as long as those rights involved wearing colorful hats, using controlled substances, or doing something else that the multiculturalists though was “cool”. For some reason, none of the multiculturalists polled were in favor of legalizing wife stealing or female circumcision, no matter how “culturally relevant” these things might have been back in the “old country.”

    2) The assimilation process is important and is, I think but can’t prove, facing hurdles that didn’t used to exist. There is a dominant culture in this country and, with some changes over time, it has remained pretty consistent for the past few centuries. It preaches the rewards of hard work and risk taking and it celebrates America while being fairly contemptuous of the American Government. It is the same economically driven cultural myths that inspired Irish farmers, Eastern European peasants, and now inspires immigrants from South and Central America. The potential problem with assimilating new immigrants isn’t the immigrants (their pigmentation may change but they seem to be remarkably similar in outlook from generation to generation) the “new problems” include how much easier it is to stay in contact with and even “visit” the old country. Even at the turn of the last Century, the trip from Italy to America was pretty much always one way and meant breaking old ties forever. Not really nearly so true now in the era of cheap flights and phone cards.

    I also think, but couldn’t prove (and unlike certain judges I’m not prepared to assert “common wisdom” as fact) that the “ground truth” that a high percentage of our immigrants are arriving illegally (and whomever invented the phrase “undocumented alien” should rot in the lowest level of hell for his Orwellian offense) is a problem for them and for the country. It establishes both an unfortunate set of circumstances that is likely to lead to the immigrant’s exploitation and it creates a “norm” of disrespect for the law.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm not going to argue with you about “radical multiculturalists”, save to note that they have little apparent influence on public policy. When you look past the surface, are the "radical multiculturalists" and the "radical assimilationists" so different? The former group essentially argues, "All cultural differences should be respected, except when we disapprove of them." The latter essentially argues, "All cultural differences should be eliminated, except when we approve of them." Either way they're wrapped up in their own vision of the way society should be.

    I won't argue that, as compared to the past, immigrants have a much greater capacity to communicate with and travel to your nation of origin. That's true of every immigrant, though, legal or illegal. And the assimilation data suggests that it's not reducing assimilation.

    I don't mind the term "undocumented alien", and for many it's more accurate than "illegal alien". But I don't think it's a big deal. How is "undocumented" inaccurate, let alone Orwellian?

    ReplyDelete