Diversity – Our Favorite Cultural Snake Oil
There is a lot of talk about diversity these days. The concept of diversity has been knighted in America and it has become an enormous cultural faux-pas to question it. America seems to be straining to ease its conscience concerning its racial past by elevating diversity to the level of a cultural sacrament.
When I was in school, I heard the term “melting pot” referred to by every teacher I had. It was part and parcel of every history book’s description of America. Henry Ford required that every one of his workers enrolled in one of Ford’s “English Schools.” Upon graduation, the stage of the packed auditoriums was taken up by a gigantic “melting pot,” and it even had emblazoned upon it the very words describing what it was. Each graduate climbed a set of stairs on one side of the pot and entered into it dressed in the full native garb of their country or origin. Inside the pot they proudly and enthusiastically changed into traditional American clothing. They emerged from the other side of the melting pot grinning from ear to ear to the thunderous applause of family, friends and invited guests. This was the proudest moment of their life. If you asked them later where they were from, they would tell you: Detroit!
Diversity is a neutral term and not in and of a itself a strength. It can in fact be a serious weakness.It can be a strength when various backgrounds can be brought to interject individual perspectives on a common goal. This, however, requires shared underlying values such as a common language, a cohesive culture, and a sense of appreciation, loyalty and allegiance to the same history. But, without unifying values and a shared cultural identity, diversity can be the source of discord, resentment and social fragmentation, tearing a country apart at its ethnic seams.
It is time for us all to stop being “(you-fill-in-the-blank) Americans,” and to just start being Americans. I myself was born in a foreign country. English is a second language that I learned as a child. When I returned to my homeland for visits, I wore jeans, T-shirts and baseball hats, the same thing I wore growing up in America.
I am an adult now with my own family and to this day, not one person that I have ever met has ever asked me what country I was from. I never sought to be anything other than an American. I have never shunned my ethnic or cultural origin, I have just never been willing to elevate it above the national and cultural tradition for which I was thankfully destined through the courageous choices and sacrifices of others before me. If others feel that they must vilify that sentiment under the label of racism or intolerance, have at it. Just don’t look in my direction for an apology. Americans should never apologize for what they are.
Jerry D. Kaifetz, Ph.D.
16067 Colorado St.
Hebron, IN 46341