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E Pluribus Unum - the motto on the Great Seal of the United States of America, which translates to "from many, one". As an immigrant nation with many different racial and ethnic groups in the population, America's racial division seems almost like an inevitable part of its culture. With the presence of such racial division, it often leads to many conflicts among the various racial and ethnic groups which may also create detrimental effects on America's social and economic setting.
Hence, it is imperative for Americans to search for a balance amidst this diversity which will help bring peace and harmony to their nation, or ideally, a stop to their racial problems. One possible way in which this can be made possible is through assimilation. Assimilation, whereby all racial groups - Whites, Blacks, Asians and Latinos - are able to come together and transform and take on a new American identity, with a set of shared experience, beliefs, culture and values. To achieve E Pluribus Unum will be the ideal goal of America, but the way to achieve this utopia is very much debatable.
The main reason for assimilation to be my choice of topic for this paper is that it not only applies to America's society, which will be the primary focus of my paper, but also to a young nation like Singapore. Similar to America, Singapore is also known to be a multi-cultural society consisting of various ethnic groups. However, being a small nation with its citizens as its only resource, it is even more crucial for Singaporeans, including myself, to learn from the past experience of the American society. Therefore, I am interested to explore how assimilation affects and shapes America's society today and also to fathom similar problems faced by Singapore as a nation.
Summary of article 1
In the article, 'Concepts of Pluralism and The Implications for Citizenship Education' by Mary A. Hepburn, the author examines the different approaches to the concept of American pluralism and also discusses their implications for citizen education. Mary A. Hepburn mentioned that the term 'pluralism' means different things to different people and one of the latest concepts of pluralism refers to it as "multiculturalism". She also highlights that the concept of pluralism is very deeply rooted in the culture of America since its founding period and has a crucial role to play in the social and political aspect of America's society.
Four major concepts of pluralism are discussed by the author in this article. Two of these concepts stems from assimilations' ideals while the other two are based on the persistence of multiple cultures in the American society.
The first assimilation theory of pluralism sees society as a collection of various ethnic and cultural groups that consist of a central culture group. In this concept, it portrays a process in which many different cultural and ethnic groups come together to become part of a new culture in a new national 'melting pot'. This melting pot metaphor made popular on Broadway in New York in 1909 is an "all-round give-and-take" process as the author emphasizes in her article.
The second assimilation theory of pluralism on the other hand is more of a "simple surrender to the dominant type" according to the author. To put it more explicitly, it is the conformity to the Anglo-Saxon culture. Hepburn mentioned that the culture of the various ethnic groups were not viewed as addition to the existing culture, but instead, those of other ethnicity were expected to conform to the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture in America.
The third assimilation theory of pluralism is the coexistence of cultures. Unlike the relatively naÃ¯ve melting pot ideal, coexistence multiculturalism focuses on how minority cultures are able to function together with the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture. It also implies that all ethnic groups and their cultures are equal despite their differences.
Lastly, the forth assimilation theory of pluralism is described as multiple ethnic centrism and it 'encourages social and political division'. It also dismisses the concept of a common core of widely accepted values by America's society. This concept embraces and promotes the diversity that exists in the American society.
Summary of article 2
In Charles Hirschman's 'America's Melting Pot Reconsidered', he explores and argues about the definition of the melting pot in America's society and how it is relevant to America today. He mentioned that the melting pot has evolved to become the symbol of the 'liberal and radical vision of American society'. The melting pot also represents the Americanization of immigrants, be it discarding the values of their own ethnic culture to adopt the new American culture or learning English in order to assimilate quickly into America's mainstream society.
On the same note, the melting pot is also the key factor in the development of the assimilation school of race and ethnic studies in American sociology. Hence, in his article, Hirschman evaluated the origins and development of assimilation with regard to American sociology. He also analyzed the different trends towards ethnic assimilation in America in order to obtain more concrete evidence. However, one important factor which Hirschman pointed out in his article is that the romantic idea of the America's melting pot is deemed to be both naÃ¯ve and patronizing by most scholars today as it assumes that all immigrants are eager to escape their own social and cultural heritage to assimilate into the dominant American culture.
In his article, Hirschman mentioned that America is a land of opportunity for many new immigrants, but at the same time, the dominant group in America, mainly the whites, expect minorities to conform to their values and practices. The author also brings forth the idea that education is usually the deciding factor in one's social mobility in America. In spite of this, the minorities are often faced with unequal or no opportunities at all in terms of education, and this contradicts the belief that America is a land of opportunity for new immigrants. Lastly, he also mentioned that there is a clear segregation between the whites and other minority groups, especially the blacks, in America.
Summary of article 3
'America's Changing Color Lines: Immigration, Race/Ethnicity, and Multicultural Identification' by Jennifer Lee and Frank D. Bean, evaluates various theories and analyzes recent evidence regarding immigration, interracial marriages and multicultural identification in America and its impact on the existing racial segregation. The authors also discuss in this article whether the racial boundaries are fading for all groups in America or whether the some minorities are merely more successful in crossing over the color line today.
The authors also suggest two different ways of assimilation taking place in America currently. The first way of assimilation is the straight-line assimilation, which is similar to the idea of the American melting pot whereby all the ethnic groups come together and adopt the new American way of life and its culture. The second way of assimilation is the segmented assimilation which can occur in three possible forms. The first possible form is the straight-line assimilation into the white middle class. The second possible way is assimilation into the minority underclass and the last possible method being selective assimilation.
In this article, the authors suggest that the dissolution of racial boundaries in America is not uniform among the various minority ethnic groups such as the African-Americans and the Asian-Americans. Such a scenario may even serve to highlight the distinction between the various minority groups and risk creating a black and non-black divide.
Although the concept of assimilation in America is in sync with the idea of a the American melting pot, or perhaps even the conformity to the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture, assimilation does not apply to all racial or ethnic groups in the society. As Carrie Ching points out in her article 'Personal Voices: Facing Up to Race', "only people of color are forced to face up to their histories of migration". This clearly indicates that only the White Anglo-Saxon Americans are given the luxury of assimilation to become a 'real' American, but for the other racial groups, they will always be "treated like visitors in their own home" (Ching, 2003).
Hirschman also mentioned in his article that there is a strong distinction between the White Anglo-Saxon American and the African-Americans in America's society today despite an overall increase in education levels. This can be seen though the residential segregation that happens in many parts of America as well as the segregation of schools from the past until today. This persistent inability of the White Americans to accept people of other ethnicity is evident in phenomenon such as the "White Flight". This is a phenomenon whereby the Whites shift to the suburban areas to escape from the influx of Blacks and other racial minorities moving into the inner cities.
As for the segregation ethnic groups in schools, the White Americans have much more access to education from an early age and the more prestigious private schools are almost always occupied by the more affluent White Anglo-Saxon Americans. As for the Blacks and other racial minorities, they are usually deprived of the opportunity of education from a young age, and only a small percentage has the ability or luck to receive education beyond high school. The only exception amongst the racial minorities in this case is the Asian-Americans, as they are often deemed to be the "model minorities". This is also largely due to their different historical backgrounds as compared the Blacks, and also their social and economic standing in the American society.
In the context of Singapore, there is also a growing concern among Singaporeans about the increasing number of foreigners in our nation in the recent decade. Singapore's situation is not unlike that of America in the nineteenth to twentieth century, with an unprecedented influx of immigrants and 'foreign talents'. As a result, feelings of dissent among Singaporeans are also on a similar high.
Despite the fact that Singaporeans and our government have conflicting views on the issue of immigrants; Singaporeans have turned to more subtle means of discriminating against these 'foreign talents', such as forcing these foreigners to conform to our use of language. Also, in 2008, over 500 Serangoon Gardens' residents signed a petition against the construction of a dormitory site near their residential area, which will be housing about 1,500 foreign workers. Such an act bears much resemblance to the Black and Non-Black divide in America as mentioned by Lee and Bean (2004) in their article. In the light of this issue, it is also interesting to note that there is a distinct difference in the attitudes of Singaporeans towards foreign expats and low-skilled foreign workers. Thus, in the case of Singapore, this division may be more closely linked to social class rather than merely ethnicity.
Assimilation takes a relatively long time to occur as the dominant group tend to create a barrier against the minority groups due to their own prejudice. Despite the case, statistics have shown that there is an increase in interracial marriage in America in recent years and this is one way in which racial lines can be dissolved, making it easier for assimilation to take place. This 'mixture' of the races would make it more difficult to separate one ethnic group from another, thus, reducing the chances of placing labels or prejudicial symbols on a particular ethnic group. According to Lee and Bean (2004), "increases in intermarriage and the growth of the multiracial population reflect a blending of races and the fading of colour lines." They also mentioned that two-thirds of Asian-Americans and two-fifth of Latinos are married to the White Americans.
However, upon closer inspection, one will realize that the increase in interracial marriages only applies to mainly the Asians and Latinos with the Whites, but not amongst the Blacks and Whites. This ongoing discrimination of the Blacks is also highlighted by Carrie Ching in her article where she pointed out that many White parents would rather their child bring home a White person who is poor rather than one who is Black (Ching, 2003). Therefore, it is much harder for the Blacks to assimilate into the American identity as compared to Asians and Latinos, who are "perceived by whites as (more) suitable marriage partners" (Lee and Bean, 2004).
Nonetheless, a new color line of "Blacks" versus "Non-Blacks" is redrawn with the emergence of this multiracial or biracial population. Most of the people from this multiracial or biracial group would be considered "Non-Blacks", and some of them would even consider themselves as "White", having being successfully assimilated into the "White" American culture. By "achieving economic mobility, emulating the cultural practices of whites, intentionally distancing themselves from blacks" (Lee and Bean, 2004), the Asians and Latinos manage to transform and assimilate into America's society and ultimately be viewed as Whites or at the very least "Non-Blacks" by their fellow Americans. Such a situation creates an even wider rift between the "Blacks" and the 'Non-Blacks", as compared to the past where it was mainly the "White" and the "more ethnic".
The racial division and discrimination in America is certainly not built over the past decade but over a long period of time with a very complex and troubled history. Hence, it will also take generations of Americans to figure out the best way to solve their racial issue. Assimilation is not impossible but it certainly has its own set of difficulties and problems, as it is not just a means to an end. I feel that education is the most crucial factor in achieving E Pluribus Unum. Only with greater attention paid to educating its citizens and future generations would America be able to reach its goal of E Pluribus Unum in globalized and diversified modern world. As for a young nation like Singapore, I believe there many aspects of the American history that we can learn from in order to maintain the delicate balance of racial harmony which we have fostered over the years.