Was America ever a “Melting Pot?” Should America strive to be a “Melting Pot?”
This past week, I noted how many of my white social media friends and followers were disappointed to learn that many Blacks may note the importance of July 4th as far as “America’s Independence” from Great Britaim, all the while being wholly indifferent to the holiday.
Such indifference is typically due to the fact that those who trace their lineage to enslaved Blacks recognize that our ancestors remained unequally in bondage from the time that Thomas Jefferson inscribed the words that “all men are created equal” in 1776, to December of 1865, when the 13th Amendment finally made Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in states then in rebellion the formal law of all states in America.
Similarly, some whites took major offense to the fact that I and other pundits/historians pointed out that Jefferson, in his Declaration of Independence, referred to Native Americans as “savages” within his list of grievances against King George III.
Now, “Savages” is as offensive a term as there is in formal English, but Jefferson and his fellow “Founding Fathers” took it a step further 11 years later when, in ratifying the Constitution of the United States, they decided to eliminate Native Americans as potential citizens altogether and, for political power purposes in the sparsely white populated southern states, decreed that enslaved Blacks were to be considered “3/5th” of a whole white human being for census purposes.
Indeed, even writing “3/5ths” just now reminds me that when some whites claim that the country is “more divided” since the election of the first Black POTUS, Barack Obama, said whites prove how they are either poorly educated on the fact that America was always divided along racial lines–or willfully blind to these self-evident truths.
Ditto for the concept of a “Melting Pot.” Endemic to this phrase is the idea that non-whites, be they Native Americans, Blacks, and Asians in the 18th-20th Centuries, or Central and South American or Muslims today, should “melt” into “American” (white) culture.
In essence, the idea of a Melting Pot has always held that White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism is THE force majeur that makes America great. This mind-set is the foundation of civics and American history classes from time immemorial.
Simply stated, what many of us were taught–or currently teach–was and remains racist and wrong. Think back to your old world civilization or history classes for a moment and remember how your teachers spent days, if not weeks, describing the glory that was Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome? Nevermind that sequentially, Ancient Egypt pre-dated both, or that the Greek and later Roman philosophers and writers adopted vast knowledge from the Ancient Egyptians to the south and even the Babylonians to the east. No, many of us were taught as if there was little knowledge of religion, the arts, sciences, astronomy, and agriculture until white Europeans in Greece and Rome gifted it to the world like Prometheus bringing fire to the mortals.
This is not to discount the fact that Greek city-states and Rome flourished–they did. But when we discuss the ideals of “civilization” vs “barbarism,” we would be remiss if we did not note that both Hellenistic and Roman legacies center upon the bloody conque of territories and people and in time, passing off acquired knowledge as their own.
With respect to Rome, the fact that the city founded in 753 BC as a monarchy, one that later morphed into a Republic and then Empire, flourished for nearly a thousand years across Africa, the Middle East and Northern Europe, is remarkable in the annals of world history. But when people study what led to the eventual decline of this Empire founded by whites on the Italian peninsula, the conclusion is, you guessed it, “barbarians” who “infiltrated” and destroyed one of the most powerful city-states.
(Map of Roman Empire at its height)
Now, as far as Rome was concerned, the barbarians at issue varied from white Germanic tribes from the north, to Africans and Judeans to the south who, upon being granted full Roman citizenship after the Edict of Caracalla was enacted in AD 212, forever changed the concept of “populous” on the famed Roman standard “SPQR”–Senatus Populusque Romanus, or “the Senate and the Roman People.”
While the less educated among conservative voters love to chant “Build that Wall” in homage to efforts to keep Mexican immigrants out of the southern United States, the more educated conservatives–and thus the more manichean–believe that historically, societies like Ancient Rome that are not homogenous by race, language or culture typically wane into non-existence.
In 1992, then Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan was bold in his declarations of a culture war against people who could or would not assimilate. Buchanan exclaimed: “if we had to take a million immigrants in, say Zulus next year or Englishmen, and put them in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate and would cause less problems for the people of Virginia?”
The funny thing is that when Buchanan made that comment, his words were considered extreme by most mainstream Republicans. Today, Buchanan’s words ARE mainstream for most Republicans.
(Pat Buchanan circa 1992)
While Buchanan’s “Zulu” comment received much airplay, his later comment that circled back to the decline of Rome was more indicative of why he, and countless other white (and some Black and Latino) conservatives, are willing to vilify people who seemingly will not melt or assimilate into the dominant WASP culture. In October of 2007, Buchanan averred: “In 376 AD, a large band of Gothic refugees arrives at the (Roman) Empire’s Danube frontier, asking for asylum. In a complete break with established Roman policy, they were allowed in, unsubdued. They revolted, and within two years had defeated and killed the Emperor Valens–the one who had received them. What Valens had done was the Christian thing to do, but it had never been the Roman thing to do. Valens has his modern counterpart in George W. Bush. For in May 2006, Republican senators at Bush’s urging joined Democrats to offer a blanket amnesty to 12 million illegal aliens and permit US businesses to go abroad and bring in foreign workers.”
Now, having read Patrick Buchanan’s words from the past two decades, consider the words of Buchanan 2.0–also known as President Donald J. Trump–from the past two years: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”
Or the time Trump said: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
And lest we forget when Trump called for his “Travel Ban” that ostensibly was a Muslim ban: “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people who believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
The key to remember here is that Trump’s positions are not new; his words have fresh mien when considering that in the time since Buchanan first spoke of the inability for certain people or cultures to melt or assimilate, that America has inched much closer to the reality that before the 21st Century is out, the white population and conservative group political power will have waned considerably.
This decline in numbers is particularly frightening for those whites within the GOP who recognize that as the Republican Party has ditched all pretenses of trying to live under a multi-cultural “Big Tent” by supporting outright racist foreign and domestic policies, that the same now push for limits of non-white Christian immigration, limits on abortion when considering that per capita, far more white babies are aborted each year than any other group, and by supporting measures that limit voting access for former felons or create impediments to voting that impact the poor and minorities at higher numbers.
To answer the questions at the beginning of this essay, no, America never was a melting pot–nor should it be; America is more akin to gumbo, one in which each ingredient maintains its distinct flavor all the while still forming one delectable dish.
But to understand the truth of the American gumbo, one must push past the idea that people celebrating their non-white heritage, or worshipping Allah instead of Jesus, or speaking Spanish or Arabic does not render them incapable of being a good American citizen. Such remains the problem for many myopic conservatives, and such remains why America continues to be on the verge of a cultural civil war that if we are not careful, could morph into a second Civil War due to the intolerance and acerbic words and acts emanating from the right of the political center…