The second half of the twentieth century has seen many changes in political policies, the economy, religion, and technology. All of these have affected each other. The study of the history of humankind allows us to look back and learn from past accomplishments and mistakes. Although technology has allowed for incredible communication and reporting around the world, as individuals do we use this to our advantage and grow as better people? We continue to struggle with ingrained prejudices and ideals for other ethnic groups. As the movement for diversity continues to grow in today’s society, our biggest problem we face in the future could be the disuniting of people. How we handle the changes will provide negative and positive results.
When the United States was formed, the different ethnic groups had a common goal. They wanted to build a nation of multiethnic groups sharing in common political ideas. This was clearly stated in the Constitution of the United States. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union” builds an immediate identity of citizenship among the people creating cohesion of the different ethnic groups. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, a French immigrant published Letters from an American Farmer during the American Revolution. In it, he answered his question “What then is the American, this new man?” His answer is “He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, received new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles.Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.” (Schlesinger, Jr. 12). The term melting pot was coined to describe the blending of the new multiethnic society in America.
However, ethnic groups settled together in areas and formed their own neighborhoods. In a diverse city like Chicago, this is clearly seen. Ethnic groups wanted to maintain some of their beliefs and ways even in America and being together helped them maintain their culture. Now, individual groups of ethnicity are seeking acknowledgement for their differences.
The question as to whether or not we can accept the changes with cultural diversity remains to be answered. Diversity in one way goes against the original goal of a single nation with a common culture. Will we move, again, towards segregation, which causes more prejudices, stereotyping, increases awareness of differences and causes racial conflict. This can be seen in conflicts around the world today and in the past. The killing of the Jewish people in Germany, the religious conflicts dating back to the crusades, the Arab and Israeli conflict, the Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, to name just a small number of examples. However, the biggest example of the difficulty people have to overcome their prejudices in America is the prevalent attitude towards the African Americans.
As shown in James Baldwin’s book, “The Fire Next Time,” the African Americans have been oppressed from the start. They were brought to America unwillingly and sold into slavery. They did not get to share in the immigrant’s dream of settling on their own land and prospering. The Constitution did not give them the same freedoms enjoyed by others. In fact, it was not until the Civil Rights Movement that some of the issues, such as segregation where even addressed. Given the amount of time it took us to reach this point, why would we want to move back towards a society of segregated ethnic groups? This could create the possibility of expulsion of a certain ethnic group. Americans are capable of doing it. Fear is a big motivator. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, we put Japanese Americans in camps out of fear. I believe unconsciously, if not consciously most people have prejudices that have been ingrained from life experiences, news media and other sources of influence that would not take much to bring out. As discussed in class, it is easy for us to assume an African American is more capable of a violent crime versus a white. We become more cautious and aware of a group of male African Americans nearby than a group of white males. About three years ago, I was in a Salvation Army store downtown and one of the little boys with me, (he was eight at the time) saw a group of black young men outside the store window and told me “Gang members are outside.” He already had a formed opinion that all black men are “gang members.”
Schools and universities are actually encouraging ethnic diversities. Spanish is being taught as a second language as the Spanish-speaking immigrants are becoming closer to a majority. High schools celebrate diversity with a week set aside just for this purpose. Although there are some positive outcomes in some of these practices, such as awareness about other cultures, there are definite negative impacts. The University of Pennsylvania gives blacks their own yearbooks. One professor at the University of Pennsylvania describes the campus as “separate armed camps.” (Schlesinger Jr. 104). The different races are not mixing. Oberlin used to be a racially integrated college. Today the different ethnic groups house together under similar race and gender factions. The “Oberlin students think, act, study and live apart.” (Schlesinger Jr. 104). The University of California requires that gender and ethnic identities match the course that is being taught. This means that only blacks can teach and write black history. In “The Fire Next Time”, a movement to segregate the African Americans and give them their own territory on U.S. soil is brought up as a possible solution to racism towards African Americans. As James Baldwin points out, how will this effect our economy? As in the past, if a particular ethnic group enjoys economic success, others want to share in that. If an ethnic group becomes successful, other groups could fight to get some of the riches. Money and land has been enough in the past and present to promote ethnic cleansing.
Although the future is not so clear, I still have faith in the goodness of mankind and can only hope and pray that individual acceptance, love and kindness will overcome some of the issues that arise in the future and we can live in peace and put the past atrocities of ethnic cleansing, war, racism, communism, and hatred behind us. The world’s future depends on us to be accepting and tolerant of each others differences while having a common goal of building economic stability, fair political policies and having a sense of common identity. If history repeats itself, we have not proven we can do this.
I would like to believe the most promising development in the world is the return of conservation. As individuals reach a greater awareness of the earth’s depleting natural resources, conservation will become a way of life, rather than the throw away society we have been. In some areas, such as California where there have been brown outs and the practice of electric conservation has been forced. As utility prices skyrocket as we saw with the gas bills this past winter, our awareness of conservation will grow as it hits our pocket books.
Schlesinger, Jr. Arthur. The Disuniting of America – Reflections on a Multicultural Society.New York:W.W. Norton ; Company 1992.