The Melting Pot vs. Ethnocentrism
One of the things I really don't like about college is all the textbooks that just can't seem to help but insert their own political bias into subject matter where it does NOT belong. For instance, public speaking. It's a class I don't particularly want to take, because I'm not inclined to be a speaker -- I'm a writer -- but taking the class is all the more difficult when I find myself arguing with the textbook on just about every page.
I'm not against other people having political opinions, however I am against people using inappropriate venues to assert their political opinions as facts. Then again, I'm generally against people asserting their opinions as facts, no matter what the venue is, however that's just a persuasive tactic that's widely used -- and I know I've been guilty of it more than once. A textbook is not the venue for it, however, especially when the politics involved and the subject matter are completely irrelevant to each other.
I'm reading Public Speaking by Michael and Suzanne Osborn (relation unknown) for my speech class with Herzing On-line. Here's the quote that sparked this little rant: "In the first half of the twentieth century, the idea of America as a "melting pot" suggested that as various groups of immigrants came to this country, they would be melted down in some vast cultural cauldron into a superior alloy called "the American character." This metaphor reinforced enthnocentrism and expressed cultural arrogance."
I'm sorry, but no. This has no place in a public speaking textbook. This is not about public speaking. This is a particular point of view, that basically says (which is reinforced further along in the text) that Americans are not allowed to have a culture of their own, because it is disrespectful. And so, I've got to say, What they hell!?!
Having a culture of your own is not ethnocentric. You can have a culture of your own, and still value other cultures and sample the experiences of those cultures. They are not mutually exclusive. While I grant there is a mediocre movement towards a global community, which people typically flout until their cultural identity is threatened, this idea that a global community is somehow better than, superior to, and inevitable from a hodge-podge of national, regional and local communities and their various identities is not "fact," it is "opinion" and valuing this opinion over all others could be called *drum roll please* ethnocentric, because one is putting the global "ethnicity" above any singular ethnicity.
This is not to say that I don't respect the cultures of other people. I do. Very much. That is not to say that I believe that America and all Americans have a single culture. I don't. That's ridiculous, and if you don't know that's ridiculous I suggest you try going to Texas, then to Nebraska, then to Vermont and see it for yourself. However, I do suggest that claims that America neither has nor is entitled to a cultural identity that is American is equally false. While going to Texas and Nebraska and Vermont you'll see many differences. You'll see a wide variety of culture. However, you'll also see bits and pieces of the American culture that ties us together. The American culture is part of the reason why the whole nation, or at least most of it, mourned when the World Trade Center was attacked. The American culture is part of the reason why the whole nation, or at least most of it, aided the victims of Katrina and Rita, and it is also why so many people are still helping those victims and still outraged that the government did not do more to help/prevent/reconstruct that area of our nation. Were it not for the American culture, most of us would have no more concern for "those people" in New York City or "those people" in New Orleans (and many other communities) than we do for the people affected by the tsunamis across the ocean. The reason we do care more is because "those people" are our people.
The melting pot isn't necessarily about making a "superior" alloy of the many people involved, it's about making an American alloy with the many people involved. It's about having a national culture, a national identity, a nation that is stronger than its individual parts. And that melting pot, that national culture, that national identity and the nation that it produced has made us into the last remaining "superpower" of our time, for good and for ill. We're not perfect, but we are American. That is what the melting pot is about. And that is something that is worthy of our interest and our effort.
Again, I'm all for valuing other cultures. If we did a little more of that, we might not have made quite so many mistakes as a nation as we have done. However, valuing other cultures does NOT mean throwwing our own away. The more I learn about other cultures, the richer my own becomes, because it's easy to take your own culture for granted when you've got nothing to compare it to, however I'm not going to give up my own culture because I value that of another person. I'm not going to give up Halloween and Trick-or-Treating with my children, just because other people throughout the world celebrate the holiday differently, or don't celebrate it at all. That's not avoiding ethnocentrism, that's avoiding culture altogether. De-valuing culture de-values humanity. De-valuing one's own culture is just as bad as de-valuing the culture of other people. Of course, if there's aspects of one's own culture that are negative and/or derogatory, then fixing and changing that aspect of one's culture is appropriate; but it is not necessary to "throw the baby out with the bathwater," so to speak. Culture is important. It's a uniting element that brings people together when things seem to be (or actually are) falling apart. The American culture will save us in our times of crises.
The melting pot isn't an example of ethnocentrism. The melting pot is an example of American culture. Claiming American culture is better than French culture and the French should act just like Americans is ethnocentrism. Expecting the French immigrant to become an American is not ethnocentric, that's the choice the immigrant made; expecting the French tourists to be American is ethnocentric; expecting the French to be American when you're the tourist is ethnocentric; but having a culture that is American is not ethnocentric, and expecting immigrants to embrace and develop that culture is not ethnocentric...that's how America came to be.