This is one of a series of newsletters written by Peter Porr and Paul Sjordal between September 1993 and December 1995 for the purpose of explaining the South-East Asia Center’s Building Bridge’s objectives, philosophy, and approach to learning.
Building Bridges Newsletter
CULTURAL SEPARATISM DANGER FOR AMERICA
What do the “liberal” Mother Jones and the “conservative” American Legion magazines have in common? Both recently published articles warn of the dangerous role cultural separatists are playing in building chasms between ethnic groups, thereby dividing America.
The December, 1993 American Legion interview with two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Schlesinger concerning his most recent book – The Disuniting of America, and the Mother Jones November/December, 1993 article by Pulitzer Prize winning Stanford professor Dale Maharidge both warn of the dangers of cultural separatism.
According to Maharidge, “America is segregating into camps beyond any past class or race differences. This separatism is tearing apart whatever bit of cohesiveness the mythical melting pot gave us, developing into a free-for-all rainbow of hate pitting Koreans, blacks, Latinos, Hmong, whites, Vietnamese, and other groups against each other.” He warns, “The 1992 Los Angeles riots may have been the warm-up act for some very disagreeable times.”
BONDS OF COHESION FRAGILE
Schlesinger blames multicultural extremists for a “cult of ethnicity” which he says, “fosters separatism, exaggerates differences, identifies antagonisms and drives even deeper the awful wedges between races and ethnicities. The bonds of national cohesion are fragile already,” he continues; “Mutual hostility and suspicions are bound to emerge in a society bent on defining itself in terms of competing groups.”
South-East Asia Center concurs. A team of educators at the Center are developing a multicultural educational approach to build bridges between ethnic groups instead of creating chasms. The main thrust of the Center’s philosophy is centered on stressing our similarities rather than our differences and teaching everyone how to learn to get along better.
Instead of unwittingly teaching ethnic groups to rival each other through Eurocentric, Afrocentric, or other ethnocentric glorifications of ethnic histories and cultures, SEAC’s approach is to teach realistic histories and understanding of cultures which show that, as historian Schlesinger puts it, “All cultures have been amalgamations of good and evil.” SEAC’s approach teaches that we all come from the same impure roots with lots of traces of greed, hostility, brutality and inhumanity to fellow human beings. But we all have histories, as well, of peace loving, industriousness, struggle for survival and other more constructive traits.
SEAC does not believe that great culture equals vast empires which were based upon intra and interethnic conquest. This is not only demeaning to small cultures such as the Southeast Asian Hmong hill tribesmen — many of whom are now refugees in the U.S. — or Arctic Inuit Eskimos. (These peoples acted in a more “civilized” fashion by choosing to withdraw into the hills and Arctic regions rather than to group into large armies to conquer others as did the Greeks, Romans, English, French, Spanish, Chinese and many others.)
Are our schools unwittingly teaching that interethnic war and conquest is a value and that seeking peace is an attribute much less desirable? What does the traditional school celebration of Columbus Day teach children about interethnic sensitivity and understanding? What does it teach them about interethnic conquest?
And does traditional school teaching of Thanksgiving teach understanding for the native Americans who were not and still are not treated with understanding or sensitivity by the “thankful” newcomers.
Although Schlesinger believes that a Eurocentric melting pot (an oxymoron?) and curricular foundation is not such a bad thing, SEAC stresses that various cultures around the world have come to solve common basic human needs in widely varying ways and, as Schlesinger would agree, are all “amalgamations of good and evil.”
European democracy and self governance doesn’t work for all cultures in all stages of development, nor always in our own Western cultures of the twentieth century. Abolition of slavery is far from an American invention. In fact, many high and mighty morals, values and ideologies – democracy, individuality, creativity, free enterprise, to name a few – are sometimes deep down hypocritical, ethnically insensitive and downright dysfunctional in other societies.
This topic will be treated in more depth in the next and later newsletters.
SALAD BOWL NOT MELTING POT
The Center believes that the “salad bowl” metaphor is a better metaphor and goal than the “melting pot.” Americans do not have to become homogeneous to be good Americans. The separatists imply that we can make a good salad by either keeping all the ingredients separated or by encasing each ingredient in plastic. Neither approach makes salad. The Center believes that each individual can flavor his or her own identity while serving to enhance the total unified flavor and quality of the salad.
SCHLESINGER: “TRADITIONAL EDUCATION INJURED PEOPLE BY UNDERMINING THEIR SELF-ESTEEM AND DEPRIVING THEM OF ROLE MODELS FROM THEIR OWN ETHNIC MINORITIES. THE TASK OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS ISN’T TO PERPETUATE SEPARATISM, BUT TO SHOW KIDS WHAT THEY HOLD IN COMMON AS AMERICANS.” Note: SEAC would substitute the word human beings for Americans.
“I BELIEVE THE DESIRE TO TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF THE OPPORTUNITIES IN AMERICAN LIFE WILL OVERCOME THE APPEAL OF THE IDEOLOGUES FOR COMPARTMENTALIZED, GHETTOIZED EXISTENCE.”
MAHARIDGE: “I DON’T THINK IT’S INCOMPATIBLE TO BE PROGRESSIVE AND QUESTION THE CULTURAL SEPARATISTS. IN THE CURRENT ATMOSPHERE OF LEFT-RIGHT, ANTI-INTELLECTUAL POLARIZATION, ANY INQUIRY IS LABELED AS RACISM. BUT CULTURAL SEPARATISTS CAN BE JUST AS RACIST AS ANY WHITE REDNECKS, AND SOMETIMES CRIPPLE THE VERY PEOPLE THEY WANT TO HELP.
“IF RECENT EVENTS ARE AN INDICATION, TODAYS IMMIGRANTS MAY FACE A BACKLASH EQUAL TO OR WORSE THAN THE ANTI-IMMIGRATION MOVEMENTS OF THE 1880S AND 192OS- AND THE BASHING COULD EASILY EXTEND TO MINORITIES ROOTED HERE FOR GENERATIONS.”