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Monday, December 12, 2016
A Pox on Diversity
Richard F. Miniter
Lloyd Marcus, in his wonderful piece "The Myth of Racist America" in American Thinker, describes how "[b]lack seniors are prone to experiencing "racism paranoia."
The issue is parodied in the Seinfeldepisode when Uncle Leo attributed a overcooked hamburger (and much else in his world) to anti-Semitism. Something raised its head in an amusing way in my own life when my son's Japanese in-laws invited us to dinner in an upscale restaurant, and the service was horrible. Sighing, the old man turned to me and said, "You have to expect that when you're Japanese."
"Oh? Watch this." I turned in my seat and signaled, only to have the waaiter turn his back on me too. "See?" I said. "It's not just Japanese he's nasty to. He's an equal opportunity idiot." We all laughed and laughed and laughed. It's a story I told to a Jewish couple we know, and they laughed themselves – "when that happens, we always think it's because we're Jews."
The point is that not just elderly black people, but all of us are prone to jump to conclusions about the motives of people different from us. Even a little bit different.
This is often the reason we don't get along when we don't.
Yet there has always been another, much stronger dimension to American life.
I was raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in the 1950s among a potpourri of nationalities. It was a great place for kids to grow up despite the fact that the police would cuff you if they thought you needed it and everybody smoked because Dad would take you into a bar on Third Avenue with him while Sunday dinner was being prepared (where I enjoyed the cokes despite being forced to stay in my church clothes), and it was much more of a fighting culture than we have today. That is, adults didn't think too much about a few punches thrown among boys. Indeed, being able to stand up for yourself was something to be admired, and I admire it yet.
In this group I hung around with, we had Norwegians, Irish, Italians, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Syrians, the occasional Anglo, and one or two Jews. Many like me had an immigrant grandparent in the house. And while we'd rag on each other about the nationality differences, at the end of the day there we were on the street or in the park playing Kings, Stoopball. Bok-Bok, or Stickball together. Later dating and marrying.
Because each of us also had another foot in a different world, a big foot. The American world's adults taught us about and the manner in which its way of thinking and values were held up to every child in movies and books, in standards of beauty and humor. This is the way society, especially the schools, saw it as their duty to bring us to conformity in that Anglo-American culture. No matter if you were Italian; you were taught about Daniel Boone, George Washington, and King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. You would learn about the Roman Empire, but in a manner that cast it as the progenitor of English kings or the Founding Fathers. You would never, for example, be taught about Garibaldi. Not much, anyway. I, the half-Irish, half-Swede, was taught very little Irish history, and that only in the context of its relations with England, and little about Vikings except in giving credit to Eric the Red for discovering Vinland.
In other words we learned, as today's children emphatically do not, that it was this American culture that really counted. The proof of that assertion was simple and irrefutable. We were the world's winners, the freest, richest, most powerful, smartest, happiest, "coolest" society that had ever existed. Not to forget that we invented Rock 'n' Roll. Indeed by every measure, everybody else's culture was an also-ran.
And so while we kids out on the street might look a bit different and went home to different customs the elders couldn't shake off, we kids – the punk, the scholar, the future cop or Wall Street trader – all looked forward to life with the same Anglo-American heart.
In fact, growing up, I don't believe I ever once heard the word diversity used to describe something socially valuable, and certainly not as a condition to be striven for. Want "diversity?" Then remove yourself to the super-diverse Balkans, where peoples of ten different languages are grindingly poor and have been grinding poor for thousands of years because their one motivation in life is to have their son ambush those funny-talking folks in the next valley and steal their goat. Me, my kid, he's going stay focused on what's important in life and grow up to be a cowboy, a space explorer, the president of the United States.
He's an American.
He can be whatever he wants to be and invent whatever new world he chooses to live in.
It is a point to be thought about, deeply, as the nation embarks on a new administration and we re-examine the meaning of E Pluribus Unum.
Consider again as every generation must learn how best our nation's children may play together, grow, and love one another in the 21st century.
And remember once more the way America changed the world because it didn't celebrate differences, but instead, in Israel Zangwill's words, became "God's Crucible," the "Great Melting Pot."
… for these are the fires of God you've come to – these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians – into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.
A pox on diversity.
Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD. See it here. He lives and writes in the colonial-era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York; blogs here; and can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.