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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Non-Assimilation and US "Racism"

The British have instituted an interesting approach to what I suspect is at the bottom of a number of problems, including the riots in Paris and the ongoing confusion about racism in the US. In today’s Washington Post article “
Pub Manners, Boxing Day All Part of Being British” Mary Jordan wrote,

Fears about immigrants feeling no connection or loyalty to their new country surged following the London transit bombings in July, which killed 52 commuters and injured 700 others
What questions, I wonder, would a revised US Citizenship test ask? What, exactly, are the American values that should be minimally assimilated to empower and enable a population? I am not sure, but I think maybe we should start thinking about that.

Almost everyone in America has at least one line of immigrant ancestors, and while some have speculated that assimilation is not necessarily a good thing, it is actually what made the American “melting pot” work. Is the US still successfully assimilating and merging? In some cases, I don't think so.

Yet I think assimilation is crucial, and failure to adapt to a country’s culture – whatever country that is – is dangerous for the entire society. If you’ve been following the riots outside of Paris, or the unrest recently in Birmingham UK, you’ve seen the risks come live.

As it happens, I think it's possible that here in the US, a lack of connection to “being American” is behind many of our internal African-American issues. In fact, comparing the black experience in the US with the immigrant challenges elsewhere is not all that far afield.

While one could possibly argue that African-Americans “immigrated” over 300 years ago, that would be absolutely incorrect. In reality, slaves were not immigrants in the common social sense, and their descendants did not attain rights and status comparable to other American immigrant groups until the 1960s – a mere forty years ago. Prior to the Civil Rights movement, this population was actually denied assimilation, and the problems were radicalized during the "Jim Crow" years.

What we’ve been taught to think of as “race problems” in the US are, today, actually poorly diagnosed symptoms of a lack of even minimal assimilation, based in large part on the abysmal treatment of blacks in earlier “white America”. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if seen from this angle, the “race” issues in the United States are solveable.

So what’s all this mean? Well, for the French, I think it means they’re in big trouble. Their culture is far less permeable than the American or the British, and it’s sad but unsurprising that the
rioting is spreading.

For the US (or at least, for me) it means that we should be watching to see whether attempting to foster “Britishness” has any affect on the UK's struggles with cultural cohesiveness. If their new approach helps, I hope the US is not too proud to learn and apply the knowledge, to all Americans.