The viewpoints below are written in the voice of people responding to this question:What does it mean to be "an American" in an era as diverse as ours?Some of these outlooks may sound strange to you, some may sound familiar. What do you hear each person saying? Can you understand why the people who are speaking might hold the views that they do? If not, why not?
As discussed in Session Three of this Study Circles discussion guide, we suggest these as a means of spurring discussion.
Looking at the Viewpoints
Our country has always been a melting pot -- a nation made up of people from different backgrounds who give up some of their difference to become American. They do everything they can to fit in. We have always been a nation of immigrants. What makes the United States great is that people come here in search of equality, freedom, opportunity, and individual rights. Americans are not supposed to care about people's different physical traits or backgrounds. Really, we shouldn 't pay too much attention to particular groups and what they want. I think we should forget about things like multicultural history. Instead, we should promote and learn about the traditional values that made America what it is today.
America 's high ideals about freedom and equality have not been applied equally to everybody. We have to pay attention to all of our different experiences so that we can come to terms with the fact that America has a history of not welcoming some people, and of being brutal to some groups. We all know that slavery was cruel and heartless, and it is only one example of how people have been and still are treated unfairly. Some people paid a higher price for admission, not because of anything they ever did, only because of who they were and where they came from. We must talk about how some of us were treated badly, and are being treated badly. We still need to acknowledge our history so that we can make things right.
"Diversity " is a politically correct word. It gives special ststus to people of different races, to women, to people with disabilities, and to homosexuals. That 's not right. I worry that, in the name of diversity, people are lowering their standards. America is about people working hard, and some people succeed. Human beings should be judged based on how they perform, on merit. I should be able to decide who to spend time with, and who to hire or fire. And I'll base my choices on what people are inside -- on their values, their character, that kind of thing -- not on what they are on the outside or on what the claims they make.
I know all about the dominant, white "American" culture because that's how I've survived, not because it has been good to me. People who aren't part of that culture often need to explain themselves over and over again. The dominant culture sets the rules on all sorts of things. For example, I have to go out of my way to find a hairstylist who knows how to cut my hair. Another example: in school, I studied only Western traditions and history. Of course, everybody learns George Washington's name. How many people learn Sojourner Truth's or Caesar Chavez's? These kinds of things tell me a lot about who is highly regarded in America and who is not.
The ideal America is one of shared values and commitment that can build on cultural differences. Coming together as a country is a long-term healing process, and it requires learning about all the cultures that make up our nation. I want my kids to learn about different cultures as part of the American experience. For that to happen, we will have to discuss and compare our experiences honestly. Of course we 'll disagree on some things, but we'll probably find out we're commited to a core set of values that define the United States of America -- freedom, equality, and democracy. And we must incorporate our new accounts into the larger story of America, instead of treating them as exotic alternative histories.
When will we own up to the fact that racial and ethnic differences often are tied to economic differences? I fear that tensions will grow between groups because the pie is not as big as it once was, and some groups take bigger slices than others. If the gap between the rich and the poor gets wider, and if economic differences continue to overlap with racial differences, I don't see how we'll end up with anything other than a two-tiered society. Ask yourself, how do people react if poor people of color want to move into a suburban town? What does your answer tell you?
There is no way that all of these different groups are going to get along. We have too much diversity. There is no example in history for the kind of multi-ethnic society America is trying to pull off. People should stay within their own groups. Your own people will care about you, and they will teach you about what your values should be. Forget about trying to make everybody get along together. The best we can hope for is that people will leave each other alone.
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