Thoughts on the “Melting Pot” Metaphor

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If you’re over 30 you probably remember the term “melting pot” being used to describe America’s model of benefitting from other cultures. Growing up in the SF Bay Area I heard it all the time.

I was thinking about multiculturalism the other day and trying to figure out what was wrong with the “melting pot” approach when I realized that NOTHING was wrong with it.

The problem isn’t the melting pot; the problem is NOT doing the melting pot.

The melting pot and e pluribus unum are very similar concepts. They speak of taking difference and turning it into unity. They speak of building a stronger, united whole by incorporating the strengths of diverse components.

Abusing the Metaphor

Fine. I like that.

The problem is that we’re not doing that. We’re not following the metaphor. The metaphor has a key word and concept within it: melting. Melting implies a couple of key things:

  1. Heat
  2. Mixing

When you have two metal bars next to each other and you throw them into a true “melting pot” they are exposed to the extreme temperatures and they melt. The lines between them fade away. They cease, for all intents and purposes, to be different metals. And the properties of each are given to the new, single alloy.

This is what we want — a united America that’s stronger due to its diverse population.

Heat

But we don’t have that. We’re missing the heat. The heat in the case of the metals is actual increased temperature, but the heat in the cultural context is the social pressure on immigrants to downplay their previous culture and adopt the American way of life. In both cases the “heat” is essential because it enables many to become one.

Without it you have a single location with a collection of different people with different cultures. Cultures which exert such extreme and opposing pressures on the whole that they can destroy it in a very short period.

Mixing

That’s our country today. A lack of whole. A lack of unity. A lack of identity. We are pulling ourselves in too many directions

Some cultures look different but are fundamentally the same. Take the Eastern Indian culture and the Upper Middle-Class “White” culture 1, for example. They may have different native languages and like different foods, but the similarities are far more significant. Their goals are as follows:

  1. Be disciplined with your money.
  2. Be relatively conservative with your values.
  3. Financial security is your measure of success.
  4. Education is your path to financial security.
  5. Every child goes to a good university. Period.
  6. The purpose of every parent is to get your kids into that great school.
  7. Make those kids successful so that they can have kids and they can do the same.
  8. Repeat.

The primary source of accomplishment in the lives of parents within these cultures is captured by the following statement:

Yes, my son is doing really well. He was top of his class in high school and he’s on track to be top 25 at Harvard. He’ll get hired immediately and make a lot of money.

That’s it. That’s life for most of these people. And it’s not just Indian and White people. It’s a good portion of the Chinese and Koreans too. Oh, and the Jews.

Education –> Money –> Kids –> Education –> Money.

Notice that almost half (48%) of Hindus in the United States have a Masters degree 2.

So these are the types of approaches to life that we should be standardizing on as an American ideal. It doesn’t have anything to do with foods or accents or favorite dances; it’s about shared values.

And it doesn’t mean that there’s no place for art or philosophy. I’m not saying everyone has to try and be a doctor, engineer or lawyer; that’s un-American as well. The point is simply that people who come here and want to establish Sharia law and abolish the American way of life, from America, should not be welcome.

This is to say that there is such thing as being so different as to become incompatible with America. And that’s America’s primary challenge today — figuring out what our identity is and determining how to go about actualizing it.:

Notes

1 Yes, I’m aware that “White” culture is all but pinned down.
2 http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=482

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