America’s Mosaic Dilemma
Ashbury Park Press asked me to chime in on their @ISSUE Debate, "Should U.S. Be a Melting Pot or Beautiful Mosaic." Considering the increasing diversity of organizations, immigration and social identity issues are important concerns to numerous leaders and managers. Please see my contribution to the debate below.
In 1903, eminent scholar W.E.B. Du Bois famously proclaimed that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” In 1944, noted scholar Gunnar Myrdal called this problem the American dilemma but he was optimistic that America would solve its racial problem. Nearly three-quarters of a century later, it appears that Myrdal’s optimism was unwarranted and Du Bois’ proclamation should be updated as the problem of the twenty-first century is still the problem of the color-line. Although the melting pot metaphor originated in the late 1700s, it wasn’t until five years after Du Bois’ proclamation that it became widely used to describe the desire for non-Whites and immigrants in the United States to assimilate to the dominant American White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. Therefore, taking the position that America should be a grand melting pot is essentially supporting an ideology of American White supremacy. Since I disavow such ideology, I affirm that America should be a beautiful mosaic.
A mosaic is a picture or pattern that is comprised of many different colored tiles. Each colored tile is distinct and whole in its own right, but joins other tiles to collectively become a single piece of art. If the tiles are assorted fashionably, then this single piece of art can be a beautiful mosaic. However, if just one tile is missing, tarnished or mislaid, the mosaic loses its beauty and becomes incomplete. In a 2005 article, Georgia Chao and Henry Moon introduced the term cultural mosaic as a framework to articulate how global and local cultures influence individuals’ behaviors and beliefs. These cultural influences are important to people’s social identities and should be welcomed in a democratic society as opposed to being extinguished. Unfortunately, unless you are a WASP, then many parts of your identifies and cultures may feel unwelcomed and extinguished in America. In fact in 2005, across several studies, Thierry Devos and Mahzarin Banaji found that when people think of the word American, they implicitly think of it as synonymous with being White. Whereas White European immigrants can adopt a new affirming American identity that represents them and institutionalized their being as the normative standard, non-Whites are excluded.
If the desire is to assimilate to become a melting pot, then we should have assimilated to the Native Americans’ culture. Yet, we know the horrible history of why the degree of our assimilation is not judged by that standard. Additionally, African Americans, Latin@s, and Asians have also made invaluable contributions to this country, yet these identities are never promoted as the melting pot to which other groups should assimilate. So although America should be a beautiful mosaic, it is not. Far too many of America’s tiles are missing, mislaid, left behind, disenfranchised, excluded, subjugated, abused, broken, and oppressed. Instead, America’s mosaic is an ugly, incomplete piece of art in need of skilled artisans to repair and complete her. Until that happens, America’s mosaic dilemma will always be the problem of the color-line.
Check out the other essays here and I look forward to your joining the conversation.
Dr. Holmes can be reached on Twitter @OHIV.
Image: Roberto Nardi, Archaeological Institute of America