Enrichment Assimilation, part 1
ASSIMILATION, ACCULTURATION, AND SOME OF THEIR IMPLICATIONS
In Ken Burns’ 1996 film The West, writer Rudolfo Anaya observed, “A lot of times when we speak of the meeting of cultures, we forget that beyond the initial clash, emerges a new view of the world. I think that is what Chicanos represent today.”¹ Anaya was correct, of course, but he merely restated the classic depiction of the positive aspects of the United States as a “Melting Pot.” Today’s Melting Pot multiculturalists see assimilation as central to the American vision, with numerous reasonable provisos for accommodating cultural difference.²
For many years, now, certain cultural apartheid aficionados, usually found in and around academia, have opted for a “Salad Bowl” alternative (i.e., many ingredients, but all distinct from one another). This terminology is related to their idea of assimilation as a manifestation of oppression, especially when people perceive it to mean a one-way merging of various minority peoples into a “mainstream” white culture with all the power contingencies such a mixing implies.³ But claiming a one-way merging offers a distorted picture of something much more interesting and something of greater cultural importance.
First, we need to avoid overstating the idea of one-way merging. This qualifies the power and influence of historic nativism, the era of (roughly) the 1880s-1920s. As Mark Lilla wrote, “New immigrants identified strongly with the [the United States] and were proud to become citizens because it did not demand full cultural assimilation.”⁴ Lilla makes an important point. Full cultural assimilation is actually an impossibility and defies common sense, most obviously in first-generation immigrants. But it is also interesting to see Old World cultural traditions linger in subsequent generations.
The attempted forced acculturation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is actually many decades obsolete now. The last gasp of forced acculturation was during the Eisenhower era with the highly misguided effort to dissolve Native American reservations so Indians would (supposedly) join mainstream culture and society. Thus, the claim (among various academics) that forced acculturation and assimilation live on today is largely a straw man argument.
Instead, the merging of cultures in the United States continues of its own volition, and as a result even “mainstream” American culture today barely resembles mainstream culture of previous decades. For a cosmopolitan advocate, this is what makes American culture so great. It is ironic to find opposition to Enrichment Assimilation from widely diverging groups. Nativist white nationalists are easy to dismiss on any number of grounds; ethical and constitutional, among the more obvious. But Salad Bowl multiculturalists cloud the issue in a more convoluted fashion with the much-discussed topic of identity politics and the double-standard cultural segregation following integrated admissions to positions of power and privilege, particularly in academia.
Salad Bowl multiculturalists’ self-conscious creation of segregated, artificial “culture” presents an additional hindrance to moral cosmopolitan Melting Pot multiculturalism.⁵ Self-conscious culture includes certain language and dress affectations, invention of ceremonies, and a constant preoccupation with one’s personal “identity.” Authentic culture largely avoids self-consciousness; it merely reflects people getting on with their lives without “performing” themselves or their culture for anyone else. Of course, Salad Bowl multiculturalists are often merely political advocates; their venue is not a genuine one for cross-cultural enrichment.⁶
Practitioners of identity politics provincialism look for conflict in selective, one-way acculturation examples. These are power statements more than they are statements about culture. After all, this sort of dialogue takes place in the English language, spoken by a great many people with ancestors (like some of mine) who did not speak English. Learning English is the ultimate acculturation in the United States. What is more central to culture than language?
One of the major detriments of victimhood⁷ is to ignore the cosmopolitan legacy of Americans and immigrants who aspired to this expression of the Melting Pot multicultural ideal, which the United States has realized to an extent unprecedented and unmatched in world history.⁸ Among the more important changes during the previous half century is that the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) entity is no longer the majority nor the controller of mass culture, and that minorities now have greater legal empowerment to control their own assimilation.⁹ Besides, as Richard Thompson Ford wrote, highlighting racial, ethnic, and cultural differences potentially harms “egalitarian and humanist reforms” as well as our great cosmopolitan possibilities.¹⁰ So instead of following the catchphrase of “honor diversity” we should look much closer and honor “authentic cultural diversity” rather than self-conscious and invented cultural identity, especially when individuals construct it for opportunistic purposes.
This is not to imply that the Melting Pot version of multiculturalism is simple or easy. It asks for mixtures of various subcultures and mainstream culture, the latter generally enriched by the former. But at least it cures the dead-end opportunism of self-consciously created culture, as well as offering a welcome mat to genuine minority cultures.
Obviously there can be difference without separateness. Innumerable subcultures and their variations have always existed in the United States. But there also has to be a critical mass of common culture if the nation is to exist in any coherent form at all. Melting Pot multiculturalists acknowledge the national family, loosely constructed and fractious as it may be, because they like what the group possibly symbolizes in its entirety: its potential for fulfilling Enlightenment ideals regarding human rights and freedoms. Hence, moral cosmopolitanism and Melting Pot multiculturalists become facets of a common philosophy.
Ironically or not, cross-culture enrichment continues regardless of preference for the Melting Pot or Salad Bowl models, and certainly regardless of those attempting to control culture. Enrichment Assimilation is organic, inevitable, and uncontrollable.
Princeton University’s first definition of “assimilation” is, “people of different backgrounds come to see themselves as part of a larger national family.” An example of this is reflected in the American version of English. It is not British English. American English and its innumerable dialects and accents reflect historic and ongoing adaptation to new places and assimilation of non-English peoples. Princeton’s second definition of assimilation is, “the social process of absorbing one cultural group into harmony with another.”¹¹ Both of these definitions are neutral or positive, and are similar to the definitions offered by Merriam-Webster or the American Heritage dictionaries. People who see assimilation mainly or only in terms of power relationships potentially obscure the actual cross-pollination influences in a hybrid society. Obviously the power relationship story in American history and contemporary society involves a depressing level of racial inequality and ethnic discrimination. But the answers to those problems are more legal, political, and social in nature than they are cultural. In fact, it seems rather astonishing to contemplate how rich American culture is because of how multiple traditions have (in a way) spited past institutionalized social, economic, legal, and political inequalities.
See my List, “Enrichment Assimilation” for other installments in this series of excerpts from my unpublished book, Enrichment Assimilation: A Lingering American Dream, Copyright © 2019, 2022 Will Sarvis. All rights reserved.
 Stephen Ives, et al, producers, The West (NY: PBS, 1996).
 James E. Bond, “Multiculturalism: America’s Enduring Challenge,” Seattle Journal for Social Justice 1 (Spring/Summer, 2002), 60–61.
 Richard Thompson Ford, The Race Card: How Bluffing about Bias Makes Race Relations Worse (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), 153, 347; Dorothy E. Roberts, “Why Culture Matters to Law: The Difference Politics Makes,” in Cultural Pluralism, Identity Politics, and the Law, Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns, eds. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Pr., 1999), 91, 92.
 Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (NY: Harper Collins, 2017), 64.
 Richard Thompson Ford, Racial Culture: A Critique (Princeton: Princeton University Pr., 2005), 42.
 For examples, see Richard Thompson Ford, Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 11, 13, 18, 25, 27, 199.
 The classic work about this is Charles J. Sykes, A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character (NY: St. Martin’s, 1992). Also see Arthur C. Brooks, “The Real Victims of Victimhood,” New York Times (Dec. 26, 2015); Stanley Crouch, “Aunt Medea: Beloved by Toni Morrison,” The New Republic 197: 16 (Oct. 19, 1987), 38; Lawrence M. Friedman, American Law in the 20th Century (New Haven: Yale University Pr., 2002), 323, 494; Larry Elder on the Tavis Smiley Show (PBS, Nov. 26, 2012); Robert Hughes, Culture of Complaint: the Fraying of America (NY: Oxford University Pr., 1993), 9, 14, 17, 19–20.
 David Hackett Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (NY: Harper & Row, 1970), 207; E. Willard Miller and Ruby Miller, United States Immigration: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1996), 17.
 Lawrence M. Friedman, American Law in the 20th Century (New Haven: Yale University Pr., 2002), 11, 343, 545; David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (NY: Oxford University Pr., 1999), 306; James S. Olson, Equality Deferred: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration in America Since 1945 (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/ Thompson, 2003), 11, 144–49.
 Ford, Racial Culture, 211.