Enrichment Assimilation, part 3

Will Sarvis
8 min readMay 27, 2022



Assimilation has a bad reputation in certain American academic circles these days, but critics tend to focus solely upon a particular era of the racist past when White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) in the United States tried to forcibly assimilate (or permanently exclude) all non-WASPs. The historic WASP nativism reached its nadir with the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act that severely restricted or excluded immigration from anywhere except western Europe. The one-way nativist WASP assimilation never really worked, of course, and the “mainstream” culture itself was constantly evolving, in large part due to the influences of minority and immigrant cultures.

Pretending the historic WASP domination of assimilation still exists (and was more powerful than in historic actuality) now functions as a straw man argument. It gives Culture Police something to attack, furthers individual and group identity agendas, but ironically also downplays or denies actual American cross-cultural wealth.

For example, in Counseling the Culturally Different, an early Bible of the multicultural counseling phenomenon, Derald Wing Sue relied upon hopelessly outdated racist literature (and a misreading of Darwin’s Origin of Species) to create and support a false argument perpetuating the old WASP bogeyman.¹ Sue’s sources from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries hardly remain relevant to post-war racial problems, much less early 21st century issues. This is a classic misuse of history to support a determinist contemporary argument.

For another example, in their book the WASP Mystique, Richard Robertiello and Diana Hoquet mis-identify the WASP as wealthy or upper middle class, when most of the WASP bigots themselves were actually lower class and thus threatened economically by immigrants who would work for even lower wages at the WASPs’ unenviable jobs. This, by the way, is a common theme in American immigration history. The early 20th century second manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan especially reflected its lower economic class white membership. Terril Brooks called Robertiello and Hoquet’s book “superficial treatment,” but even that was being overly generous.² Instead, it was highly inaccurate.

Donaldo Macedo not only pretends that one-way assimilation can occur, but also pretends the old WASP model still exists. Macedo claims Hispanics and other non-whites face a situation where “one must first be colonized by the White ideology before one is allowed entrance as a colonized subordinate into the dominant power structure.”³ There is no “White ideology,” of course, but there is an amorphous and complex “mainstream” culture of sorts, that varies from region to region, state to state, and even within states — not just large states like Texas and California, but also smaller states like Massachusetts and Maryland. In any case, Macedo claims this is a “forced and subordinating assimilation that is not too dissimilar from “the imperialist colonial domination,”⁴ when it is nothing of the sort. This is all part of Macedo’s straw man fantasy that there is knowledge and information out there that “Americans are not allowed to know.”⁵ He invents the false censorship, as if the First Amendment and massive access to social, cultural, and historical information were immaterial — as if the revolution in higher education curricula following the 1960s had never taken place.

Sue, Robertiello, Hoquet, and Macedo are hardly isolated cases. We also see this straw man WASP in the works of Daniela Gioseffi, Ishmael Reed, Josephine Nieves, and many others as well.⁶ Anyone who has toured Ethnic Studies classes on American college campuses during the past thirty years could give endless further examples.

The frequency and commonality of the straw man argument in Ethnic Studies dialogue is a reflection of fake oppression.⁷ Real oppression is not difficult to find in the United States, and it is especially conspicuous among the poor. Privileged academics resorting to the straw man argument and fake oppression serve their political agenda. Attempting to revive the long-dead apex of WASP supremacy fits into this agenda.

James B. Boyer’s claim of “monoculturism” is a variation upon the straw man argument of this fictitious time-warp WASP currency,⁸ related to the old beating boy of Eurocentrism. Even if you were to tour white America (if there were such a cultural phenomenon) you would find enormous variations among those of Scots-Irish ancestry in the southeastern states, old Yankee stock as well as Irish Catholic immigrant descendants in the northeast, great grandsons and great granddaughters of Scandinavian immigrants to the upper Plains and Midwest, et cetera. White California alone would feature descendants of the Gold Rush era migrants (from all over the “white world”) along with the descendants of impoverished Okies and Arkies from the Dust Bowl, as well as a diverse collection of post-World War II transplants from any number of places, and so on.

Friedrich Graetz cartoon for Puck (March 29, 1882) upon the topic of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The image depicts a diverse group of laborers united against Chinese immigration, but in the process offers stereotypes of the Irish, French, African American, Italian, and Jewish peoples. This image not only captured then-current WASP bigotry, but also the competition among various laborers working at the worst jobs. You can be sure the robber barons loved this competition, for it kept wages low. (Library of Congress image).

Before the 1960s, the American higher education curricula was indeed far narrower than afterward. Yet the drumbeat against “Eurocentrism” grew louder as that very curriculum was growing diverse in traditional fields like history, anthropology, literature classes, sociology, and political science — not to mention the rise of so many ethnic and women “studies” classes. Afrocentrism became a fictional offshoot of the Eurocentricism straw man. Mary Lefkowitz, Stanley Crouch, Robert Hughes, Albert Murray, and many others have debunked Afrocentrism for the agenda-drive mythology that it is.⁹

Many have also accurately debunked the myth of Eurocentrism as anti-intellectual, overly-simplistic (painting Europe with far too broad a brush), and ignoring things like Enlightenment principles and their contribution to slavery abolition.¹⁰ It is worth repeating that trans-Atlantic slavery abolitionism did not arise in Africa, where tribal rivalries had been involved in the slave trade for centuries before the Europeans arrived. The Hutu tribe’s attempted genocide of the Tutsi people in 1994 Rwanda was but a more extreme illustration of such tribal rivalries that go back millennia.

Today’s straw man anti-WASP advocates do not consider places like New Mexico, home of the oldest structure in the United States, a Catholic church in Santa Fe. In New Mexico, WASP culture has always been weak and (at most) secondary. Or, for that matter, what about the traditional Lutheran culture of the northern Midwest and Plains where Protestantism’s original sect (Lutheranism) makes for a very different culture compared to the Calvinists who settled New England. Calvinism lies at the core of the historic WASP phenomenon, not Lutheranism. Or, what about the Anglicans who settled eastern Virginia? What about the Catholics who settled Maryland, or the Quakers who settled Pennsylvania?¹¹ The “Protestant” part of the artificially revived WASP does not even capture nuances within the very broad phenomenon we call Protestant Christianity, much less the Catholic, Jewish, agnostic, atheistic, and other non-Protestant elements that have only grown among America’s white populations during the past century.

Besides all this, what would the anti-WASP proponents pose as an alternative to assimilation? Every sociopolitical group has some sort of eternally evolving mainstream culture, and it is impossible to imagine a cohesive nation without some sort of adherence to common institutions or core beliefs. The core of our common legal and political beliefs and institutions in the United States are (and are supposed to be) those derived from the Enlightenment, and particularly as intermixed with English common law. This gives us ideas of all humanity being born equal, enjoying freedom of speech, belief, assembly, religion, rights to private property, et cetera — not to mention habeas corpus and protection against double jeopardy. Not a bad core curriculum, when it works. True, often it does not work. But without the constitutional foundation, all hope for justice or redress is lost.

The mid-1960s saw the legal undoing of WASPish nativism with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that removed quotas favoring western Europeans. And despite all the damage they did, the WASPs of old utterly failed to actualize their agenda. To dig them up from history and pretend they are still oppressing non-WASPs will not solve our current considerable problems involving racism and nativism.

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.


[1] Derald Wing Sue, Counseling the Culturally Different: Theory and Practice (1981; NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), 13.

[2] Terrill Brooks, “Review: The WASP Mystique,” Library Journal 112:20 (Dec. 1987), 124.

[3] Donaldo Macedo, “Latina(o) Civil Rights Movement: A Deferred Revolution,” in Latino Civil Rights in Education: La Lucha Sigue, Anaida Colon-Muniz and Magaly Lavadenz, eds. (NY: Routledge, 2016), xvi.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Donaldo Macedo, Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not Allowed to Know (Boulder, CO: Westview Pr., 2006).

[6] Ishmael Reed, “Introduction,” in Ishmael Reed, ed., MultiAmerica: Essays on Cultural Wars and Cultural Peace (NY: Vicking, 1997); xvi-xvii; Daniela Gioseffi, “Is There a Renaissance in Italian American Literature?” in MultiAmerica, Ishmael Reed, ed., 161; Richard Robertiello and Diana Hoquet, The WASP Mystique (NY: D.I. Fine, 1987); Josephine Nieves, et al, “Puerto Rican Studies: Roots and Challenges,” in María E. Sánchez and Antonio M. Stevens-Arroyo, eds., Toward a Renaissance of Puerto Rican Studies: Ethnic and Area Studies in University Education (Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs; Highland Lakes, NJ: Atlantic Research and Publications, 1987), 9, 10.

[7] For examples from the Women’s Studies world, see Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women (NY: Touchstone, 1995), 23–26, 54.

[8] James B. Boyer, Transforming the Curriculum for Multicultural Understandings: A Practitioner’s Handbook (San Francisco: Caddo Gap Pr., 1996), 61–62, 87–88, 153.

[9] In general, see Mary Lefkowitz, Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (NY: Basic Books, 1996). Devastating critiques are also found in Stanley Crouch, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990–1994 (NY: Pantheon Books, 1995), xiii, 33–44; Robert Hughes, Culture of Complaint: the Fraying of America (NY: Oxford University Pr., 1993), 92, 94, 100, 130, 131–38, 140–47; Albert Murray, The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture (NY: Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, 1970), 203–07, 215–16.

[10] For examples, see Stanley Crouch, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990–1994 (NY: Pantheon Books, 1995), 24, 26, 35–36, 41–42; Stanley Crouch, “Who Are We? Where Did We Come From? Where Are We Going?” in Lure and Loathing: Essays on Race, Identity, and the Ambivalence of Assimilation, Gerald Early, ed. (NY: Penguin Pr., 1993), 92; Hughes Culture of Complaint, 94, 100, 150.

[11] The original colonial folk cultures (including religion) of the eastern United States is covered thoroughly in David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (NY: Oxford University Pr., 1989).



Will Sarvis

Author of Embracing Philanthropic Environmentalism and other books.