MCD in American History
Reading Notes #2
Multiculturalism: Battleground or Meeting Ground?
In this article, Takaki discusses the debate over the multi-cultural history curriculum. On p. 110, C. Van Woodward has attacked Takaki’s work Iron Cages: Race and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. Woodward charged that Takaki was “guilty of reverse discrimination,” because he his characterization of whites in terms of rapacity, greed, and brutality constituted a “practice” that could be described as “racism.” At this point, it seemed to me that Woodward was not being accepting of another point of view that was different from his own.
On p. 111, Takaki discusses that minority students and scholars are now struggling to diversify the curriculum, while the more conservative pundits are fighting to recapture the old ways of doing things. Right now, the fight seems to be the conflict between the old and new. The new scholars want to update the curriculum and the teaching to reflect the multi-cultural/multi-perspective history that we’re realizing is so important. The older scholars want to maintain the old way of drilling facts and dates.
Allan Bloom also offers an argument on p. 111, that the new separatism of the ethnicities has caused a splintering among the people of this country. He says that it used to be that the immigrant would come here and become assimilated, but the new education of openness with its celebration of diversity is threatening the social contract that had defined the members of American society as individuals. It occurred to me that the old way may have actually discouraged the individualism, by expecting that everyone would just become “Americanized. “ I agree that we have become somewhat less unified, because everyone is xyz American (Italian American, African American, Native American). We have lost sight of the fact that we are all Americans, but this has also allowed us to understand more about what makes each person and each ethnicity unique and to celebrate them too.
Schlesinger on p. 115 says that the “exaggeration of ethnic differences drives ever deeper the awful wedges between the races.” That may be true to an extent, because if we spend a lot of our energy and time focusing on what makes everyone individually different, then we won’t have any time or energy left for what also makes us alike. I thought his comment, “The dividing of society into “fixed ethnicities nourishes a culture of inflammable sensitivities,” was interesting, because it make me think that that might be what we are seeing with our inner cities, that each ethnic group is so sensitive to perceived injustices, that they are willing to war with other groups for power and status.
On p. 119, Takaki says that demographic studies project that whites will become a minority of the total U.S. population some time during the twenty-first century. I wonder if this prospect is causing the fear that seems to be running rampant throughout the country. These new policies, such as official languages for states (as in states will conduct business in English only) and immigration policies, such as the one in Arizona, seem to be coming up as a result of the fear that we (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) might be losing our hold as the majority in this country. Ultimately, though, shouldn’t we be focusing less on the fear of losing our foothold as the majority and more on what we all share that makes us similar?
On p. 120, Lawrence Auster warns “more and more minorities complain that they can’t identify with American history because they don’t see people who look themselves in that history. To preserve America as a Western society America must continue to be composed mostly of people of European ancestry.” Does it have to be all or nothing? Isn’t it possible, through our teaching, to help show how our history was made up of different groups contributing different elements to what we have now?
Ultimately, after finishing this article, I came to one realization. If we are always looking back and revisiting the past and reanalyzing every thing that’s been done, are we ever going to be able to look ahead to our future?