Section IV: Ethnic Dynamics in American Society

Ethnic Assimilation Versus Cultural Pluralism: Some Political Implications

Ronald Busch

The purpose of this essay is to suggest and compare two different styles of ethnic politics, the politics of cultural pluralism and that we might identify with ethnic assimilation. The posited existence of one style or another merely means that the dominant characteristics are those of one style or the other. As complex as is human behavior, we can expect elements of both styles to be present; in each case it is a question of which order of concerns has greatest saliency. The focus and scope of this paper is limited to a discussion of the white ethnic, in general terms, and any reference to non-white ethnic groups is made solely for the purpose of illustration.

We are today much better informed about the political implications of cultural pluralism since it has been the prevailing phenomenon over the past century. Our knowledge and understanding of the process of assimilation, however, is much less reliable since the dimensions in this process have only recently emerged. I will first attempt to indicate some consequences of the traditional style of ethnic politics and then to suggest some of the implications in the continued pursuit of this style of political life. Finally, consideration will be given to some of the present conditions as they enhance or detract from the style of political life as the ethnic population becomes increasingly assimilated, as I assume it to be today.

It is not my intention to dwell in detail upon the enormous contribution of various ethnic groups to the American social, political, and economic systems other than to note that the history of this nation is inextricably tied to the history of ethnic groups, black and white, as they began as immigrants and inched their way upward into the higher social and economic strata of the society.

American ethnic history has been unique in at least one respect, namely, the ability (or perhaps necessity) of ethnic groups to placate and accommodate one another in their daily activities. Greeley may be correct when he suggests that future historians may view the peaceful co-existence of diverse ethnic groups in this century as an achievement on the order of magnitude of industrialization in the 19th century (Greeley). I think we do tend to gloss over this condition, a fact whose importance is highlighted in such internecine struggles as we have witnessed abroad between Indian and Pakistani, Irish Catholic and Ulster Protestant, Ibo and Hausa-Yoruba in Nigeria, and, closer to home, Canadians and the irredentist French-Canadians. These struggles reflect differences in tribe, nation, religion, and/or race–differences that we in the United States have subdued and subordinated.

This is not to imply that our heritage has been free of political conflicts involving different ethnic minorities, but rather to suggest that the intensity of the conflicts have not, thus far, resulted in a pyrrhic victory for one ethnic faction or another. The tensions have been mitigated, in part, by the achievements of different groups in the economic and political systems, with the resultant cross-cutting rather than reinforcing cleavages. Indicators of the extent of achievement are visible in the increased number of ethnic surnames among holders of corporate power, the reduced emphasis on ethnic politics, and, not least, the changing income, educational, and occupational status of an essentially working class (originally peasant) population.

The achievements have occurred unevenly to be sure, and frequently with social disruption. But one would need to abandon standards of evidence to conclude, as some do, that there has been no progress in the conditions of Blacks, Chicanos, and other minority groups. It is true that the upward mobility of some groups has been more pronounced than that for others, Japanese Americans being a case in point (Petersen). And some groups, the American Indian particularly, have hardly budged in terms of the dimensions of upward mobility. The conditions of Blacks–a long-neglected population–are also improving. As Moynihan has observed, the Negro middle class is making marked improvements in their status and larger numbers of Blacks are moving into the middle class. There is evidence to suggest, however, that the average Black person may be worse off on a number of important measures, the progressive divergence in income levels between Blacks and whites provides a testimonial to the problems inherent in substantially changing the status of that “colonial” population.

To cite specific examples of success among, say, Italians, Poles, Slovenes, or Slovaks seems unnecessary. What better evidence do we need for viewing the combined impact of motivation and opportunity on the ethnic group than the growing concern among ethnic group leaders, conspicuous in their age, for the loss of ethnic habits, consciousness, and identity among the young?

Cultural Pluralism and Assimilation

Cultural pluralism in the United States is based on the idea of ethnic pluralism, the belief that pluralism is founded initially on ethnic differences. I have deliberately avoided imputing a normative interpretation to that which is valuable in ethnicity and thus ought to be sustained, or to that which is less desirable and, thus, should be changed. The concepts of cultural pluralism and ethnic assimilation have often been used for purposes of persuasion, as Nathan Glazer reminds us. As new immigrants were confronted by hostility, pro-ethnic propagandists utilized ideas such as the “melting pot” to allay the fears and suspicions of the native whites. As assimilation appeared to be occurring at glacial speed (or to be something undesirable in itself) propagandists often argued for the rewards of a society containing a rich mixture of distinct and identifiable ethnic groups.

The national government has also reflected the different concerns in its ambivalent treatment of ethnics. At one time the federal government promoted programs intended to eradicate that which made the ethnic group distinct, an extreme illustration may be seen in the activities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs as it treats American Indians. Indian heritage and culture suffered at the hands of the Bureau and today the government demands affirmative action in the way of minority group “quotas” for hiring.

What makes for an ethnic group aside from the pejorative themes? Ethnicity refers to a collectivity of individuals who identify with a particular ethnic group, share the values, interests, and language of the group, find themselves in territorial concentration (Lieberson, 1963), and, in general, confine their interpersonal relations to group membership (Gordon, 1964, p. 98). One implication of the dimensions of self identification and commonality of value is the conviction that the group standards are indeed the superior ones, the norms constituting the standards by which all out-group individuals are to be judged–ethnocentrism.

The extent of shared values and value differences are of course related to differences in place of national origins and the experiential conditions derived from that common point of departure. Heterogeneity, then, is assumed to be a function of these initial starting points, time of immigration, and the nature of the conditions that stimulated geographic movement from one political jurisdiction to another. The characteristic of heterogeneity (in some measure) also applies to American Blacks. Blacks have a longer history in America than the ethnics who arrived after 1850. The extent to which Blacks share the values of the plantation is also a question for further investigation, but Elliot Liebow’s class study of street-corner society (Tally’s Corner) tells us that heterogeneity may be as typical of Black culture as it is for white ethnic cultures.

It is my belief that we are witnessing today a slow but inexorable process in which initially very different ethnic groups are becoming more alike in a number of ways: education, common language (English), mobility (upward rather than downward), increased frequency of personal relationships with “out-group” individuals, and life styles dictated by the mutually shared experiences in the organizational life of post-industrial society. Hence, the view here is that ethnic pluralism and ethnic assimilation are polar extremes of a continuum, one end representing a condition of considerable heterogeneity between groups and the other end reflecting the characteristics that we now associate with ethnic assimilation. Ethnics today, I think, are somewhere between these two extremes, but clearly becoming more assimilated.

Moreover, the societal forces that are so corrosive of ethnic bonds are supplemented by the natural process of attrition, the dying off of the immigrant population and now first and second generation Americans who in fact were the prime carriers and guardians of the traditions, values, and language of the mother country. Subsequent generations of ethnic groups are today better educated than their forbears. They are more mobile, geographically and socially, and have radiated outward from their earlier areas of residential concentration. They have all but relinquished their language commonality which had earlier contributed so much to making them distinct. And they have conformed to the role requirements imposed by modern organizations, often at the expense of earlier shared values and interests. In addition to the obvious advantages and perquisites coming to those with more and better education, ethnics have become more pragmatic (and tolerant) in adapting and accommodating to out-group persons. The latter is clearly evidenced in the general decline of segregationist attitudes in the United States over the last 25 years. (Greeley and Sheatsley, 1971).

In brief, younger people differ significantly from their elders on the critical dimensions of ethnicity. There is overlap, to be sure, and there are probably few groups that have been fully assimilated into the host society; but like the middle class Negro, the ethnics are also on the move. The student of ethnic politics asks ultimately whether these differences between, say, first and third generations reflect significant differences in their political attitudes and behavior. Assimilation is total when, according to Lieberson, “A group of persons with similar foreign origins, knowledge of which in no way gives a better prediction or estimate of their relevant social characteristics than does knowledge of the total population of the community or nation involved” (1963, p. 10). The political concerns and interests of cultural pluralism are apparent. The nature of current ethnic concerns is also discernible, but certainly not so obvious as are the past practices of the ethnics.

I will not hazard to guess where on the assimilation/cultural pluralism continuum various ethnic groups are to be located. As we have said, different ethnic groups arrived at different times and often for different reasons. There has been a general improvement in the socio-economic conditions of large numbers of Americans of many different ethnic groups and it provides greater likelihood of class-related differences. Given this uplifting, and it is not merely a reflection of a total upgrading of the societal structures as Parenti suggests, the unit of analysis ought to be something that includes both ethnicity and class standing. Perhaps a more useful concept for purposes is the “eth-class” (Gordon, 1964). By “eth-class,” Gordon means the “subsociety created by the intersection of the vertical stratifications of ethnicity with the horizontal stratifications of social class” (p. 51). The idea of an “eth-class” can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Upper Class A1 B1
Middle Class A2 B2
Working Class A3 B3
Lower Class A4 B4

The cell occupied by Al is the resultant of the class and ethnicity variables. Assimilation suggests a greater similarity between Al and Bl, for example; while the idea of cultural pluralism suggests greater similarity between Al, A2, A3 and so on, and greater differences between any A cell compared to any B cell entry. It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine differences in eth-classes. We do assume, however, that larger numbers of ethnics are moving upward on the class variable, that is, reflecting social mobility.

The Political Implications of Cultural Pluralism

In the past, ethnic politics have flourished where the perceptions of voters and leaders included the ethnic dimension as important to perception of self and the perception of “significant others” (Brimm & Wheeler, 1966). Available research confirms its importance in such distant states as Connecticut, New York, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and a host of local settings. The political impact of the ethnic, however, is greatest at the local level. The ethnic immigrant gravitated to the urban centers of America and most of his political activity and concerns were directed to local politics. If not actually engaged in local campaign work, the ethnic provided the reservoir of votes necessary for the birth and growth of the urban political “machines” (Greenstein, 1966). At one time, remember, aliens were allowed to vote in 22 states and territories; though by 1926, Arkansas joined the nation by making citizenship a requirement for the ballot.

There are, of course, notable exceptions to this generalization about the municipal orientation of the ethnic. When American foreign policy directly or potentially involved the ethnic’s place of national origins, the ethnic frequently broadened his perspective to include the activities of national government: Jews and American policy in the Middle East; German-Americans and our involvement in WWI, and subsequently Roosevelt’s relationship with Britain immediately prior to our involvement in WWII; today Irish-Americans and the cause of the Catholics of North Ireland; and Blacks and embargo policies directed at segregationist administrations in Sub-Sahara Africa. Notwithstanding these illustrations, the ethnic was a local force transcending the pulls of state and national issues and affairs.

It should not be thought that ethnic groups were totally misdirected in their efforts. The stakes in an active and successful political life at the local level were considerable: jobs through patronage, contracts, official preferments, and especially “recognition” by way of a high-level appointment, which, for the few, served as a catalyst for a political career (Lane, 1959). The politics of the ethnic were above all else a politics of “recognition,” as Wolfinger has observed (Wolfinger, 1966).

That “recognition” had its rewards was equally beyond question. Ethnic politicians were recognized and gained access to the perquisites of public office. The reward for the rank and file ethnic group member, suffering the pangs of an identity crisis in an indifferent if not hostile society, existed in the psychological gratification of seeing one’s own in high public station. Thus the ethnic traded off the substantive power of his vote for the symbolic satisfactions which were not substantive in any material sense. Visibility thus became a critical requirement in municipal politics; and therefore the state legislatures, predictably, tightened up the legal requirements for a candidate changing his name and thus capitalizing on the shortcomings of a system based on “recognition.”

Cultural pluralism, when dominated by a concern for recognition, was symbolic It was symbolic in the sense that the large majority of the ethnic group derived a sense of satisfaction from the fact that they had been recognized, and that their own would surely look after their political interests and concerns. Indeed, the style prevailing in the past politics of cultural pluralism was symbolic.

Politics for the ethnic, as for his counterpart in the working class, was clearly of secondary importance. His primary orientation was, and probably continues to be, economic. His attention, interest, and energies are consumed by economic matters, political interest fluctuating with the individual’s perception of a threat to his livelihood or security brought on by distant and unfamiliar economic and political forces. His acquiescence was usually achieved through official pronouncements of reassurance and governmental concern (Edelman, 1964). Rarely did this restricted view of politics result in substantive gains to the ethnics.

The achieved psychological satisfactions, it should be noted, have come at an enormous cost to ethnics, both Black and white. Too long the ethnic has been content with the assumption that his interests and values would be safeguarded by the ethnic politician. And too often the ethnic politician has sacrificed the real interest of the ethnic. This was inevitable, given the unwarranted assumption that the ethnic leader’s interests were the same as those of the rank and file. In point of fact, the situation was frequently just the opposite. The ethnic leader often had economic interests quite at odds with those of the rank and file ethnic; or, as also happened, he had been coopted by opposition interests.

The pluralist politics of the ethnic, then, when obsessed with the rewards of recognition, resulted in the exploitation of the ethnic. The recent handling of a “feminist” demand by Mayor Daley of Chicago beautifully depicts the resultant merger of “recognition” and the process of cooptation. As reported by one journalist,

visited by a woman’s liberation delegation not long ago, and beset with complaints, Mr. Daley devised a typical solution. He gave the delegation’s leader, Mrs. Joanne Alter, the nomination for sanitary district trustee. That was the end of that protest.” (New York Times, February 12, 1972)

The example is not that of an ethnic demand, but the practice and results are identical: the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many.

Daley, though he may be the last of the old-school ethnic leaders, is hardly unique in the annals of political history. We need only mention Congressman Dawson, a Black, who reigned for decades over the First Congressional District of Illinois, the Tammany politicians of New York City, and closer to home the voting record of former Senator Lausche, to suggest the error in assuming equivalency in interests of the ethnic leadership and their followers. In each case, the ethnic traded his vote for recognitions’ rewards and in each case the leader too often voted against the real interests of the ethnic which, after all, were most often the interests of the working class, and not the interests of business, industry, banking, insurance, and the mass media. In each case a few leaders were afforded career opportunities through the heavy infusion of ethnic block-voting and in each case the leader often sacrificed his trust.

Despite the redeeming value in the ethnic’s search for identity, he is not totally innocent of the situation in which he now finds himself. He was too often content to do his labor in the economic vineyard with the hope, often enough frustrated, that he and his kind would eventually make good. The system rewards for the working class ethnic were the collective rewards resulting from negotiated settlements with industry and not the kinds of immediate rewards expected by business from the political system. The indictment of the ethnic is made, in part, on the ground that as ignorant as he may have been of the political implications of economic life, (we must remember that some did perceive the connection between local governmental affairs and personal prosperity), the middle class had made abundantly clear the extent to which class and interest group action may be rewarded in the political system. The folly of the ethnic’s philosophy of “individualism,” for example, becomes painfully apparent in such aphorisms as “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” or “socialism for the middle class and private enterprise (the bootstrap thesis) for the poor,” and “nothing succeeds like success.” Note the dilemma of minicipal administrations throughout America being strapped for revenues to sustain current service levels, and the almost universal tendency of the working class to resist an income tax. An income tax, because of its progressive tendency, is also opposed by the well-to-do segments of the population. The “compromise” comes in the shape of an increase in the sales tax, a tax that always fall disproportionately on the poorer and less affluent people in the population.

Rather than mobilizing the population into a viable political coalition for such urgent problems as housing, transportation, education, poverty, environmental pollution, and land-use policies, ethnics divide with the predictable consequences. They are subsequently ruled by organized and well-financed interest groups-business, agriculture, and labor–minority groups that have been highly effective in exploiting the political system.

Given the nature of this indictment, it comes as no surprise to find ethnic leaders in Congress, promoting a bill for nationalities’ centers in urban America, on the one hand, and also paring down federal support for education, or, as in the case of the long-term low interest NDEA loans for needy students, place the administration of them in the hands of those who made the governmental program desirable in the first place, the banking industry of America.

The questions for all of us are compelling. Why are the airlines and shipbuilding industries subsidized three times as heavily as urban public transportation? Why must pollution continue unabated? Why are we more concerned with the symbolic issue of busing, when, as Reverend Hesburgh so perceptibly noted recently in Cleveland, the real problem is the kind of education available at the end of the bus ride? Why must land-use policies be so inimical to the human dimension? Why must we have hunger and poverty among our indigent populations, of all colors? And why do we supinely condone the “invisible violence,” to use Nader’s phrase, perpetrated by the food industry through the chemical adulteration of foods consumed by the general public?

The ethnic is not the culpable party in this state of affairs. Cultural pluralism, however, when obsessed with “recognition” is. Lest I be accused of setting up a straw man in the ethnic, let me return to those factors that have altered the dimensions of ethnicity.

The changes in the dimensions of ethnicity are the cues to a better comprehension of the process of assimilation. There is little to be gained in pointing to a community’s resistance to a large public housing project as evidence that the “melting pot” is not melting as it should (Glazer, NY Times). Let us acknowledge the fact that we have a rich cultural diversity; the fact that political leaders pay assiduous attention to the ethnic characteristic suggests that we have yet certain culturally distinct characteristics. The existence of noticeable differences on the dimensions of ethnicity indicates that ethnics are becoming more assimilated and more alike. That is, higher SES Poles are becoming more like higher SES Czechs, both differing from their ethnic cohorts of lower class status. It is a relative measure we are concerned with, despite the unpopularity of this view among some of my confreres at this convention.

Let me preface my observations about the “new” ethnic politics, the politics of ethnic assimilation. I do not think that the traditional concern for recognition will be, nor ought it be, the predominant consideration today or in the future. We have changed too much in our sophistication about politics and economics, and in general our expectations of what is rightfully our due, to be bought off with the “symbolic” gestures of upwardly mobile politicians. This may be the wishful thought of an academic; I doubt that it is a utopian one.

Political Implications of Ethnic Assimilation

One assumption made here, and I suspect this can be viewed as the parochialism of a political scientist, is that politics and political life are inextricably bound up with the issue of conflict and the governmental institutions available for resolving conflict. The very existence of government attests to the pervasiveness of conflict, as Madison long ago observed:

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external controls on government would be necessary. Federalist #51.

While Madison clearly wrote to persuade others of the necessity for internal checks on government, his more neglected thesis is quite appropriate to our current considerations. If there is to be a lasting truth in the study of politics it is that politics implies conflict. Frankly, I do not see the elimination of conflict in an increasingly secular, rational, and technically oriented society. And if we view increased assimilation as the end of conflict, or even its sublimation, we labor under an assumption that makes quite difficult any real understanding of the process of assimilation.

We have said that the ethnic population is becoming more like the native population and that different ethnic groups are also becoming more similar. Are the general concerns of our political climate reflected among ethnics? Are ethnics today more “politicized”?

More demanding in what they view as the responsibilities of government? More mobile, better educated and more tolerant toward outgroups than their predecessors? The answer to each of these questions seems to be an emphatic “Yes.”

Ethnics are becoming more “politicized.” This is a result of a number of factors: increased militancy of Blacks; a sense of relative deprivation; the seductiveness of an ever-demanding “expectant” society; and the realization that, despite wage increases, society’s benefits are for many even further out of reach.

This increased politicization is buttressed by the feeling that large institutions no longer respond to the needs of the people. The demands for accountability have left no organization untouched: city hall, the churches, the universities, the corporations, federal programs at the grass roots, all are deficient in the public mind’s eye. The consequence is the increased demand for participation in the decisions made.

Another factor is that we look increasingly to the federal government to bail us out of the many new and sometimes old problems afflicting society. Herbert Gans has written, and I find myself in agreement, that the new American malaise is less a result of scarcity and hardship than of unprecedented prosperity (Gans 1972). We have become, in brief, a society heavy with the pregnancy of high expectations.

Ethnics today share in their frustrations brought on by a disparity between what they have come to see as rightfully theirs and the increased difficulty in attaining their goals. Aspirations indicate what the citizen hopes for, what he views as an ideal situation; expectations being a more direct and immediate feeling that one is entitled to that previously hoped for. The psychological change from a society of high hopes to one of high expectations is paralleled by an intensified dissatisfaction with governmental performance. Predictably, we are now beginning to focus on the problems of relative deprivation as it affects political and economic behavior (Pettigrew, et al 1972).

It is not terribly difficult to see how this psychological change came about. The national government three decades ago committed itself to alleviating the individual’s fears of want and suffering, and it continues to implement programs designed to increase citizen demands (OEO is but one example); business and the media have internalized this sense of expectation of more and better services and items. “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?” is not beyond the pale of possibilities under a credit economy; and, finally, labor unions have demanded ever and higher wages, which in turn have been used to justify higher and higher prices (and profits)–wage increases that were unimaginable a few short years ago. It is this new ingredient that has made for so much of a new style of politics; and it is this factor that compounds the problem of race relations today.

It would require an irresponsible view of the evidence to conclude that there have been no changes, for the better, in anti-minority group attitudes and behavior in the U.S. since 1945. In their examination of NORC trend data, Greeley and Sheatsley found a marked decline in the level of segregationist attitudes among all ethnic groups, the only exception being those less educated East European Catholics. But while attitudes toward Blacks may no longer be based on the prejudicial foundation of race, there may well be conditions associated with post-industrial society that sustain these out-group hostilities, or at least increase the possibility of their emergence again.

Plain and simple prejudice based on racial and religious differences gives way to a more complex set of motivations rooted in feelings of insecurity. The sources of the individual’s sense of insecurity may vary. For example, what consequences come from a rate of upward mobility as it erodes the individual’s primary group structures and relationships? Given the drastically increased tempo of change in post-industrial society, what consequences can we expect from the produced increase in the rate of occupational obsolescence? And more serious, what can we expect of the individual who is downwardly mobile and has lost status in a society which is achievement oriented?

We have learned that children of one social class when exposed to children of a higher social class tend to absorb the values and attitudes of the higher status children. Much the same thing can be said of the more assimilated ethnic. As he moves upward in the social system he tends to adopt the values and interests of his “new” social class. For the upwardly-mobile ethnic we can predict that he will behave and think more like other members of the middle class he is joining. The middle-class ethnic, let me reiterate, does not necessarily have the same values, interests, and concerns of the less assimilated ethnic. Black militants have been quick to stigmatize this difference in values and interests under the label of “uncle Tomism.” Thus, it is probable that the interests, values, and demands of the more assimilated ethnic will converge with the class interests of his social and occupational status, that is, the interests of the corporation, the bank, the insurance company, the accounting firm, or what have you. Whatever character the interests of the assimilated ethnic may take, they are unlikely to be congruent with the interests of the less assimilated (unless, as we have seen, he aspires to public office).

Some Poles, for example, have higher educations, better paying white-collar jobs, and reflect the values and interests of the social class into which they moved. Others, unassimilated, are less educated and consequently continue in the more menial jobs; these persons tend to reflect the patterns of political behavior and attitudes of the white working class.

One way of highlighting the differences between the styles of ethnic politics is to juxtapose the two concerns, recognition as opposed to the substantive interests and class-related demands of others in the political system. Let me now point out the nature of the outcomes of a politics based on “recognition” and that modus operandi that tends to be more substantive and less symbolic in form. The final section of this essay will be devoted to an example problem, one now pressing the public conscience–busing.

The demand for equal employment opportunity (an end to discrimination in employment practices) is the exemplar of a substantive program. The demand for “monuments,” such as nationalities centers in urban America, as evidence acknowledging our ethnic heritage is the epitome of our current concern, an old one to be sure, for recognition. As such, it is largely symbolic. In the first case, the rewards for political behavior are much greater, the beneficiaries larger in number, and, over time, the results are lasting. In the second case, the rewards for political behavior are conspicuous in their token quality, have many fewer beneficiaries, and, over time, have a transient quality.

Notice the way in which the national government has responded to these kinds of demands. In legislation recognizing white ethnic demands, Congress passed an act for the establishment of nationalities’ centers in our urban areas. After the centers are built, and provided with limited operating funds, what then? However, the substantive demand to end discrimination against Blacks, Chicanos, and the American Indian has produced quite a different set of outcomes. Congress responded by passing the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. These acts prohibit discrimination in hiring and firing practices in all institutions under contract with the federal government, and having more than 25 employees. To mobilize the sanctions of the federal government, the nation’s largest employer and its largest consumer, is a tribute to the civil rights movements’ effectiveness. This class legislation has had, and will continue to have, a marked effect.

Furthermore, in attempting to mollify the demands of visible minority groups for equity, the federal government through the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has begun to promote the idea of quotas for these minorities. This is a practice that personally I find questionable, and, I suspect directly contradicts the spirit and intent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That act, title VI, forbade any discrimination based on race, color, or national origins. The quota reflects in governmental implementation reverse discrimination and allegiance to ascription based on skin color rather than achievement as the basis of hiring, firing, and promotion.

From San Francisco to New York City, the institutions subsidized by the federal government are now under increasing pressure to comply, not because of established discriminatory practices, but because they have failed to produce the quotas through “affirmative
action” programs. As indicated above, the visible minorities are not going to be satisfied with official reassurances for their interests. They want the “goods.” But what of white ethnic groups?

I have yet to hear any person make a case for quotas for Poles, Italians, Croatians, Czechs (or any other minority) proportionate to their numbers in the community. But this was expected given the white ethnic’s concern for nationality centers, language programs in the schools, and cultural and history courses–all symbolic. It is instructive to note here the general decline in the number of black studies programs in the universities and colleges which implemented them but a short time ago. Blacks are now much too pragmatic to tie their demands to non-substantive programs and ideologies.

The demands of the white ethnics have thus far been demands for symbolic reassurances (“Why don’t they recognize our contribution to America?”). The demands of Blacks, no longer willing to be fed the pap about equality, justice, and the land of opportunity-they so well know better–are much closer in kind to the demands placed on government by business and industry; they are insatiable. And they are insatiable no matter what degree of success in their attainment.

The unassimilated ethnic, however, is still tied to his daily need and in every sense reflects the less advantaged characteristics of the working class. His interests are much more easily satisfied although there are signs that his expectations are also increasing. I would go so far as to suggest that these ethnics constitute a part of the population now called the “neglected majority.” And as such, they constitute a different order of needs, aspirations, and desires. For these individuals I see a different order of demands more appropriate as they assume increasingly active roles in the political system: Demands directed toward the quality of education available, and the question of who is to pay for that education; consumer protection from the producer who, despite all protests to the contrary, is motivated, first and foremost, by a concern for profits of a larger magnitude than the previous year’s; and the environmental and health questions now pressing so urgently upon the nation. If we are to move together, then let us be aware of the implications of assimilation and the different needs of different segments of the population as well as the differences within ethnic groups.

Our national concern for education of Americans has a long history. Education is the key to better employment, better income, better housing, and more adequate health care. As a nation we have come to accept the ideal of equality of opportunity in education. This does not mean that all will be provided equal education. It does mean that we have committed ourselves to the proposition that individuals of similar preparation and capacity should be given equal opportunity to that level of education that the child and young adult is capable of. It means that a person’s education should not depend on his skin color, religion, or sex, or place of national origin.

Consider the current “crisis” over the issue of busing. Busing is not unique as educational practices go, since for decades we have had it. The South has had a long history of busing for the purpose of maintaining separate and segregated facilities for Blacks. For politicians to raise the issue now seems, at least to me, to be but another ploy at vote-gathering in the vineyards of political life. Busing is raised for public consumption as a symbolic issue capable of generating electoral support. The better-off population in the United States is already convinced of the shortcomings of public education. Why else would they be sending their children to private institutions? The issue of busing has validity only under one assumption: that the quality of the schools is good or as good as it can be for the whites, and that the influx of limited number of black students would undermine that quality. I do not subscribe to this assumption of quality, and available data confirms this conviction. The issue is symbolic. Some men will have their political stock rise at the cost of many. Should busing be prohibited, has the public a claim to more substantive considerations from the political system regarding issues on the content and quality of public education? The likelihood is that it will not.

Aside from the white ethnic’s concern for the possibility of black students in their schools, what are the focal points of their energies? They want to sustain cultural identity, to promote language courses and a whole range of courses which seem, to me, to reflect an insensitivity to the needs of children in our society. A more cogent case for ethnics can be made for examining the quality of education offered to all in the public schools. The available evidence is not very encouraging. We know, for example, that schools are excessively concerned with compliance to the rules and regulations and tend to neglect the wide range of issues for which the child, turned adult, will be held responsible. If the objective of political stability is a desirable one, then we should be seeking a more heterogeneous not homogeneous school population “mix.” For Blacks this means either busing or residential integration, both capable of integrating American society. For whites it means either busing or residential integration.

Of equal importance for our future is the extent to which schools are moving in the area of status socialization as contrasted with its past concern for role socialization. The anticipated rate of occupational obsolescence in the not-too-distant future makes our present preoccupation with training a doubtful practice at best. Are the schools preparing our children to cope with the needs of a change-oriented society? Are the children going to be adaptable and flexible enough to handle the tempo of changes we are going to subject them to? We are not that far removed from the case of the railroad fireman confronted by the diesel engine.

It is probably true that in order to move concertedly we will need to be aware of the existence of conflicting demands. At no point is the issue of conflict and cleavage more apparent than in the perverse implementation of the quota system by the federal government which results in reverse discrimination. The elimination of discrimination in hiring is a commendable goal. To discriminate against others who have only recently moved upward simply serves to compound and aggravate the racial situation, which has never been good, in the country. But a commitment to end discrimination can become the basis upon which we all–black and white–can move together in a spirit of reconciliation and compromise. There is no reason why the Poles or the Slovene should think his lot is any better than that of the Black when it comes to various kinds of training programs–and this commonality can be the basis of conciliation and compromise. Open the doors, say the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and do not recognize race, religion, and place of national origin as a condition for hiring.

The issues of poverty, health care, pension programs, education, the quality of the environment we live in, and the food and drugs consumed are all lines on which a coalition can be effective. The order of these concerns is in the last analysis far removed from the priorities of traditional cultural pluralism with an emphasis on “recognition.”

This paper was presented at the National Conference on Ethnicity, Cleveland State University, May, 1972.



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