50 years after MLK, the sociological absurdity of assimilation

Adopting important American principles should not have to coincide with the wholesale abandonment of native cultures. Photo: unattributed

WASHINGTON, August 28, 2013 – The notion that society functions best when immigrants adhere to the melting pot model of assimilation is one of many absurdist, and alarmingly common, doctrines on race in America.

Advocates of the melting pot model of cultural assimilation persistently cite E pluribus unum—meaning “out of many, one.” This, they argue, calls for a society in which immigrants forsake their cultural roots and adopt one American culture.

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Those who champion the melting pot idea never seem to define specifically what they mean by “adopting American culture.” They almost invariably traffic in gushing nationalistic platitudes about American exceptionalism.

What part of American culture do melting pot devotees believe immigrants should hurriedly adopt? Is Miley Cyrus’ deplorable behavior part of this grand American melting pot? How about immigrant children in America aspiring to be part of the MTV culture of celebrating teenage pregnancy outside of wedlock?

Therein lies the rub.

America may be the greatest nation in the world, but it isn’t perfect at everything. America has a lot to learn from other cultures—just as other cultures can learn a lot from America. The sociological melting pot idea rests on the dazzlingly hubristic premise that immigrants have little cultural value to offer the Western world. 

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Conservatives incessantly bemoan the injurious effects of cultural liberalism on American society. Peculiarly, however, they ignore this permeation of cultural liberalism when jingoistically pretending as though America is entirely perfect with respect to immigrant assimilation.

It is a statement of fact that many immigrant societies are exponentially more conservative than American society. Asking immigrants to enter an American melting pot is essentially asking them to diminish their philosophical conservatism.

Many believers in the melting pot hold that immigrants often come to America to escape their cultures. This may be true for refugees and people who lived in oppressive communist countries. However, it is not true that many come to America because they are champing at the bit to put on cowboy hats and watch Country Music Television. Immigrants move to America for the economic opportunities that it offers.

The melting pot enthusiasts create an America where there is completely avoidable cultural tension. They create an America in which the defining characteristic of an ‘authentic American’ is possessing no strong cultural connections to other regions of the world.

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Given the history of the United States, the farcicality of this concept needs no further elucidation.

Demanding that people “melt” their native cultures in order to be ‘authentically American’ is troublingly totalitarian. All cultures have positive and negative aspects. Advocates of the melting pot, however, want people to simplistically believe that American culture is all good, and other cultures are all bad—except for their foods. 

In many ways, the melting pot model of assimilation is the sibling of the harebrained concept of social colorblindness. The melting pot model of assimilation is an outlandishly utopian contrivance. This model is supposed to improve intercultural relations by fantasizing that only American culture exists and matters.

In a recent article, while advancing this melting pot theory, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) senselessly called for the end of race and ethnicity. This is not surprising from Jindal. Jindal jettisoned his non-European birth name, Piyush, and adopted a European name, ‘Bobby.’ This is not something proud immigrants who love both their cultures and America are willing to do.

The melting pot philosophy presents a false dilemma, essentially forcing immigrants to choose between their cultures and being ‘authentically American.’

It’s no wonder that immigrants who belong to strong ethnic communities generally reject this false dilemma—and they also reject the political side that enthusiastically advances it.

Certainly, all Americans need to have some identifiable qualities, regardless of differences in cultural backgrounds. Some of these qualities are respect for the rule of law, belief in individual liberty, and understanding the power of free enterprise. To achieve in America, mastery of the English language should also be a priority.

Of course, some cultures are demonstrably incompatible with principles that are inextricable to the American way of life. For example, if one believes in radical cultural Islam and Sharia law, one would need to almost wholly reject that system in order to be an American. Sharia law is fundamentally incongruous with American principles of freedom and liberty. Unlike radical Islamic culture, however, most immigrant cultures are not at loggerheads with foundational American principles.

The argument here is not that people should immigrate to America while despising the country and completely refusing to comply with basic American expectations. The argument here, however, is that immigrants should not be required to abnegate their cultures and ethnic communities. People must stop acting as though all non-Western cultures are inherently antagonistic to American identity.

Adopting important American principles should not have to coincide with the wholesale abandonment of native cultures. It is also vital to note that not everything in American culture is worth adopting. The melting pot theory is impractical because it lacks critical cultural nuance.

Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s monumental “I Have a Dream” speech, it is time to abandon popular sociological idiocies on race, culture, and ethnicity. While they are advertised as social elixirs, even cursory logical examination exposes them to be deeply deleterious.


Chidike Okeem is a writer. Born in Nigeria, raised in London, England, and now living in California, he writes about race, culture, religion, and politics. You can find contact information and read more of his writings at www.voiceofchid.com.

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Chidike Okeem

Chidike Okeem was born in Nigeria, raised in London, England, and currently resides in Northern California.


Chidike is a writer with interests in politics, race, religion, and culture. He blogs at www.voiceofchid.com, you can follow him on Twitter @VOICEOFCHID, and like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/VOICEOFCHID. 


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