From Melting Pot to Salad Bowl to Segmented Plate
by Temerity Forthright
French immigrant J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur wrote in 1782 that in America, “Individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”
American author Ralph Waldo Emerson subsequently wrote in 1876, “The fusing process goes on as in a blast-furnace; one generation, a single year even – transforms the English, the German, the Irish immigrant into an American.”
A character in Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play “The Melting-Pot” declared, “Understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming!”
Then, in the 1960s, people started to embrace their ethnic identities at the expense of assimilating in the Melting Pot, and became like separate ingredients in a Salad Bowl. Ethnic enclaves began to form within cities, complete with shops offering food, clothing, and religious items to meet the needs of the inhabitants.
The ubiquitous Little Italy and Chinatown originally formed in large cities in part for security and also as a means to avoid blatant discrimination. But as more immigrants entered the U.S. during the second half of the 20th Century, they sought out these enclaves as a means to preserve the culture, heritage, religion, and language of their countries of origin.
So the Melting Pot of ethnic assimilation became the Salad Bowl of cultural diversity.
Then, in the 1970s and 1980s, multiculturalism became the natural progression as a result of cultural diversity. This is the philosophy that different cultures and inherent cultural identities will co-exist within a society or a country. This inclusivity was welcomed by many countries, especially in Europe, but led to wide-spread violence. This seems the antithesis of the expected outcome of not just tolerating, but embracing, diversity.
Can’t we all just get along?
Multiculturalism leads to the loss of the cultural identity of the host country. Actor Brenton Thwaites said, “In Australia, we cling on to whatever culture we have. We’re such a multicultural country.” Former French presidential candidate Marion Le Pen said, “A multicultural society is a multi-conflict society.”
Back in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies,” and she observed that it “failed utterly.”
Cultures clash. Religious beliefs clash. Historical perspectives clash. Ethnic identities clash.
In the 1940s, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt warned, “Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.”
But it did. Identity politics put the nail in the multicultural coffin. Identity politics has led away from traditional party politics to form exclusive political alliances that benefit people of one particular religion, race, or ethnic background at the expense of all other groups. It has also lead to class warfare among these groups as they gain social and economic strength.
America is no longer a Salad Bowl. The idea that people of many diverse cultures, religions, heritages, and languages can co-exist in unity is a noble one. It has not, however, worked in reality.
Identity politics and class warfare have led people to form into separate hostile and competing camps. They may all live in the same city, region, or country, but they exist independent of each other and at odds with each other.
It’s much like the segmented plates used at family get-togethers. Each food item is kept separate in individual compartments on one plate. They are always apart. Each one has its own section. They never come in contact with each other. Their flavors never meld.
Such is America. From a Melting Pot to a Salad Bowl to a Segmented Plate.