Political divisiveness and national polarization are, in my mind, the two most destructive forces in our country today. Much has been said and written about both. But, let’s add a third: the death of the American “melting pot.”
I grew up with lots of native born kids - Mexican-American, Japanese-American, a set of Canadian twins, a couple of Jews and others thrown into that grade school. Different? Who knew? We were kids accepting the world around us as the natural order of things. Teachers often mentioned the “melting pot” of America and we were taught that was a good thing.
No more. Like the hula hoop, 78rpm records and poodle skirts, the concept of blending races, relations and even political thought in one great goulash of citizenship just a memory. We’re a poorer nation for it. Much poorer.
In the 1800's, large eastern cities grew larger and stronger with the mingling concept. A new nation was growing and work and talents of many races and creeds were needed. Then, early in the 1900's, cities became more divided along ethnic lines. Jews, Oriental, Norwegian, Irish, European and all the rest became neighborhoods of similar language, custom and religion. Still supporting the larger city concept by their labors, but evolving into more well-defined cultures in which to live. Together but separate.
Still, the idea of America being a “melting pot” persisted for a long, long time. As we grew, small communities started out mixing races and creeds. But, somewhere along the line, they started splintering.
In Pocatello, Blacks that worked the passenger trains lived east of downtown in one neighborhood. Same for railroad workers in Nampa and Boise. Early migrants coming to Idaho to work the crops set up little groups outside the established communities of Twin Falls, American Falls, Gooding, Caldwell - keeping largely to themselves.
Now we have deliberate separations. Not just neighborhoods but radio, TV channels, print media, individual dress. Even language. We’re a nation of “tribes.” The confluence of a “melting pot” has disappeared. Now there are parts of cities - not necessarily large cities, either - where races of different skin colors or religious beliefs don’t go. We’re walled out.
Something else began to divide us even deeper some years back - religious separation. Most who participate in lives of faith were taught to accept the belief practices of others. After all, our founders made it very clear this nation would not have an established religion and - in the spirit of those who first came here to avoid religious persecution - we would be tolerant and acceptive of all others. True then. But not now. Not for many.
Not only have religion and politics become bedfellows, some calling themselves “Christians” have separated themselves and use their “faith” practices to hammer the rest of us. No “melting pot” philosophy for them. Their “way” is the “only way” and they’ve used their divisive “faith” to create laws and stifle rights of citizenship for “non-believers.” Those being fellow Americans with different skin color, different languages, different religious practices. Or no practices at all. (more…)