The Racial Disuniting of America
In his book, The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, Arthur Schlesinger attempts to explain how a once united country is coming apart at the seams over petty issues that have plagued the United States for a long time and are becoming increasingly bigger.
The United States was once discovered and created in order for people, who felt like they were being strangled by the rules and regulations governing how they should live in their own countries, to have freedoms they had never known.
In this new country, people could share their opinions, have their own beliefs and religions, and be free to start again with new lives in a new way.
People came from all over the world to share these freedoms and leave behind the chains they once carried.
Freedom was the name of the game. With this freedom though, came differences in race, religion, culture, tradition, skin color, foods, clothing, ways of doing things, and even language.
None of these were issues in the beginning simply because this was the original purpose of leaving the old and starting anew.
Somewhere along the line however, these differences amongst the people and the “ideal” American way became enemies rather than cohabitants.
This book attempts to outline how the melting pot called America began to show problems in the way of something called “racism” and what was considered American.
From the very beginning, America has always been a “melting pot,” meaning a land which is made up of a variety of religions, races, cultures, and traditions.
From the initial boat that pulled up on land to the many thousands of people that immigrate to America today, as a country the US inhabits people from every corner of the Earth and every walk of life.
This was intended as a land of freedoms and rights; a land where people could essentially escape from the prisons of rules and regulations in their home countries, to make their own decisions on how to live.
At some point, someone decided that this was also a land where others rights could be taken away, and people from other places in the world were taken hostage to serve as “slaves” to those that would pay the right price.
At that very moment, the whole basic intention for this land of freedom was in vain. People in the US began to feel as though they were better somehow than those they could pay to serve them.
They treated other human beings as if their own rights and freedoms were more important. At this time, people also started defining human value based on skin color and ethnicity.
What was once a place of acceptance for anyone wanting to be free to make their own decisions, was now a place where human life itself was no longer valued.
It was at this time “racism” officially began. From that point on, difference and choice were starting to be seen as a bad thing and “American” was defined by certain traits, races, and wealth.
If the “American” way was the only way, then everything else must have been wrong. Schlesinger makes the point that racial difference had become a big issue in the United States over the years.
With a new definition for what was considered American, all other cultures, traditions and histories were simply different and unwelcome.
Issues such as what languages should be spoken in the country, what celebrations could be celebrated, and was acceptable to be seen and heard from citizens arose and became socially limited.
Freedoms began to be taken away as many of those that considered themselves “real Americans” held their rights and freedoms as more important than others.
The ideal of what it meant to be an American citizen seemed to be threatened and many felt like it had to be defended.
Racism became a huge problem and remains so today. On the other hand however, the same could be said the other direction.
At this point in time, the common American sense of identity also threatens to undermine the uniqueness of individuals. This book focuses on the disuniting of America due to the actions of people setting others with characteristics different from theirs apart from themselves.
America was originally found and built in order to be a resting place for people all over the world, from a variety of different backgrounds, from the chains of bondage they wore from being told how to live and what they had to believe.
America was intended to be a melting pot of many cultures uniting together in a common belief of rights and freedoms for all individuals. However, individuals are now being told that they can no longer celebrate their beliefs and traditions, that their rights are being limited so that they do not offend others.
Freedoms are being taken away due to the sensitivity, and new political correctness of society. Schlesinger makes the point throughout the rest of his text that because of this identity of different races, cultures, and ethnicities in society, America is being torn apart from the original “United States” as it was named.
His thoughts on how to bring the country back together were for those discriminating against others different from them to become aware of what was happening and make sufficient changes towards acceptance. This was not exacting how the text translated though.
The first chapter of the book did a wonderful job of setting up the topic of the disuniting of America. In this chapter Schlesinger discussed the original purpose of the United States and how it went from being united to slowly disintegrating and why.
The point was created that there was no “American way” involving a particular race, ethnicity, gender, or culture, accept that by coming to America, each individual had rights and freedoms like every other that allowed them their own choices, beliefs and values.
By separating out each of these groups, and pointing out the differences amongst them, the “United” States was quickly dissolving. He made the point that individual differences, histories, and characteristics needed to be celebrated rather than discriminated against.
However, in the second chapter and beyond, the author begins blaming one particular race for all of the problems involving racism and discrimination in the United States.
He quotes specific people degrading this race and issuing insults in a variety of political issues. All of the setup for a great book, and a great point on a much bigger scale, was quickly destroyed when he quickly shows the very racist side of the text.
Had he kept the text very general in regards to those being discriminatory, he would have made a very meaningful point. Instead, he began insulting this one race over and over making it impossible to see the information being presented from a respectable view.
By simply quoting the particular people he did, in fact, he showed just how hypocritical he was and how big of a part he was actually responsible for in the disuniting of America. The book itself is an oxymoron.
I will try to give a calm, lengthy, intent consideration of my own part in the system in this next section. I completely agree with the position that Schlesinger was taking at the beginning of the book.
I do believe that the lack of tolerance on the part of many people in this country is causing a huge problem keeping this country from being able to band together, united, on any front.
This country is slowly being torn apart by Americans being conceited and selfish in their own ways. I personally was severely angered by the material in this book (chapter 2 and further) in relation to the “problem” with society.
I resent the fact that the author continually blamed European Americans (white people) for the problems with the country.
“White domination of American schools and colleges...results in Eurocentric, racist, elitist, imperialist indoctrination and in systematic denigration of black values and achievements” (Schlesinger, 1998, p.67).
He used the words white supremacy, white power, white privilege, hegemons, hegemony, inferior, and evil in regards to the white race throughout the book.
“Liberation would be impossible ‘until the white monopoly on Black minds was broken.’ In a sense, the Eurocentric curriculum is ‘killing our children, killing their minds’” (Schlesinger, 1998, p.67).
I can’t believe that he has the gall to blame an entire race of people for something that simply isn’t happening.
As a teacher myself, I’ve experienced Black History Month, Hispanic History Month, entire sections of curriculum specifically based on other cultures and recognizing the accomplishments of all other cultures.
There has never been a white culture parade or white history month. I can’t even mention my own cultures celebrations, traditions or my own religion, even while being required to teach those of all other religions.
“To force black children to learn standard English, some contends, only deepens their sense of inferiority” (1998, p.69).
What interested you in this essay?
He talks of discrimination and the enslavement of black people by European Americans (How long ago did that happen? Does he realize that Africans actually sold their own to the white people to make money off of them?).
He is obviously still holding an entire single race accountable for horrible acts perpetrated by the elite of a society hundreds of years ago and several generations ago.
“Whites must strive for supremacy…to make up for their racial inferiority, caused by their ‘genetic inability to produce the skin pigments of melanin which are responsible for all skin coloration’” (Schlesinger, 1998, p.70).
If he wants to talk about discrimination and racism, I grew up in an all black neighborhood and went to an all black high school.
I was pushed around, beat up, put in the hospital several times, and harassed by high-schoolers much bigger than me, who seriously outnumbered me, simply because of my color.
I remember having to keep my head down, stay out of everyone’s way and not talk to anyone just for my own safety. Racism is not a one way street.
"Salvation lies in breaking the white, Eurocentric, racist grip on the curriculum and providing education that responds to colored races, colored histories, colored ways of learning and behaving.
Europe has reigned long enough; it is the source of most of the evil in the world anyway; and the time is overdue to honor the African contributions to civilization so purposefully suppressed in Eurocentric curricula.
Children from nonwhite minorities, so long persuaded of their inferiority by the white hegemons, need the support and inspiration that identification with role models of the same color will give them" (Schlesinger, 1998, p.70, emphasis mine).
Personally, I tried but couldn’t even get through the whole book. I hate affirmative action, diversity, multicultural anything.
I think regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, or culture, the most qualified person for the job should be hired, children should be allowed to befriend who they want and each child should be given what they individually need within a diversified education.
I loved each and every one of my students regardless of physical, mental or emotional characteristics. They were all human beings worthy of love, respect and a diverse education in my eyes.
I really think that the extreme emphasis in society on our differences has really been the problem, making differences more apparent than they would have been had society been left alone.
The solution society has taken to try and fix the problem is what I believe is making it an epidemic.
Even in the melting pot of the United States, both the multicultural nature of the country threatens to undermine the sense of a common American identity, and this same common American sense of identity threatens to undermine the uniqueness of the individuals within it.
This country was created to be a collection of people from all over the world, coming together under one common belief that people should be free to live, and express themselves as they so choose.
Due to many bad decisions and a horribly planned attempt to fix the problem though, the issue of the disuniting of America has become a huge problem.
Schlesinger attempted to make the point that in order to bring the country back together, we needed to once again join together under the agreement of equal rights for all.
Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in his attempts and failed to make the point originally intended. This could have been an amazing book.
Schlesinger, A. M. (1998). The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness