While getting a new driver’s license today, the very kind Indian-American lady who took my photo and processed my new license had a very interesting response to my humorous reply to the question on one of the processing screens that asked what my race was.
I made the correct response on the touchscreen, but I remarked out loud that I started to just say “human” rather than select African-American.
After sharing a chuckle in mutual agreement, the MVA (Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration) lady said that our country is a salad bowl made up of different colors that all make for a great whole.
As impressed as was at the MVA lady’s astute retort and pithy logic, it was not the first time I heard anyone use the analogy of our country being a salad bowl and not a “melting pot”.
Renown anti-racism activist Jane Elliott (she of the famed “Brown Eye/Blue Eye Experiment) used the very same analogy on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” in the 1990s.
To paraphrase Ms. Elliott, the point of her analogy is that a “melting pot” implies complete assimilation into a common, generic, culture that doesn’t appear to threaten the norms of the social majority. If you immigrate here, you should eschew your ethnicity and the culture of your country of origin and be completely “American”. Conversely, a salad bowl is a synergistic mix that is not dichotomous (either-or) but rather diunital (both-and). One can be a great American while acknowledging their cultural and ethnic heritage. Assimilation does not require erasure of the cultural identity of your country of origin whether you’ve been in the United States for a generation or ten generations.
The notion of the United States being a melting pot has always been a myth. The US is the only country on earth where you can eat Chinese food today, Italian food tomorrow, and Mexican food the next day and never leave your house, much less your neighborhood or country.
Ms. Elliott’s poignant analogy highlights that a healthy salad is made with more than just one ingredient. The red peppers, green peppers, onions, kale, carrots, etc. are all made up of different colors with different nutrient values that make for a healthier whole when brought together.
This nation didn’t just become more multicultural in the last few decades. It’s ALWAYS been multicultural. What makes the USA unique is its unique blend of diversity which created a culture we have managed to export to the rest of the world.
The white supremacists and their demagoguery will never succeed because they have a vision of this country that has never existed and now can never exist. The genie has been out of the bottle for 243 years and this country’s history could not be written without its multicultural foundation.
-The Rational Ram