Are diversity and assimilation compatible? They are, but that didn’t help Iowa U.S. 4th District Representative Steve King, whose recent comments caused quite a stir. In his indelicate manner, King supported assimilation as the real strength in America, not diversity as many prominently proclaim. And he was chastised for it. But he wasn’t rejecting the reality of diversity, nor its value — to the contrary.
Our familiar motto, E pluribus unum, “out of many, one,” expresses the importance of assimilation in America’s tradition of forging a culture from millions of immigrants representing many cultures. Assimilation has been important for America’s success.
That principle is very compatible with another idea — that being the Martin Luther King Jr. ideal of de-emphasizing racial differences. I recall that day in 1963 when he said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He wanted us to look beyond skin color into the heart of individuals before judging them.
While aggressively advocating for social justice, King spoke in a way that could motivate his minority constituency and help white America understand his peaceful methods and transformative goals. He had a very positive influence on America.
Contrary to King’s ideal, ignoring race is now an unacceptable “microaggression.” Progress toward his ideal has slowed as “political correctness” and “identity politics” gained prominence. Emphasis on differences has become more common on college campuses, and it seems what was once a search for tolerance and togetherness, has become intolerance and institutionalized separation.
Assimilation doesn’t require immigrants to mimic or imitate Americans. It shouldn’t be a means of subordinating immigrants and their culture to existing citizens. Traditions, heritage and religion don’t have to disappear.
Assimilation is a process whereby immigrants encounter and react to a new set of experiences and challenges. Immigrants must survive, and hopefully thrive, in a very different environment than they’ve ever experienced. These newcomers won’t be able to avoid the many challenges, and must personally take the initiative to make the adjustments necessary to thrive in their new situation.
Isolating immigrant communities economically and socially from the community are impediments to successful assimilation. Dealing with the realities of diversity shouldn’t result in distance and separateness. This separation, a result of our current version of multiculturalism, too often reinforces mistrust, and it’s tearing the country apart.
Bottom line, the most indispensable requirements of assimilation are for immigrants to understand our institutions, embrace our Constitution, comply with our laws and start learning our language. Those are reasonable minimum expectations.
Let’s get back to the accusations against those supporting assimilation as uniquely important to America’s strength. Advocates of assimilation over diversity are often labeled “white nationalists” or racist. But doesn’t racism reject diversity and its value, making it impossible to push for assimilation?
It occurs to me the diversity zealots who are making accusations of racism are actually guilty of great intolerance themselves. As historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote: “For all its emphasis on appearance, diversity is really an intolerant ideological movement.”
Accepting diversity, and adding to that an emphasis on bringing groups together, is central to the process of assimilation. A racist, or even a diversity zealot, would be unable to advocate for assimilation because to do so would require accepting, even embracing diversity and the process of different racial groups associating and “assimilating.”
Someone who advocates for the value and unique importance of assimilation is doing a really bad job of promoting racism.