My cousin Screwie came over the other day with a couple of six-packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon to watch the Celtics get crushed by the Cavaliers. He was flipping through channels after the game and landed on an episode of “All in the Family”.
It was the one where they flashed back to the time Gloria, the budding flower-child daughter, first introduces Michael, her long-haired leftie boyfriend, to Archie, her old-school working-class father. Archie and Michael (or “Meathead”) are left alone to get acquainted.
Archie: What kind of a name is Stivic?
A: Where you from?
M: Oh, uh, Chicago.
A: I mean what’s your nationality?
M: (A little baffled) I’m an American.
A: I mean, where are your people from?
M: They’re from Poland.
A: (Rolls eyes) That would make you Polish, then.
Screwie’s had three or four PBRs at this point and says. “See? See how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction? This is why I hate St. Patrick’s Day. And Columbus Day”.
“What are you babbling about?”, I politely inquire.
He explains that in 1971, forty-six short years ago, this joke was on Archie. He was unenlightened and bigoted, and wanted to impose some sort of negative stereotype on Michael for being “Polish” when Michael wasn’t Polish at all, but a proud American, indeed every bit the American that Archie was.
Archie’s impulse was to “other” the Meathead, to assert his own right as a “real” American to decide who else had the Bona Fides to join the club. This was the definition of small-mindedness at the time – the opposite of what it meant to be “progressive”. Archie didn’t understand that everyone in this country (except the indigenous peoples, the “real” Americans) was an immigrant or the child of immigrants, all aspiring to be “American”. The audience roared. Archie was an idiot.
So I say, OK cousin, but what does this have to do with St. Patrick or Columbus?
Screwie says, “Look at this recent St. Patrick’s Day parade we just had. It was the usual cast of characters from Southie, having their one big moment to assert their “superiority” by keeping others out, namely gay people. None of them were “Irish”, any more than the Meathead was “Polish”. They were all Americans, the same as you, me, Archie, and Meathead. I’ll bet you none of them has ever even been to Ireland.” Even the Boston Globe writes, “The St. Patrick’s Day parade is the embarrassment that never goes away.”
“Same with Columbus Day. Columbus stumbled onto the “new world” while trying to do something else entirely, and ‘discovered’ a continent of people who were doing just fine for ten thousand years without him. And now all the “Italians” here want to have a parade. But they’re not “Italian”, they’re American.
And their antecedents, like the Irish, Polish, and all other immigrants before them, were desperately trying to scrape a few cents together to leave whatever hell-hole they were living in to come here and be ‘Americans’. Only generations later does that old country become something to hang your hat on and brag about, no matter how horrible it really was. And how horrible would it have to be for you to want to escape it without any money, prospects, English language skills, or anything else? Pretty bad.”
“Huh”, I reply, incisively.
But now Screwie is on a roll. “The problem is this crazy idea that’s taken root called ‘Multicuturalism’. The old idea of accepting the ‘tired poor huddled masses yearning to be free’ has morphed into ‘bring all your crazy shit over here and pretend you’re still in Beirut or Guadalajara or Mogadishu or wherever.’ Don’t bother learning English or Baseball or anything else – we’ll just accommodate you no matter what because that’s just how ‘progressive’ we are. Never mind that if you keep doing what you were doing over there, pretty soon life for you will be the same over here.”
“The very thing we saw as regressive and bigoted in Archie Bunker is the thing we now celebrate – no one wants to be just an ‘American’ now like Meathead and all the other enlightened people of 1971 did.”
Screwie is an organized thinker, and likes to make lists to clarify his points. The subject of multiculturalism is no exception, and he forges ahead, opening yet another PBR.
“1) Multiculturalism is an American obsession – no one else cares about it or thinks it’s a good idea. That’s because we’re the only country founded on the principle that everyone is welcome to jump into our melting pot. It makes a big stew called ‘American culture’ from all the ingredients brought here from everywhere else. Lately, we’ve forgotten about the melting pot and have become a Tapas place, where everyone has their own identity and ‘culture’, and ‘American’ culture, if it exists, is something to scorn.
2) It’s a one-way street. When I travel to Malaysia for business, I first read “Culture Shock – Malaysia”, because I don’t want to offend anyone. When in Rome, I try to do as the Romans do. I learn that in Malaysia you don’t shake a woman’s hand when we meet in the office, because they’re Muslims and it’s not cool. When our diplomats travel to the Arabian peninsula, the women wear head-scarves to be respectful of their culture.
But when the Malaysians or Saudis come here, the women don’t shake my hand here either (and their men don’t shake the hand of the women here, even the CEOs), and their women still wear the veil here. No one is reading “Culture Shock – America” when they come here, hoping to fit in. We defer to their ‘culture’ when we are there, and we defer to it when they are here. No one defers to American culture.
3) Multiculturalism marginalizes and even denies American culture, even though it pervades the world. When the Iranians refer to the ‘Great Satan’, they are not talking about our politicians or our foreign policy or our Christians and Jews. They are talking about American ‘culture’, that siren song of temptation – the movies and music, sexual freedom, gender equality, consumerism, pornography, hedonism, atheism, etc. etc. All of it. It threatens them and their culture (at least they worry that it does). I’m not saying American culture is better than anyone else’s or even that it’s good. I’m saying it exists, but that when we elevate and aspire to ‘multiculturalism’, we are denying it.
4) It re-enforces identity politics and grievances and gives old prejudices sustenance. That’s what Archie was doing with Meathead, and we used to understand it as a bad thing.
Remember that news story in Cambridge the other day? The one about the high school kids on the bus that were acting up and playing their music way too loud and annoying the other passengers? They were kids being kids and being inconsiderate and annoying, as kids will be. The driver tells them to pipe down, and that’s when the story becomes ‘news’.
See the driver was Whatever-White-American and the kids were African-American. So a seventeen year old girl starts in on how this is a ‘micro-aggression’ and racism because in her ‘culture’, music and sound and blah blah blah. Not too long ago, the kids would have said “sorry” or “fuck off, old man” or whatever, but insisting that their right to annoy others is based in their ‘culture’? And that the driver is a racist? This is what they’re now taught in school. Wow.
5) Multiculturalism perpetuates and accentuates what divides us at the expense of what unites us. Another example from school: the kids have access to video equipment so they can create stuff to be shown on their own little TV station, which other citizens of Cambridge can watch. Kinda cool.
So I’m watching this perfectly charming piece made by a girl about her neighborhood and family and what she likes about school, etc. And she says, ‘On my street, there are about half American families and half Muslim families’. Holy shit, I think. This is a problem.
A couple of months later, the Boston Marathon bombing happened. A little punk named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, along with his older brother, did the crime. He went to the same high school as the video-maker girl, where he was given a college scholarship by his Cambridge neighbors, wrestled on the school team, smoked some dope, and appeared to be like any other kid. He lived just a couple of streets over from the girl who made the video in which the distinction between Americans and Muslims was casually and innocently asserted, and not corrected or edited out by any teacher. You do the math.
6) It weakens our position in foreign policy matters when our own people are hyphenated. I don’t think we’ll be going to war with Ireland any time soon, though with President Crazy-pants you never know. But if we do, should we send our Irish-American troops? Or just our British-American ones?
Remember the Japanese internment after Pearl Harbor? It is now recognized as one of the worst things we ever did – rounding up Americans with Japanese antecedents because we couldn’t trust them to be ‘Americans’. Just when we got to the point where we realized that mistake, we are now reversing direction and glorifying and encouraging everyone to maintain their real ‘identity’, i.e membership in some group that is not ‘American’.
7) People no longer come here to be ‘American’. They come here to remain what they were, but with political stability, economic opportunity, and social equality. This cannot sustain. And it’s un-American, There. I said it.
8) If we insist on everyone’s right to maintain their own culture, we are ignoring the many areas of conflict between what we want our culture to be and what you insist yours is. Should we encourage ‘culture’ hostile to homosexuality or women’s rights? Or one that includes genital mutilation, polygamy, or honor killing? We say we want to honor the other cultures, but some other cultures are built on what we abhor, and some are downright hostile to ‘American’ culture. See point 2 above.”
By this time my head is spinning. Screwie’s a lot smarter than I am, so I never just dismiss what he rants about. But after all those PBRs, I’m not sure he really means it all, and he’s starting to slur his words a little. I figured it was time to kick him out.
Anyway, it was time to fix dinner for my house-mates, who are proud Feline-Americans.