POS334-L: THE RACE AND ETHNICITY BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION LIST

Home | Index | Schedule | Archive | Syllabus| New Books | Publication | Subscribing | Host
Archives: | A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z |

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. "Disuniting of America" (Norton, 1991, 1992)

From Subject
"Robert Huck" <rohuck@ilstu.edu> Review: Schlesinger (Huck)
john karl wilson <jkw3@amber.uchicago.edu> Re: Comment on Schlesinger (Wilson)
"blair nelson" <bhnelso@ilstu.edu> Review of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.(Nelson)
mmrosia (Melanie M. Rosiak) Review of Arthur Schlesinger (Rosiak)
CRFTHOMPSWL@CRF.CUIS.EDU Response to Melanie Rosiak review of Schlesinger
mjmonar@ilstu.edu Review: "Disuniting of America"
"Eric T. Knepper" <eknepp@ILSTU.EDU> REVIEW: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (Knepper)
Paul G Beeman <pgbeema@ILSTU.EDU> REVIEW: THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA (Beeman)
Brian L Kelly <blkelly@ILSTU.EDU> Schlesinger, Arthur Book Review "The Disuniting of America"
Scott Syoen <smsyoen@ilstu.edu> Review: The Disuniting of America

Date: Tue, 5 Apr 1994 08:56:42 -0600 (CST) 
From: "Robert Huck" <rohuck@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review: Schlesinger (Huck) 

     

Review: THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Robert Huck Illinois State University April 2, 1994

The Europeans have an advantage over the Americans. From this side of the Atlantic, it seems that whenever a European ethnic minority wants special consideration, they create their own country. The Czechs and Slovaks couldn't get along so they made two new countries. The Czechs considered the Slovaks to be Central Europe's version of poor white trash. The Slovaks viewed the Czechs as elitist and arrogant. This is analogous to the opinions downstate Illinoisans have toward Chicagoans (and vice-versa). The Czechs and Slovaks could split up. Downstate Illinois and Chicago are stuck with each other.

Just as downstaters and Chicagoans are stuck with each other, we Americans, for the most part, do not feel that we can split up as the Europeans do. Southern plantation owners tried that once and it didn't work. For better or worse, we Americans cannot file for a "velvet divorce."

Since we cannot create new countries, our racial and ethnic tensions have created other forms of separatism. Arthur Schlesinger outlines these forms in THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA. As a confirmed believer in the American Creed, Schlesinger starts by giving an eloquent, yet idyllic view of American history. He cites Alexis de Tocqueville's 1837 DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA as evidence that democracy was the unifying factor for Americans. Tocqueville's observations are a rather curious choice to defend Schlesinger's views. Tocqueville was writing at a time when the bulk of the electorate was comprised of white, male, property owners. This is obviously a definition of democracy with which I am not familiar. Schlesinger completely missed the two factors that really unite Americans - economic opportunity and language. Democracy is a relatively recent phenomenon for many Americans. Women, one-half of our population, did not get the franchise until 1920. African-Americans did not have legal protection for their voting rights until 1965. For more than one-half of our history, democracy was limited to a minority of the population. Despite this, we Americans stayed together. Why? Economics and language.

Despite Schlesinger's view of America as a beacon of freedom and democracy, most immigrants came to this country for its economic opportunities. No one ever said "there's votes in them thar hills." There were some groups (such as Jews, Vietnamese, and English Catholics) who immigrated to escape religious or political oppression, however, the overriding incentive for American immigrants was economic not political.

If you think about it, language is really the only thing that all Americans could have in common. We certainly did not have a common ethnic background. We certainly did not want a common religion. However, we could have a common language. The United States is impossible without one. Schlesinger mentions this in his comments on bi-lingual education, however he fails to recognize the importance of language in keeping the states united.

Despite these two oversights, Schlesinger's book is superb analysis of how Americans seem intent on separatism. This is an ironic phenomenon. We have passed from the industrial to the information age. This discussion group is proof of that. Communication among people becomes easier every day. Just a few years ago, the founder of CNN was named as Time Magazine's Man of the Year. This is evidence of the importance that instantaneous communication plays in our lives. Who among us did not watch the Gulf War on television? Defense Secretary Dick Cheney himself said that the best information coming out of Baghdad during the war was on CNN. Fax machines were vital weapons in the Chinese student revolt of 1989. In an age when the walls are literally being torn down, Americans are trying to put them right back up again. Why? Schlesinger offers a few answers.

The information explosion has given media access to many groups previously, and unjustly, excluded. It has also given historians the ability to look into our past without prejudice. What many historians have found contradicts with what we wanted to believe about our history. The Civil Rights movement forced white America to face up to its past. For the first time, white Americans saw that our country was not "one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all."

Just as white America was admitting to the crimes of their grandfathers, black Americans found that they had been largely written out of American history. Renowned historian Frederick Jackson Turner viewed slavery as a "mere incident" (58). "Charles and Mary Beard in their famous THE RISE OF AMERICAN CIVILIZATION," describ[ed] blacks as passive in slavery and ludicrous in Reconstruction and acknowledg[ed] only one black achievement - the invention of ragtime" (59).

To correct an obvious injustice, black academics, according to Schlesinger, went too far. Blacks viewed the white academic establishment as elitist, classist and irredeemably racist. "Black students, one scholar writes, 'succumb to a sort of brainwashing which denies them to ego-strength that comes from self-awareness, self-knowledge, and the security of group identity'" (63). Since whites and their culture were beyond redemption, radical black academics decided to go their own way, rejecting all that white culture had to offer.

Schlesinger delivers his greatest invectives against Leonard Jeffries, Asa Hilliard, and Molefe Asante. In commenting on Jeffries' work on a 1987 revision of the New York state history curriculum, Schelsinger said "The report views division into racial groups as the basic analytical framework for an understanding of American history. Its interest in history is not as an intellectual discipline but rather as social and psychological therapy whose primary purpose is to raise the self-esteem of children from minority groups" (68).

Schlesinger's greatest strength is the method he uses in his criticisms. Instead of paraphrasing Jeffries, Hilliard, or Asanti he freely quotes from them, allowing them to shoot themselves in the feet. He uses Hilliard's own words in his baseline essays on black history to show how Hilliard believes that Africans brought science and the arts to Europe and that Beethoven himself was an Afro-European (69).

Schlesinger goes to great pains to show that his defense of Western ideas is not a rejection of multiculturalism. "Cultural pluralism is not the issue. Nor is the teaching of Afro-American or African history . . . The issue is the teaching of bad history under whatever ethnic banner" (75). Afrocentrists like Asante claim that black Africa is the source of Western civilization by claiming that Egypt was a black country. Schlesinger uses the work of prominent Egyptologists and black historians to refute this, and then puts this issue in its true context. "[A]ny relationship between Egyptians, whatever color they may have been, and black Americans is exceedingly tenuous. Black Americans do not trace their roots to Egypt. The great majority of their ancestors came from West Africa, especially the Guinea coast. . . . Any homogeneity among slaves derived not from the African tribe but from the American plantation" (81).

The whole Afrocentric idea is based on the fallacy that black Americans have much in common with contemporary Africans. Three hundred years after the slaves first arrived, just how much can a black American have in common with a citizen of Ghana or the Ivory Coast? I have spent much time with my relatives in Germany. Although we share a common religion, our histories and our cultures have affected us in very different ways. And this is after just 100 years of separation from Germany. How much can 300 years of separation affect us?

In the final analysis, Afrocentrists like Asante and Jeffries are easy to criticize. Their theories are flawed, their ideas are racist, their views of history are based on anything but the facts, and their anti-Semitism is disturbing. Schlesinger's main thesis is not his critique of Afrocentrism, but his defense of European culture. His most controversial idea is his belief that Europe is the unique source of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Whatever the particular crimes of Europe, that continent is also the source - the unique source - of those liberating ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and cultural freedom that constitute our most precious legacy and to which most of the world today aspires. These are European ideas, not Asian, nor African, nor Middle Eastern ideas, except by adoption. (127)

According to this theory, the Third World liberation movements were really prompted by a desire to imitate the European democratic model. This completely ignores attempts to preserve local cultures against Western influence. It also ignores liberation movements prompted as a response to European abuses of "political democracy, human rights, and cultural freedom." But the key question is whether Europe is the unique source of these values. Admittedly Europeans invented the modern form of political democracy, but are concepts such as the rule of law or human rights unique to European culture? Certainly not. The Chinese had firmly-established legal systems while Europe was still stuck in the Dark Ages. The Muslim Arabs were often credited with respecting the religious liberties of non-Muslims as long as they paid their taxes. Without getting into a discussion on the history of human rights in non-Western cultures, I think that Schlesinger could have found examples of "Western" ideals in non-Western societies.

Schlesinger may fail in his claim that Europe is the unique source of human rights and the rule of law, however he succeeds in his defense of modern Western culture. He points out that Afrocentrists (who are usually politically left-of-center) often find themselves defending non-Western cultures that trample on the rights of women, gays, the handicapped, and other "disempowered" groups. He also reminds us that most of the recent advances in human rights have come because of pressure of Western culture on non-Western cultures. Finally he reminds us that if those who are disenchanted with how the West treats the "disempowered", they should turn their attention to the societies they admire. If American women think they have it bad, they should go to the Middle East (where many women cannot even drive much less vote), Japan (where sexual harrassment is the norm, not the exception), or China (where abortions and sterilization are often compulsory). If African-Americans feel mistreated here, they should place themselves in the chaos of Zaire, the slavery of Mauritania, or the hopelessness of East Africa. We all admit that European culture has its flaws, but that is our strength not our weakness. Europe has created a mechanism whereby mistakes can be corrected without resort to violence. How many Third World cultures can make that claim? Tragically for the women of the Middle East and the people of Zaire, the answer is precious few. Back to top...


Date: Wed, 6 Apr 1994 10:42:13 -0500 
From: john karl wilson <jkw3@amber.uchicago.edu>
Subject: Re: Comment on Schlesinger (Wilson) 

6 April 1994

Comment on Robert Huck's review of Arthur Schlesinger's Disuniting of America By John Wilson, University of Chicago

Arthur Schlesinger has written an excellent book, but one which can deceive those who are not aware of Schlesinger's tendency to distort the evidence.

For example, Huck writes: "Schlesinger's greatest strength is the method he uses in his criticisms. Instead of paraphrasing Jeffries, Hilliard, or Asanti he freely quotes from them, allowing them to shoot themselves in the feet."

But Huck has no way of knowing how badly Schlesinger distorts both the content and the context of the New York "Curriculum of Inclusion" report to make his case. He distorts the Asian-American commentator's report (claiming that he was only concerned with the number of pictures of Asian-Americans) by ignoring this person's very intelligent and specific comments about how events concerning Asian-Americans are ignored in textbooks. Schlesinger even at one point splices together quotes from two separate pages of the Curriculum of Inclusion report to make it sound more extreme.

Nor does Schlesinger point out that the Curriculum of Inclusion report was never accepted by New York. Commissioner Thomas Sobel created a second panel, which wrote a much more moderate report (One Nation, Many Peoples), emphasizing both multiculturalism and common bonds. Sobel also (along with afrocentrists like Asante) rejected the idea that "self-esteem" rather than truth is the basis of multiculturalism. Schlesinger was a consultant to the One Nation, Many Peoples report, and he condemned it for "separatism".

Most of all, Schlesinger misunderstands the meaning of America. He uses the phrase "E Pluribus Unum" to suggest that America must have a unitary culture which unites of its immigrant groups. Schlesinger ignores the fact that E Pluribus Unum was a political principle, not a cultural one. It referred to the unification of 13 states under a single national government, not to the elimination of all cultural differences. James Madison wrote in Federalist 10 about the importance of variety and differences to protect the Republic from attempts to impose one way of thinking on all people. Schlesinger sadly ignores Madison's wisdom out of absurd fears that "separatism" and "diversity" will destroy America. (A theme reiterated, by the way, in the Feb 21 National Review issue on multiculturalism, which urges us to stop the "un-American" immigration from the Third World to protect "our" culture from foreigners.) We should realize that it is not cultural differences which lead to tragedies like we now see in Bosnia. Rather it is the failure to respect other cultures, and the attempt to impose cultural homogeneity, which leads to disaster.    

Back to top...


Date: Thu, 20 Apr 1995 21:14:15 -0500 
From: "blair nelson" <bhnelso@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.(Nelson) 

   

Review of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA

Blair H. Nelson, bhnelso@ilstu.edu Illinois State University April 20,1995

The Separated Groups of America. How does that name ring instead of The United States of America? The current trends toward multiculuralism just might be leading us in that direction. Really though, a change of name is not what is at question here. But what is is how far do we as a society go in striving to meet the cultural and educational needs of our citizens?

Arthur Schlesinger tackles those issues in THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA. I have heard many arguments for and against multiculturalism, but this book really lays out a compelling argument against it. He spoke a lot of "the American Creed" which was coined by a Swedish man named Gunnar Myrdal. According to Schlesinger this Creed was "a cluster of ideas, institutions, and habits"(p.27). "Myrdal saw the Creed as the bond that links all Americans, including nonwhite minorities, and as the spur forever goading Americans to live up to their principles"(p.27). It was things like this that allow people of many different races and ethnic backgrounds to live so closely together, and in relative peace.

Schlesinger also states that Americans need a common goal to work for or else we will begin to come apart. In the 18th and 19th century this common goal was very clear. Peoples, mostly from Europe came to America fleeing persecution in their homelands, and once they got here there was a great incentive to make this experiment called America work. Everyone was looking for a better life. The next common goal was the Cold War. Americans, no matter the disagreements at home, could at least count on the Soviet Union to aide in striking a patriotic chord to hold us together. With the fall of communism, one of the threads holding Americans together was now gone.

With this lack of a common goal, Schlesinger believes this has left the door open for this "ethnic upsurge"(p.43), we are experiencing today. There is a hostile attitude towards European ideals and really, European white males. He points to one of the statements that Dr. Leonard Jeffries of the City College of New York has made. "Jeffries describes Europeans as cold, individualistic, materialistic, and aggressive 'ice people' who grew up in caves and have brought the world the three D's, 'domination, destruction, and death,' whereas Africans who grew up in sunlight with the intellectual and physical superiority provided by melanin, are warm, humanistic, communitarian 'sun people'(p.68). If this is what multiculturalism is then how far have we gotten?, this is out and out racism, and multiculturalism should be renamed get-even-ism.

This fabrication of the truth also takes place in history also. If people think that the history taught in schools today is not accurate, the truth needs to be told of the brand of history advocated by some multiculturalists. Schlesinger states, "Afrocentrists teach children about the glorious West African emperors, the vast lands they ruled, the civilization they achieved; not, however, about the tyrannous authority they exercised, the ferocity of their wars, the tribal massacres, the squalid lot of the common people, the captives sold into slavery, the complicity with the Atlantic slave trade, the persistence of slavery in Africa after it was abolished in the West"(p.78). Now I was never taught that slavery didn't exist, and other parts of our history wasn't left out. The whole concept of slavery was never watered down or made to appear in a better light. Multiculturalism in this manner only serves to rob children of the correct past, not to build self-esteem as proponents argue. There tends to be too much reliance on the system to teach certain things to children. I can't ever recall my school teaching me Sweedish pride. It's just not that important in the quest to become a productive American citizen. If the family wants to teach these values and pass down their own heritage, then fine.

Schlesinger also raise an interesting quesiton, "Is the Western tradition a bar to progress and a curse on humanity?"(p.126) He says that all cultures have committed their own crimes, but it was the West that has time after time offered its own solutions to these problems. He states the West ended its practice of slavery, gave women equal rights, and gave people the most personal freedom of any culture. Everyone should ask themselves truthfully, 'where would I be better off?'. Sure the West is not perfect, but to distort the facts serves no other purpose than to create discourse among its inhabitants.

Another product of multiculturalism has been the segregation of college campuses. What King and others in the 60s fought so hard for, today seems to have been thrown out the window in the name of ethnic pride. "Says a black student at Central Michigan University, if you don't just participate in black activities, you are shunned"(p.105). The point was made in class that too much loyalty to a certain group can be dangerous. Schlesinger would agree with that also in that he states that the movement toward multiculturalism wasn't really a movement of the masses, rather just that of a few leaders who were charismatic enough to start the ball rolling. If students of all groups, whether based on race, religion, ethnicity, or otherwise were to mix on a regular basis, they would find they are not so different after all. The current trend for black Americans to want to be known as African-Americans is one part of this division among whites and blacks. W.E.B. DuBois himself said, "Once for all, let us realize that we are Americans, that we were brought here with the earliest settlers and that the very sort of civilization from which we came made the complete absorption of Western modes and customs imperative if we were to survive all; in brief, there is nothing so indigenous, so completely 'made in America' as we"(p.83). Society could take his advice in that quest to be known as only Americans. Back to top...


Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 04:04:09 -0500 
From: mmrosia (Melanie M. Rosiak) 
Subject: Review of Arthur Schlesinger (Rosiak) 

Review of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The DISUNITING OF AMERICA

Reviewed by Melanie Rosiak Illinois State University 4-24-95

What is the American? "He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. he American is a new man, who acts upon new principles. . . Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men."p.12 The epitomy of an American is not the stereotypical WASP. But a blended individual made up of many nationalities, and uniquely diverse ethnicities. Willing to unify to reach common goals, these individuals combine to form he most multicultural, yet effective, government in the world. This being the United States of America.

Unlike most countries, the U.S. is not made up of a few predominant cultures. The U.S. through immigration, has formed iits own culture. These cultures centralize on the ideas of liberty, freedom and equality. Although it is hard to depict culture due to the mix of people, the American culture is unique. "The genious of America lies in its capacity to forge a single nation from peoples of remarkably diverse racial, religious, and ethnic origins."p. 134.

The most obvious question of all, is how do those who came here against their will fit in? They were not free, and did not come here in hope of opportunity. The truth is that even nonwhites have helped to form the national identity. They became members, if third class members, of American society and helped give the common culture new form and flavor."p.14. Certain races have been oppressed, there is no denying, yet "white guilt can be pushed too far."p.129. "Today it is the Western democratic tradition that attracts and empowers people of all continents, creeds,a nd colors."p.129 The idea of assimilation and conformity have echoed over the past two centuries. The willingness to accept and shape the American culture has been prevalent. Yet over the past few decades the U.S. has begun to change its style. The obsession with our differences has formed a wave of separatism.

However, when does this obsession with differences begin to threaten the idea of the American nationality? The quest for ethnicity, although important as individuals, it has negative effects if pushed too far. "America is not a nation of individual at all but a nation of groups, ethnicity is the defining experience for most Americans, ethnic ties are permanent and indelible, and that division into ethnic communities establish the basic structure of American society and the basic meaning of American history."p.16. I feel it is important to know your heritage and be in touch with your past however the line must be drawn when it causes conflict between people instead of inner strength. Every individual is an American. An American with a uniqueness all his own. Yet our country was founded on this individualism, and it ahs always been it's strength.

"Separatism, however, nourishes prejudices, magnifies differences and stirs antagonisms."p.17. By assimilating, one does not necessarily have to lose his ethnicity. He needs to join the American culture, and bring his own knowledge of himself into supplement the American culture. Every person in the U.S. is an American. Part of the problem we run into, however, is that now we all must be politically correct. there is such a strong emphasisi on our political correctness that it is a hinderance. We have a tremendous need to classify, separate, an dsegregate. There is no longer a country of people, Americans, but one of Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and other minorities. Unless we use the se terms to specifically find a census, what is the real purpose of these terms? It is very obvious that all people of the same race do not have the same views, lifestyles, or morals as each other. For example, if we look at African Americans there are many differences. First, some people prefer to be called blacks, African Americans, or even negroes. There are conservatives and liberals, poor and wealthy, educated and uneducated. I would believe that wealthy people, in general, would have more in common than people merely of the sam race. The intrinsic problem is not that people want to claim their own ethnicity, but the racism that prevails when different opinions are expressed. The need people feel to be a member of the "best" group, or at least better than "those" people, make hatred for races loom. Some may argue that the low self esteem of certain groups is their downfall. There are two suggested methods to help booster minority self esteem. The first is the re-creation and teaching methods of history. Black publicists say, "the failure to celebrate the past is a powerful reason for low self-esteen in the present."p.61. However, how can the accomplihments of anothe , one who you do not know, or have ever been in contact with your entire life, affect your personal self esteem? Yes, I am white, I have read the history books, and they do not boost my feelings about my personal strengths.

History books have shown me great things whites have done, but they have also shown me the cruelty and savagery that they have impede on others. Although some of the most devastating acts are not always published, the reason for the Anglo-sided history is that the history of America has been predominantly formed by Anglos. "For almost all this nation's history, the major decisions have been made by white Christioan men. To deny this perhaps lamentable but hardly disputable fact would be to falsify history."p.53.

Some blacks argue tath even the language, standard English should be unacceptable for minorities. It is suggested that "blacks should be taught in 'black english' as Hispanics should be taught in Spanish."p.64. However, is the language due to an innate sense of language skills, or the environment which the child is raised? Is a hispanic descendant, born and raised in America, by two Hispanic parents raised her, more in tune to the Spanish language, or the English he hears all around him? Or what about Karen K. Russell, daughter of former Boston Celtic Bill Russell? She was teased that she "spoke more white than white people," because of her clear diction. (New York Times Magazine, June 14 '87) Did her firm grasp of the English language hinder her from attending Georgetown or Harvard Law School? NO! "Would it not be more appropriate for students to be 'continually' encouraged to understand the American culture in which they are growing up and to prepare for an active role in shaping that culture? Should public education strengthen and perpetuate separate ethnic and racial subcultures? or should it not seek to make our young boys and girls contributors to a common American culture?p.90.

One of the key aspects of schoolse is to socialize. Young people need to be prepared to understand and accept their role in the greater society. This novel brings up many thought provoking questions. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. questions all ot e trends of change and analyzes the righteousness in their claims. He has thoughtful insights, and strong arguments backed up with historical facts. Once, long ago, our country was founded on the belief that each person should start at an equal point. There is not any denying of the initial injustices of minorities, or their daily struggles now, but America was founded by a multitude of races, ethnicities,a nd cultures. The struggle for the common goal always united us. Yet now, there is a driving force wedging us apart. It is the wedge of separatism. Maybe now that all of the basic institutional plans are set, this is the last question to be answered. But, whatever the reason, as Americans, we need to unify, aand fight to remain a strong country. "Is that Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy."p.37. Back to top...


Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 10:33:41 -0500 
From: CRFTHOMPSWL@CRF.CUIS.EDU 
Subject: Response to Melanie Rosiak review of Schlesinger 

Here we go again. Usually, I just kick-back & enjoy the wonderful book reviews posted by students @ Illinois State on this list. I find much to commend on this list and the idea of a book review symposium on the internet is a great example of how distance learning can work efficiently and with great scholarly impact. However, as with the last time I read a Melanie Rosiak review (sorry if it feels like picking on her; there are other conservatives who I could also respond to), I must take exception with her interpretation of race & ethnic relations in north American society.

The view that differences musn't go too far and that cultural or structural separatism is un-American and undermines our unity is myopic and historical. The history of assimilation in this society has not been very transitive. Recall Robt. Ezra Park's cycles of assimilation: contact, competition, conflict, & eventual assimilation. Not all groups have had equal resources in playing this game. The privileges of whites in this society were gained through the enslavement of one people and the near genocide of another. For data, perhaps some of you have been watching the CBS miniseries on what happened when europeans came into contact with the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Assimilation, or the disappearance of differences across three or so generations, has often meant that a group needed to become more "Protestant," more rural in values and orientation, less connected to ethnic heritages from Europe, Asia, Africa, or some other culture of origin.

The problem here is that we aren't talking about a level playing field to start out, so the disappearance of difference has been primarily a one-way street where persons of color or primary language other than English had to become more like white, rural and small-town America, or risk exclusion and discrimination. In such an atmosphere, the attempt to retain differences n the part of immigrants and commmunities of color represents building social identity on something other than internalized racism and acceptance of white social and moral hegemony. This really scares white people: "why can't they be like us (real Americans)?"

As for individualism being the backbone of our culture: Excuse me, Melanie, but please reconsider this fiction, which on retrospect, turns out to be a fantasy spun in such a way as to justify massive inequality, sexism, and racism. Sure, individualism is a major theme in American history -- not surprising in a frontier culture. The individualism that DeToqueville wrote of when he looked at America in the 1830s was coupled with a "classical republicanism," which encouraged social responsibility and reigned in the individualistic excesses of our frontier culture. Mainline Protestantism reflects this historic coupling of individual with social responsibility in the idea of infant baptism (Catholics and Jews also have this corporate emphasis), which symbolizes entrances into community, as well as communion or becoming "born again," which is more individualistic. I suggest that such phenomena as "white flight" to the burbs is a reflection of the individualistic tendencies becoming increasingly unbridled by traditional republicanism, where responsibility to the group is a balancing factor. Belief in the myth of individual initiative is so pathological in our society that it is used to justify extreme inequality, the right to build bombs and form private, race-hatred armies of angry white males, and the right to destroy the environment.

Melanie, you seem to be asking "why can't they be like us?" If you consider what that has meant IN PRACTICE, instead of in fantasy and myths shared by he dominant culture, separatism and ethnic differences turn out to be the ath we might need to take in order to build race and ethnic relations on an honest basis in our society. When we can be honest with each other about what racism has done to all of us, turning white people into liars about how they gained their privileges and turning persons of color into victims with victim identities, then maybe we can begin to heal ourselves and return to the multicultural table on an honest, fair, and equitable basis. Until then, separatism is needed for the introspection to begin rebuilding our collective identities.

Wayne Luther Thompson

Sociology

Concordia University River Forest IL

CRFTHOMPSWL@CRF.CUIS.EDU

Back to top...


Date: Thu, 25 Apr 1996 21:16:24 -0500 
From: mjmonar@ilstu.edu 
Subject: Review: "Disuniting of America" 

    Review of the "Disuniting of America" by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.  

This book, like that of John Karl Wilson's "The Myth of Political Correctness," is another well-written detective story. This time though, Schlesinger (our master sleuth) attempts to uncover the mystery behind what went wrong with American society and why the melting pot ideology seems to have vanished from the minds of many Americans.

In the foreword, Schlesinger attributes ethnicity as the cause of the breaking of nations and notes that the United States, like that of the Soviet Union and South Africa, is on a direct course toward cultural isolationism not cultural pluralism. In the first chapter entitled "A New Race," Schlesinger points out that the ethnic movement in America is a recent one. At the beginning, America was a nation without identity a "severing of the roots" of imperial England. America was a nation of many peoples (Germans, French, Italians, Japanese, Africans, etc.) who came under a single cultural identity and ideology.

This identity and ideology became known as the American Creed--a term which Schlesinger attributes to Swedish author and satirist Gunnar Mydral although one could amicably argue otherwise. Schlesinger states that this creed or set of ideas and beliefs is what had bonded Americans of all races together. It was at a time when we, as a nation, had to set an example for the rest of the world proving that a multi cultural society could exist in relative harmony.

The problem with the creed and its melting pot ideology, as Schlesinger points out, is that it was primarily a reflection of traditional Anglo-Centric values. Even with American society being described (as Emerson and Tocqueville wrote) as a melting pot of different races and cultures into a single nation, many immigrants were expected to rapidly assimilate towards Anglo-Centrism simply because it was the dominant influence guiding American culture.

As immigration increased during the early part of the Nineteenth Century, the trend had begun to shift. More immigrants began to hold steadfast to their own ethnic identities. While this did not hamper their assimilation into American society, it did result in widespread criticism and resentment from both the "old-timers" as well as the new immigrants. This is exactly what Tocqueville had forecasted when he stated that racism and racist exclusion appeared to be deeply embedded in the national character of American culture.

With the coming of the Second World War, Schlesinger explains that this racism and bigotry was shifted underground and it was the duty of all Americans, in light of the racial atrocities committed by Hitler, to re-assess their own racial assumptions and conclusions. The civil rights movement also proved important in that it fostered a new expression of American identity. Ethnic identity, which was once sequestered to the home, now became a popular movement. The quest for one's roots began to cause many to look backward and ignore what was ahead for American society.  

This led to increasing fragmentation in the United States because those that did look backward were astonished and insulted at how historians had depicted minorities. Textbooks had little or no mention of minority accomplishments and those that did refused to acknowledge the scope and impact of minority contributions to America. History became a weapon of oppression for whites who utilized it to maintain the status-quo of Anglo-Centric dominance in American culture. It wasn't until after the civil rights revolution that historians began rewriting these texts to incorporate minorities and their influence on American society.

With the focus now shifting to how we teach this "new history" in our schools, Schlesinger states that the issue is not to promote cultural pluralism and Afrocentric or African history. The issue is wether or not to teach this new history under specific ethnic banners and according to specific ethnic values. For example, Afrocentrism sees the foundations of science, art, philosophy, religion, and technology as originating in Africa. While Schlesinger understands this prerogative he, like others in education, question its validity. Afrocentrism, while it has some empirical background, is mostly a value system based on proposition.

The real reason for this multi cultural campaign in education, according to Schlesinger, is to provide minority children with a sense of self-worth in a society largely controlled by the whites. Anglo-Centrism has done an effective job of denying minority children a past in which they can take pride. Therefore, the push for multi cultural education should promote race consciousness, group identity, and self-respect among minority students.

Schlesinger states that there is no better place to gain a multi cultural education than the university. However, our institutions of higher learning are slowly becoming fragmented in to a "multitude of ethnic organizations" which is disappointing for many who wish to seek the true benefits of a well-rounded multi cultural education.

This cultural separatist movement is not just confined to the black community although Schlesinger uses the African-American context quite frequently in his book. It exists in nearly every ethnic enclave in this nation and furthermore, it does not always concern itself with multi cultural. Bilingual education is also a topic of heated debate. Like multi cultural education, the problem with bilingual education and programs such as TBE is to what extent are they effective. Schlesinger states that testimony on the subject is rather mixed but also states that many feel as though it "retards rather than expedites the movement of Hispanic children into the English-speaking world." In addition, it is rather disheartening to stereotype those that do use a different language as being second-class citizens in this country. It is evident that the decomposition of American society has been caused by the inter-ethnic rivalries over what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for Americans.

In Schlesinger's final chapter entitled "E Pluribus Unim," he comes forward and concludes that the attacks on American identity have been battles fought over ethnicity. The fear that the minorities will make up the majority in this country has caused many whites to second guess immigration policy. However, to place additional legislative restrictions on immigration would undermine the American image. We, as a nation, would no longer be an asylum for the oppressed and persecuted peoples of the world. Our duty then, as Americans, is to recognize those of different ethnic backgrounds in this country as being above all else---Americans.

Michael Monardo MJMONAR@ILSTU.EDU     Back to top...


Date: Sat, 28 Mar 1998 22:19:21 -0800 
From: "Eric T. Knepper" <eknepp@ILSTU.EDU> 
Subject: REVIEW: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (Knepper) 

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA (W. W. Norton & Company, 1992).

Reviewed by Eric Knepper, Illinois State University. March 28, 1998

=========================================================

The nations of the world have become threatened by a new force. This new threat is nationalism; an internal instability that has fractured many nations and threatens to destroy others. In THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. analyzes the threat of nationalism, ethnocentricity, on our multicultural nation.

America was founded on the principles of individual rights and the equality of all people. While we all recognize that this ideal has not always been consistently followed, it is none-the-less one of our strongest guiding principles. Or is it? America was founded by people who departed Europe with the intention of never looking back to their previous homeland. The beginning of a new nation and a new nationality. British, French, Irish, German, and other European nationalities immigrated to America looking for a brighter future. The success of the new nation depended on the people of these different nationalities intermingling and living according to the standards and laws presented in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

It is no secret that the British composed the largest group at the time our nation was born; consequently the Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition was and continues to be the "dominant influence on American culture" and "provided the standard to which other immigrant nationalities were expected to conform" (28). An ethnic upsurge that began as a protest against the Anglocentric culture has become a significant threat to "the original theory of America as ‘one people,’ a common culture, a single nation" (43).

Mr. Schlesinger discusses three unfortunate consequences of this new ethnocentric upsurge: the misuse of history to glorify minority groups at the expense of the truth; the creation of new academic studies to glorify those minority groups; and a renewed segregation within our schools on the basis of race.

As time passes and new interests, politics and concerns arise, history is reevaluated and manipulated to accommodate those new issues. The importance of women and minority groups to the foundation of our nation were rarely discussed nor considered prior to our current enlightened state. However, this enlightenment and acknowledgment of once-neglected aspects of the past can do harm.

In response to the overwhelming presence of white Christian men in our history, excluded groups have often exaggerated their own history, cultural ignity, and importance in history to create a sense of group pride and dignity. It is claimed that children without role models (role models of the same cultural heritage) grow up with a disadvantage compared to other children. Therefore, history is manipulated to present role models for every child of every culture. "For better or for worse, American history has been shaped more than anything else by British tradition and culture. … To deny this perhaps lamentable but hardly disputable fact would be to falsify history" (53).

None-the-less, this falsification and deception has occurred throughout American schools. In particular, great falsehoods have been told in the name of glorifying African-Americans and their historical legacy. African-Americans have a right to be proud, but have gone too far in their attempts to uplift and glorify their cultural heritage. Among the claims: "Africa was the birthplace of science, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, and art, and that Europe stole its civilization from Africa" (71). Assuming that all of these claims are accurate, this Afrocentric teaching makes another error: it ignores the negative aspects of those apparently advanced societies of early Africa. Tribalism, cannibalism, vicious warfare, and slavery occurred throughout the early African continent but is not referenced in the current Afrocentric curriculum. Are students who are taught such fallacies going to become more successful and better members of our society?

This interest in their African roots is new to black Americans. Previous black scholars shunned any association with Africa. W.E.B. DuBois explained "there is nothing so indigenous, so completely ‘made in America’ as we" (83). Martin Luther King Jr. also showed no interest in his African heritage: "the Negro is an American, we know nothing of Africa" (84). Few blacks can trace their roots back to Africa, and the vast majority of all blacks (dare I say all?) know more of American culture and heritage than African. If their African heritage was so strong and important, wouldn’t it be instilled by their families, churches, and communities?

The current call for Afrocentric teaching is also new to black Americans. Many black scholars have made the claim that only blacks can teach black history or black literature and that black students should reject all aspects of the "Eurocentric" curriculum. It is ridiculous to suggest that pride, learning, and inspiration come only from people of the same ethnicity. W.E.B. DuBois embraced the Eurocentric tradition and read Shakespeare, Dumas, and Aristotle. Martin Luther King Jr. studied and followed the teachings of Ghandi and Throreau. Does self esteem originate from a glorious past or from belief in oneself that springs from achievement? "For historical reasons … many black kids often move into a mistrustful world with low self-worth and little self-confidence. Hearing about Africa won’t change that" (92-3).

Perhaps the most devastating impact of the new Afrocentricity is that this ethnic rage diverts attention away from the real needs of blacks and exacerbates the problems they face. Separation and segregation of students by race is now being endorsed by many blacks. This reversal of the accomplishments of the Civil Rights is justified as a means to ensure black cultural identity and that blacks remain true to their African heritage. Another unfortunate situation is that blacks who succeed are criticized as "acting white". Why is it offensive to many blacks to succeed in America? Colonel Powel and Rev. Jesse Jackson did not reach their respective plateaus of success by shunning "white education" or by embracing African teachings.

For better or for worse, success in America primarily depends on understanding proper English and an ability to interact with Americans of many different backgrounds. Several black leaders suggest self-imposed segregation outside of schools and embracing their African ways of life. Blacks have made many significant contributions to American culture and history. Why do so many want to retreat from continuing this success by rejecting American ways?

The criticisms of Western civilization and the Eurocentric ways hinges on one central issue: the inappropriateness and problems with Western civilization. Look around, Western values are embraced throughout the world. If Eurocentric ideals are so bad for black Americans, why are they successful and emulated in so many countries? Western civilization, and America in particular, has been a leader in enhancing human rights, civil rights and political rights. (Not withstanding our stance on capital punishment.)

Margaret Thatcher noted that "no other nation has so successfully combined people of different races and nations within a single culture" (120). This unparalleled success is due to the foundation of our Constitution on individual rights as opposed to group rights. E PLURIBUS UNUM (One out of many) appears on The Great Seal of the US; our strength is derived from individual citizens acting together in unison as one nation. In 1943, F.D.R. said: "The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy" (37).

Mr. Schlesinger concludes on an optimistic note. He does not believe that the current trend of increasing ethnotricity will have disastrous long-term effects. Over time the excesses of the current Afrocentric teachings will be reversed. However, six years after DISUNITING was published, the situation has not improved: the O.J. Simpson trial seemed to widen the gulf between blacks and whites; President Clinton’s current dialogue on race has met nothing but criticism; the reversal of affirmative action in California has increased the tension between blacks and whites throughout the nation. Only time will tell whether Mr. Schlesinger’s optimism is warranted. Until then, Americans of all backgrounds would benefit from reading and discussing THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA. Mr. Schlesinger’s reflections on our multicultural society are worthy of national consideration if we as a nation wish to continue E PLURIBUS UNUM. Back to top...


Date: Wed, 1 Apr 1998 21:02:12 -0600 
From: Paul G Beeman <pgbeema@ILSTU.EDU> 
Subject: REVIEW: THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA (Beeman) 

Arthur M. Schlesinger, JR., THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA (W.W. Norton & Company, 1992)

Reviewed By Paul G. Beeman    

"Hector Knocked up 6 girls is his gang. There are 27 girls in the gang. What percentage of girls in the gang did Hector knock up"?

"If John has 2 ounces of cocaine and he sells an 8 ball to Jimmy for $320 and 2 grams to Billy for $85 per gram, what is the street value of the balance of the cocaine if he does not cut it"?

"Richard is pimping for 3 girls. If the price is $65 for each trick, how many tricks will each girl have to turn so Richard can support his $800 a day crack habit"?

"Willie gets $200 for stealing a BMW, $50 for stealing a Chevy, and $100 for a 4x4. If he has stolen 2 BMW's and 3 4x4's, how many Chevy's will he have to steal to make $800"? (Houston Chronicle, 10 Feb, 1998)

These questions were taken from a math worksheet that was dispersed the first day of classes at Elsie Robertson High School in south Dallas suburb as part of an attempt by teachers to "break the ice". Parents were outraged by this worksheet and it led to the suspension of nearly half of the math teachers at the high school. Principal Dwaine Dawson commented that "using [the math sheet] was a poor professional decision and inappropriate".

Like the appropriateness of that math sheet, the appropriateness of multi-culturalism in American education curriculum is the meat of the subject in Arthur Shlesinger's national bestseller, THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA; Reflections on a Multicultural Society. On top of the agenda is not mathematics however, it is history or our country and its citizens. One can reasonable agree that the ethnic history of our citizens deserves recognition and proper attention. Ethnic awareness and achievement is deserving and by all means has a place in our school systems. It is when these attributes are pressed too far that we risk "the danger of fragmentation, re-segregation, and balkanization of American society".

"Little is harder to talk about these days than race. Too many sensitivities are involved, too many opportunities for misunderstanding" (74-75). Schlesinger says this because of his hard pipe-hitting stand about the current state of the nation with regard to race relations. He leaves one to wonder if our country will be facing succession movements by ethnic groups in the near future. He may come of as "in-sensitive" to ethnic pride, but the theme of his work parallels that of our "melting pot" concept and the submergence of separate ethnic identities in order to preserve what he calls an American race.

Schlesinger covers many aspects of the history of migration to the United States, of those who sought freedom and opportunity, to those who were brought against their will. Although there were various hardships facing our new race, it was the commitment of all races to democracy and self-government that persisted over the different languages, religions, beliefs and opinions. The fact that the majority of the population of the 13 colonies and the influence of their culture came from Great Britain is significant. It grounded British language, laws, institutions, political ideas, literature and customs and gave America an "Anglocentric flavor". "For better or worse, The white Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition was for two centuries, and in crucial respects still is, the dominant influence on American society". New editions to American society broadened and refined these ideals, but were expected to conform to these standards because it "would be the matrix on how they would be assimilated", and become part of a new race of Americans.

The impression that the concept of the "American melting pot" was a mechanism to impose European images and values upon immigrants led to the appearance of ethnic spokesmen, who crusaded for the preservation of ethnic identity. The "ethnic upsurge began as a gesture of protest against Anglocentric culture". One of the fundamental arguments is the damage it does to people by undermining their self-esteem by denying them role models from their own ethnic ancestry. Because of this, America is experiencing an ethnic upsurge that threatens the very core of our society; Ethnic identification before that of national identification.  

According to Schlesinger, the consequences of this ethnic up surge affects American educational institutions and our children. He argues that history has been re-evaluated and manipulated to glorify the accomplishments of minorities because of increased pressure by minorities for acknowledgement. This puts the European influenced curriculum in the classroom at the forefront of the melting pot debate. The constant critique of American and European values and traditions puts an increased emphasis on other cultures. Black academics say white domination in American classroom results in "Eurocentric, racist, elitist, imperialist indoctrination and systematic denigration of black values and achievements. While the issue is not just relevant among blacks, they receive considerable attention by the author. The simple argument is that education based on white doctrine puts blacks at a disadvantage. For instance, some black educators argue about biological and mental differences, claiming that black students do not learn the same way white students do and that the black mind works in a "genetically distinctive way". As we are all aware, the issue of ebonics received considerable debate about its appropriateness in the classroom. "Black English" in the classroom would increase the self-esteem of black children because "to force black children to learn white English on deepens their sense of inferiority; So it is argued that blacks should be taught in Ebonics, and Hispanics should be taught in Spanish" to alleviate such feelings. The underlying issue here is single fluency in any language other than Standard English impairs the marketability of those trying to compete in a society whose primary language is English.

Throughout the book, Schlesinger is very critical of Afro-centrism. He seems adamantly opposed to the movement's justification to diversify American History in the public school system. The result of this restructuring is in response partly to "merits and partly in response to ethnic pressure". It seems that African Americans have brought about the greatest amount of ethnic pressure because due of the arguments he presents against the issues they bring to the table. For instance, black academics argue that black children have low self-esteem which, attributes to their poor academic performance in American Schools. Their solution is the idea that only blacks can teach black children. One school in Washington D.C. teaches black children in what they consider a more conducive setting for learning. The teachers and students wear "traditional" ethnic garb, beat on drums while singing and dancing. While no empirical data is mentioned, the school argues that these students do better on nationally standardized tests than their black counterparts in "Eurocentric" settings. Advocates of this kind of learning claim it gives their students increased self-esteem through incorporating more of an African atmosphere that promotes race consciousness and strengthens their sense of identity. Critics maintain that if this program is successful, it is because the students are exposed to what every white middle class student is exposed small student to teacher ratios, and teachers who care and pay close 

to small student to teacher ratios, and teachers who care and pay close attention to their students.

In our multicultural society, the history of every ethnicity has a place in the classroom. What is concerning is the amount of attention being given to these studies. As the amount of time is increased to cover Non-western History, less time is being spent on "American" History. The argument made by Schlesinger is that our public school systems are not responsible for "convincing children of the beauties of their particular origins. The ethnic subcultures, if they had any genuine vitality, would be sufficiently instilled in children by family, church, and community". Schlesinger spends some time trying to convince the reader of the beauties about the origins of their current society and western civilization in general. He seems to insist that the more pride we instill in our children about their ethnic identities, we are negating the fact that first and foremost we are Americans. The claim is that promoting ethnic identities enlarges differences, intensifies resentments and antagonisms, and increases the resentment between races and nationalities. Mutual suspicion and hostility are bound to emerge in a society determined to define itself in terms of ethnic groups. No where is there a better example of this than in our nation's colleges and universities. In this setting the, students of different ethnic backgrounds find comfort and understanding among those they can identify with, with perceived oppression driving the wedge.

Ethnic diversity in America should be embraced, not stigmatized by competing nationalities. Perhaps the Horace Kallen sums our nation up best with his philosophy that "ethnic diversity enriches American civilization". The nation should be seen "as a federation or commonwealth of national cultures…a democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions…a multiplicity in unity, an orchestration of mankind. It is this conception that he came to call "cultural pluralism". The underlying issue is that America is in danger of becoming a nation not of "one people", but one based quarreling nationalities based on their heritage and history. "Hearing nice things about one's own ethnic past" or the implication that hearing terrible occurrences about America's past the remedy for increased self-esteem. Our nation is plagued by far greater problems, and denying one's culture in an attempt to grasp that which has never been known creates separation and suspicion, and could ultimately lead to the "disuniting of America".   Back to top...


Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998 22:00:03 -0500 
From: Brian L Kelly <blkelly@ILSTU.EDU> 
Subject: Schlesinger, Arthur Book Review "The Disuniting of America" 

Brian L. Kelly

The Disuniting of America    

"The future of America- not so much as a nation, (but) as a world." Herman Meville once said. "You can not spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world.". Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. agrees.

He believes that the United States should be a "melting pot", and that an American identity, more than anything ethnic identity is what should be focused on. In Schlesinger's The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, he writes about the shift in focus from the "melting pot" theory of America culture, to the "multicultural society" that dominates public perceptions today. He looks at the history of the United States, and finds that early Americans came here to escape their roots and create a "new race". Schlesinger talks about how history is the weapon that Multiculturalists use to persuade their audience, the children of our public school system. He then speaks of how this "decomposition of America" has been taking place, through multiculturalism, political correctness, and racial separatism. Finally, he disputes the ideas of the different centric's, and their beliefs that their cultures were or are dominate.

"Asylum of all nations, the energy of Irish, Germans, Swedes, Poles, and Cossacks, and all the European tribes - of Africans, and of the Polynesians, will construct a NEW RACE.... as vigorous as the new Europe which came out of the smelting pot of the Dark Ages" - Ralph Waldo Emerson. Schlesinger digs deep into the past and exposes the true roots of the United States in his book, the melting pot society, the "American" culture. He portrays these views through the words of many great American founding fathers, great American critics, and other great Americans. Founding father, John Quincy Adams wrote of early immigrants "They must cast off the European skins, never to resume it." George Washington wrote "The bosom of America, is open .... to the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions." He then wrote about these immigrants would "intermixture with our people" and that all people of the United States would soon become "one people". These men envisioned a United States that was a melting pot, and in their lifetime it was. Early American critic, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote back to his friends in France, "(The American) society formed of all the nations of the world.....people have different languages, beliefs, opinions: in a word, a society without roots, without memories, without prejudices, without routines without common ideas, without national character, yet a hundred times happier than our own.". Tocqueville concluded that the answer to his question, was the fact that Americans were committed to democracy and self-government, and achieved this society because of a the great amount of civic participation. Later, Gunnar Mydral of Sweden, wrote in 1944, that America held "the most explicitly expressed system of general ideals" of any country in the western world; and that Americans were the best in the world in the areas of "essential dignity and equality of all human beings, and also inalienable rights of freedom, justice, and opportunity. He later called this array of ideas, institutions, and habits "the American Creed". Schlesinger, being a great historian himself, recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes, changes the emphasis of his book from a historical view to a view critical of some current historians. To start this out he uses a quote from George Orwell's 1984, saying "who controls the present controls the past.".

Schlesinger is very critical of historians that sacrifice the facts, in hopes of a more politically correct or racially gratifying past. This "corruption of history", as he calls it, is a tool of nationalism or in our country ethnic nationalism. Schlesinger states that "American history was long written in the interests of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males." But later concedes that "American history has been shaped more than anything else by the British tradition and culture." He talks about the Anglocentric view of the American history, and how it's history has often suppressed the "uglier aspects ... (which include) callous discrimination against later immigrants, brutal racism against nonwhite minorities- and by the creation of filiopietistic myths." But, he contends that many of these myths have been cleared up and removed from history books.

One instant of this "corruption of history" happened in New York in 1987, when the state created a commission to revise the state's history curriculum. The commission was headed by Dr. Leonard Jefferies, who has described Europeans as "cold, individualistic, materialistic, and aggressive 'ice people' ". The curriculum changes that came out of the commission were supposed to be more sympathetic to African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Puerto Ricans/ Latinos and Native Americans. The curriculum was intended to give the children in these groups a "higher self-esteem and self-respect, while children from European cultures will have a less arrogant perspective." Schlesinger finds this completely inappropriate that one groups self-esteem should be lowered to aid any other's being built up.

The "decomposition of America" is the unfortunate trend that seems to have citizens of the United States, becoming more and more motivated to join organizations of their ethnic groups of different kinds. Schlesinger is very critical of Afrocentrics and their increasingly popular schools which he says causes a "revival of separatism". Schlesinger is also very critical of universities that have "ethnic theme houses" and racial dormitories. One University of Pennsylvania professor called his campus had "the cultural diversity of Beriut". He criticizes people that "only blacks can teach and write black history". Arguing that if only blacks can teach and write black history, Schlesinger says, then only Chinese can teach and write their own history, and so on and so on. This he says will lead to less understanding and interest in other cultures. Then Schlesinger moves to criticize bilingual education, he states that bilingual education has retarded students that have had it, from speaking English better. Mario Cuomo is a example that English-only education works, according to Schlesinger. Cuomo the former governor of New York, did not speak English until he was eight years old, he learned to speak English in the public school system, to which Schlesinger says the "public school taught Cuomo the most effective English among politicos of his generation." Schlesinger then begins talking about the scary results of a New York Times-WCBS-TV poll which asked blacks about certain beliefs. Sixty percent of blacks responded that they believed that the government was putting drugs on the streets to keep blacks down in certain neighborhoods. Twenty-nine percent thought that the possibly a racist planted AIDS in blacks to kill them. Later he speaks of Mayor Edward Koch, who invited Leonard Jefferies of CCNY, who was spoken of earlier, to breakfast to talk about the racial situation in New York. Jefferies responded by saying that he would come but would not eat because white people were trying to poison him. Whether this was a symbolic attempt or a true fear, it is unknown, but it does exemplify some of the fears that minorities have of white people. This has led to the "decomposition of America", not the assimilation that our great forefathers envisioned. In the final chapter of the book, Schlesinger really sounds off against the different centric's. He starts off by criticizing anyone who believes that the root of America culture is not European. And that schools should not cater to the minority 20%, while ignoring the majority 80%. He is critical of the 78% of universities that don't have Western Civilization class required in their curriculum. He really sounds off when he starts talking about European influence on the American culture. He states "Whatever the particular crime of Europe, that continent is also the source - the unique source - of those liberating ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights and cultural freedom that constitute our most precious legacy and to which most of the world aspires. These are European ideas, not Asian, nor African, nor Middle Eastern ideas, except by adoption." This statement is very radical, and not completely true. To say that most of the great ideals of the free world came all from Europe, implies that no great ideals came from the Eastern world, which is not true.

Schlesinger makes several excellent points in this book. I agree that the focus of Americans should be a unified separate culture from all previously held cultures and not a multicultural society as it moving toward today. Unfortunately many centric's don't feel the same way. I have had an interesting view of the multicultural world, as I grew up in Matteson, IL. This community once recruited blacks to move in from the city of Chicago, and now actively recruits white people to move back in. This program of recruiting has been featured in an hour long "Dateline NBC" episode. I believe, as does Schlesinger, that a "melting pot" society is much better than a multicultural society. The American identity is the most important ethnic identity that we own. Though I feel that expanding our borders of knowledge to include that of other cultures is also very important. Though it should not be done in the fashion that the New York state commission did it, at the expense of one ethnic group. Also, "corruption’s of history" are keeping us back, and causing us to become far to interested in our individual ethnic pasts. I enjoyed, and agreed with most of the things that Schlesinger said in Disuniting of America, though he probably extended some of his thoughts a little to far, such as his beliefs on bilingual education. But overall, I felt that most of the points he brought up in his book were both insightful and correct Back to top...


Date: Thu, 30 Apr 1998 02:53:45 -0500 
From: Scott Syoen <smsyoen@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review: The Disuniting of America 

REVIEW: "The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society" By Arthur M. Schlesinger

American history is conspicuously split: on the one hand, a great many different peoples have found within the United States a source of inspiration regardless of ethnic or national background, and have integrated themselves into the culture; on the other hand, the greatest shame of the U.S. has been its systematic oppression of minorities, including Latinos, Indians, women, and blacks. Slavery and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny are probably the most egregious examples of this oppression, but now that these institutions have been abandoned, how will Americans of all backgrounds deal with the legacy of all different types of oppression?

The examination of the past is one of the major themes of Arthur M. Schlesinger's "The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society", but Schlesinger ultimately hopes to provide insight into how this past is affecting the present, and how it should be viewed in the future. The upsurge of multiculturalism and ethnic pride in the United States is the main target of Schlesinger's critique, whether it is Afrocentrism, campus hate speech codes, critical race theory, or the mythologizing of history.

Schlesinger is first and foremost a historian, and thus it should be no surprise that his book begins with an examination of the different ways in which marginalized and oppressed groups have both viewed America historically and have viewed history generally. He tracks the debate between multiculturalists and traditionalists through academia, through the schools, and into the public realm. Through this process, he hopes to show that minorities have little to gain from holding onto the past and insisting on the primacy of race, gender, or culture in forming and maintaining identity, and more to gain from recognizing the past but concentrating on our common destiny in America.

Schlesinger's strongest (and perhaps most justified) criticism of multiculturalism is of some scholars' propensity for the use of "history as a weapon" for political ends; either the omission of unfortunate realities or the addition of events that simply didn't occur. Either, to Schlesinger, is not only dishonest, but has the effect of depriving us of gaining the knowledge and ability to reflect that makes the study of history so important. He points out examples of these transgressions by both majority and minority scholars, but in keeping with the theme of the book, reserves the harshest of his ire for Afrocentric scholars, who in Schlesinger's view paint an unrealistic and deceptive view of the realities of Africa. He also addresses the regrettable but understandable tendency of marginalized groups to claim credit for nearly every cultural advance, which one critic has called the "there's-always-an-Irishman-at-the-bottom-of-it-doing-the-real-work" approach. He finds this propensity to be especially regrettable in those minority scholars who unequivocally criticize Western culture, and then attempt to claim that their own culture actually deserves the credit for it.

Schlesinger holds up multiculturalist scholars who attempt to attribute all manner of philosophy and scientific advances to ancient Egypt (which, they maintain, was a black culture) as perhaps the most profound recent offenders of all these principles. First, he cites Egyptologists who note that Egypt was in no sense a "black" culture, but was extremely varied in its peoples. Further, they assert, there is no reason to necessarily attribute to Egypt the advances that multiculturalists wish to attribute to it, and much less to accuse the West of "stealing" these advances, as many multiculturalists wish to do. And in any case, if the West is so terrible, Schlesinger notes, why the importance on claiming its advances?

Although he drops sound bites from minority scholars he agrees with here and there throughout the book, Schlesinger seems to revel most in the praise many Europeans had for the traditional American dream. He quotes extensively from immigrants whose enthusiasm for the "melting pot" was practically unbounded, and describes in detail the process of integrating Germans, Irish, and other Europeans into early American culture, which was almost exclusively British. The melting pot ideal is what Schlesinger still believes we should be aiming for, even as more and increasingly diverse minorities become part of America. Perhaps this is the source of Schlesinger's greatest failing: a regrettable over-emphasis on a culture that many people have already rejected, and a judgement of these individuals from a viewpoint that never steps out of this same culture.

In a telling admission, Schlesinger concedes at one point in the book that perhaps the reason he sometimes disagrees is because he isn't "on the firing line." The specific disagreement he is referring to is his preference for greater free speech protection rather than hate speech codes. His point in this instance is accepted by many different people, of varying politics; however, the fact that he isn't "on the firing line" in other cases may indeed have limited his view. He asks whether "they're kidding [at Smith College]" when, in examining that institution's description of different types of oppression, he finds, among other things, "HETEROSEXISM: Oppression of those of sexual orientation other than heterosexual, such as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals." Can Schlesinger *really* be *completely* blind to the overwhelming bias toward heterosexuality that exists in America? One who is familiar with this bias, including victims of gay-bashing and their friends and families, or simply those who have lobbied (most often unsuccessfully) for gay-rights legislation, might ask whether *Schlesinger* is kidding, and suggest he attend a PFLAG meeting.

At one point in the book, Schlesinger also falls victim to the very sin he sometimes accuses multiculturalists of committing; that of hurling baseless accusations at the opposition. Often, Schlesinger seems to be saying that multiculturalists too readily blame discrimination when it simply isn't a factor; interestingly, in examining why the scholarship of his colleague Diane Ravitch is sometimes attacked, he asserts that "perhaps the fact that she is a woman persuades ethnic chauvinists that they can bully her." Schlesinger provides no evidence whatsoever that sexism is really to blame here. Instead, since he finds her work admirable, he assumes that something nefarious must be at the bottom of those who would disagree. He seems not to notice that this is exactly what multiculturalists are very often accused of.

In criticizing the theory that the study of Africa my increase the self-esteem of African-American children, Schlesinger asks, "does study of the glory that was Greece...improve the academic record of Greek-American [children]? Not so that anyone has noticed." Of course, there are major differences here, which render the analogy mostly invalid. Greek culture is pervasive in the American educational system; children are taught about Socrates, Plato, and the Pythagorean Theorem from their first days in grade school. There is never a lack of Greek culture in the schools. However, for many years, black children are taught nothing of their history (this is still largely true today); introducing the idea that they come from a people whose accomplishments are worthy of mention and analysis may then come as a revelation. The comparison Schlesinger makes between Jewish-American and African-American success is more interesting, but he fails to pursue it.

This is perhaps the greatest failing of Schlesinger's book: he fails to adequately compare other minority cultures in the U.S. (especially that of Jews and Asians) to African-American culture, and address the discrepancies in success and approach that exist there. Instead, he relies heavily on European thinkers, authors, and stories in his criticisms. This is not to say that the European-Americans he cites present invalid sentiments, but in grounding his criticisms primarily in European theory, he may in fact be widening the very gap he decries. Schlesinger wishes to present oppressed minorities with an alternative to such theories as critical race studies and Afrocentrism; instead, he continues the trend that those theories are aimed at averting.

This is not to say that Schlesinger's book is without its merits. At times, he very frankly appraises the sins of the very culture he is defending, noting that U.S. history has been far from perfect, especially in its appraisal of America's treatment of minorities. He recognizes that minorities have traditionally been marginalized to the point of invisibility, and appropriately lauds the efforts of minority scholars in reversing this trend.

Yet at bottom, Schlesigner is the quintessential traditional Western historian. His criticism of the occasional falsification of history for political reasons is perhaps the most valid point in the book, especially since he decries the same trend in his own culture, but when he ventures into political territory, he often falters. He believes in classical liberalism, but also accepts it as a given. He doesn't seem to recognize that many people reject his theories entirely, and that this rejection must be very frankly addressed. Simply repeating "we should all share these values" over and over like a mantra is no kind of persuasion at all. There is a strong case to be made for classical liberalism, and its appeal can extend well beyond traditional Western culture, hopefully to minorities in Western countries. However, all too often Schlesinger fails to make this case, falling victim to the very short-sightedness and lack of empathy that one would hope he would have taken greater pains to avoid.  


Back to top...