20 May 2012 ~ 1 Comentario

The United States’ ethnic neurosis

by Carlos Alberto Montaner


(FIRMASPRESS) On its front page, The New York Times reports that a little more than half of the children born in the United States last year (50.4 percent) were non-white. In that percentage, 26 percent were Hispanic (mostly Mexican), 15 percent black and 4 percent Asian.

Why front-page coverage? Pure ethnic neurosis. The fear of those who are different. For the same reason that, some years ago, Samuel P. Huntington created an uproar with the publication of “The Hispanic Challenge.” That type of information causes a certain anxiety among “the whites.” They think that they’re losing control and direction of the American nation. They fear becoming a minority.

The first mistake is the sorting. Hispanics are so classified because of the language they speak (or supposedly speak), regardless of the color of their skin. A Chilean of Basque origin or a Cakchiquel native from Guatemala are Hispanic, even though the native’s language is not Spanish. Blacks, obviously, are classified by their race. Asians, by geography, whether Chinese or Indian.

For example, I don’t know if an Israeli-American of Sephardic origin is an Asian, a white or a Hispanic. And I don’t know if that brilliant Venezuelan engineer named Rafael Reif, son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, who was recently appointed president of MIT, is listed by the Census Bureau as Hispanic, white, or simply “maracucho” – a native of Maracaibo.

The second mistake is moral and ideological. There’s nothing more contrary to the nature of the United States than classifying people by race, culture or gender. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the 85 essays in “The Federalist” (where Madison, Hamilton and Jay explained the breadth and meaning of the Constitution) contain any allusion to anything other than the rules and institutions that would rule the new republic.

The originality and grandeur of the United States lay precisely there: the Founding Fathers invented Constitutional patriotism. A good American was one who placed himself under the rule of law. It was not necessary to come from British or Dutch stock. At first, though the federalists proclaimed the equality of all persons, they included only white male landowners, but little by little they broadened the circles of participation to include women and African-Americans.

Nevertheless, it is legitimate to examine, as Huntington did, the relationship between ethnicity and development. If the behavior of a society is the product of work and the world view of the “mainstream” that gives society its shape and sense, isn’t it correct to think that a dominant ethnic mass with a predominance of different cultural values can substantially modify the overall result of that society? In other words, if the United States fills with Turks or Chinese, the nation will end up behaving like Turkey or China.

It depends. More important than race or culture are the existing laws. Hindus, who in India did not prosper, are the most successful and educated minority group in the United States. They function superbly within the North American rules. The same can be said of the Jews who came from Slavonic world. In Europe, they were poor and backward. In the United States, they gained extraordinary success. Other examples abound: the Greek, Lebanese, Barbadians, Iranians and a whole long list. The hypothetical Turks and Greeks, once they’re educated in the United States, will end up behaving differently from the way they did in their native countries.

What’s happening in the United States is a worldwide phenomenon, though it is a lot more visible in the open democracies than in the totalitarian states: we are slowly heading toward a healthy miscegenation. But what’s important is not to try to maintain an impossible ethnic purity; it is to preserve the cultural features that permit societies to be reasonably prosperous and happy.

The United States became the world’s first power because of its system of institutions, its structure of values, which included meritocracy, its ability to innovate and its educational system. All those factors, combined, generated a formidable productive apparatus. What needs to be done is to potentiate the integration of the immigrants into the American way of doing things. Eventually, ethnic neurosis will disappear. Confirmation will come that, as the Founding Fathers suspected, all men are created equal. The key is in the rules.

One Response to “The United States’ ethnic neurosis”

  1. Chabeli 27 May 2012 at 2:53 pm Permalink

    Beautiful piece. My favorite quote: “what’s important is not to try to maintain an impossible ethnic purity; it is to preserve the cultural features that permit societies to be reasonably prosperous and happy”.
    Thanks so much for this analysis and for reminding us the values that are important to us and that we all have in common as human beings, not as Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, or Whites.

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