Talk about the melting pot!
First, there’s that chain of franchised fondue restaurants in the US called The Melting Pot, which has defined the fondue experience niche across the American dining scene. Which doesn’t concern us here.
Then there’s that play called The Melting Pot by Israel Zanwill, first staged in 1908 in Washington, depicting the life of a Jewish immigrant from a shtetl in the Russian Pale who looked forward to life in America, free of ethnic division and prejudice. Which is interesting because human drama enacted on a public stage hits a chord in our universal archetype, but still doesn’t concern us here.
And then there’s the nickname that Americans are fond of calling their country by, The Melting Pot, a metaphor for a nation of immigrants whose sociocultural mission is encoded in the Latinate slogan, E plubris unum, From Many One, that references the melding and in time melting of diverse communities into a homogeneous, harmonious one. Now that concerns us greatly.
Our ears pricked when the US Census Bureau, whose once-in-a-decade task, mandated by the constitution, is to produce a headcount of Americans, aimed at giving precise details about the size, age, growth and ethnic make-up of the nation’s population, released its data two weeks ago. And some minorities — to be named later — were not happy at the demographic picture these data paint.
To be sure, the findings were not unanticipated, but they were no less remarkable for their implications: There is, it now appears objective evidence attesting that America is now more and more diverse and less and less white. But perhaps that has always been the destiny, both inevitable and predictable, awaiting the, eh, land of the free and the brave.
Let’s backtrack. The lofty language in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence (1776), claiming that “all men are created equal”, endowed with “unalienable rights to pursue life, liberty and happiness”, did not really include “all” Americans, but just white Americans. Lest we forget, the writer of that famous preamble, Thomas Jefferson, as we were reminded again in a piece published in Foreign Affairs earlier this week, was a slave owner, and the Declaration of Independence itself was released into the 13 colonies that at the time all employed slave labour.
The legacy of this kind of white supremacy, in one form or another and to one degree or another continued to bedevil America, at and to its core, all the way from thatTha time to ours. Heavens, ask activists in the Black Lives Matter movement why they’re still holding protests 245 years after the fact!
That legacy today is not being challenged by force of arms or by force of reason but, quietly, imperceptibly, inexorably, by force of demographics.
America in our time, certainly since the beginning of the second half of the 20th century, has been an admixture of ethnic minorities, and Anglo white Americans, who had earlier represented the majority of the population, are now a minority, and not even the largest minority at that. That pride of place, according the Census Bureau data, now belongs to a minority of colour, Hispanics — folks from Latin America — who constitute what is now known as a “minority-majority”. And as such, they are getting, well, more major per day.
Consider this: As the data shows, the US population has increased by 18.9 per cent (bringing it to roughly 330 million) and Hispanics account for more than half that growth. There are today 66.6 million Hispanic Americans around, who make up 18 per cent of the population. Not a mean figure.
Different white ethnics began to see a dwindling of their share in the population bulge around the middle of the last century, thanks to a combination of lower immigration from Europe and lower fertility rates. Now these folks are witnessing “their” America shift under their feet.
No one can deny the significant role that demographics plays as a force that both drives and shapes, in a systemic, trickle-down effect, the cultural, political, social and economic destinies of nations, just as no one can deny that throughout history population transfers, whether in the form of legal or illegal immigration, is a phenomenon that no obstacle could impede, let alone block — all the way from China’s Great Wall and Hadrian’s Impregnable Wall to Trump’s Promised Wall. In recent years, let’s face it, the march of migrants from the impoverished global South to the affluent countries in Europe and North America has shown itself to be virtually unstoppable.
And why would anyone, pray tell, have wanted to stop it, for aren’t we all guests in each others’ homes in this little global village that all inhabit together? Doesn’t our father’s house have many rooms? And haven’t the contributions these immigrants made always been to the benefit of the recipient countries, albeit one recognised only later, in the cold light of historical insight?
Again consider this: In 1850, the young nation that went on to call itself the United States of America was home to 23 million people, 13 million fewer than France. Today, its population is roughly 330 million — larger than the French, British, Dutch, German and Italian populations combined. And America would not have become America, the America we know, had it not told the world to send it, as the call was phrased, its tired, its poor, its huddled masses yearning to be free.
And they poured in, from Europe and Russia, and in recent years from South Asia and Latin America, all eagerly putting in their two-cents worth, in equal measure, for the benefit of the commonwealth.
All’s well that ends well. So why are some of these lily white minorities whining, unhappy as they are at the demographic picture the Census Bureau painted of a more, eh, colourful America?
Search me. I’m Arab American, a man of colour who lives in Washington, a majority black, Asian and Hispanic city, and I’m cool with the data.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, academic and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile