Melting pot no more

Author: Barrett Rainey

Political divisiveness and national polarization are, in my mind, the two most destructive forces in our country today. Much has been said and written about both. But, let’s add a third: the death of the American “melting pot.”

I grew up with lots of native born kids – Mexican-American, Japanese-American, a set of Canadian twins, a couple of Jews and others thrown into that grade school. Different? Who knew? We were kids accepting the world around us as the natural order of things. Teachers often mentioned the “melting pot” of America and we were taught that was a good thing.

No more. Like the hula hoop, 78rpm records and poodle skirts, the concept of blending races, relations and even political thought in one great goulash of citizenship just a memory. We’re a poorer nation for it. Much poorer.

In the 1800’s, large eastern cities grew larger and stronger with the mingling concept. A new nation was growing and work and talents of many races and creeds were needed. Then, early in the 1900’s, cities became more divided along ethnic lines. Jews, Oriental, Norwegian, Irish, European and all the rest became neighborhoods of similar language, custom and religion. Still supporting the larger city concept by their labors, but evolving into more well-defined cultures in which to live. Together but separate.

Still, the idea of America being a “melting pot” persisted for a long, long time. As we grew, small communities started out mixing races and creeds. But, somewhere along the line, they started splintering.

In Pocatello, Blacks that worked the passenger trains lived east of downtown in one neighborhood. Same for railroad workers in Nampa and Boise. Early migrants coming to Idaho to work the crops set up little groups outside the established communities of Twin Falls, American Falls, Gooding, Caldwell – keeping largely to themselves.

Now we have deliberate separations. Not just neighborhoods but radio, TV channels, print media, individual dress. Even language. We’re a nation of “tribes.” The confluence of a “melting pot” has disappeared. Now there are parts of cities – not necessarily large cities, either – where races of different skin colors or religious beliefs don’t go. We’re walled out.

Something else began to divide us even deeper some years back – religious separation. Most who participate in lives of faith were taught to accept the belief practices of others. After all, our founders made it very clear this nation would not have an established religion and – in the spirit of those who first came here to avoid religious persecution – we would be tolerant and acceptive of all others. True then. But not now. Not for many.

Not only have religion and politics become bedfellows, some calling themselves “Christians” have separated themselves and use their “faith” practices to hammer the rest of us. No “melting pot” philosophy for them. Their “way” is the “only way” and they’ve used their divisive “faith” to create laws and stifle rights of citizenship for “non-believers.” Those being fellow Americans with different skin color, different languages, different religious practices. Or no practices at all.

Currently, more than 15 state legislatures are working on the same draft bill – a gift from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). On the surface, the bills would end discrimination against the LGBT community. Great ideal. But, read closely because there are “exemptions” to allow discrimination on “religious grounds.” Utah has already sent its copy of that trash to the governor for signature. Fully supported by the Mormon church.

So, pick a “religious” ground if you’re a doctor or a dentist who won’t treat gay patients. For “religious” reasons. Or a hotel operator. Or a car dealer. Or a photographer or cake baker? What “religious” reason? Doesn’t matter. Make one up. After all, we’re a very “tolerant” nation when it comes to “religion?” Remember those founding documents?

Bottom line is, it’s more divisive “religious” B.S.. Where Christianity is most certainly spelled with a small “c.” Using religion to separate – to discriminate.

The melting pot philosophy we learned as children doesn’t live in these folks or their bigoted legislation. Those who sign on to this legally permissive crap hold up their own “beliefs” for mocking from people who take their faith life more seriously.

Unless I grew up with a complete misunderstanding of the Bible, I look for words like “acceptance,” “faith,” “tolerance,” “inclusion” and “love” when someone talks about being a Christian. Or A Jew. Or – with no hint of apology to several Idaho legislators – a Hindu. Even faith-based Muslims.

The melting pot description of our country has become a distant memory for many of us. I don’t see it anymore. I don’t see it in politics. I don’t see it in society. I don’t see it in geography. I certainly don’t see it in the “religious” practices of far too many people.

We have a president in the White House who’s angered millions of “Americans.” Just because he’s not white like them. No other reason. Just skin color. Or he doesn’t practice their “religion.” They judge him contemporaneously because he’s different. History will be more fair.

Melting pot? With large, friendly neighborhoods of mixed ethnicities, mixed colors, different religions, cultural acceptance of differences, effective two- party politics? Not hardly.

We may have 48 contiguous states by geography. But not united in one nation as we were. Divisive politics. Issue polarization. Disappearance of the melting pot of religious and cultural differences that made us a stronger country seem lost to us today. Those three, I think, have made us a poorer nation. A weaker nation. And a more intolerant nation.

And that ain’t good!

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