It was, it seemed, a slip of the tongue. Al Gore was giving a speech in 1994 in Milwaukee when he uttered these words: “We can build a collective civic space large enough for all our separate identities, that we can be ‘e pluribus unum’ — out of one, many.”
Out of one, many. That’s how the then–vice president of the United States described the Latin phrase that has adorned the Great Seal of the United States since the late 18th century.
Gore was ridiculed for what some thought was a mistake. But he should have been praised by his allies, because it is precisely how they view the uniquely American idea of the melting pot. They don’t like it. They don’t want us all to melt into a common culture and set of ideals. Far better, goes their logic, to divide us along racial, ethnic, and class lines. Far better, goes their logic, to watch Americans fight it out along ethnic lines for college admissions and other prizes, because in their minds, far more separates us than unites us.
But such divisive tactics can take the Left only so far. Sooner or later, their way of thinking will find itself gridlocked in a cul-de-sac of its own making, because life — and love — have a way of scrambling the plans of even the best-intentioned social engineers.
Take Natasha Scott, who was featured in a New York Times article back in 2011. The 16-year-old from Beltsville, Md., was going through a rite of passage common to many high-school juniors: the college-application process.
But Natasha had a problem. It wasn’t her grades. It wasn’t her SAT scores. It wasn’t her advanced-placement classes. It was her . . . parents.
You see, Natasha’s mom was Asian and her dad was African American. That triggered an existential identity crisis for this teenager in modern-day America. Which box, Natasha wondered, should she check? Which box would help her gain favor with admissions offices? Should she choose Asian? Should she choose African American? Or should she choose both? What was the right thing to do?
Unable to resolve the issue herself, Natasha asked her mom for advice. This is where the story gets really interesting. Rather than tell her daughter to do the right thing and check off both boxes, or check off none, Natasha’s mom urged her to check the box for African American.
That’s right. Though Asian herself, Natasha’s mom told her to ignore her Asian heritage and identify with her father’s racial heritage instead.
We know why her mom gave that advice. Asians, a minority in this country by any definition (they are only 5 percent of the U.S. population), don’t get preferential treatment at our elite colleges because they perform so well on academic-achievement tests and in high school and are overrepresented at elite schools.
Despite her mom’s advice, Natasha didn’t feel right about identifying herself as African American. After all, wouldn’t checking only that box amount to lying on her college application? Might it be considered fraud, an attempt to game the system?
Natasha’s diversity dilemma still unresolved, she did what many college-bound seniors do when faced with admissions questions. She hopped on the online bulletin board College Confidential to seek advice from her peers. “I just realized that my race is something I have to think about,” she wrote on the board. “It pains me to say this, but putting down black might help my admissions chances and putting down Asian might hurt it.”
Within minutes, the responses started coming in. “You’re black. You should own it,” one student wrote. “Put black!!!!!!!! Listen to your mom,” another student chimed in.
“I sort of want to do this,” Natasha replied, “but I’m wondering if this is morally right.” Good to know that someone had something resembling a moral compass in this morass of moral relativism. In the end, though, pragmatism — and opportunism — prevailed. Natasha decided to mark only one box: African American.
And she was rewarded for her dishonest call. Natasha was accepted by the University of Virginia and chose to attend the school that Thomas Jefferson built, but she didn’t feel completely comfortable with her decision. “I must admit that I felt a little guilty only putting black because I was purposely denying a part of myself in order to look like a more appealing college candidate,” she said.
That’s the absurd reality of the diversity game. It didn’t just pit Natasha against other students of other ethnicities and races for a precious seat at one of America’s most prestigious public universities.
It pitted Natasha against herself.
Like so many Americans — indeed, almost all of us — Natasha’s ethnic and racial background is mixed, a combination of culture and ethnicity forged by immigration and transcended by mutual attraction and love. For centuries, immigrants sought to become Americans and crossed oceans to come here. Greeks, Russians, Germans, Japanese, Italians, Russians, Chinese, Norwegians, Jews, Brazilians, Nigerians, French, Lebanese — people from all over the world come to this country seeking opportunity.
They don’t come here to change America. They hope America will change them — change their chances of living a better life, a freer life. Immigrants in America soon find themselves mixing with immigrants from other nations. We share our music, our art, our means of expression. We share our faith traditions, and we share our food.
Jews eating Chinese food, Germans eating Italian food, Asians eating Mexican food, and Arabs eating Thai food — does anything prove the point better that America is a cultural melting pot?
And then we children of these first-generation immigrants meet and mix. We work together and play together and go to school and church together — and fall in love.
Seeing beyond race and class and ethnicity, we marry and have kids. We build homes and lives, and then our mixed-heritage kids meet other families with mixed heritage — and soon the average American family finds itself with so many bloodlines pulsing through its veins that it defies the college-admissions officer or census-bureau worker or pandering politician looking to classify its ethnicity.
I sometimes wonder what I’d do today if I were forced to check a box on a college application. I am dark-skinned and at the height of summer get as dark as many light-skinned blacks. Am I black? I am Lebanese, so am I an Arab? And is that a box? I am also German, Swiss, and Italian. Does that make me white, and if so, should I pretend I’m not?
I am confused just thinking about it all!
Perhaps I need a few years at an Ivy League multicultural-studies program to figure it all out. Maybe take a few years off, travel back to all of my ancestral homes, write a memoir, and run for office. Actually, I don’t need to do any of that. I know what I am — and who I am. I am an American of mixed breed, a mutt, the kind of ethnic American gumbo that our founders envisioned when they created this great country.
We are all mixed breed, all mutts.
The so-called diversity crowd doesn’t like to hear that, because they don’t want to promote what we all have in common. They’d prefer to promote conflict and division.
Our Bill of Rights has the opposite impact. Those rights granted to us by God, those rights that can’t be denied by government, actually promote harmony among Americans of all ethnicities, races, and classes. It’s why the same people who peddle diversity across America also peddle the “living Constitution”: They want the old one dead.
If immigrants in this country have one thing in common, it is this: They come to America to escape their governments and to chase freedom. The sanctity of the individual is the idea that prompts their move, not the sanctity of the state and its leaders.
In a brilliant speech back in 2005, Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn explained this idea of how the Bill of Rights breeds harmony:
One may pray all he pleases, and others are left free to pray or not, and with all their property intact. Short of slander, libel, or treason, one may say what he pleases and do no harm to another. One can see how the right to property, properly conceived, has this same attribute. If my property is the fruit of my labor, and not of yours, then we have no conflict. My having my good deprives you of none of yours, and your having your good leaves me secure in mine.
Arnn wasn’t finished:
The interesting thing about this understanding of rights is the harmony it breeds in society. This harmony — or to use the political term, this justice — is the reason why our Constitution has lasted so long and our nation has prospered so well.
The modern faux-diversity crowd has no interest in harmony. Underneath their Benetton veneer is an agenda that’s all about power and politics and choosing winners and losers, but this much is certain: America practically invented the idea of diversity — and invented it long before the Left took the word hostage to advance its illegitimate and destructive ends. Luckily for all of us, that agenda will soon pit too many Americans against themselves, and the Left will be exposed for the fraud it is.
Just ask Natasha Scott.
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network.