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Great nations throughout history have achieved a status of renown that is either reverence or infamy, depending on who one asks. Patrick Buchanan, in his essay “Deconstructing America”, claims that there have not been any great republic or empire that arose due to the embracing of democracy, diversity, and equality. However, Jo Yin Shih’s essay “Chyna and Me” exemplifies many of the difficulties of living as a multiethnic person yet concludes with the affirmation of multiculturalism in the place that she was in: a great republic called the United States of America.
Indeed, great nations that span multiple cultures and ethnicities create their own identity through the embrace of democracy, diversity, and equality that people of multiethnic backgrounds can relate to.
For a nation to be considered multicultural it must have grown in some way such as immigration, unification among separate cultures, or the annexation and assimilation of other cultures. Buchanan states that “No matter the lies we tell ourselves and teach our children, no great republic or empire – ever arose because it embraced democracy, diversity, and equality” (Buchanan 597).
Though all nations have done terrible things in its past, Buchanan’s statement is simply not true. Alexander the Great’s Hellenistic empire fostered and encouraged diversity and equality while being founded on the base of a nation that first created democracy. Rome was a melting pot of Romans, Greeks, North Africans, Egyptians, Persians, Iberians, Gauls, Britons, Germans, Phoenicians, and countless other cultures. The same acceptance and tolerance of these ideals of democracy, diversity, and equality is also part of America.
Shih gives credence that fact: “Living among and as part of the urban collage, I enjoy the motley group of cultures and recognize the struggles of each group and individual, but, most importantly, I am able to look in the mirror and recognize my own” (Shih 523). Without the multiculturalism that is alive and present in the United States, Shih would not have been able to learn and understand from other cultures to the point where she can feel comfortable with her own identity as a multiethnic American. At the very heart of this multiculturalism are the great nation-building ideals that Buchanan rejected – democracy, diversity, and equality.
It is important to understand why such abstractions are essential to the creation, expansion, and preservation of every great nation. Democracy ensures that the voices of all people are heard. Diversity creates an influx of new thoughts, ideas, and action. Equality gives the same rights to each citizen. Without these ideals in place, a form of social Darwinism will begin to take hold, perpetuating segregation, cultural and racial discrimination, and instituting a class of ruling elite. A lack of democracy, diversity, and equality gives power to the tyranny of the majority that uses the excuse of “…a common heritage, history, faith, language, manners, customs, and culture…” to instill xenophobia and fear among its people (Buchanan 598). Rarely are traditions and customs in a culture not influenced or derived from other cultures. Indeed, the American identity today is made of a large combination of identities from all across the globe. Though Americanism still has much of its roots in imperialist and segregationist white male protestant elitism, it has changed rapidly in its history to become a far more inclusive and culturally tolerant society. However, much work still needs to be done before we can truly call America the land of the free. As Shih says, “…I still question the issues of discomfort and discrimination and acknowledge the ever-changing relations in the cultures around me” (Shih 523). It is possible for a great nation to embrace the concepts of democracy, diversity, and equality while still suffering from an institutional rejection of them. Indeed, this may be part of the “culture wars” that Buchanan touches on, but the war is not between various ethnic groups, but between those that fight for inclusiveness and those that wish to keep their exclusiveness.
In the conflict between cultural inclusion and cultural exceptionalism, the ever growing march of social progress is being met with rising social tensions and fears, yet as history has always shown, nothing ever stays the same, particularly national and cultural identities. The old guard of American exceptionalism is quickly giving way to a gradual international identity, something that is already being created in the European Union and the United Nations. However, a new form of reactionary nationalism is being formed to resist the social changes and progression needed to truly do justice to democracy, diversity, and equality. Buchanan indicates his preferences with the former camp of reactionaries: “…today America and Britain have embraced ideas about the innate equality of all cultures, civilizations, languages, and faiths, and about the mixing of all tribes, races, and peoples, that are not only ahistorical, they are suicidal for America and the West” (Buchanan 597). Though America, Britain, and countless other countries may not have originally been the democratic freedom loving people we attempt to be in the modern age, to say that the embracing of such socially progressive ideals is both ahistorical and suicidal borders on outright falsehood. The gradual adoption of democratic and socially inclusive tenets is part of a historical trend in all nations – though on varying levels – to become a more tolerant and interconnected society. Rapid communication and evolving technologies are building bonds between all groups and people far stronger and more accessible than ever, like synapses in the collective human consciousness creating new associations and learning new information greater than before. It must be understood, however, that social change is rarely ever a smooth transition. Indeed, people throughout history have had to fight for democracy, diversity, and equality. Oftentimes these fights were quite literal and resulted in bloodshed, but fighting and protesting for multicultural tolerance and equality is almost always more preferable than cultural annexation by the majority. Shih explains that difference through her own experiences as she “…yearned for the ferocity of black anger, the right to that obvious and unifying spirit. The ability to protest was far more appealing and righteous to [Shih] than the polite assimilation of the Asian American community” (Shih 522). Without the protests, riots, and demands for equality by marginalized communities, the comfortable majority would be far less likely to legitimize and enact social progress. Those that would prefer to halt social progress and restrict freedoms only to those in the majority elite already do enough to oppose cultural minorities. To suggest that peaceful cultural assimilation is the best and only way for minorities to find their place in their great nation is disrespectful of marginalized cultures at best, and at worst, openly seeks to place minorities as a subservient class within the socio cultural hierarchy.
Without some sort of adherence to democracy, diversity, and equality, no great republic or empire would have been able to manage the great multitudes of cultures, ideas, and peoples within its borders. Yet even with these ideals guiding a powerful nation such as the United States of America, there still exists a battle for what the national identity should be: that of an inclusive and multicultural country meant to protect the rights and freedoms of all of its people or a fundamentalist and nationalistic country rooted in the traditions and prejudices of the majority elite. Sometimes the fight for the soul of America (or any country for that matter) can be loud, angry, and even violent, but gradually those that have been or still are being marginalized shall rise up alongside other cultures and minorities to form the lattice-network of peoples and ethnicities that is the national identity of every great nation. Social change is only going to progress further and further into the future, and if we, America, as a nation, do not adapt with the times and the rest of the world, then we risk being left behind in the dark prejudices and tribalism of the past. Only with each other, with our identity as a nation of many cultures, and with our willingness to embrace democracy, diversity, and equality, will we continue to move forward to a brighter tomorrow.
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