What kind of trust? And to what end?

A common argument against the success of certain societies is that it wouldn’t be possible in the United States. As it is claimed, what makes them work well is there lack of diversity. Sometimes, it will be added that they are small countries which is to imply ‘tribalistic’. Compared to actual tribes, these countries are rather diverse and large. But I get the point being made and I’m not one to dismiss it out of hand.

Still, not all the data agrees with this conclusion. One example is seen in the comparisons of education systems. In the successful social democracies, even the schools with higher rates of diversity and immigrant students tend to have higher test scores, as compared to a country like the US.  There is one book that seriously challenges the tribal argument: Segregation and Mistrust by Eric M. Uslaner. Looking at the data, he determined that (Kindle Locations 72-73), “It wasn’t diversity but segregation that led to less trust.”

Segregation tends to go along with various forms of inequality: social position, economic class and mobility, political power and representation, access to resources, quality of education, systemic and institutional racism, environmental racism, ghettoization, etc. And around inequality, there is unsurprisingly a constellation of other social and health problems that negatively impact the segregated most of all but also the entire society in general—such as an increase of: food deserts, obesity, stunted neurocognitive development (including brain damage from neurotoxins), mental illnesses, violent crime, teen pregnancies, STDs, high school drop outs, child and spousal abuse, bullying, and the list goes on.

Obviously, none of that creates the conditions for a culture of trust. Segregation and inequality undermine everything that allows for a healthy society. Therefore, lessen inequality and, in proportion, a healthy society will follow. That is even true with high levels of diversity.

Related to this, I recall a study that showed that children raised in diverse communities tended to grow up to be socially liberal adults, which included greater tolerance and acceptance, fundamental traits of social trust.

On the opposite end, a small tribe has high trust within that community, but they have almost little if any trust of anyone outside of the community. Is such a small community really more trusting in the larger sense? I don’t know if that has ever been researched.

Such people in tight-knit communities may be willing to do anything for those within their tribe, but a stranger might be killed for no reason other than being an outsider. Take the Puritans, as an example. They had high trust societies. And from early on they had collectivist tendencies, in their being community-oriented with a strong shared vision. Yet anyone who didn’t quite fit in would be banished, tortured, or killed.

Maybe there are many kinds of trust, as there are many kinds of social capital, social cohesion, and social order. There are probably few if any societies that excel in all forms of trust. Some forms of trust might even be diametrically opposed to other forms of trust. Besides, trust in some cases such as an authoritarian regime isn’t necessarily a good thing. Low diversity societies such as Russia, Germany, Japan, China, etc have their own kinds of potential problems that can endanger the lives of those far outside of their own societies.

Trust is complex. What kind of trust? And to what end?

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Does Diversity Erode Social Cohesion?
Social Capital and Race in British Neighbourhoods
by Natalia Letki

The debate on causes and consequences of social capital has been recently complemented with an investigation into factors that erode it. Various scholars concluded that diversity, and racial heterogeneity in particular, is damaging for the sense of community, interpersonal trust and formal and informal interactions. However, most of this research does not adequately account for the negative effect of a community’s low socio-economic status on neighbourhood interactions and attitudes. This paper is the first to date empirical examination of the impact of racial context on various dimensions of social capital in British neighbourhoods. Findings show that the low neighbourhood status is the key element undermining all dimensions of social capital, while eroding effect of racial diversity is limited.

Racism learned
James H. Burnett III

children exposed to racism tend to accept and embrace it as young as age 3, and in just a matter of days.

Can Racism Be Stopped in the Third Grade?
by Lisa Miller

At no developmental age are children less racist than in elementary school. But that’s not innocence, exactly, since preschoolers are obsessed with race. At ages 3 and 4, children are mapping their world, putting things and people into categories: size, shape, color. Up, down; day, night; in, out; over, under. They see race as a useful sorting measure and ask their parents to give them words for the differences they see, generally rejecting the adult terms “black” and “white,” and preferring finer (and more accurate) distinctions: “tan,” “brown,” “chocolate,” “pinkish.” They make no independent value judgments about racial difference, obviously, but by 4 they are already absorbing the lessons of a racist culture. All of them know reflexively which race it is preferable to be. Even today, almost three-quarters of a century since the Doll Test, made famous in Brown v. Board of Education, experiments by CNN and Margaret Beale Spencer have found that black and white children still show a bias toward people with lighter skin.

But by the time they have entered elementary school, they are in a golden age. At 7 or 8, children become very concerned with fairness and responsive to lessons about prejudice. This is why the third, fourth, and fifth grades are good moments to teach about slavery and the Civil War, suffrage and the civil-rights movement. Kids at that age tend to be eager to wrestle with questions of inequality, and while they are just beginning to form a sense of racial identity (this happens around 7 for most children, though for some white kids it takes until middle school), it hasn’t yet acquired much tribal force. It’s the closest humans come to a racially uncomplicated self. The psychologist Stephen Quintana studies Mexican-American kids. At 6 to 9 years old, they describe their own racial realities in literal terms and without value judgments. When he asks what makes them Mexican-American, they talk about grandparents, language, food, skin color. When he asks them why they imagine a person might dislike Mexican-Americans, they are baffled. Some can’t think of a single answer. This is one reason cross-racial friendships can flourish in elementary school — childhood friendships that researchers cite as the single best defense against racist attitudes in adulthood. The paradise is short-lived, though. Early in elementary school, kids prefer to connect in twos and threes over shared interests — music, sports, Minecraft. Beginning in middle school, they define themselves through membership in groups, or cliques, learning and performing the fraught social codes that govern adult interactions around race. As early as 10, psychologists at Tufts have shown, white children are so uncomfortable discussing race that, when playing a game to identify people depicted in photos, they preferred to undermine their own performance by staying silent rather than speak racial terms aloud.

Being Politically Correct Can Actually Boost Creativity
by Marissa Fessenden

The researchers assessed the ideas each group generated after 10 minutes of brainstorming. In same-sex groups, they found, political correctness priming produced less creative ideas. In the mixed groups however, creativity got a boost. “They generated more ideas, and those ideas were more novel,” Duguid told NPR. “Whether it was two men and one woman or two women and one man, the results were consistent.” The creativity of each group’s ideas was assessed by independent, blind raters.

Is Diversity the Source of America’s Genius?
by Gregory Rodriguez

Despite the fact that diversity is so central to the American condition, scholars who’ve studied the cognitive effects of diversity have long made the mistake of treating homogeneity as the norm. Only this year did a group of researchers from MIT, Columbia University, and Northwestern University publish a paper questioning the conventional wisdom that homogeneity represents some kind of objective baseline for comparison or “neutral indicator of the ideal response in a group setting.”

To bolster their argument, the researchers cite a previous study that found that members of homogenous groups tasked with solving a mystery tend to be more confident in their problem-solving skills than their performance actually merits. By contrast, the confidence level of individuals in diverse groups corresponds better with how well their group actually performs. The authors concluded that homogenous groups “were actually further than diverse groups from an objective index of accuracy.”

The researchers also refer to a 2006 experiment showing that homogenous juries made “more factually inaccurate statements and considered a narrower range of information” than racially diverse juries. What these and other findings suggest, wrote the researchers, is that people in diverse groups “are more likely to step outside their own perspective and less likely to instinctively impute their own knowledge onto others” than people in homogenous groups.

Multicultural Experience Enhances Creativity
by Leung, Maddux, Galinsky, & Chiu

Many practices aimed at cultivating multicultural competence in educational and organizational settings (e.g., exchange programs, diversity education in college, diversity management at work) assume that multicultural experience fosters creativity. In line with this assumption, the research reported in this article is the first to empirically demonstrate that exposure to multiple cultures in and of itself can enhance creativity. Overall, the authors found that extensiveness of multicultural experiences was positively related
to both creative performance (insight learning, remote association, and idea generation) and creativity-supporting cognitive processes (retrieval of unconventional knowledge, recruitment of ideas from unfamiliar cultures for creative idea expansion). Furthermore, their studies showed that the serendipitous creative benefits resulting from multicultural experiences may depend on the extent to which individuals open themselves to foreign cultures, and that creativity is facilitated in contexts that deemphasize the need for firm answers or existential concerns. The authors discuss the implications of their findings for promoting creativity in increasingly global learning and work environments.

The Evidence That White Children Benefit From Integrated Schools
by Anya Kamenetz

For example, there’s evidence that corporations with better gender and racial representation make more money and are more innovative. And many higher education groups have collected large amounts of evidence on the educational benefits of diversity in support of affirmative action policies.

In one set of studies, Phillips gave small groups of three people a murder mystery to solve. Some of the groups were all white and others had a nonwhite member. The diverse groups were significantly more likely to find the right answer.

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension Of American Racism
by James W. Loewen
pp. 360-2

In addition to discouraging new people, hypersegregation may also discourage new ideas. Urban theorist Jane Jacobs has long held that the mix of peoples and cultures found in successful cities prompts creativity. An interesting study by sociologist William Whyte shows that sundown suburbs may discourage out-of-the-box thinking. By the 1970s, some executives had grown weary of the long commutes with which they had saddled themselves so they could raise their families in elite sundown suburbs. Rather than move their families back to the city, they moved their corporate headquarters out to the suburbs. Whyte studied 38 companies that left New York City in the 1970s and ’80s, allegedly “to better [the] quality-of-life needs of their employees.” Actually, they moved close to the homes of their CEOs, cutting their average commute to eight miles; 31 moved to the Greenwich-Stamford, Connecticut, area. These are not sundown towns, but adjacent Darien was, and Greenwich and Stamford have extensive formerly sundown neighborhoods that are also highly segregated on the basis of social class. Whyte then compared those 38 companies to 36 randomly chosen comparable companies that stayed in New York City. Judged by stock price, the standard way to measure how well a company is doing, the suburbanized companies showed less than half the stock appreciation of the companies that chose to remain in the city.7 […]

Research suggests that gay men are also important members of what Richard Florida calls “the creative class”—those who come up with or welcome new ideas and help drive an area economically.11 Metropolitan areas with the most sundown suburbs also show the lowest tolerance for homosexuality and have the lowest concentrations of “out” gays and lesbians, according to Gary Gates of the Urban Institute. He lists Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh as examples. Recently, some cities—including Detroit—have recognized the important role that gay residents can play in helping to revive problematic inner-city neighborhoods, and now welcome them.12 The distancing from African Americans embodied by all-white suburbs intensifies another urban problem: sprawl, the tendency for cities to become more spread out and less dense. Sprawl can decrease creativity and quality of life throughout the metropolitan area by making it harder for people to get together for all the human activities—from think tanks to complex commercial transactions to opera—that cities make possible in the first place. Asked in 2000, “What is the most important problem facing the community where you live?” 18% of Americans replied sprawl and traffic, tied for first with crime and violence. Moreover, unlike crime, sprawl is increasing. Some hypersegregated metropolitan areas like Detroit and Cleveland are growing larger geographically while actually losing population.13

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter
by Katherine W. Phillips

Research on large, innovative organizations has shown repeatedly that this is the case. For example, business professors Cristian Deszö of the University of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University studied the effect of gender diversity on the top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list, a group designed to reflect the overall U.S. equity market. First, they examined the size and gender composition of firms’ top management teams from 1992 through 2006. Then they looked at the financial performance of the firms. In their words, they found that, on average, “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value.” They also measured the firms’ “innovation intensity” through the ratio of research and development expenses to assets. They found that companies that prioritized innovation saw greater financial gains when women were part of the top leadership ranks.

Racial diversity can deliver the same kinds of benefits. In a study conducted in 2003, Orlando Richard, a professor of management at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues surveyed executives at 177 national banks in the U.S., then put together a database comparing financial performance, racial diversity and the emphasis the bank presidents put on innovation. For innovation-focused banks, increases in racial diversity were clearly related to enhanced financial performance.

Evidence for the benefits of diversity can be found well beyond the U.S. In August 2012 a team of researchers at the Credit Suisse Research Institute issued a report in which they examined 2,360 companies globally from 2005 to 2011, looking for a relationship between gender diversity on corporate management boards and financial performance. Sure enough, the researchers found that companies with one or more women on the board delivered higher average returns on equity, lower gearing (that is, net debt to equity) and better average growth. […]

In 2006 Margaret Neale of Stanford University, Gregory Northcraft of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and I set out to examine the impact of racial diversity on small decision-making groups in an experiment where sharing information was a requirement for success. Our subjects were undergraduate students taking business courses at the University of Illinois. We put together three-person groups—some consisting of all white members, others with two whites and one nonwhite member—and had them perform a murder mystery exercise. We made sure that all group members shared a common set of information, but we also gave each member important clues that only he or she knew. To find out who committed the murder, the group members would have to share all the information they collectively possessed during discussion. The groups with racial diversity significantly outperformed the groups with no racial diversity. Being with similar others leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective. This perspective, which stopped the all-white groups from effectively processing the information, is what hinders creativity and innovation.

Other researchers have found similar results. In 2004 Anthony Lising Antonio, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, collaborated with five colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions to examine the influence of racial and opinion composition in small group discussions. More than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.

This effect is not limited to race. For example, last year professors of management Denise Lewin Loyd of the University of Illinois, Cynthia Wang of Oklahoma State University, Robert B. Lount, Jr., of Ohio State University and I asked 186 people whether they identified as a Democrat or a Republican, then had them read a murder mystery and decide who they thought committed the crime. Next, we asked the subjects to prepare for a meeting with another group member by writing an essay communicating their perspective. More important, in all cases, we told the participants that their partner disagreed with their opinion but that they would need to come to an agreement with the other person. Everyone was told to prepare to convince their meeting partner to come around to their side; half of the subjects, however, were told to prepare to make their case to a member of the opposing political party, and half were told to make their case to a member of their own party.

The result: Democrats who were told that a fellow Democrat disagreed with them prepared less well for the discussion than Democrats who were told that a Republican disagreed with them. Republicans showed the same pattern. When disagreement comes from a socially different person, we are prompted to work harder. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.

For this reason, diversity appears to lead to higher-quality scientific research. This year Richard Freeman, an economics professor at Harvard University and director of the Science and Engineering Workforce Project at the National Bureau of Economic Research, along with Wei Huang, a Harvard economics Ph.D. candidate, examined the ethnic identity of the authors of 1.5 million scientific papers written between 1985 and 2008 using Thomson Reuters’s Web of Science, a comprehensive database of published research. They found that papers written by diverse groups receive more citations and have higher impact factors than papers written by people from the same ethnic group. Moreover, they found that stronger papers were associated with a greater number of author addresses; geographical diversity, and a larger number of references, is a reflection of more intellectual diversity. […]

In a 2006 study of jury decision making, social psychologist Samuel Sommers of Tufts University found that racially diverse groups exchanged a wider range of information during deliberation about a sexual assault case than all-white groups did. In collaboration with judges and jury administrators in a Michigan courtroom, Sommers conducted mock jury trials with a group of real selected jurors. Although the participants knew the mock jury was a court-sponsored experiment, they did not know that the true purpose of the research was to study the impact of racial diversity on jury decision making.

Sommers composed the six-person juries with either all white jurors or four white and two black jurors. As you might expect, the diverse juries were better at considering case facts, made fewer errors recalling relevant information and displayed a greater openness to discussing the role of race in the case. These improvements did not necessarily happen because the black jurors brought new information to the group—they happened because white jurors changed their behavior in the presence of the black jurors. In the presence of diversity, they were more diligent and open-minded.

A Vast Experiment

Early America was a different world. There was a lot more going on back then than typically makes it into history textbooks and popular historical accounts. It was a world or rather set of worlds that was in a constant state of turmoil and conflict. Wars, rebellions, riots, and other fights for power were regular events.

The diversity both within, between, and at the edge of the imperial territories was immense. This diversity was racial, ethnic, national, religious, and linguistic. The vast tracts of land, populated to varying degrees, were controlled by various empires and tribes. Several different countries had colonies in the Mid-Atlantic region of New York, New Jersey, etc—a key region fought over in the seeking to control the Eastern seaboard. Of course, there was the French and Spanish settlers all over the place—in Canada, the Ohio Valley, Florida, New Orleans, Southwest, and West Coast. Even the Russians had colonized or otherwise claimed large areas of North America, from Alaska down to Northern California.

Many Native Americans had adopted some of the culture from or developed particular kinds of relationships with these other Europeans (and they influenced European culture in return). William Penn was able to have peaceful relationships with the tribes in the region because he was building off of the trust the French traders had developed. But Penn deserves much credit, as he was a tolerant guy. Even though he was English, he welcomed people from all over into his colony, which led Germans to be the majority in Pennsylvania. Places like South Carolina also had a non-British majority, which in this case was black majority that lasted until after the Civil War.

African-Americans, it could be easily argued, had more freedom before the American Revolution than immediately after it, more freedom before the Civil War than with the ending of Reconstruction. It wasn’t a continuous increase of benefit and opportunity for all involved—far from it. Race and gender identities were more fluid prior to the Revolution. There was a surprising amount of tolerance or simply gray area. It took the American Revolution to more clearly begin the process of demarcation of social roles and the racial hierarchy, which then was further solidified a century later during Jim Crow. In particular, the American Revolution had the sad result of effectively shutting down the growing abolition movement, until it was forced back to mainstream concern with the events that led to the Civil War. It turns out that African-Americans who fought for the British were the greatest defenders of liberty, as they had the most at stake.

Plus, in early America, there was less government control. Individuals and communities were to varying degrees left to their own devices. This was particular true in distant rural areas and even more true at and beyond the frontier. The colonies and later the states weren’t isolated from the other societies on the continent (imperial, native, and creole). Mixing was fairly typical and being multilingual was a necessity for many.

A significant number of Native American tribes retained independence for most of American history. Large scale federal oppression and genocide of natives didn’t begin until the major Indian Wars following the Civil War. The last free Native Americans weren’t fully suppressed, either killed or forced onto reservations, until the first half of the twentieth century. In the century or two before that, there was no certainty that the European immigrants and their descendants would rule most of the continent. If a few key battles had been won by the other side, history would have gone in entirely different directions. Native Americans and other independent societies didn’t give up freedom without a fight. It is easy to imagine Native Americans having combined forces to develop their own nation, and in fact that is precisely what some visionary leaders tried to do.

Even for white women and men, there was in many ways more freedom in early America. There was often a live-and-let-live attitude, as people were maybe more focused on basic issues of daily living and survival. Local issues and personal relationships were often more determinant on how people were treated, not large-scale societal norms and laws. There was also a growing movement, during the late colonial era, for rights of women, the poor, and the landless. This included a push toward universal suffrage or at least closer toward it. During the American Revolution, women in some places had won the right to vote, only to have it be taken away again after the oppressive patriarchs regained control.

Early America included immense diversity: racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, political, etc. This is on top of the diversity of gender, marriage, and family life. This was at a time when social norms hadn’t fully been set. Such things as the independent nuclear family was first established among Quakers. Also, premarital sex was typical, many marriages following after pregnancy, but some people simply lived in sin. Single parents and ‘bastards’ were common.

Enforcement of social order was relatively minimal and mostly remained a responsibility of neighbors and communities. There were no prisons and police forces until after the American Revolution. Also, the promotion of family values as part of religious morality and patriotic duty didn’t fully take root until this later era, when the ideal of making good citizens became more central. Prior to that, the focus was on communities and they often were loose associations. Many people lived far apart. Churches and established congregations were fairly rare. Most Americans didn’t attend church regularly and one’s religion was largely a personal and private issue, except in certain urban areas where people were highly concentrated, especially where the local ruling elite demanded and had the power to enforce religious conformity.

It’s not that there weren’t punishments for transgressions. But it just wasn’t systematic and fully institutionalized. People tended to take care of their own problems and so it depended on how a local population perceived behavior, dependent on personal and communal experience. People living near each other were often times close relations, such as kin and long time friends, and they were highly dependent on one another. These people were more forgiving and tolerant in certain ways, even as vigilante justice could lead them to be cruel at other times, especially toward perceived outsiders.

A more general point is that early America was a time of nearly constant change. The world often dramatically shifted from one generation to the next. Social order and social norms were in constant flux. Along with the autonomy of relatively isolated lives, this led to a certain kind of freedom in how people lived and organized their communities. This is what attracted so many religious and political dissenters and hence much radical politics leading to regular challenges to power and the status quo, including riots and rebellions, along with peaceful protests and petitions.

It was a highly unstable society, even ignoring the constant fighting with Native Americans and other imperial subjects. England, in trying to maintain its own stability, ended up initially sending most of its convicts to the American colonies. Around a fifth of all British immigrants during the 18th century were convicts. This included political prisoners, but also common criminals and simply the desperately poor.

For the first centuries of American society, there were regular waves of poor immigrants, political dissidents, religious dissenters, indentured servants, and slaves. These were the defeated people of the world and the dregs of society. That is the broad foundation that America was built upon. These people were survivors in a brutal world. In response, some became brutal in kind, but for others they saw opportunity and hope. Either way, they were forced to make the best of their situation.

It was a fertile time of new ideas and ideals. Diverse people were thrown together. They experienced ways of life and ways of thinking that they otherwise would have never known about. Without fully established authority and entrenched government, they had to figure things out on their own. It was a vast experiment, quite messy and not always ending well, but at other times leading to fascinating and unpredictable results.

Early America held great potential. The world we live in wasn’t inevitable. Forces collided and in the struggle a new social order began to take shape, but the contesting of power has been endless and ongoing. The consequences of that prior era still haven’t fully settled out, for good and ill.

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For your edification and reading pleasure:

England on Edge: Crisis and Revolution 1640-1642
by David Cressy

The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661
by Carla Gardina Pestana

Fire under the Ashes: An Atlantic History of the English Revolution
by John Donoghue

The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution
by Christopher Hill

The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560-1660
by Alison Games

Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World 
by Alison Games

Diversity and Unity in Early North America
by Phillip Morgan

American Colonies: The Settling of North America, Vol. 1
by Alan Taylor

The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution
by Alan Taylor

The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America
by James Axtell

Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North America
by James Axtell

Strangers Within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire
by Bernard Bailyn (Editor) and Philip D. Morgan (Editor)

The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction
by Bernard Bailyn

The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America–The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675
by Bernard Bailyn

Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution
by Bernard Bailyn

Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America
by David Hackett Fischer

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
by Colin Woodard

The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America
by Kevin Phillips

Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans
by Malcolm Gaskill

Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776
by Jon Butler

Crossroads of Empire
by Ned C. Landsman

At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763
by Jane T. Merritt

The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815
by Richard White

Cultures in Conflict: The Seven Years’ War in North America
by Warren R. Hofstra (Editor)

Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire
by Jay Gitlin (Editor), Barbara Berglund (Editor), and Adam Arenson (Editor)

The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent
by Kathleen DuVal

At the Edge of Empire: The Backcountry in British North America
by Eric Hinderaker and Peter C. Mancall

Breaking The Backcountry: The Seven Years’ War In Virginia And Pennsylvania 1754-1765
by Matthew C. Ward

Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier
by James H. Merrell

William Penn and the Quaker Legacy
by John Moretta

Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier
by Paul B. Moyer

Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815
by Kerby A. Miller (Editor), Arnold Schrier (Editor), Bruce D. Boling (Editor), and David N. Doyle (Editor)

The People with No Name: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764
by Patrick Griffin

The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley
by Warren R. Hofstra

The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia
by Michael A. McDonnell

The Virginia Germans
by Klaus Wust

The Story of the Palatines: An Episode in Colonial History
by Sanford H. Cobb

The Germans In Colonial Times
by Lucy Forney Bittinger

Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration: A British Government Redemptioner Project to Manufacture Naval Stores
by Walter Allen Knittle

German Immigration to America: The First Wave
by Don Heinrich Tolzmann

Foreigners in Their Own Land: Pennsylvania Germans in the Early Republic
by Steven M. Nolt

Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial British America
by A. G. Roeber

Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775
by Aaron Spencer Fogleman

New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America
by Susanah Shaw Romney

The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley
by Jaap Jacobs (Editor) and L. H. Roper (Editor)

The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America
by Jaap Jacobs

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America
by Russell Shorto

Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture
by Roger Panetta (Editor) and Russell Shorto (Foreword)

Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664
by Janny Venema

Mohawk Frontier: The Dutch Community of Schenectady, New York, 1661-1710
by Jr. Burke Thomas E.

Death of a Notary: Conquest and Change in Colonial New York
by Donna Merwick

Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York
by Judith L. Van Buskirk

A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760-1790
by Edward Countryman

Unnatural Rebellion: Loyalists in New York City during the Revolution
by Ruma Chopra

The Other New York: The American Revolution Beyond New York City, 1763-1787
by Joseph S. Tiedeman (Editor) and Eugene R. Fingerhut (Editor)

Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763-1776
by Joseph S. Tiedemann

The Other Loyalists: Ordinary People, Royalism, and the Revolution in the Middle Colonies, 1763-1787
by Joseph S. Tiedemann

Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War
by Thomas B. Allen

Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution
by Kathleen DuVal

Atlantic Virginia: Intercolonial Relations in the Seventeenth Century
by April Lee Hatfield

Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America
by James D. Rice

The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia
by Wilcomb E. Washburn

Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina
by Marjoleine Kars

Farming Dissenters: The Regulator Movement in Piedmont North Carolina
by Carole Watterson Troxler

A Very Mutinous People: The Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713
by Noeleen McIlvenna

The Waterman’s Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina
by David S. Cecelski

These Daring Disturbers of the Public Peace: The Struggle for Property and Power in Early New Jersey
by Brendan McConville

Hubs of Empire: The Southeastern Lowcountry and British Caribbean
by Matthew Mulcahy

On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World
by Paul M. Pressly

The Short Life of Free Georgia: Class and Slavery in the Colonial South
by Noeleen McIlvenna

The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America
by Richard R. Beeman

The Glorious Revolution in America
by David S. Lovejoy

1676: The End of American Independence
by Stephen Webb

Lord Churchill’s Coup: The Anglo-American Empire and the Glorious Revolution Reconsidered
by Stephen S. Webb

Marlborough’s America
by Stephen Saunders Webb

The Empire Reformed: English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution
by Owen Stanwood

Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution
by Thomas P. Slaughter

When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation
by Francois Furstenberg

The Radicalism of the American Revolution
by Gordon S. Wood

Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation
by Alfred F. Young (Editor), Ray Raphael (Editor), and Gary Nash (Editor)

Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution
by Alfred F. Young

Beyond the American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism
by Alfred F. Young

A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence
by Ray Raphael

The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord
by Ray Raphael

The Spirit of 74: How the American Revolution Began
by Ray Raphael and Marie Raphael

Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution
by Terry Bouton

American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People
by T. H. Breen

From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776
by Pauline Maier

The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams
by Pauline Maier

Tom Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic
by Seth Cotlar

Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World
by Janet Polasky

Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the Secret Bands of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War
by Les Standiford

The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America
by Gary B. Nash

Between Sovereignty and Anarchy: The Politics of Violence in the American Revolutionary Era
by Patrick Griffin (Editor), Robert G. Ingram (Editor), Peter S. Onuf (Editor), Brian Schoen (Editor)

The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution
by Gary B. Nash

Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution
by Benjamin L. Carp

Arms, Country, and Class: The Philadelphia Militia and the Lower Sort during the American Revolution
by Steven J. Rosswurm

Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia
by Jessica Choppin Roney

The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding
by Eric Nelson

The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America
by Barbara Clark Smith

The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America
by Chris Beneke (Editor) andChristopher S. Grenda (Editor)

The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past
by Margaret Bendroth

Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism
by Chris Beneke

Liberty of Conscience and the Growth of Religious Diversity in Early America, 1636-1786
by Carla Gardina Pestana

On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren
by Donald B. Kraybill and Carl F. Bowman

Jesus Is Female: Moravians and Radical Religion in Early America
by Aaron Spencer Fogleman

Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America
by Katherine Carté Engel

Community of the Cross: Moravian Piety in Colonial Bethlehem
by Craig D. Atwood

Two Troubled Souls: An Eighteenth-Century Couple’s Spiritual Journey in the Atlantic World
by Aaron Spencer Fogleman

The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760-1800
by Dee E. Andrews

Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution
by Joseph S. Moore

Loyal Protestants and Dangerous Papists: Maryland and the Politics of Religion in the English Atlantic, 1630-1690
by Antoinette Sutto

Puritans and Catholics in the Trans-Atlantic World 1600-1800
by Crawford Gribben (Editor) and R. Spurlock (Editor)

Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic
by Matthew Stewart

The Public Universal Friend: Jemima Wilkinson and Religious Enthusiasm in Revolutionary America
by Paul B. Moyer

Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend
by Herbert A. Wisbey Jr.

The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy
by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark

Gender and the English Revolution
by Ann Hughes

The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty
by Jean Zimmerman

The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World
by Emily Clark

Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834
by Emily Clark

Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia
by Karin Wulf

Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics and Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England
by Susan Juster

Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750
by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

First Generations: Women in Colonial America
by Carol Berkin

Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence
by Carol Berkin

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
by Cokie Roberts

Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation
by Cokie Roberts

Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America
by Linda K. Kerber

Separated by Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World
by Mary Beth Norton

Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800
by Mary Beth Norton

Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society
by Mary Beth Norton

Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760-1820
by Susan E. Klepp

Women & Freedom in Early America
by Larry Eldridge

These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia
by Susan Branson

Dangerous to Know: Women, Crime, and Notoriety in the Early Republic
by Susan Branson

Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830
by Clare A. Lyons

Sexual Revolution in Early America
by Richard Godbeer

Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
by Rachel Hope Cleves

Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina
by Kirsten Fischer

Rape and Sexual Power in Early America
by Sharon Block

The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South
by Catherine Clinton (Editor) and Michele Gillespie (Editor)

Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household
by Thavolia Glymph

The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South
by Catherine Clinton

Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South
by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South
by Martha Hodes

The Road to Black Ned’s Forge: A Story of Race, Sex, and Trade on the Colonial American Frontier
by Turk McCleskey

Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America
by Peter H. Wood

Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion
by Peter H. Wood

Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680-1800
by Allan Kulikoff

Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry
by Philip D. Morgan

Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora
by Edda L. Fields-Black

Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas
by Judith A. Carney

Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina
by Daniel C. Littlefield

For Adam’s Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England
by Allegra di Bonaventura

Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia
by Eva Sheppard Wolf

Against the Odds: Free Blacks in the Slave Societies of the Americas
by Jane G. Landers

The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves
by Andrew Levy

Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginia Plantation
by Rhys Isaac

Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730-1810
by James Sidbury

Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802
by Douglas R. Egerton

“Myne Owne Ground”: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1640-1676
by T. H. Breen and Stephen Innes

Black Society in Spanish Florida
by Jane Landers

Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization Louisiana
by Arnold R. Hirsch (Editor) and Joseph Logsdon (Editor)

Romanticism, Revolution, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718-1868
by Caryn Cosse Bell

New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan
by Jill Lepore

The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution
by Gary B. Nash

Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence
by Alan Gilbert

Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America
by Douglas R. Egerton

Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. Before Emancipation
by Gerald Horne

The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America
by Gerald Horne

Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic
by Gerald Horne

Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions
by Jane G. Landers

The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution
by Sidney Kaplan

Race and Revolution
by Gary B. Nash

Eighteenth-Century Criminal Transportation
by Gwenda Morgan (Editor) and Peter Rushton (editor)

Emigrants in Chains. a Social History of the Forced Emigration to the Americas of Felons, Destitute Children, Political and Religious Non-Conformists
by Peter Wilson Coldham

Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America
by Anthony Vaver

Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775
by A. Roger Ekirch

White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America
by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh

To Serve Well and Faithfully : Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania, 1682-1800
by Sharon V. Salinger

By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority
by Holly Brewer

Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America
by Ruth Wallis Herndon (Editor) and John E. Murray (Editor)

Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution
by David Waldstreicher

Unwelcome Americans: Living on the Margin in Early New England
by Ruth Wallis Herndon

Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America
by Jen Manion

Rum Punch & Revolution: Taverngoing & Public Life in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia
by Peter Thompson

In Public Houses: Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts
by David W. Conroy

“…from every part of Europe.”

By then, the king’s authority in America had been practically demolished, and his imperial interests elsewhere were being challenged. America was on its way to securing an independent destiny, basing the case for separation upon differences rather than likenesses between the two countries. Yet, the new nation revealed a natural kinship with the old world it professed to reject – not only with England, but with numerous other countries. In his Common Sense, Thomas Paine castigated the “false, selfish, narrow, and ungenerous” notion that England was the parent, or mother country of America. “Europe, and not England,” he protested, “is the parent country of America.” The New World had for years, he added, offered asylum to the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty “from every part of Europe.” That observation was heartily endorsed just a few years later by Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur, former French soldier and sometime resident of New York, in his Letters from an American Farmer. “What then is the American, this new man?” he asked in a widely quoted passage from that book. “He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. . . . Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”

Such observations were justified. One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants. It was in recognition of the mixed European background of so many Americans that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson later proposed that the official seal of the United States bear the national emblems of Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, and Holland as well as of England, thus “pointing out the countries from which these States have been peopled.” (This idea was abandoned.) The list might well have been much longer. There were Jews from Eastern Europe and from Spain and Portugal (via South America), Swedes, Walloons, Swiss, and still others. Many came, as Paine stated, in search of asylum. But they also came with an intent to preserve and refresh those aspects of life in their homelands which they best remembered and most highly valued.

In the world of 1776, Europe boasted a rich civilization, alive with dynamic ideas and with flourishing arts, with promising new concepts and methods in the sciences. The rudiments of modern industry and business administration were well founded, and social reforms were being undertaken, which Europeans took with them as they colonized and traded. They had come in contact with Eastern civilizations, above all, China, and this experience added significantly to the cosmopolitan culture of the Continent. The Pacific Ocean had been explored, and Australasia discovered; the knowledge gleaned from such expeditions was accelerating an ecological revolution of universal importance. This abundance of experience and knowledge that characterized the world of 1776 was the inheritance America shared as a birthright.

From The World in 1776
by Marshall B. Davidson
Kindle Locations 237-261

* * * *

This early diversity has been an ongoing interest of mine. I noticed this passage and was reminded again of this less known side of American history.

What particularly caught my attention was that, “One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants.” It wasn’t just that several of the colonies had non-English majorities. The non-English ethnicity was even a major part of the ancestral background of the so-called founding fathers, among others in the upper classes.

I always wonder why such amazing facts aren’t typically taught in US schools. This is the kind of thing that would make history more interesting to students. Instead, we get over-simplified and dumbed-down boring accounts of our shared past. The actual full history would be too radical for respectable public consumption.

For more details, see my previous posts:

“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”

General American and the Particulars of Our Origins

Origin of American Diversity

The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence

“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”

Here is a passage from Common Sense by Thomas Paine.

This is one of my favorites because it shows how differently Paine viewed the world than how the American Revolution has been portrayed by many mainstream scholars since. It is only in recent decades that scholars have begun to take more seriously what the Founders actually wrote.

To summarize, it is about the supposed attachment between the British Empire and her colonies and the possibility or even desirability of reconciliation. Paine, of course, argues against this. It isn’t only the view that is intriguing but the data he uses in defending it. Paine wasn’t all revolutionary rhetoric. From a modern perspective, it is attractive how he tried to ground his argument in rationality and facts, the very horrid things that Burke detested (or pretended to detest).

Most interesting to me is his focus on the diversity of the colonies. What did it mean to speak of attachment to England as a mother country when colonies like New Netherlands weren’t originally English (with laws and a population that remained largely Dutch) and when colonies like Pennsylvania and New Jersey consisted only of a minority of Englishmen. This kind of thinking seems radical to many conservatives today as it did to conservatives back then. The only difference is that the conservatives back then were British Tories.

What ever returns to my thinking is how often the arguments against Britain would now apply to our federal government. The argument against both, respectively by the Revolutionaries and the Anti-Federalists, was an argument for freedom, for democratic self-governance. The American Revolution wasn’t fought for patriotic conformity and ethnocentric nationalism, for authoritarian subservience and centralized statism; but the complete opposite. The Revolution never ended and we continue to fight for those Revolutionary ideals.

I’ll add emphasis to direct the readers attention to, in my mind, the most key parts and most interesting tidbits.

* * * *

As much hath been said of the advantages of reconciliation, which,
like an agreeable dream, hath passed away and left us as we were, it
is but right, that we should examine the contrary side of the
argument, and inquire into some of the many material injuries which
these colonies sustain, and always will sustain, by being connected
with, and dependant on Great Britain. To examine that connexion and
dependance, on the principles of nature and common sense, to see what
we have to trust to, if separated, and what we are to expect, if
dependant.

I have heard it asserted by some, that as America hath flourished
under her former connexion with Great Britain, that the same
connexion is necessary towards her future happiness, and will always
have the same effect. Nothing can be more fallacious than this kind
of argument. We may as well assert that because a child has thrived
upon milk, that it is never to have meat, or that the first twenty
years of our lives is to become a precedent for the next twenty. But
even this is admitting more than is true, for I answer roundly, that
America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no
European power had any thing to do with her. The commerce, by which
she hath enriched herself are the necessaries of life, and will
always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe.

But she has protected us, say some. That she hath engrossed us is
true, and defended the continent at our expence as well as her own is
admitted, and she would have defended Turkey from the same motive,
viz. the sake of trade and dominion.

Alas, we have been long led away by ancient prejudices, and made
large sacrifices to superstition. We have boasted the protection of
Great Britain, without considering, that her motive was INTEREST
not ATTACHMENT; that she did not protect us from OUR ENEMIES on
OUR ACCOUNT, but from HER ENEMIES on HER OWN ACCOUNT, from
those who had no quarrel with us on any OTHER ACCOUNT, and who will
always be our enemies on the SAME ACCOUNT. Let Britain wave her
pretensions to the continent, or the continent throw off the
dependance, and we should be at peace with France and Spain were they
at war with Britain. The miseries of Hanover last war ought to warn
us against connexions.

It hath lately been asserted in parliament, that the colonies have
no relation to each other but through the parent country, I. E.
that Pennsylvania and the Jerseys, and so on for the rest, are sister
colonies by the way of England; this is certainly a very round-about
way of proving relationship, but it is the nearest and only true way
of proving enemyship, if I may so call it. France and Spain never
were, nor perhaps ever will be our enemies as AMERICANS, but as our
being the SUBJECTS OF GREAT BRITAIN.

But Britain is the parent country, say some. Then the more shame
upon her conduct. Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages
make war upon their families; wherefore the assertion, if true, turns
to her reproach; but it happens not to be true, or only partly so,
and the phrase PARENT or MOTHER COUNTRY hath been jesuitically
adopted by the king and his parasites, with a low papistical design
of gaining an unfair bias on the credulous weakness of our minds.
Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new
world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and
religious liberty from EVERY PART of Europe. Hither have they fled,
not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of
the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny
which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants
still.

In this extensive quarter of the globe, we forget the narrow limits
of three hundred and sixty miles (the extent of England) and carry
our friendship on a larger scale; we claim brotherhood with every
European christian, and triumph in the generosity of the sentiment.

It is pleasant to observe by what regular gradations we surmount
the force of local prejudice, as we enlarge our acquaintance with the
world. A man born in any town in England divided into parishes, will
naturally associate most with his fellow parishioners (because their
interests in many cases will be common) and distinguish him by the
name of NEIGHBOUR; if he meet him but a few miles from home, he
drops the narrow idea of a street, and salutes him by the name of
TOWNSMAN; if he travel out of the county, and meet him in any
other, he forgets the minor divisions of street and town, and calls
him COUNTRYMAN; i. e. COUNTY-MAN; but if in their foreign
excursions they should associate in France or any other part of
EUROPE, their local remembrance would be enlarged into that of
ENGLISHMEN. And by a just parity of reasoning, all Europeans
meeting in America, or any other quarter of the globe, are
COUNTRYMEN; for England, Holland, Germany, or Sweden, when compared
with the whole, stand in the same places on the larger scale, which
the divisions of street, town, and county do on the smaller ones;
distinctions too limited for continental minds. Not one third of the
inhabitants, even of this province, are of English descent. Wherefore
I reprobate the phrase of parent or mother country applied to England
only, as being false, selfish, narrow and ungenerous.

But admitting, that we were all of English descent, what does it
amount to? Nothing. Britain, being now an open enemy, extinguishes
every other name and title: And to say that reconciliation is our
duty, is truly farcical. The first king of England, of the present
line (William the Conqueror) was a Frenchman, and half the Peers of
England are descendants from the same country; wherefore, by the same
method of reasoning, England ought to be governed by France.

Much hath been said of the united strength of Britain and the
colonies, that in conjunction they might bid defiance to the world.
But this is mere presumption; the fate of war is uncertain, neither
do the expressions mean any thing; for this continent would never
suffer itself to be drained of inhabitants, to support the British
arms in either Asia, Africa, or Europe.

Besides, what have we to do with setting the world at defiance? Our
plan is commerce, and that, well attended to, will secure us the
peace and friendship of all Europe; because, it is the interest of
all Europe to have America a FREE PORT. Her trade will always be a
protection, and her barrenness of gold and silver secure her from
invaders.

I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to shew, a
single advantage that this continent can reap, by being connected
with Great Britain. I repeat the challenge, not a single advantage is
derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and
our imported goods must be paid for buy them where we will.

Centerville, IA: Meeting Point of Diversity & Conflict

Let me bring a few thoughts together:

  • Midwestern diversity
  • KKK
  • civic organizations
  • organized crime

I’ll make the connections by focusing on the example of a city in Iowa, as described in Centerville: A Mid-American Saga by Enfys McMurry.

Founded in 1846, Centerville is a small town, once at around 8,000 population and now down to around 5,000. It is located in Appanoose County along the southern border of Iowa. This is a few counties southwest of Johnson County where I live in Iowa City, the home of the Hawkeyes. And this is a few counties southeast of Madison County which is famous for covered bridges and famous for it including the hometown of John Wayne and the temporary home of George Washington Carver. This location leads to a couple of central factors.

First, it was on the edge of slavery. Some of the early residents were abolitionists. And it became part of the Underground Railroad. However, being so close to slave state, escaped slaves and free blacks weren’t very safe living there for they could be easily kidnapped.

Second, it is an agricultural area, but it is also a mining area. This meant it attracted a wide variety of people. Despite it being a small town, its early population included immigrants from more than forty countries and sixty Jewish families. The Midwest (along with the Mid-Atlantic states) has always been where most immigrants have settled. This is why this is the median center and mean center of the United States.

Between location and population diversity, this made Centerville a site of conflict, a contest between political forces and social orders. This was magnified by the vast social change that happened after the Civil War. Blacks were moving North and one of the biggest immigration waves began. Society became very destabilized. It was also a time of increasing social freedom.

There were those who took advantage of these conditions and there were those who sought to enforce new order. There were many Italians in Centerville and with them came the Black Hand which was an early mafia. There was a peak of violence at the turn of the century and then another increase during the 1920s that peaked in the 1930s — see here:

Comparison by year of USA homicide rates

The Black Hand was organized crime, but it also played a role of civic organization in the Italian community. The mafia was a central part of the social order in the region of Italy where many of these immigrants came from. It was based on kinship and shared religion. This is hard for us to understand today. Civic organizations have become tamed and mostly impotent. They are now primarily social gatherings.

The KKK also had this dual role. They held typically conservative values. They sought to defend what they saw as good about society. Like the Black Hand, they would use criminal means at times to enforce their ideal social order. During the early twentieth century, the state and federal governments were far weaker than they are today. This was still the era of the Pinkertons being hired to infiltrate and fight the labor unions. Most power was private at that time. Vigilante and mob justice was common.

It was the early 1920s when the KKK seized political power in Centerville. They used force, threats, intimidation, coercion and about any means necessary. Having gained control of both political parties, their opponents covertly created a third party and ousted the KKK from power after only a few brief years. The KKK wasn’t able to get a permanent toehold and the former members became pariah. Iowa has a mixed history in relation to blacks, at times one of the most progressive and at other times not so much. However, it appears that Centerville was never a sundown town, unlike some other southern Iowa coal mining towns. Winterset, the hometown of John Wayne, was a sundown town.

It should be noted that the KKK wasn’t exclusively focused on blacks, especially not in a town like Centerville that had no large population of blacks. They had other more important agendas such as prohibition and enforcing family values and Christian morality. The prohibition aspect probably was central in an immigrant town like Centerville that included many ethnic groups that loved their drink. Prohibition was an extension of nativism. There is a long history in America of outlawing or trying to outlaw any substance or activity that becomes associated with non-WASP groups, be they a racial or ethnic minority.

I don’t know that the KKK was involved in violence and murder in Centerville. They certainly weren’t pacifists nor did they care much about democratic process. What can be said is that they thrived during violent times of social upheaval.

The following peaceful era of the mid-twentieth century was a rare moment during a century of great violence. We are only now getting back down to those low violent rates. There is an interesting difference, though. The middle of last century was a time of extremely low immigration, but these past couple of decades have had extremely high immigration. So, the violence rates don’t correspond to the immigration rates.

The KKK, of course, associated the violent social disorder to immigrants and blacks. On the other hand, immigrants and blacks might have associated violent social disorder with groups like the KKK.

After the boom era of coal towns like Winterset, I imagine much of this history of diversity and conflict has been forgotten. The patriotism of war and the Cold War era oppression led to some combination of chosen assimilation and forced assimilation. It is just another majority white rural small town, although it does have almost 4% minorities which in a town of 5,000 is a couple hundred people.

I find it interesting that those original immigrant families from so many different countries are now simply considered white. I’m not sure the KKK would be entirely happy about that, but then again neither would the Black Hand. Both the WASP Americans and the ethnic Americans lost the battle for the soul of America. The winner is some new weird amorphous white American, a mutt that is a little bit of many things and nothing in particular.

This is how multiculturalism slowly becomes monoculturalism. I suspect the same fate will happen to the new generation of ethnic outsiders in America. In many regions of the US, regional identities dominate. But in the Midwest, to become assimilated simply means becoming American. That is the role of the Midwest, the Heartland of America. It is where multiculturalism is embraced and where it comes to die. No amount of diversity can defeat this process. There is a faith in this American assimilation here in the Midwest. Bring us your huddled masses and we’ll make Americans out of them. There may be some violence in the process, but unless you want to become Amish the process is near inevitable.

America is where the world comes together. What new thing will be born from this?

The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty

As the Heartland, what is in the heart of America? What was planted here? What has grown? What has come to fruition?

The Midwest is Middle America. Without a middle, there is no whole. The periphery, America’s coasts and borders, receives all the attention like the sweet juicy flesh surrounding the seed, but it is the seed that is the purpose of the fruit. Out of the seed grows what was in the seed to grow. The seed grows upward where the fruit is to be had, but the roots surrounding what was the seed holds it all in place. The center, like the roots, must hold for if it doesn’t nothing will remain to be held; a weakly rooted tree will topple. The center is what is at the core, the middle that defines the whole, the circumference measured outward from that point of reference, that point of stability.

In America, the middle has always been the Midlands and the former Middle Colonies, the Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest that extends into the interior. It is the cultural middling point where cultures meet, clash, merge, and even out. It is the linguistic middle of Standard American English. It is the median and mean center of the United States population.

Right now, the Emerald Ash Borer is slowly making its way across the Midwest. A couple of years ago it finally made it to Iowa and all the Ash trees I see in this Iowa town may soon be gone. The Norse World Tree Yggdrasil is considered to have been an Ash tree, out of which the first man was formed and the sugary sap from which was made the Mead of Inspiration. The Ash tree has long been rooted in Western society. It is a hardwood tree and so has been highly prized, including for use in shipbuilding. Consider how many immigrants came to America afloat upon ships built out of Ash wood. Yet now we are watching possibly a mass extinction of Ash trees, not just a single variety of Ash trees but all Ash trees.

How does the Emerald Ash Borer kill a tree? It does so by cutting off the flow of nutrients from roots to the crown. Where did this pest come from? It is an invasive species from Eastern Russia and Asia.

It is thought that the Emerald Ash Borer was brought to America along with a shipment of parts. This is one of those inevitable unintended results of globalization. The entire United States is itself an unintended result of globalization. The Atlantic colonies were part of the first major era of globalization. Many of the earliest colonies, especially Virginia and New Netherland, were simply intended as capitalist investments and not to develop into full-fledged societies, much less an independent united country. One of the earliest unintended consequences back then was slavery. Another unintended consequence was multiculturalism.

Many Americans today worry about the consequences of mass immigration, even though multiple waves of mass immigration have occurred every century since the colonies were founded. America is mass migration. It is the heart and soul of this crazy experiment.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
(New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, inscribed on a plaque at the feet of the Statue of Liberty)

In these words is the only moral justification to be found for our having become an empire or what in doublespeak is these days called a global superpower. Call it what you will, but the US acts like an empire: colonial territories such as Hawaii and Philippines; regularly starting wars of aggression along with regularly invading and occupying countries; military bases in countries all over the world and naval presence in international waters all over the world; et cetera. The US is the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

(See the following: Manifesting America by Mark Rifkin, The Dominion of War by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton, A Turn to Empire by Jennifer Pitts, and Among the Powers of the Earth by Eliga H. Gould)

I’m personally not in favor of my country being an empire (I say ‘my’ with some reservation for a subject doesn’t possess but is possessed by an empire, yet I must take some responsibility for it as I’m a direct beneficiary of its power). Nonetheless, if the metaphorical ‘we’ are going to be imperialists, we at least ought to stick to our moral justifications for doing so. We are an immigrant nation. This is our role in the world. Other countries accept us as big brother because every country has immigrants and descendants living in America. This is seen as everyone’s country. This is why the citizens of other countries mourned with US citizens after the 9/11 attack, and indeed the people who died in that attack were of diverse nationalities and citizenship. Without this moral justification for our empire-building, we are simply yet another big bully. Too many Americans want the benefits of being an empire with none of the responsibilities.

Multiculturalism is the tap root of the Tree of Liberty, whether for good or ill. In the 18th century, South Carolina had a African majority and Pennsylvania had a German majority. Further back in the 17th century, New Netherland had a Dutch majority, New Sweden a Swedish majority, the Spanish territories such as Florida with a Spanish majority and the French territories with a French majority. Even after being taken over by the British, New Netherland/New York still had a large Dutch population. Also, today much of the former Spanish territories that became the United States have continuously maintained a hispanic majority. Of course, the Native American territories had their native majority and once were the majority of the entire continent. These are the roots of the United States. This region of North America has never had a majority population that was of English descent.

One of the conflicts colonists had with the British government was over the rights of Englishmen. I wonder if the reason the British government was so uncertain about the colonies was the fact that there were so many colonists who weren’t Englishmen. I could understand as the ethnocentric ruling elite of an empire that they were wary of equally offering the rights of Englishmen to people who weren’t Englishmen. Those are the kinds of problems that come from empire-building. Nonetheless, the ruling elite in the colonies were also mostly Englishmen. So, they took quite seriously their supposed rights as Englishmen and took offense at their being denied.

Still, I wonder if it ever occurred to the mostly English-descended founding fathers, as they convened congress in Philadelphia, that they were surrounded by fellow colonists who weren’t Englishmen. Even back then, Pennsylvania was the Keystone. The Middle Colonies in general were what held together British Power on this side of the pond. This is why, during the French and Indian War, the British government spent so much money and effort defending the Middle Colonies. It is maybe understandable that those up in New England didn’t appreciate why they were paying higher taxes for the defense of the colonies when their region was never the focal point of that defense. Those New Englanders couldn’t appreciate that the defense of the Middle Colonies was the defense of all the colonies. They also couldn’t appreciate what it felt like to be in the Middle Colonies which had been the target of foreign empires.

Those in the Middle Colonies fully appreciated this which is why they were so reluctant to revolt. Plus, the Middle Colonies were filled with non-Englishmen who had no history with the British government and monarchy, no history of the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution. Even the Englishmen of the Middle Colonies who did have such history nonetheless had a very different view of it. I speak of the Quakers who had in some ways been given the greatest freedom for self-governance. The Monarchy was at times a better friend to the Quakers than their fellow colonial elites ever had been. There was well-founded fears of despotic power arising after the defeat of the British military, and quite prescient considering what this country has become.

It is interesting how this colonial region of multiculturalism was also the region with some of the strongest advocates for British loyalty and political moderation. It was the keystone not just for political and military reasons but also for cultural reasons. The Quakers as well believed in the rights of Englishmen. However, the Quakers were different in their understanding of English constitutionalism. They saw their rights directly rooted in the British constitution. They believed in popular sovereignty and that reform must be sought through the constitutional process. Englishmen didn’t lack a constitution and so didn’t need to create one. They simply needed to improve the very constitution that had given them the rights of Englishmen in the first place. (It is sadly ironic that this is precisely what is now claimed of the US constitution that violently replaced the British constitution. Americans prize their constitution and speak of the democratic process of creating amendments. Yet the US constitution was created by a process no more democratic than the process that created the British constitution.)

The Middle Colonies were the swing colonies for the issue of revolution just as today the Midwestern states are the swing states for presidential elections. It is partly because this has always been where the mass of the population has been centered. The reason it is centered here is because the Mid-Atlantic is where most immigrants arrived and the Midwest is where most immigrants settled. This wasn’t accidental but quite intentional. They were multicultural havens right from the start. To the North and to the South, the other colonial governments were more wary about letting just anyone to settle in their area or even merely to dock their ship full of immigrant strangers. In the Middle Colonies, especially Pennsylvania, a more tolerant attitude prevailed. This is the source of the Midwestern moderate sensibility.

During the revolutionary era, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and Delaware embodied this the most clearly. He was born of parents of multi-generational Quaker descent. He married a woman of multi-generational Quaker descent. He lived among Quakers and associated with Quakers. However, he came to believe in wars of defense which the Quakers didn’t support and so he wasn’t a Quaker. This single point aside, his worldview was thoroughly Quaker. But even in this point of disagreement, his taking a moderate support of war only in cases of defense was very fitting for the Quaker attitude of moderation. Dickinson was in this way semi-pacifist. He believed violence should be avoided at all costs when possible. His understanding of defense was very narrow and strict.

Dickinson was a principled man. Oddly, as a reform-minded moderate, he was a key player in helping to make the revolution possible. He was the most popular pamphleteer until Thomas Paine (the latter also having had Quaker values instilled in him by his father). Without what Dickinson helped start and what Paine helped finish, the American Revolution may never have gotten very far, quite likely not succeeding at all. These Quaker-descended righteous men (with, at least in the case of Paine, Quaker-taught plain speech) knew how to articulate a collective vision of freedom that unified what was otherwise just a bunch of disparate gripes about government. Many have misunderstand Paine as a mere revolutionary. Paine also sought moderation in his own way, but he sought a moderation of power that would benefit the commoner rather the established elite. To the established elite, this didn’t seem moderate at all. For example, Paine was a deist which he saw as a middleground position where the divine was envisioned as a moderating force between morally unrooted radical atheism/secularism and authoritarian theocratic tendencies such as established churches. Both Dickinson and Paine sought moderation while remaining principled. Neither changed with the times, but the world around them shifted over their lifetimes. They found themselves criticized and forgotten by those less moderate and less principled.

My point is to show the power of this vision of moderation. Like Quaker pacifism and tolerance, it need not be a position of weakness for it holds the potential of immense strength, both strength of conviction and strength of influence. Not all moderates are neutral and passive. The greatest wisdom of moderation, however, is easily forgotten even by moderates. When moderation loses its moral center, it merely becomes a defense of the status quo. The center is what holds, but what is being maintained and for what purpose?

The proponents of moderateness are what hold this diverse country together. An empire wouldn’t be possible without them. That is the rub. Modern empire-building has necessitated this kind of conservative-minded liberalism, the latter thus becoming complicit with the former. Why not give Hawaii back to the Hawaiians, the Philippines back to the Filipinos, former Northern Mexico back to the Mexicans, and at least some of the former Indian territories back to the Native Americans? Why did we as a country expend so much blood in keeping the country together during the Civil War? Why do we want to be a great power on the earth? Why not just be free and independent communities that govern themselves as they see fit?

I love the Midwest for its moderation. I truly believe the Midlands has helped keep this country together, for whatever that is worth (I often do think there is worth in this, certainly Dickinson and Paine did). Still, the dark side of this bothers me. I see it in a status quo mentality. The attitude of tolerance only goes so far and often is only advocated when it is convenient and easy, when no sacrifices are required. This is the rot in the Tree of Liberty.

Thomas Jefferson is famous for having said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” Jefferson proved to be less consistently principled than the likes of Dickinson and Paine, but still his words resonate as I don’t doubt that he believed them when he wrote them. What has often been on my mind lately is how the American Revolution was ideologically and politically lost by the principled reformers like Dickinson and the principled revolutionaries like Paine. Accordingly, it could be said that the American Revolution went too far and not far enough. Those who took the reigns of power were the very ones least interested in any liberty besides their own. It is strange how radical a moderate like Dickinson can sound compared to what came to pass.

I’ve never been sure about revolution, specifically violent revolution. It is hard to say that Canada is worse off for embracing slow reform instead of bloody insurrection. Canada has a more multicultural society than even the US. Plus, Canada has fewer of the problems found in the US: high poverty, high wealth inequality, low social mobility, etc. The American Revolution seems to have created a very divided country and made the Civil War inevitable. The British, instead, offered freedom to many slaves right after the revolution and many of them settled in free communities in Canada. I sometimes wonder if Canada is offering a better American Dream than America.

Is there something worth saving by moderation in America? Can we regain the moderate vision of John Dickinson? Or can we finally follow to completion the freedom-loving vision of Paine? If we are so incapable of worthwhile non-violent reform, what makes some people think that yet again more violence will solve our problems? How many more revolutions and civil wars do we need? What is this deformed tree of ‘liberty’ that has grown out of conflict? Should we hope to water it once again or just let it die from its own rot? What would we plant in its place? Or are there other seeds already planted that don’t need blood to grow?

“From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country–not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society–cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.”
~ Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

Southern Multicultural Traditions

I’m so often picking on Southerners, especially the Scots-Irish. It makes me feel like a bully.

The Scots-Irish are such an easy target, like any other oppressed minority group. Looked down upon even by many other Southerners, they get called rednecks, hillbilies, crackers and white trash. I try to balance my criticisms with my love of Appalachia and my sympathetic knowledge of my own family.

It isn’t hard to find those sore points in Southern culture and history. That is the sad result of being the losers in a civil war of your own making, an unnecessary war at that and worse still fought for a less than noble cause. History hasn’t been entirely kind in its judgment.

Still, the South is as much part of America as anywhere else, even with its past attempt at secession. Maybe so many Southerners ethnically identify as American or even Native American because they feel a strong need to prove their patriotic loyalty with the shadow of the past falling upon them. It might be similar to how many Irish in the North became uber-patriots following the draft riots that besmirched their image in the public eye.

The South typically gets stereotyped. Then again, Southerners have played a large part in creating and spreading many of these stereotypes, including proudly embracing them. But I’ve never been one to be ultimately satisfied with stereotypes, although I try to reveal any kernels of truth that may lay hidden within caricatured generalizations.

My studies of Southern history and culture has shown me how complex is the region. This shouldn’t be surprising for why would we expect the South to be simplistic in a way no other region is. This complexity, however, does seem to surprise many people.

There many examples of Southern complexity: Union supporters and soldiers, slave owners turned abolitionists, white agrarian socialists and black communist party members, small town environmentalists, clannish labor organizers, self-governed black towns during Reconstruction, wealthy black communities, and on and on. Because of my last post, the example I have in mind is multiculturalism in the South.

Multiculturalism is understandably identified with the North and the West Coast, but there has always been multiculturalism in the South as well. The big cities, of course, have always been cosmopolitan places tht attracted people with more socially liberal attitudes. Early on, Charleston was aready an immensely diverse place because of all the international trade that occurred there. But I had in mind the sub-region that is at the southenmost edge of the Deep South.

From Florida to New Orleans to Texas, the Spanish Empire has left a permanent impact and the French Empire also. The mestizo and creole cultures are fundamentally a part of the South as a region and integrally a part of Southern culture.

There is a monocultural set of traditions throughout the South. There is he monocultural clannishness of the rural and upper South. Also, there is a Cavalier and Barbados equivalent to the Puritan socio-political system of oppressive assimilation. But other traditions always existed. A semi-tolerant cultural libertarianism has always persisted in Appalachia and the Southern aristcrats often wished to be perceived as cultured cosmopolitans.

I particularly want to emphasize the mestizo and creole angle. When I recently wrote of a Mestizo Midlands as a multicultural ideal and reality, I wasn’t articulating a value system in opposition to the South. Rather, I was seeking a way to include the South within the broader American experience. If we are to have cultural unity in this country, we need to recognize the shared history that unites us.

Midlands Mestizo: Pluralism and Social Democracy

I’ve been struggling to get my thoughts in order about race, ethnicity, culture and nation. These can sometimes refer to the same thing, but there are many interpretive lenses and many related ideas and issues.

Colin Woodard argues that nations as ethnic cultures aren’t necessarily identical with states.

Some nations have states and some are stateless, existing within larger states that include or cross over multiple nations. Some states are based on a historically identifiable traditional ethnic culture, but during the imperial and colonial age (i.e., modern history) that became an increasingly uncertain claim. America certainly isn’t like the traditional notion of an ethnic nation-state in the way many perceive European countries, but then again one could argue that not even (most?) European countries consist of single ethnic nations.

Spain, for example, includes the separate ethnic nation of the Basque, a ethnic demographic that crosses state boundaries into France. The Basque are separate from other Spanish and French people, separate culturally, linguistically and genetically. The Basque who some suggest are Celtic have been fighting off invaders maybe since before the Roman Empire came around. There is no particular reason why the Basque should care about Spanish or French nationalism and other non-Basque ethnocentric concerns. Also, why should the Basque identify any more with the European history of Roman and German invaders to their land than they do with the Mediterranean history of African and Arab invaders?

The Basque aren’t Europeans. They are Celts and I’m sure they are proud of being so. Their ancestors were among the first humans to arrive in Europe. It’s the same reason the Celtic Scottish and Irish have fought so much with the English. It is a fight for the continued existence of their people. If there is any ethnic purity left in Europe, it is to be found with these clannish native people who live in tiny ethnic islands.

Pretty much all of Europe is a confusion of separate and intertwining ethnic groups, and even the ethnic islands haven’t survived unscathed and unchanged.

Certainly, there is no singular European people in any objective sense. Europe as seen on maps is just as arbitrary as most state boundaries. Europe only arose as an identity largely because of Roman aspirations and the later imperial aspirations of others who were likewise inspired. England and Scotland exist as separate places simply because that is as far as the Romans advanced. The same goes for France and Germany. Borders typically are the detritus of failed or waning imperialism, memories of a bygone era made to seem permanently real in the present because people (temporarily) get tired of fighting over it.

Europeans, like Americans, are neither separately distinct nor united. Rather, they are somewhere in between, a constant flux of borders and identities. Europe is just another creole society and there is nothing to be ashamed in that.

Border people can often be a particularly mixed lot. Border people survive not just by resisting but also by accommodating and syncretizing (which is why, for example, Celtic people of today are Christians rather than having remained Pagans). I have ancestors from both endpoints of Roman expansionism, on the continent and in Britain. This is why the topic has come to my attention. I hadn’t previously realized how important are border people. It is border people who prove how malleable and permeable are the concepts of borders.

A border is a meeting point and hence a mixing and joining place… or so they have been for the hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, prehistorical and historical, prior to the rise of modern nation-states. The highly militarized borders of today are a recent invention. Such borders are unnatural, thus requiring massive amounts of wealth, technology and manpower to enforce on human reality and on the physical landscape. The toll is costly, both in terms of taxes and human misery. Such costs of maintaining borders has always been a main contributing factor in the demise of all those with imperial aspirations. It just ends up costing too much and is in the end unsustainable.

Spain and Portugal is another border region and the Basque another border people. Border people often survive and fight back by residing in mountainous or swampy areas, the  former for the Basque. The Iberian Peninsula was a place of ethnic struggle that took the form of wars between governments and religions. Most interesting were the Moors who were one of the greatest influences on the European Renaissance and hence all European culture thereafter. This is the point where Europe met Africa and back in the day Africa had some powerful, wealthy and quite advanced kingdoms.

As a side note, the original slave trade in Europe was targeted against the Eastern Europeans, i.e., Slavs; and it was justified because white skin was associated with social and intellectual inferiority (interestingly, even many Europeans today still look down upon Eastern Europeans, although they no longer see their pasty white skin as the reason). This Mediterranean slave trade of Europeans continued into the beginning centuries of the Atlantic slave trade of Africans. To give context, in 1602 John Smith, who later became the most famous leader of Jamestown (a later center of American slavery), was himself captured and sold as a slave to a Turk.

Through millennia of war, slavery and trade, the people of the Iberian Peninsula are what one might fairly call a creole society.

This could be said of countries like England as well with its mix of Celtic people, several Germanic ethnicities, the Scandinavian Vikings, the Romans (who brought with them a diversity of ethnicities in their armies and among their slaves, including Africans), and the Normans (who were Romanized Germans). The other Mediterranean people like the Iberian people have never been very good at maintaining ethnic purity with all that long-distance seafaring that regularly brought foreigners right to their doorstep. If even the British so far away from continental Europe couldn’t keep themselves ethnically pure, the Southern Europeans were truly out of luck in that department.

It’s not as if the United States invented racial mixing, the dreaded miscegenation, nor even the notion of multiculturalism. Humans have been mixing it up for millennia. This is why almost the entire homo sapiens population of the earth includes the genetics of other hominid species; it was near the Mediterranean in the Levant that homo sapiens probably first bumped uglies with the Neanderthals (Jesus, if you want some good ol’ fashioned racial purity, ya better stay away from the Mediterranean Sea, that cauldron of sin and temptation; well, ya better stay away from all large bodies of water, go to the interior and go as far North as possible or at least hide out in the mountains for even swamps can be drained). We humans will hump anything that moves and sometimes things that don’t move, although only the former tends to lead to viable offspring. This is why ethnicity is such a nebulous concept and race can seem almost meaningless at times.

Nonetheless, good multiculturalist liberal that I am, I don’t want to see the end of ethnic differences, issues of racial purity aside. At the same time, I’m not a big fan of the worst traits of clannishness such as violence, nepotism, cronyism, etc. Clannishness is the polar opposite of a social democracy. You can try to have a clannish nation-state, but it will inevitably lead to a brutally oppressive society. I love and find fascinating the diversity of ethnicities, but I want to live in a world that brings out the best in ethnic cultures, not the worst. Plus, I would add that not all cultures are ethnic cultures. A multicultural culture is a culture too and a worthy one at that.

The social and political divides in America and the Americas have their origins in the ethnic divides of Old World. The divide isn’t between whites and non-whites but between those of European descent.

There are the divides in Britain. The anti-monarchist Puritans from East Anglia who settled New England were of a more Anglo-Saxon descent and the pro-monarchist Cavaliers from Wessex who came to dominate Virginia were of Norman descent. These two separate ethnicities in England fought a civil war there and in America their descendents fought another civil war. Talk about a lack of assimilation. The clannish Scots-Irish, Scottish and Irish were also never big on assimilation; and for good reason as they found no more love here in America than they did back in Britain. In the American North, they were involved in Civil War draft riots. In the American South, they supported secession as a way of creating their own new clannish nation. Either way, not the material out of which patriotic Americans are easily made. It took centuries of weakening their clannishness before they began to lose some of their xenophobic ethnocentrism, but they still haven’t fully assimilated to the American Way and continue to pine for their Lost Cause of anti-American secession or else some romanticized ideal of their traditional culture. Give us a few more centuries and we’ll finally make good Americans out of those clannish Southerners (or not, heck if I know).

An additional European divide is less geographic, but I’ll add it here amidst these grander divides. The original European people have been swamped by the later immigrations and conquerings. These earlier people are less defined by the nation-state identities. I’ve mentioned the Basque who cross the boundary between Spain and France. More interestingly, the Irish originate from the Basque (by the way, it sounds like that although culturally similar to Celtics the Irish/Basque people aren’t genetically the same as the Celtics). The Irish are a mysterious group when considering genetics and the Black Irish, but there seems to be no absolute conclusions as of yet. Anyway, their unique origins would explain the conflict these two peoples have had with the populations that surround them. These are particularly clannish people who have attempted to maintain local self-governance and ethnic identity in the face of those who wish to impose upon them from the outside (i.e., the great empires of Spain, France and England). These clannish people declared a forceful ‘no’ to assimilation. The Basque republican independence even helped to inspire early American political thinking (see here).

Another European divide of the more starkly geographic variety is that between Northern and Southern Europe which is based on the boundary of the Roman Empire. The Roman culture has its connection to Britain with the Cavaliers who were of Norman descent and so the American South can partly be seen as the long-lasting influence of the Roman Empire which could be seen in the South’s imperialist aspirations leading up to the Civil War, imperial aspirations that spread all the way through Mexico, down into Central America and to Caribbean islands such as Cuba (Southerners dreamed big, ya gotta give them that). The American North, on the other hand, was populated by people (including Germans and Scandinavians) who were less influenced by the Roman Empire and by the Mediterranean cultures in general.

Yet another divide existed within Southern Europe. The other great power in this region were the Moors. For many centuries, they ruled Portugal, Spain, and Andorra along with parts of France and Italy. Hispania was the name the Romans gave to the Iberian Peninsula where the Moors later had their most power and influence and this is the etymological origin of Spain. The origin of the Hispanics of the Americas originates from this region of Hispanic Europe. Genetic testing even shows how different this population is from the rest of Europe.

The Southern Europe angle is so fascinating because it partly mirrors the early development of Southern North America.

The Iberian Peninsula extends south toward Africa like Mexico in relation to the black-populated Central and South America. There are the mixed-race/ethnicity Hispanics with their open range cowboy culture brought from Spain and the Romanized Germanic Norman Cavaliers with their feudalist-like slave society (ignoring the uncertainty of how many of the Cavaliers actually descended from Norman aristocracy; certainly there were plenty of actual titled British nobility among them, whatever their ancestry). One could think of the Gulf of Mexico as the American version of the Mediterranean Sea, both areas of vast multiculturalism and creole societies and both areas of conflict-ridden ethnic rivalries. And one could think of South America with its large African-descended population as the twin of Africa, both places ravaged by centuries of colonial exploitation and imperial oppression, not to mention the Atlantic slave trade.

The multiculturalism of the US isn’t a failure of having lost our supposed European traditional values. If there is a failure, it is because we mimicked the long (and often conflicted, war torn even) multicultural history of Europe. The US is the seeming inevitable extension of how Europe has been evolving over the past thousand years or so. You reap what you sow or rather what your forefathers sowed.

I want to further follow the Hispanic issue into American history, but I think the best way to do that is by considering the Quakers.

My favorite descendant of Quakers was Thomas Paine. His father was a Quaker and his mother was an Anglican, but it was his father who was the main influence in guiding his education and ensuring he had instilled him the Quaker values of plain speech and practical knowledge. Interestingly, Paine grew up in East Anglia, the original hotbed of the Puritans. It was also an area that had experienced a lot of the enclosure movement.

The enclosures were designed to end the commons. Both Quakers and Puritans put great value on the commons. The Quakers were concentrated in the North Midlands which had a long history of Viking and Norse settlements (but I noticed that Quakers also had some concentration in an area of Wales where the American Midlands socialist Robert Owen came from). The Vikings, as I recall, gave them a proto-feminism and the Norse gave them a proto-democracy. The commons wasn’t just a place for people to graze their animals and gather wood. The commons was also where the common folk met to debate and vote on issues, most often about their community. Americans were carrying on this tradition in the North during the Revolutionary Era and it continues to this day.

Paine was coming of age when the full effect of enclosures were being felt. When he visited London, he saw the masses of land dispossessed who had been forced into the cities. The commons had allowed for Lockean land rights and hence subsistence living. The enclosures left people homeless and starving. So, before coming to the colonies, Paine saw the first labor unions forming and the first working class protests.

I bring this up because the same conservatives who wrongly argue about the tragedy of the commons also argue about tighter border control. The conservative mind loves boundaries and wants everything enclosed and controlled, typically by the perceived moral elite (and failing that, the political and plutocratic elite, same difference right?). The fear was that if the common people were democratically allowed to govern themselves and control their own lives they would mess everything up and destroy all that is good about society.

Quakers for their time were quite liberal which in their case meant they had great faith in the common people (and, from the common people’s perspective, an unwillingness to govern others). This is the basis of the pluralistic Midlands that combined pansy liberal values such as feminism and pacifism with more hardcore liberal values of left-libertarianism and direct democracy. The love of democracy, especially social democracy, is what eventually allied the Midlands with Yankeedom, but Midlands never fully got on board with the Puritan-originated melting pot assimilationist program.

Pluralism is an odd way to do borders. The Quakers neither sought to enforce borders nor to destroy them. They simply left them up to communities. So, in the Midlands, you will find ethnic enclaves and islands while also finding varying degrees of mixed up populations. It was the ideal of freedom of association (or not if one so desired).

The Midlands became so important to American identity, the Heartland, because of the way it moderated the extremes and lessened the distance between differences.

The Quakers weren’t against assimilation, just against oppressively enforced assimilation. In the end, the Quaker Midlands (with some major help from New Netherlands/New York) have been more successful at assimilating ethnic immigrants into American society than either the oppressively enforced assimilation of New England or the oppressively enforced assimilation of the Deep South. The Midlands inspires ethnic immigrants to assimilate themselves by making clear to them that they aren’t the enemy and that they have a place in American society. Build enough public institutions like public schools and most people, the clannish aside, will assimilate themselves in a generation or two, sometimes several generations.

The Midwest is the Midlands which was settled by the Quakers who were middle class immigrants from the English Midlands. Hamlin Garland referred to the Midwest as the Middle Border. That captures the essence of some truth. Between Yankees and Southerners, Midlands is part of the region of the original Middle Colonies (along with the former New Netherlands colony). It was the border territory between settlements and frontier, eventually extending by way of immigration and settlement patterns down into upper Texas and up into lower Canada (the only cultural region that connects South and North). This is the Middle West, between the East Coast and the West Coast, the flyover country one passes over going from one place to another. It is the middle of America, including the geographic center of the contiguous United States along with the median and mean center of the United States population.

The Middle Colonies and the Midwest is so symbolically important in American history for many reasons. It was a meeting point of empires with the Penn’s Quaker colony with its largely German immigrants, the Dutch colony of New Netherlands with a diverse population, the New Sweden colony that later was incorporated into New Netherlands, and the Native American allied French Empire extending along the edge of the Middle colonies. It was also where most new immigrants arrived and settled or else passed through on their way westward. It is where some of the most centrally located multicultural big cities: New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago (all three in the top 5 most populous cities in the US).

This middle region of the US is where cultures mixed. It has maybe the most ethnic enclaves and ethnic islands in the entire country. The only other region that competes is that of the Northern border region of the Spanish Empire, the region where met Hispanics, Native Americans, French, Africans, and all the mix of people going west and south from the British colonies.

Spain and the Spanish Empire played a similar role of a meeting ground of peoples and cultures.

As I’ve pointed out, even before they sought to colonize the Americas and import African slaves, the Spanish people back in Europe were already mixing it up. Beyond the Basque, there are numerous native ethnic groups with their own non-Spanish languages. Even the Roma are considered a native people in Spain where they live as an autonomous community in Andalusia. Spain has a multicultural tradition that has existed for a long time and continues to this day:

“As of 2010, there were over 6 million foreign-born residents in Spain, corresponding to 14% of the total population. Of these, 4.1 million (8.9% of the total population) were born outside the European Union and 2.3 million (5.1%) were born in another EU Member State.[1]

“Because of its location in the Iberian Peninsula, the territory comprising modern Spain has always been at the crossroads of human migration, having harboured many waves of historical immigration. The Spanish Empire, one of the first global empires and one of the largest in the world, spanned all inhabited continents and throughout the years people from these lands emigrated to Spain in varying numbers.”

I wonder if this history as a geographic crossroads helped Spain become such a major empire controlling so many different ethnic groups and mixed populations. As a people, I’d assume they had a fair amount of familiarity with dealing with diversity along with the related issues of inter-ethnic conflict, pluralistic tolerance and national assimilation.

Their way of dealing with it, however, doesn’t seem to be exactly like how the English dealt with it in their similar history of diversity. I’m not overly familiar with the Spanish Empire, but I have been reading more about Hispanic culture here in the Americas. Among the Hispanic population, there is the idea of mestizo which as a general concept is less about the crossbreeding of supposed separate races than it is about the cultural culmination where ethnicities meet. In discussing this in Mestizo Democracy: The Politics of Crossing Borders, John Francis Burke pointed out a false dichotomy that typically polarizes debate (Kindle Locations 180-184):

“As was the case with the individual v. community dichotomy, assimilationism v. separatism presumes there are only two possibilities-a universal, uniform community identity or particular intense cultural identities. Behind this presumption lies the notion of cultural identity as a possession to be preserved and not as a fluid relationship in which a culture is both affected by constant new influences and, reciprocally, affects or shapes those influences. Just as the intersubjective basis of human relations dissovles the wall between the individual and the community, so the logic of distinguishing a universal generic community from particular dense cultures disintegrates once we acknowledge that cultures continually interpenetrate and transform one another and that any articulation of a universal political community is connected to this vibrant interchange among its particular cultural groups.

Burke then concludes the chapter with the following (Kindle Locations 282-286):

“A just unity-in-diversity thus entails the pursuit of the following two questions. What are the conditions under which diverse cultural groups can even begin to dialogue? How can marginalized groups gain genuine access-without emasculating their respective cultures in the process-to the political, social, and economic decision-making structures that in large part affect their destinies? Given the import of such questions, a mestizo democracy is hardly a saccharine celebration of multiculturalism. Rather it is a politics of “crossing borders” that considers how cultures can realize their respective distinctiveness in interaction with other cultures while simultaneously engendering a just, substantive political community in which the dignity of `others’ is not marginalized.”

As is made clear, Burke isn’t just talking about the relationship between Americans and Mexican immigrants. It’s also about Hispanics who have been here since before the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War. It’s even more generally about every ethnic group, including those of European ancestry and those who are first generation immigrants from all over.

The problem with Borg-style assimilation is that even most white Americans of colonial era ancestry don’t want to be told that they will be assimilated and that resistance is futile. I dare you to go to some small rural Southern community and tell the people there that in order to be real Americans they have to fully assimilate to the standard culture, lifestyle and way of speaking as shown on US mass media. I double-dog dare you!

This is why I speak of pluralism, whether done in the style of mestizo or the middle colonies. I’m fond of the Midlands style because it is an example of unity-in-diversity that exists at the heart of the American identity. This pluralism isn’t a foreign concept. It is America itself, if anything is America at all.

Even we white people are more genetically mixed up (not just among European ethnicities) than we’d like to admit, but it isn’t the end of the world. We’ve survived as a country this long and so far our diversity has been our strength. What does race even mean in the land of the American mutt?

I was noticing an article about Vanessa Williams who in American society is considered African-American (for example, a big deal was made at the time that she was the first African-American to be crowned Miss America). In the article, it describes the results of genetic testing she had done. Her results were: “23% from Ghana, 17% from the British Isles, 15% from Cameroon, 12% Finnish, 11% Southern European, 7% Togo, 6% Benin, 5% Senegal and 4% Portuguese.” She is almost evenly split between European and African genetics, but she does look like what people in America think of as black with darker skin and thick dark hair. Nonetheless, it would be about as correct to call her a European-American. If you were to compare her to a full-blooded African, she would look quite European indeed.

Are our arguments about race really about percentages? So, if a black person or Hispanic person can prove they have more than 50% European genetics, we’ll let them into the white club? If so, there are a lot of people perceived as non-white who should be considered white. However, if having a drop (or even quite a few drops) of non-European blood means a person isn’t white, we’ll have to kick a bunch of Americans out of the white club.

If it isn’t about race but some judgment of an ethnic culture as inferior, then why do we continue to allow rural Southern Scots-Irish to be a part of the American experiment. Objectively speaking, they are dragging us all down. They’ve resisted assimilation, just as white Americans accuse minorities. They are violent, just as white Americans accuse minorities. They have massive social problems, just as white Americans accuse minorities. So, why are so many white Americans, specifically conservatives, reluctant to fairly bring the same accusations against another so-called white American group?

I’d argue that even Hispanics are more assimilable than the Scots-Irish have proven to be. The Scots-Irish at least received the benefit of the doubt and we tried to assimilate them. Few white Americans ever gave the Hispanics such benefit of the doubt extending over the centuries. How can Hispanics prove they are American enough when the bar keeps getting raised for them according to the typical racist double standard? Besides, it was we white Americans who invaded their land first and annexed it with Hispanics already living there. Why are we white Americans complaining about people remaining on their people’s land after we’ve taken it?

Let me continue my thought by quoting from an HBD article:

Law Alone?
by Audacious Epigone

“The paradox presented here for many like myself is that the places inspiring the warmest feelings and that I would like most to live in are the places that tend to put the least effort into maintaining what they have. It’s tragic. It doesn’t strike me as overly cynical to presume that this is almost inevitable, as though liberalism doesn’t know when or where to stop and just keeps cruising along the progressive highway past the promised land and over the cliff. [ . . . ]

What of birthright citizenship? Our own 14th amendment has been read by the courts in such a way that if one is able to spawn somewhere in the country, through hook, crook or otherwise, then said spawn is, jus soli, a child of the land he was born on.”

To my mind, this is the voice of someone who just doesn’t get it, not to say that I don’t sympathize with the complaint (yes, the evolving multicultural world has lots of problems).

I would argue that the reason those countries inspire the warmest feelings is because they are open societies (i.e., liberal democracies). Take the liberal away by making them closed societies and what makes them great in the first place would be almost instantly destroyed. This is all the more true for the US which was closer to being an ethnic nation-state prior to the European invasion and it’s been going in the opposite direction ever since.

I have one ancestor (of European descent) who was born in Kentucky before the American Revolution. This was at a time when the British had a treaty that forbade settlers from living there. So, not only were some of my white ancestors illegal immigrants, but they had an anchor baby as well.

My ancestors were far from unusual. It was because of all those law-breaking immigrants, especially the Scots-Irish, that the British (and later the US government) struggled to maintain order and maintain the border. Those early Scots-Irish make the worst Mexican undocumented workers of today look like angels. If not for those trouble-making rebellious clannish ethnics, it is a lot less likely that many of the wars and revolutions would have happened here. We might now be as peaceful and moderate as Canada without those violent, crime-ridden Scots-Irish constantly forcing the hand of authority. I’ve entertained the idea that a significant part of the Civil War was a clannishly ethnic refusal to assimilate, specifically as the South lost political influence and the Northern Melting/Stew Pot American Dream became predominant. Even so, these centuries later we Americans finally assimilated the Scots-Irish, more or less. In doing so, we broke their clannish spirit by making them Americans and they are nearly respectable at this point. If we can assimilate the Scots-Irish, we can assimilate anyone.

I’m picking on the Scots-Irish just to make a point, but I have nothing against them any more than I have against any other ethnicity. Every immigrant group has its strengths and weaknesses. The strength of America is precisely because we have a diversity of strengths and hence don’t share the same weaknesses. Besides, it’s kind of pointless talking about Scots-Irish or Hispanic or whatever. Most Americans have a little bit of many ethnicities in them.

If we white Americans WASPs don’t like multiculturalism, then we should give back to the Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish and Native Americans their respective colonies and territories. Otherwise, shut up and be a good American mutt, whether a mutt in terms of genetics or cultures. Or else don’t and instead be a clannish regionalist (or even isolationists like the Amish), yet another good ol’ American tradition. I suppose we have space for all types here in America.

Live and let live, like good Quaker Friends.

Here are some posts that have got me thinking lately, the first four being from hbd chick and involving my discussions with her in the comments section:

http://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/the-happiest-healthiest-community-in-the-u-s/

http://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/american-nations/

http://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/clannish-or-not/

http://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/civicness-in-spain-by-region/

http://www.craigwilly.info/2013/07/07/emmanuel-todds-linvention-de-leurope-a-critical-summary/

Additional thought the day after writing this:

I’m a Midlander and so I’m biased. I declare this without apology. I’m proud that the Quaker pluralist vision has become so dominant in America and that the pluralist American Dream has become so widely influential in the world. I’m a proud American, dammit!

I like this American experiment that has been going on for centuries now. Why stop it now because the world is changing? America has always been about change, for good or ill. We’ve been dealt this hand and I say let us play it to its conclusion. It’s an experiment, after all. What fun is an experiment if you end it before you find out how it turns out?

Otherwise, I have no strong opinion about ethnocentric nation-states. I don’t care if other countries want to try that experiment. More power to them. I love experiments of all kinds. Let us have a contest. They with their ethnocentric experiment and we with our pluralistic experiment.

I’d point out that all the great empires were multiculturalists in their own way. I’m not a big fan of empires in and of themselves, but I suspect it is too late for the US to be anything other than an empire at this point. Our forefathers made their choices and we (and the coming generations) are forced to face the consequences. Maybe we can be a new kind of empire. The US has definitely stepped up its game from previous attempts at imperialism.

I feel a bit parochial in my defense of the Midlands. I’m not a clannish regionalist, but neither am I a devil-may-care universalist of the mainstream liberal variety. I like my region, partly because it doesn’t hold itself above all the other regions.I like the very idea of regions along with the uniqueness and diversity that goes along with them Why does arguing for the merits of one thing seem inevitably to make one appear as disparaging all else? That is the opposite of what I’m trying to do with my vision of the Mestizo Midlands.

So, I mean not criticism of the ethnocentric among us, in the larger world or even here in the good ol’ US of A.

Part of me is with Paine (and some other founding fathers) in feeling like a citizen of the world. To be an American is to be something greater and more inclusive than a mere citizen of a nation-state. America is the only country in the world that includes large numbers of people from nearly every country and ethnicity in the world, excepting a few isolated tribal people maybe.

I should mention that this post has nothing directly to do with the larger perspective of HBD proponents, beyond the brief mention of HBD with one quote, most especially not directly about the views of hbd chick, although discussions with her motivated some of my thinking. The HBD view of culture is slightly different than how I’m using it here. I’m not really talking a whole lot about such things as family patterns or even the more intricate details of geography and its impact.

I tend to come from a view that sees culture as an unknown factor. We don’t know where it comes from for its origins are in the mists of prehistory, but we can speak of what maintains culture in the present (and speculate about the known history).

I’m a namby-pamby liberal in my love of vague concepts like ‘culture’. I see human nature and human society as an amorphous set of factors. We can speak of concrete correlates to culture, but they aren’t culture. The closest metaphor is the difference between hardware and software, however extremely imperfect that metaphor is.

Let me put it like this. In hunting, you want to capture the prey your after. So, you follow the signs such as animal poop. But, as Pat McManus wrote, “Well, you can’t eat sign.”

Ideology and Empathy

My relationship with my parents has been stressed. It’s not just this past campaign season and the elections, but it does have to do with politics in general. I’ve seen this coming for years (by which I mean the larger social trends beyond just my parents), even if I couldn’t predict the personal impact it would have on my parents.

Back in the Bush presidency, I began to more fully understand the trends that were shaping the future. Conservatives thought they were on top of the world. Their narrative had dominated national politics since Reagan, even finding ways to capitalize during Clinton’s presidency. They had been angry and righteous for a long time, and it made them feel powerful, almost untouchable. They knew that they were the Real Americans. They knew they were the moral majority. The problem was that their knowledge was incomplete and not perfectly correlated to certain social realities.

George W. Bush was the culmination of the entire Southern Strategy: white Texan good ol’ boy (at least in persona), born-again Evangelical who spoke in grand religious terms (of America as a Christian nation and of good vs evil), social conservative who gave up alcohol and funded abstinence-only sex education, fiscal conservative who pushed tax breaks (especially for the “job-creators”) and trickle-down economics, and on and on. But it all ended in failure. It turned out to not be all that they dreamed of. They were lost and confused, and then they were defeated.

Along came Obama. He had vision and narrative, just like they once had. He pointed out the failures of conservative rule. The anger and righteousness of conservatives was magnified a thousandfold, verging on bitterness and cynicism. Out of this, the Tea Party formed and swayed the entire Republican Party along with the entire right-wing media.

Now, conservatives like my parents claim that Bush never was a real conservative and that they never cared about him, but they sure didn’t feel that way at the time. Anyone who questioned the Great, Wise Leader (particularly in his first term) was considered un-American and possibly a terrorist or at least a terrorist sympathizer, definitely someone of questionable morality and allegiances. I find it odd that my dad in the past often reacted with sensitivity to any criticism of Bush as if it had been a personal insult, yet now doesn’t even consider Bush a conservative. If it’s fine for “real conservatives” to criticize Bush, why isn’t it fine for everyone else to do so?

I’m not blaming my parents for changing their minds. I wouldn’t like a conservative call it flip-flopping for as a liberal I highly value the ability to change one’s mind. It would just be nice for them to acknowledge how much they once praised Bush and how they didn’t at the time argue that Bush wasn’t a real conservative.

I spend a lot of time with my parents. I care about them. Even as I judge conservatives, I all too well understand there is a personal side that goes beyond mere politics. My parents feel hurt and attacked, as if people like them no longer matter. From their perspective, they’re just trying to be good people, just trying to be responsible citizens. They’ve always played by the rules. They’ve worked hard. They don’t understand how everything went so wrong. They just don’t understand and they don’t feel understood.

What I wish they understood is that everyone wants to be understood. It seems to me that they want something that they haven’t always been willing to offer to others.

Yes, my parents have worked hard. But so have many others. There are hundreds of millions of people in America and billions of people in the world who have lived more difficult lives than my parents. Most of these people have suffered and struggled for no fault of their own, just circumstances of their birth. They get less understanding than my parents have received. They get less benefit of the doubt. They get fewer opportunities and fewer second chances. My parents have never known the lowest depths of poverty, extended unemployment and welfare (or, worse, depending on welfare despite being employed, never being able to make ends meet with minimum wage), having to choose between paying the bills or feeding one’s children, a life of homelessness with few if any prospects of escaping the streets, being treated with negative prejudice by the police and courts because of their skin color, etc. Relatively speaking, my parents have lived a life of privilege (and so have I, although my generation fared worse than did theirs).

Conservatives like my parents often feel very little empathy and compassion towards those deemed different or other. It’s not that conservatives are intentionally trying to be mean-spirited. They just don’t feel it on a gut-level. It’s not a part of who they are, not part of their life experience. The undocumented immigrant seeking to escape the violence and poverty of Mexico (that Americans have helped to cause), well too bad for them, they are foreigners, not ‘us’. The poor who have known generations of poverty along with oppression and prejudice, well too bad for them, it’s their own fault, they should quit complaining and work harder. Obviously, this isn’t the response Jesus would give, but that doesn’t seem to bother many conservatives, if they ever think about it. That said, my parents are more likely to think about it than some conservatives, but I’m not sure it often causes them to deeply question their own privilege.

In the end, I want to understand conservatives, even if many conservatives are unwilling or unable to return the favor to others. The reason I want to understand is that I have that basic liberal/leftist sense of all of us being products of our circumstances. My parents didn’t choose to be the way they are and I didn’t choose to be the way I am. There is no credit to be taken or blame to be given. People are just people, doing the best they can for the situation they find themselves in. Sometimes understanding is the best thing we can offer to others.

What frustrates me the most is knowing that my parents genuinely are good people. I’m sure most conservatives, like most people, are good people. It’s not that my parents lack the ability to empathize, but it’s just not their first response when dealing with people they don’t personally know or identify with, especially when it comes to groups that have been made into political scapegoats.

Let me return to the example of undocumented migrants from Mexico.

Mexican immigrants aren’t coming here for the fun of it or even for the free goodies (e.g., welfare). They are coming out of desperation. They risk their very lives to cross the border. They could die of heat, be murdered, kidnapped, sold into slavery, or any number of horrible ends… yet they come anyways, risking everything, many of them putting their entire faith in God to protect them and their families. They are that desperate, but most conservatives still wouldn’t naturally think to first compassionately empathize or to consider how American policies contribute to their misery. The US War on Drugs has created a thriving black market. American money funds Mexican drug cartels, criminals and corrupt politicians. American guns go across the border to help fuel the endless violence (and then Americans complain when a tiny fraction of that violence spills back over). All of us Americans are part of the problem for our government is part of the problem, but it never occurs to most conservatives to accept responsibility for being a part of the problem; instead, they blame the victims who are just trying to escape the misery.

I could present all of this to my parents. If I pushed the case hard enough, I might be able to get them to give a more empathetic response. However, they wouldn’t likely come to such a response on their own, at least not about such issues as undocumented immigrants. I don’t want to twist someone’s arm just to try to get some empathy. I’d like to live in a world where most people respond with empathy as their default position, idealist that I am.

I was just now reminded of the quote conservatives like to repeat: “A conservative is a liberal who got mugged the night before.” There is some truth to it. Fear will make even liberals more conservative-minded, even if only temporarily. But the underlying worldview is questionable, that fear represents the norm of reality and mugging represents the norm of human behavior. I wouldn’t claim that the conservative response is always wrong, but it is problematic if one is stuck within a worldview of fear. When fear closes down the normal human response of empathy, that is when people act without compassion such as mugging others. A lack of empathy sadly too often leads to a lack of empathy, fear to fear, violence to violence to even more violence; a vicious cycle of crime leading to desperation and desperation leading to crime, ever escalating (as seen with the War on Drugs which has led to an increase of drug use, drug sales and drug-related incarcerations; and similar to what is seen with abstinence-only education and abortion bans which lead to an increase of teen pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies, abortions and STDs).

In considering the conservative response, I see something even more fundamental going on. It’s not just an issue of ideologically moralizing about empathy and compassion. It goes to a deeper level of how we view the world and experience reality, a level of the psyche that isn’t easily accessed by the conscious mind for our fundamental worldview is formed prior to even our sense of self being fully formed. This has to do with how one is raised or rather the environment in which one is raised. I keep coming back to the research that showed kids who grew up in multicultural environments tended to become socially liberal as adults (and vice versa for kids who grew up with monocultural environments).

That is essentially what differentiates my parents and I. A simple, yet crucial difference. More importantly, a difference that neither my parents nor I chose for ourselves, like everyone else simply a given of the social world we were born into.

This is why it’s so frustrating. After reaching adulthood, people rarely change. My parents experienced plenty of multiculturalism as adults, but they didn’t experience it during the key formative periods of youth. They can’t fundamentally understand what it means to be raised in a multicultural world, just as I can’t fundamentally understand what it means to be raised in a monocultural world. Morality and ideology fails us in this conundrum.

I can’t say my parents are objectively wrong for putting their principles before empathy. All I can do is argue that principles not based on and instead contrary to empathy aren’t worthy principles… but that is an opinion that is only persuasive to those who already agree with me.

Is there a way to frame the discussion so that conservatives would understand the central value of compassionate empathy? I know my parents would like to be empathetically understood by others. Such a desire is a potential beginning point for developing an ability and willingness to offer this to others. But why does the plea for mutual understanding almost always end up being characterized as a liberal agenda? Doesn’t mutual understanding benefit all, conservatives included? Is there a reason conservatives don’t want mutual understanding? Do they think some people don’t deserve it because they didn’t morally earn it? Do they see understanding offered freely as a moral danger, both to the person receiving and the person giving?

As always, I wish I understood.

American Borg: On Assimilation & Family

Because of genealogical research, I’ve been neglecting my blog and so I thought I should put some of my recent thoughts down.

* * * *

The research and discussions with the parental units has kept my mind focused on family history and American culture. In a recent blog post, I discussed my family in terms of the similarities and differences of Appalachia and Midlands, specifically the Appalachia of Kentucky and Southern Indiana compared with the Midlands Midwest of Iowa (the latter being the location from which I write, the home of my childhood and the place I will always consider home).

My present contemplations have continued to revolve around this nexus, but there is an additional context: multiculturalism versus assimilation.

In exploring this context, I’ll use family as a beginning point and from there explore culture. This post is a very personal contemplation and so the personal will be my touchstone in analyzing what to me feels like challenging issues about identity and relationships. In sharing my thoughts about my own family, in speaking publicly about the personal, I wish to tread lightly.

* * * *

My mom’s family is largely pioneer stock.

She is proud of this, but I feel mixed… not exactly pride or shame. I don’t know what my dominant feeling is about the matter. There is some general sadness there related to a sad history of violence tinged with both empathetic understanding and righteous judgment along with my typical intellectual curiosity. I’m the product of this pioneer lineage, whether or not I like it. It has contributed to who I am and helped form how I see the world. The pioneers sought freedom and opportunity, even as they denied these to others, and I can’t deny that I have benefited from their sacrifices.

The early frontier was a fascinating time and place. Being a pioneer often meant, to varying degrees, some combination of being: courageous adventurer and desperate survivor, traumatized victim and hard-hearted victimizer, self-educated multiculturalist and ignorant racist, freedom seeker and genocidal oppressor, indian friend and indian killer, land developer and land thief, community builder and self-serving individualist, hardworking producer and agent of destruction, optimistic dreamer and cynical realist, etc. No single pioneer was necessarily all those things, but collectively that is what defined the pioneer experience and shaped frontier society.

My ancestry on that side includes those involved in the military from the era of British colonialism to the Revolutionary War, from the earliest Indian wars to the Civil War. As soon as America was a country, many lines of my family were venturing into Indian territory, either as pioneers or Indian fighters. I even discovered one ancestor who was born in Indian territory before the United States gained independence. At that time, according to British law and Indian treaties, it was illegal for my family to be in Indian territory. So, I descend from the original illegal immigrants and anchor babies.

* * * *

One thing that caught my attention was how many of my ancestors were clustered around or near the Cumberland Gap.

The Cumberland Gap is approximately the place where meets the borders of the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky; also near northwestern North Carolina where other lines of my family resided. This location was an easy access point for pioneers traveling to the frontier and also for Native Americans to attack white settlers. This is where Daniel Boone entered Kentucky and where he blazed the Wilderness Road, by following the trails used by Native Americans. Some of my family would have been associates of Boone or else moved in the same social circles, considering the first pioneers into Indian country were small in number.

In this context, I would note that many of my maternal-side ancestors were non-English ethnic immigrants, in fact some of the earliest immigrants among non-English as well as the English. They included those from violent borderlands such as Alsace, Palatines, and Ulster (interestingly, one of my ancestors had various records that alternately identified his place of origin as Germany, France, and Alsace; a bit of research clarified the fact that Alsace was part of France at the time and many generations had passed since it was previously a part of Germany, but was is most interesting is that on his own census records he had identified as German; other research showed that the people of Alsace spoke a German dialect and so apparently they were culturally German even as they were French citizens). A motivating factor for these borderlanders coming to America was to escape violence and oppression, but they sometimes found the English colonies to be violent and oppressive as well, at least to non-English ethnics. They escaped religious persecution of state-sanctioned religions in Europe and yet in America they found that most of the colonies also had state-sanctioned religions along with other forms of legalized oppression and prejudice. So, they escaped to ethnic communities or else, like my family, escaped to the frontier where they once again found themselves living on a violent borderland.

Intentionally or not, they made their new home in a place much like the homeland they left behind. Conflict and war, instability and poverty… this was their lot in life. These German, French and Scots-Irish border people helped form the culture of the border regions of Midlands and Appalachia. They were always at the border of the frontier as it slowly moved Westward. And they were on the border between the North and South when the Civil War broke out. They were in that contested zone where the soul of America was fought over.

(As a side note, I can’t help but be reminded of Derrick Jensen’s analysis of Western and American culture and history. Jensen shows how easy and how typical it is for victims to become victimizers, and most of the examples he uses are from America, especially early America. The colonists spread violence and oppression to the new world, the pioneers spread violence and oppression westward across the continent, and now the American military empire spreads violence and oppression all over the world. The victimization cycle seems to never end.)

* * * *

To get back to family history, my mom’s family came through Appalachia and spent many generations there. Only a generation before my mom, the family was still living in Southern Indiana which is right on the edge of Appalachia and culturally indistinct from Kentucky.

Even though my mom grew up in the more Midlands Northern Indiana, she learned to speak with that Appalachian-style dialect that is common in Southern Indiana (‘bush’ is spoken as ‘boosh’, ‘cushion’ as ‘cooshion’, ‘fish’ as ‘feesh’, etc). Even so, my mom identifies more with the midwestern culture of the Midlands. It apparently bothers her when people tell her she sounds ‘Southern’; she has mentioned at least two examples of this happening and apparently this is what led her to ask me to ‘correct’ her when she ‘mispronounces’ words.

(As an interesting piece of trivia, the North and the South weren’t as distinct of regions prior to the Civil War. I’ve read that it was only after the Civil War that, for example, a distinct Southern dialect formed and became a widely shared sense of cultural identity. Southerners simultaneously resisted assimilation to ‘American’ culture while assimilating to a newly created sense of ‘Southern’ culture, of which Appalachian culture somewhat merged with. This probably explains why some Northerners have mistaken my mom’s Hoosier dialect as being ‘Southern’.)

I personally am fond of dialects, ethnic and regional. It’s not an issue of supporting the liberal ideology of multiculturalism. I just think dialects are interesting. Dialects signify a person’s background and make people unique. As such, I’m perfectly fine with my mom’s Hoosier pronunciation of words. If she said ‘boosh’ or ‘feesh’ in public, I wouldn’t be embarassed. In fact, I wouldn’t give it much thought. I find her dialect charming which is why I got in the habit of repeating her Hoosier pronunciations when she spoke that way, but not with any intentions of mocking her; nonetheless, by doing this I guess I’m partly to blame for making my mom self-conscious.

So, what is undesirable in my mom’s mind about being perceived as ‘Southern’?

Maybe it bothers her because, having a career as a speech pathologist, she spent most of her life teaching kids to speak proper Standard American English (i.e., Midwestern dialect). By the way, as a social conservative this really bothers her in that it was her job to enforce linguistic assimilation in public schools, yet it was against the law for her to correct the pronunciation of African-American students for their dialect was deemed part of their culture and so legally protected; of course, white kids with dialects receive no legal protection of their linguistic culture.

I also wonder if it bothers her from another perspective. She is a fairly typical American conservative who is obsessed with cultural assimilation, judging people such as hispanics for what she perceives as a refusal to assimilate to WASP culture; and hence this refusal is taken as a direct attack on WASP culture, i.e., everything that made America great. To not speak Standard American English means to not have fully assimilated to Standard American Culture. To speak with a dialect is to be outside the mainstream and hence an outsider, to be excluded and potentially isolated, to be different and ‘other’; a fate worse than death in the minds of many conservatives. Even though proud to be of pioneer heritage, she apparently isn’t proud of this part of her heritage, despite the fact that her family probably has spoken this way for centuries.

There is another aspect to consider in my mom’s personal experience. She came to realize how much of a Northerner and Midwesterner she is when our family moved to South Carolina. She lived there for two decades and she never adapted to that regional culture. It was alien to her in so many ways: class-based, cliquish, plantation mentality, etc. That is everything her family isn’t. Her family is primarily Appalachian in culture which has sensitized my mom to both Southern and Northern cultures… for to be Appalachian means to be not fully one or the other, rather somewhere in between. Appalachians have a more egalitarian working class culture similar to the Midwest, but the Midwest is part of the North and Appalachians don’t feel a part of Northern culture.

On the other hand, my mom’s conflict with Southern culture is probably related to why her ancestors in Kentucky and Indiana sided with the North during the Civil War, although that war-time alliance was an imperfect and at times grudging. The two competing mainstream cultures in America are the cultures that dominated during the Civil War, neither of those cultures precisely fitting the Appalachian sensibility. That said, Appalachian culture did eventually become more aligned with Southern culture after the Civil War. My mom’s family is thus divided between Southern-leaning Appalachia and Northern-leaning Midwest, straddling the cultural borderlands. I think my mom has somewhat internalized this North/South conflict.

* * * *

Before going on, let me make one thing very clear.

I don’t wish to judge my mom, just as I feel reluctant to judge my pioneer ancestors. I don’t know her motivations. I don’t know what events may have shaped her early life experiences of being a Hoosier and being and American. I know even less about my pioneer ancestors. 

We are all products of our times. None of us can know how future generations will judge us. In this light, I don’t think my mother is wrong for wanting to assimilate to mainstream culture. We all make choices that seem best to us. Besides, speaking of familial ancestors, my dad’s mom supposedly often said that “Everyone is doing the best that they can for where they are at”. Hokey as that sounds, it is a basic truth that resonates with me. Also, it summarizes an element of my own liberal-mindedness, something I indirectly inherited from paternal grandmother as she was a West Coast liberal and introduced my parents to the Unity Church (along with other liberal forms of religion and spirituality).

In writing this post, I refer to my mom for the simple reason that she is the closest to an example of Hoosier/Appalachian culture that I know of in such intimate detail, an example I’ve given much thought to. Having never lived there, my mom is the main access I have to that regional culture. 

On a related note, I’d like to add one other point. In regards to my interest in human nature and culture, I must give most of the credit to my mom. It was during the many discussions I’ve had with her over the years that my understanding slowly formed. Many of the insights and observations I speak of either originated from my mom or came out of our ongoing dialogues. So, along with giving me access to her own family’s cultural background, she has helped shape my own way of thinking about culture.

I hope that I speak about my mother with empathy, not with judgment… and I hope that this intent is expressed well. As always, my foremost desire is to understand.

* * * *

Assimilation seems like a peculiar thing to my mind.

I grew up speaking Standard American English because I was initially raised in the Midlands Midwest (specifically Iowa which is right at the center of the region where this non-dialect dialect is spoken), but I never consciously decided to assimilate. I simply spoke as I heard my peers speaking.

I even unintentionally assimilated a bit to the South when I lived there during my teen years, picking up a bit of my redneck bestfriend’s Southern dialect (I sometimes forget which pronunciations of words are Southern and which are Northern or rather Midwestern); for a few years after returning to Iowa, strangers could still detect something not quite Midwestern about my Midwestern dialect, but alas since that time I’ve lost the feel for the Southern dialect and can no longer speak that way.

This is how most assimilation occurs. Few Americans ever intentionally assimilated, something conservatives don’t appreciate. It’s just that distinctly separate ethnic cultures over time begin to fade as cultures mix and as the living memory of the old homeland disappears from families. Assimilation as we know it now is a very recent invention that arose in response to two world wars and the homogenizing impact of mass media, not to mention early twentieth century laws that were designed to eliminate independent ethnic cultures. It’s true that many early ethnics chose to assimilate… they did so usually out of fear of violence and oppression, but few ever chose to do so freely.

The following is my liberal-minded multicultural view (as a member of the liberal-minded multicultural GenX who grew up in a liberal-minded multicultural era of high immigration rates, who went to liberal-minded multicultural desegregated public schools, who grew up in liberal-minded multicultural college towns, and who was raised in the liberal-minded multicultural Unity Church).

To praise assimilation is to praise one of the ugliest and most destructive features of our society, although I realize that isn’t the way my mom would see it; but as I see it, forced assimilation as practiced for most of American history is essentially cultural genocide. If you can’t physically destroy a people, you can destroy them as a distinct people by killing the very soul of their collective identity. Soul death can be just as brutal as mass killing. When a people forget who they are, part of them remains dead. The living memory is gone forever, impossible to ressurrect.

Thusly, we all become zombies of mass culture, repeating what the mainstream media tells us, not knowing what has been lost in the process. This is historical amnesia and it plagues the American population, undermining any possibility of democracy for it allows all the same mistakes to repeat again and again and again. All the alternative possibilites that diverse cultures present are eliminated and only one choice remains… and, sadly, we call it ‘freedom’. The freedom of one culture to dominate is by definition the unfreedom, the oppression of all other cultures. This all hinges on force and the conservative mind rarely sees the violence and oppression behind that which they praise; if anything they feel those seeking freedom are oppressing whites for how dare anyone try to define their own sense of freedom.

Sadly, too often one person’s freedom is another person’s oppression.

* * * *

On a more personal level, I was trying to probe the reasons behind my mom’s strong desire to assimilate (or, putting it in Borg terms, to be assimilated).

From my perspective, this is an acceptance of the oppressive force of a monolithic culture, a force that is backed by real threat of power and punishment. Also, this seems to be an act of the oppressed identifying with the oppressor, thus joining in and justifying the culture of oppression. It’s not that assimilation when freely chosen is necessarily bad; it’s just that it rarely is freely chosen.

However, none of this captures the everyday experience of my mom or others like her.

For my mom, assimilation is a purely good thing, the highest ideal of the American Dream: to be normal, to be accepted as part of the group, specifically to be part of a great nation, to share in that greatness by proxy. When my mom was a kid, to speak the dialect she spoke meant being lower class which in turn meant being socially inferior, i.e, a hick.

Appalachian people, rightly or wrongly, have always been associated with poverty, ignorance, and cultural backwardness. The English prejudice against non-English ethnics still remains. To be Appalachian, or more generally of the Scots-Irish culture, means to be a hillbilly or a redneck. Appalachian culture has gained some respect in recent years through folk art and music, but Appalachia continues to be a stigmatized region and it continues to be poor.

Appalachians have resisted assimilation to the ‘Yankee’ norm of American society. They are a proud people and yet simultaneously this is a sore point. To assimilate or not is a choice that every new generation is faced with. To not assimilate can come with great costs,  both for individuals and communites that exist outside of the mainstream norm. This is a cost that Appalachia has suffered with because of its proud refusal. This refusal is how Appalachians came to think of themselves as ‘Southerners’ after the Civil War, even in states like Kentucky that fought for the North. Many parts of Appalachia have been left behind in the dust of industrialization, factories and jobs moving elsewhere as the Appalachian people and their culture remained.

* * * *

As others have pointed out, America is less of a melting pot and more of a stew pot.

Most of my ancestry on my mom’s side seems to be German which is fitting since most of the ancestry of America is German as well, or to put it another way more Americans are of German ancestry than the ancestry of any other ethnicity. So, if America is a stew pot, the English may be seasoning but the Germans and other ethnics are the meat and potatoes. Heck, the most American of cities, New York City, was originally the New Netherlands colony; and the Germanic Dutch culture is what made New York City so distinctly ‘American’.

Maybe more than any other group of ‘white’ Americans, German-Americans have often resisted assimilation, even early on. They formed their own communities, not unusually out of fear such as in response to the nativist Know-Nothing movement (which made them wary of the early Republican Party because the Know-Nothings largely merged with the Republicans). They created organizations to maintain their culture and to take care of their own such as the Turner movement. They maintained churches and schools that taught in the German language, including public schools in German majority cities; the German language survived as a publicly spoken language in America through the first half of the twentieth century.

Also, German immigrants founded many utopian religious communities that fiercely defended their own culture and way of life. The German Harmonists, who were admired by many early Americans for their economic success, founded various socialist communities, including one in early Southern Indiana near where my family lived (a town, by the way, that was later made into a secular socialist utopian experiment by a Scotsman who was, along with his sons, very influential in 19th century American politics, including being an influence on the thinking of Abraham Lincoln). The American Amish and Mennonites have survived the onslaught of assimilation and to this day maintain their independent communities; the Amish still speak German and still refer to outsiders as ‘English’.

* * * *

Interestingly, it was on the frontier where a truly American identity first began to form that was fully distinct from the English cultures of the British colonies. On the frontier, there was a particular variety of assimilation but not as we think of it now. It was simply a multicultural place, sometimes cultures clashing and sometimes merging. No authority was forcing assimilation on the frontier. Different ethnicities intermingled and intermarried more or less freely, sometimes even across the divide between settlers and natives.

That said, even amidst such multicultural complexity, it was probably more common for ethnics to stick to their own kind; this was often true for my ancestors. Along with being multcultural, the frontier was multilingual as families maintained their homeland languages for generations. This forced pioneers to be more knowledgeable of diverse languages than Americans today.

The Native Americans themselves, specifically the Shawnee in the Ohio Territory (which included Kentucky and Indiana), also contributed to this American style of cultural mixing and haphazard assimilation. Daniel Boone, like many early pioneers, was adopted into a Native American family and he maintained friendly relations with them for the rest of his life. In Appalachia, for natives and pioneers alike, what mattered was kinship for no one could survive for long on their own. Such kinship, however, didn’t necessitate sharing the same blood or even sharing the same cultural lifestyle. Even when Boone went back to living among whites, he was forever considered Shawnee by the Shawnee.

* * * *

This incipient American identity, instead of protecting racial and cultural purity, led to the creation of the American mutt.

This probably explains why Appalachia remains the place where most people don’t know their ancestry, instead simply identifying as ‘American’ when asked. This is also the region where resides the melungeon population, AKA “the sweet blend” — a mixture of European, African, and Native American ancestry. Considering my family’s frontier past, I’m sure I have a broad mix of genetics hidden behind my Germanic appearance.

All Europeans and European descendants, most especially white Americans, are quite genetically and culturally mixed — between Neanderthal interbreeding, Mongol hordes, Arab invaders, Roman legions, and various influences from the Mediterranean and Black seas, including a significant amount of African genetics mixed in (most likely from the Roman legions). Racial purity is a joke. Even cultural purity is mostly a cultural creation, a cultural fiction formed and promoted by the governments of evolving nation-states, especially during the era of European wars and revolutions that led many people to immigrate to America. Historically, Europeans didn’t consider themselves a single white race and for good reason as genetics proves. And Europeans certainly didn’t consider themselves a single culture, especially considering most of the European wars were at least partly motivated by cultural differences, often in the guise of religious differences. Even the peoples of the British Isles were culturally divided and genetically diverse, including within England.

‘Whiteness’ as a race or as a culture is a nebulous concept, certainly not a scientific category. Many, if not most, of the African slaves in America had white fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, and on and on. After generations of such hanky-panky, many blacks were genetically and culturally more European than African, many even were as white or nearly as white as their masters. In one famous case, a slave took his master to court by arguing he couldn’t be a slave since he wasn’t black and indeed his skin was white, his hair was blonde, and his eyes were blue. Blackness and whiteness were cultural perceptions. Not unusually, someone was defined as being black because they were a slave and their enslavement was justified because they were perceived as black. American blacks today are extremely light skinned when compared to African populations. I remember seeing Obama standing in the middle of a crowd of Africans and I swear to God that he looked like a white guy. In the past, if a person of a ‘black’ family could pass as white, they would do so; and after a few generations no one even remembered there was black in the family (“a nigger in the woodpile”). Most white Americans have varying degrees of non-European genetics, in particular either African or Native American, but it is also unsurprising to find Asian or Polynesian genetics, not to mention Arab and Mongol.

At an earlier point in American history, even non-English European immigrants were considered to be questionable when it came to whiteness. The Irish, for example, were referred by the English as “white niggers”. Many Irish and Welsh along with other European ethnics such as Italians, Spanish, and Greeks have darker skin and curlier hair; and such populations do have significant amounts of Arab Moor genetics, Western African genetics, and/or North African genetics. To this day, most Americans don’t consider hispanics as ‘white’, despite their relatively light skin and despite their ancestors being from Europe.

* * * *

It is beyond silly the fear some whites have about the demise of their own racial demographic.

To be honest, all distinct genetic lines are endangered in that genetics are continually mixing to ever increasing degrees all over the world. Within the near future, in historical terms, there probably won’t be any ‘whites’ or ‘blacks’ left anywhere in the world. There will one day be a world population that has come to an approximate averaging out of skin color (along with kind of hair and facial features), but even then diversity will remain. Besides, someone who has white skin might not have a majority of European genetics and someone of black skin might not have a majority of African genetics, the genetics for skin pigmentation being unrelated to all other genetics. Skin color doesn’t bestow a specific culture upon a person when they are born.

Many Americans of African and Hispanic descent have begun to identify as ‘white’ or, like the mixed-breed Appalachians, simply identify as ‘American’. There is no way to distinguish between a light-skinned colored person and a dark skinned white person. If you call yourself white and others perceive you as white, then you are white. The definition and perception of white may change, but whiteness as a relative category is unlikely to go away in the immediate future.

As an interesting example, most people would never suspect that Martin Sheen is of hispanic ancestry. His birth name is Ramon Estevez, his having changed his name because of the racial prejudice even within supposed ‘liberal’ acting world, at least within the acting world of his early career. An even more interesting example is Louis C.K. who in his tv role is the archetypal American middle class white guy. Louis is both hispanic and Mexican. His first language is spanish and he retains Mexican citizenship. What is the difference between being a hypothetical ‘white’ person and simply being perceived as such?

White supremacists and isolationists (e.g., David Duke) along with more moderate WASP culture warriors (e.g., Patrick Buchannan and Charles Murray) are in a real pickle. They talk about white culture which they conflate, along with white skin, with conservative politics, especially fundamentalist Christianity; yet blacks and hispanics form the majority when it comes to being socially conservative and Christian. Hispanics, of course, traditionally are Catholic which is a questionable form of Christianity to the WASP mind, only slightly less questionable than Mormonism. It’s not just about who gets to define whiteness but also who gets to define conservatism and Christianity.

Hispanics are the most threatening of them all because they have their own competing version of ‘white’ culture, especially considering much of present United States was part of the Spanish Empire and remains to this day hispanic majority. What the WASPs don’t want to admit is that there is more than one white culture; not all whites are Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Hispanics, like many others of non-English European ancestry, have the arrogance to be both Catholic and hardworking, such work ethic supposedly being the sole provenance of WASP culture. On top of that, hispanics have the arrogance of being the original European-descended North Americans by way of having European ancestry that has been in America longer than non-hispanics. No white conservative wants to admit that the red-blooded American cowboy culture comes from the hispanics and that the independence of George W. Bush’s Texas was fought for by hispanics (and still to this day has a population that is majority hispanic and majority spanish-speaking).

All of this makes it hard for the bigoted social conservatives to continually justify their bigotry, and this puts the non-bigoted social conservatives in a tough spot as well in their desire to differentiate themselves from the bigots. In response, social conservatives are forced to decide what they care more about; and so they often are willing to accept the questionable Christians, the Catholics and Mormons, into their in-group just as long as they can maintain their fear and/or hatred of dark-skinned people and foreign-borns; others will be more accepting of dark-skinned people, especially relatively lighter-skinned hispanics, if it helps them gain support in attacking immigrants; still others will accept legal immigrants if it means that illegal immigrants can be scapegoated. The one thing none of them can accept is that America has always been and always will be multicultural.

* * * *

Obviously, not all those who praise assimilation are overtly prejudiced, most probably aren’t (the mild forms of racialism having mostly replaced the rabid forms of racism). My mom isn’t racist and isn’t strongly xenophobic in any sense. Like many conservatives, she simply fears the world she knew in childhood is slipping away.

What conservatives don’t understand is that the world of their childhood was just a single moment in the long history of North America and a moment that not all Americans perceived in the same way. Their 1950s vision of the American Dream was to others an American Nightmare, the period from Reconstruction to the early Cold War Era consisting of the most pervasive and systematic social oppression in American history (last of the Indian Wars and the final subjugation of the remaining free tribes, Native American boarding schools that violently forced assimilation, the rise of the KKK, propaganda films such as ‘The Birth of a Nation’, racially-motivated terrorism such as lynchings and church bombings, Jim Crow laws, political disenfranchisement of minorities and ethnics, overtly racist nativism, anti-Germanic oppression, Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, anti-communist witch-hunts, Hollywood blacklisting, union-busting, unconstitutional imprisonment of activists and organizers, violently brutal crackdowns on protests, business elites aligning with fascist states worldwide, the Business Plot, the growth of the military-industrial complex, military attacks on and oppression of innocent people such as the Filipinos, military aggression against Mexicans seeking freedom and democracy, the rise of an American version of militarized imperialism with colonial-like ambitions, the coming to power of oppressive and anti-intellectual fundamentalism, patriarchal anti-feminism, growth of both big government and big business along with the corporatist alliance between them, etc). To put it simply, assimilation in most cases was far from willing and even further from what we would deem moral by today’s standards. A single American culture was a violent and bloody creation.

To the degree that America is a melting pot, the melting took centuries. It slowly and imperceptibly happened many generations after the first immigrants came. If assimilation is to be promoted in a positive way without oppression, then it must be chosen freely and so the free choice must be given to maintain cultures as well. Assimilation happens naturally to some extent because it’s part of human nature, but it works both ways. It’s not just that the non-English assimilated to the English culture. History shows that Americans of English descent also assimilated non-English cultures. In this sense, it is a melting pot. There is no way to melt multiple cultures together while one of those cultures remains unmelted in the mix. A cultural melting pot is the complete opposite of cultural purity and therefore the complete opposite of the survival of separate cultures, WASP or otherwise.

* * * *

The further problem for conservatives is how white culture is conflated with English culture.

Even beyond the problem non-English white cultures challenging English white culture, there is still the problem in that there is no single English culture and no single consensus among English cultures (even in England, not all the English could be defined as WASP; there are very old conflicts between native pagan Britons, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and Norman Catholics). Which white culture are American whites supposed to be defending? 

In terms of English culture, there are the various peoples of Yankeedom, Midlands, New Netherlands, Tidewater, and Deep South (not to mention the utopian Georgia colony that initially was entirely separate from the slave culture of the South Carolina and Virginia); although Midlands was largely taken over by Germanic culture, New Netherlands had an original Netherlands culture with only a later overlay of English culture, and the Deep South had a culture that was English filtered through the slave culture of Barbados; plus, there were seperate ethnic communities in all of the colonies that helped define the development of the later states. These English cultures were widely diverse and the people in them didn’t fully trust or like the people in the other English cultures.

Furthermore, there was the many non-English cultures, white and non-white: of all the colonial borderlands such as in South Carolina backcountry, rural Virginia, Appalachia and the interior Midlands; of large sections of North Carolina; of New Jersey, Florida, New Orleans, the Southwest, and the West Coast; plus the Native American societies that were organizing on levels to compete with the colonies and in some cases forming new shared communities with ethnics and freed blacks. It was in contradistinction to the English cultures that the non-English peoples worked to create a distinctly American identity separate from Britain. It must be remembered that the American Revolution fomented from the largely ethnic working class, especially in the multicultural Midlands, before it was taken up by the British colonial elites. To be American in those early days specifically meant not being English or at least not identifying with the British Empire. The oppression of the British Empire wasn’t just political but also cultural. Many Americans, especially the ethnic and non-white majority, were seeking a new cultural identity, not just a new politics. Even blacks were active participants in this revolutionary era, not just waiting for British colonial elites to determine their fate.

If not for the vast differences between English cultures along with the differences of the ethnic cultures of the growing majority, the Civil War would never have happened. With social conservatives defining their preferred vision of ‘whiteness’, whose English or European culture gets to rule over all the rest?

* * * *

Anyway, what exactly is this supposed superiority of the white culture?

Research shows that racial prejudice against minorities is still rampant in all parts of our society; for example, blacks are punished more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes; and as another example, people are more likely to buy a product online if it is held by a lighter-skinned hand than if it is held by a darker-skinned hand. So, is this ‘superiority’ simply the social and political power whites have to force their culture onto everyone else and to punish or disadvantage anyone perceived as different? Even after the seeming decline of centuries of European colonialism, Western countries are still militaristically enforcing their wills upon non-white nations.

When a culture or society, a people or nation is judged inferior and dysfunctional, what does that mean and how did they get that way? It was white culture — through genocide, slavery, colonialism, and war — that destroyed, weakened or crippled so many other cultures… and this continues to this day, even if the means and methods have changed slightly. Whites have to take a major proportion of responsibility for the problems they have caused or contributed to… such as with the populations of blacks, hispanics, and various indigenous peoples.

Before complaining about all the ‘illegal’ immigrants from Mexico (a people who have an older claim to much of present US), we should stop continually causing all the problems in Mexico: the American Drug War creates dangerous black markets and cartels, the underregulated gun market in America leads to a flow of guns into Mexico thus arming criminals, gangs and cartels, NAFTA causes poverty and unemployment in Mexico such as among farmers, and a long history of American political and corporate intervention in Mexico has promoted fascism while undermining democracy. If we hadn’t been systematically fucking over their country for so long, most Mexicans probably would be perfectly happy to stay in Mexico.

Americans cause problems onto other people and then project the blame onto the same people. It is a sociopathic mentality. It’s time conservative Christians started paying attention to the log in their own eyes.

Let me pose the question of moral responsibility in stark terms:
Is the dysfunctional society the one that is victimized or the one that victimizes?

I would argue the latter. Authors such as Derrick Jensen and Noam Chomsky make good arguments in this regard. Besides, the conservative claim of white superiority is particularly questionable in America. The bastion of conservative whiteness is the rural South, the most conservative and the most white region in America and the very region that has the most violent population with all of the worst problems of American society: poverty, unemployment, welfare, low IQ, high school dropouts, teen pregnancy, STDs, divorce, low infancy birth weight, high infancy mortality rate, high adult mortality rate, obesity, diabetes, etc. Furthermore, this region of conservative whiteness is one of the biggest economic drains on the economy and on the federal government since red states on average receive more federal money than they pay in taxes, thus blue states paying for the problems of conservative whiteness.

That seems like damning evidence… or at least very inconvenient information.

* * * *

I feel divided on a very personal level. This goes beyond ideological arguments and analysis of data. The fundamental issues must be subjectively assessed, felt out, contemplated.

Like my mom, I’m a part of this same society and I’m a product of this same history. Whatever problems and failings exist, we all are complicit. I don’t judge my mom or any individual person… or at least I don’t want to make such judgments, non-judgment being the standard I try to hold myself to. I also don’t want to judge white conservatives as a whole… which would be just as prejudiced as racism against minorities. If there is guilt, it is collective. It has come to be this way through generations and centuries, the actions of individuals and groups adding up to a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s a slippery thing to grasp, mind-bogglingly immense and complex. Even as I try to discern, I hope to avoid unnecessary and unhelpful judgment as much as possible.

Whether we choose it or not, we are all assimilated to this society. That is how modern civilization functions. There is no escape from the repurcusions and the responsibilities entailed. Even the pioneers couldn’t escape the failings of western civilization even as they sought reprieve in the wilderness. Instead, they brought their problems with them and re-created the conflicts of their own ancestors. They brought the Old World to the New World. This different land allowed a new mix of factors, but the basic social pattern remained.

I focused on my mom’s desire to assimilate. Yet I’m not sure I’m all that different. The desire to belong, to fit in is a normal human desire, compulsion even. Assimilation is even worse for someone like me who grew up with Standard American English and the Standard American Culture that goes with it. The reason it is worse is that it is more invisible. My mom couldn’t avoid the fact that her way of speaking wasn’t ‘normal’. I never consciously assimilated. Instead, I was born into assimilation. My ancestors spoke like my mother for untold number of generations, but I never spoke that way. With my brothers and I, assimilation has finally been completed in my mom’s family line. We can now officially call ourselves “Real Americans” ( © 1776 Founding Fathers).

* * * *

With my concluding thoughts, let me share one last example.

On our trip down to Southern Indiana, my parents and I were discussing the culture and economy of the region, specifically such factors as: high rates of poverty, low rates of education, etc. My mom complained, and my dad concurred, that it is unfair to make comparisons between a place like Southern Indiana and a place like Iowa, the latter not having the same kind of problems. It might not be fair, but it is the reality of the situation.

Poverty and, more importantly, economic inequality correlate to so many other problems. This correlation is found in states around the US and countries around the world. This correlation points to a truth that is uncomfortable to conservatives in particular and uncomfortable to most Americans in general. We could argue about the meaning of this correlation, argue about the direction of causality, even argue if there is any direct causal connection at all or else both being results of some other cause. What can’t be argued about is the correlated data itself which comes from diverse sources and has been corroborated with much research.

My mom takes offense at the idea that her home state could be judged according to this data. This seems undeserving to her. However, I don’t see it as an issue of judging, per se. Besides, it is my mom who seemingly has made a judgment. I certainly never judged the Hoosier dialect as abnormal or unacceptable, but apparently my mom has. I don’t know why she has made this judgment. I can’t claim to truly understand. I just can’t help but notice it. I wouldn’t argue this necessarily implies a sense of shame on my mom’s part, shame being such a strong word, although it is true that her father suffered from an inferiority complex because of his social status. Shame or not, this desire to leave behind the outward forms of her ancestral culture does seem to give hint to something hidden behind her claims of pride about her pioneer heritage and her more general pride of being an ‘American’. There is some kind of cognitive dissonance at play here.

I feel frustrated by mom’s response and at the same time I understand, sympathize even. I can be just as defensive about Midwestern culture which is so often dismissed by those living on the coasts who perceive states like Iowa as flyover country. I suppose I also have some pride in being American with such a long family history going back to those early pioneers, especially when I think about certain early Americans who envisioned a different possibility than what has come to be.

Anyway, my opinions about my mom’s feelings and values aren’t important in and of themselves. The only relevance of this interpersonal conflict of views is that it is representative of larger issues in American society. This conflict is writ large while also being played out in the psyche of every American. It seems obvious to me that my mom is conflicted about her American identity and for damn sure I’m conflicted about all kinds of things, American and otherwise. This country is at its core a contradiction — simultaneously founded on liberty and slavery, on multiculturalism and cultural chauvinism. To be an American is to be conflicted.