Brittany just graduated in May 2015 with a degree in Neuroscience. During her time at USC, she was, and continues to be, extremely passionate and a strong supporter of USC’s Camp Kesem chapter, a national non-profit dedicated to supporting kids affected by their parent’s cancer. She plans on attending law school this year, in hopes that legal education could help her improve and push for change in health care.
Among nations, there is a growing debate over which model, assimilation or multiculturalism, is superior. In 1994, France banned all religious symbols from being explicitly displayed in public schools. This act supports the French assimilation model for equal rights and embracing French culture; symbols included crucifixes, headscarves, turbans, and skullcaps. From the basis of this law, equal treatment of ethnic groups is the fundamental principle outlined so the state does not highlight any divisions among French citizens. Recently, in April 2011, the government formally outlawed the act of wearing veils in public areas, raising an issue on the right to religious freedom and expression. The police have the authority to fine women up to $200 or require citizenship classes for those who do not adhere to the new law (Totaro). Results of the votes show that the majority of Parliament largely supports the law; most believe that the presence of visible cultural differences is a threat to nationalism because it fosters ethnic distinctions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Canada is a proponent for cultural diversity and has taken measures to protect its citizens from racial discrimination. In 1988, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was passed to preserve the country’s diversity and create a multicultural society. According to the law, the state provides equal recognition and respect to all cultures’ language, religion, and traditions in order to acknowledge the importance of Canada’s rich multicultural heritage (Canada. Department of Justice). However, the enhancement of diversity through multiculturalism may lead to a more segregated society, one that highlights differences among ethnic groups. An assimilation approach, however, may not respect diversity enough: thus potentially stifling ethnic cultures and traditions in order to form a more unified society. While the assimilation model will gradually and hopefully lead to a more cohesive society with a shared culture, an assimilated society cannot be obtained without the implementation of the multiculturalism approach to handle tensions and conflicts that arise during the process of assimilation.
Assimilation is a model that unifies society and strengthens unification more prominently because it helps minority immigrants become familiar with established customs, social norms, and behaviors. This subsequently assists with the integration into a “foreign society.” According to Warner and Srole’s “Social Systems of American Ethnic Groups,” minority groups can only gain full acceptance by abandoning their cultural traits in order to learn and adopt the host society’s way of life (Alba & Nee 22). This model seeks to establish a unified culture that promotes a single national identity that all national citizens can relate to. In order to do so, ethnic, cultural, and social distinctions are hidden so that individuals from majority (in-group) and minority groups (out-group) see themselves as similar. Education, an official common language, social activities, and involvement in mainstream culture can assist with integration. For example, with mandatory schooling, students learn similar subject material: English, history, fable stories, games, and social behaviors. Obtaining a similar academic and social education through school diminishes divisions between in-groups and out-groups. Learning such at a young age aids in integration because students are exposed to societal culture early on and can easily adapt (Alba & Nee 274).
For first-generation individuals, their transition into mainstream society is smoother than that of their parents due to schooling. There are two types of acculturation across generations. The first is dissonant acculturation, in which children quickly learn the dominant language and culture and simultaneously lose their cultural heritage. These children adapt to the host society more quickly than their parents. The second type is selective acculturation, in which children learn the host society’s language and culture, while actively preserving their home language and customs; this slows the culture shift from the original to the host society. Both types of acculturation enable the first-generation youth to gain acceptance as they learn unaccented English and become accustomed to social norms (Portes & Rumbaut 53-54). Gradually, the youth begin to classify themselves with the national identity. By adopting mainstream culture, first generation individuals eventually assimilate into the host society. With minorities gradually acculturating to societal norms, national existence and cohesion occurs between minority and majority groups. A common culture allows citizens to relate to one another and understand social aspects of society.
Despite the opportunity to learn the customs of society and become more like members of the majority group, this does not guarantee full acceptance into the in-group. It is assumed that assimilation will end prejudice and discrimination as ethnic minorities adopt the ways of the social mainstream; the in-group will view members of the out-group as more similar rather than more different. However, realistically, social disadvantages persist despite efforts to make everyone equal through integration. Segmented, or downward, assimilation describes this realty: minorities will be assimilated into the mainstream, but will continue to be disadvantaged (Alba
& Nee 278). Minorities will still face inequalities because of the existence of hard-wired prejudice and rigid racial boundaries in a stratified society. During colonialism in America, Africans were forced into slavery and learned the customs of Anglo-Saxon Americans, while struggling to preserve their African heritage. As generations past, African descendants became natural-born citizens, losing touch with their original culture and calling themselves African- American and adopted the ways of American culture. But despite integration into American society, Blacks continued to be victims of prejudice and racism— even with the 14th Amendment that guaranteed rights for Blacks— through the Jim Crow Laws. Even after the Civil Rights Movement, there continues to be forms of discrimination and prejudice today. According to Theodore Shaw, the average federal sentence for Black drug offenders was 11% higher than for whites in 1986. Even after 1990 when mandatory minimum sentencing laws were passed, sentences for Black drug offenders were 49% higher than for whites (Trei). Although explicit discrimination was outlawed in the United States, racial bias still affects the treatment of minorities. Segmented assimilation occurs when there are rigid racial boundaries, in which a race is viewed as unequal in status to whites. Lingering prejudice sentiments carried through historical events, such as slavery and segregation, create barriers for minorities to integrate into the majority group and be accepted; in order for complete assimilation to occur, both sides of the boundary must assent to assimilation—the in-group must accept a minority group into the majority, and the minority group must be willing to integrate. The existence of discrimination from the majority group limits successful assimilation and social mobility of minorities.
The multiculturalism model is more effective in preserving society’s ethnic groups by protecting the rights of minority groups and encouraging cross-cultural understanding. Due to discrimination against minority groups, the state primarily recognizes each as an individually distinct group that faces these social shortcomings in order to address measures in providing equal opportunities and rights. The goal of multiculturalism is to attain unity by endorsing respect and inclusion to promote understanding and acceptance of different cultures. By doing so, it theoretically helps eliminate racist attitudes and allows for the appreciation of diversity. Individuals of different ethnicities are provided the chance to be exposed to other cultures, whether through religion, traditional practices, clothing, cultural holidays, or food. Citizens are able to preserve their ethnic heritage and embrace nationality without the threat of assimilation policies that might eliminate the conservation of various cultures. Allowing ethnic groups to retain their traditions and cultural practices boosts inclusion and full participation in society. It provides them with an opportunity to be active members in society, while maintaining their own customs. Multiculturalism encourages individuals to partake in political, economic, and social institutions to stimulate interactions between individuals of varied backgrounds, in an effort to create unity through differences.
Although multiculturalism aims to foster respect for and acceptance of diversity, realistically, a true multicultural model is not easy to implement through protective policies for ethnic groups. While ethnic groups are entitled to maintain their cultural heritage and endorsed to further embrace it, the multicultural model creates divisions among different groups. Although it allows individuals to continue practicing their heritage, there is a tendency for ethnic individuals to remain within their racial communities. Rather than classifying themselves with the national identity, members in ethnic communities identify themselves with their race or ethnicity (Alba & Nee 277). Citizens tend to focus on the differences among themselves instead of the similarities. In turn, this creates a country compiled of separate, distinct communities rather than a country unified by a common national identity. The encouragement of diversity, augmented by multicultural policies, may cause ethnic ghettos to become tightly secluded from the rest of society. Policies that do not mandate learning of a country’s official or dominant language stifle political, economic, and social integration and participation. Additionally, the segregation of racial communities can create an exact opposite effect of the goals of a multiculturalism model. Spatial racial segregation may increase ethnic tensions and amplify racism. The psychological tendency for humans to make assumptions and schemas for a broad context of populations increases the tendency for prejudice (Massey 9). By creating broad descriptions of individuals and categorizing a group of people under these labels, stereotyping becomes inevitable. Instead of promoting unity and eliminating racism through diversity appreciation, multiculturalism only continues disunity and prejudice towards ethnic groups.
The definition and principles of assimilation and multiculturalism are both ideal and present seamless processes of creating a unified society. Yet there are assumptions that mask the realistic impediments that arise. Discrimination and prejudice continue to exist in both social models. The assumption made with assimilation is that minority groups will climb up the social ladder, moving from a disliked, outcast group to a dominating group, usually by adopting an Anglo-Saxon lifestyle. However, within the dominating group, inequalities are still present because non-white ethnicities continue to be seen as inferior. Even with an equal class status, incoming ethnicities in the majority group do not experience equal social status. With assimilation, it seems as if there will be an increased tolerance and acceptance of cultural disparities as minorities abandon their cultural traditions and partake in mainstream culture. On the contrary, tolerance and acceptance will not emerge because of looming prejudice. In order to lessen social disadvantages minorities encounter, a multiculturalist approach should be used to protect minorities when assimilating into a foreign society. Policies that provide protection for minorities and foster cross-cultural understanding will help eliminate tensions caused by the interpenetration of out-groups into in-groups; a cross-cultural understanding endorses appreciation for diversity. Multiculturalism relieves tensions that arise when members of the majority group refuse to accept the inclusion of assimilated minority groups. The idea of a dual implementation of assimilation and multiculturalism feeds another social model, a composite culture. This model describes the penetration of diverse cultural practices and beliefs into mainstream culture that are then integrated into the mainstream. Through respect of diversity through multiculturalism and integration through assimilation, a composite culture can evolve as the mainstream changes to incorporate these interactions between minority and white cultures. Acceptance of cultural differences during assimilation actually forms a more cohesive society, in that a common culture can develop while minorities are able to hold onto their heritage. Values, customs, and behaviors accumulate from mainstream and minority heritages to shape individuals. People are molded into their ethnic culture as well as the national culture.
Today, countries choose different social models they see as a better foundation for their society. However, as critics of the various social models say, each model has problems that do not meet its goals. In order to address the problems, dual incorporation can counteract the fallbacks of prejudice. The idea of a composite culture is only a hypothetical solution that may or may not succeed. Dual implementation of assimilation and multiculturalism can theoretically separate ethnic groups to preserve culture while promoting interactions among ethnic groups to promote national unity. However, there is yet to be an official model used that follows this theory. The composite model, as suggested, may not be so easy to implement since complexities already arise in single models. And while affirmative action and government policies can be implemented to create a composite culture society, it is uncertain whether they will effectively eliminate prejudice. After all, laws cannot change a person’s mindset.
Alba, Richard D., and Victor Nee. Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and
Contemporary Immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2003. Print.
Canada. Department of Justice. Department of Justice. Department of Justice, 21 July 1988.
Web. 20 Jan. 2012.
Massey, Douglas S. Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007. Print.
Portes, Alejandro, and Rubén G. Rumbaut. Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second
Generation. Berkeley: University of California, 2001. Print.
Totaro, Paola. “France Behind the Veil.” The Sydney Morning Herald. The Sydney Morning
Herald, 16 Apr. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2012.
Trei, Lisa. “Experts Explore Race, Inequality, Incarceration in America.” Stanford Report.
Stanford University, 18 Apr. 2007. Web. 25 Apr. 2012.
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