Respond to the reading “Beyond the Melting Pot Reconsidered.” Share what you found interesting and agree with or disagree with. Apply at least two terms/concepts from this course.
Beyond the Melting
rapidly occurring with the Jews, the Italians, and the
Irish. Replacing ethnicity was religious identification. Because blacks and Puerto Ricans were not
moving into the middle class according to the patterns of the white immigrant groups, their ethnicity
remained salient. However, for blacks ethnicity is in
fact race and for the Puerto Ricans it is becoming a
permanent subculture that includes the use of
Spanish as an official language. The major obstacles
to assimilation into the American mainstream are
seen to be the legacy of slavery for blacks and the
continuing close ties with the island for Puerto
Ricans. A loose black family structure and lack of
economic initiative are seen to derive from slavery,
whereas because Puerto Ricans go back and forth
between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, they maintain
their dysfunctional social and cultural patterns.
n 1963, Glazer and Moynihan made a bold and
optimistic statement about American race and
ethnic relations to the effect that one day we would
resolve the divisive issue of different ethnicities,
and be melded into one in the melting pot of
American society. As an idea, this can be traced to
Robert Park and the beginnings of urban sociology
(Park, 1950), but. Glazer and Moynihan felt that
they were documenting the realization of this concept in the New York City of the late 1950s and
early 1960s. Indeed, the black and Puerto Rican
populations seemed not to be keeping pace with the
process of assimilation, but even they had made
progress. The message of Beyond the Melting Pot
was that it was only a matter of time, perhaps a generation or two, until the process would change the
face of American society. Yet today, thirty-five
years later, we see that this has not occurred. Why?
Glazer and Moynihan’s belief was that even
though skin color and the unique history of blacks
in America made their assimilation more problematic than that of white immigrant groups, eventually it
would occur. Yet today there has been some but not
nearly as much as the authors expected; in fact, at
the present time, the rate of assimilation seems to be
actually slowing down (Glazer, 1997; Schlesinger,
1999). What happened?
In 1999, we have more of a salad bowl than a
melting pot. Rather than giving it up, racial and ethnic groups appear to embrace their particularism. In
public and to an extent in private life, there is more
mixing of people of various groups than there was a
generation ago, but at the same time people tend to
retain more of their ethnic particularity within these
interactions. An important reason for this has been
the continuation of racial and ethnic competition,
especially in the wake of the civil rights movement
that—while its goal was the incorporation of blacks
into mainstream society—encouraged racial pride
among African Americans. This in turn prompted
other groups to do the same. At the same time, the
U.S. experienced an influx of immigration, especially of people of color, who have likewise retained
their particularity. As all these people compete for
place and position, they do so from the base of their
own particular ethnic identities.
A large part of the answer lies in the occurrence of developments that Glazer and Moynihan
could not have anticipated: changes in the economic structure and in immigration. For the past thirty
years, the U.S. has been undergoing deindustrialization—the change from a manufacturing to a service
and high-tech economy—in the context of an
increasingly global economy (Suro, 1998; Taylor,
1997). As a result, jobs that inner-city residents
could perform are being sent to the suburbs and to
third world countries, leaving the inner city virtually jobless. This has obvious economic implications
for the black lower classes, but it also has implications for relations between them and the black mid-
The main argument of Beyond the Melting Pot
is that ethnicity declines in importance as groups
become middle class and that at the time this was
“Beyond the Melting Pot Reconsidered,” by Elijah Anderson from Internatinal Migration Review, vol. 34, 2000. Reprinted by
permission of Elijah Anderson.
2 Beyond the Melting Pot Reconsidered
dle classes. As many of the unemployed poor have
become mired in an underclass, the middle class,
having taken advantage of affirmative action programs and other efforts to incorporate blacks into
the mainstream, has grown, and the split between
the two is becoming increasingly visible. At the
same time, all blacks are currently under siege due
to a withdrawal of responsibility by the wider society. In the inner-city communities, this has occurred
in terms of policing, public welfare, and employment. For the middle class and those who aspire to
it, it has been through cutbacks in the programs and
policies that made the middle class possible.
A further stressor has been the huge influx during this period of immigrants of color, the result of
the Immigration Act of 1965. These people often
move into underclass areas and effectively compete
with blacks for place and position. In addition,
many of these new immigrants are already middle
class and feel less pressured to give up their particularism, thus helping to fuel the revival of ethnic
particularism just at the time that, as Glazer and
Moynihan found, it seemed about to fade away. This
has had a profound effect on American blacks, for
whom particularism already played a different role
than it had for the white immigrant groups.
The situation of blacks is complicated by the
civil rights movement and the rise of black cultural
nationalism. In the process of forming a cohesive
block that could successfully challenge the white
mainstream society from which they were excluded,
blacks were encouraged to become highly particularistic. An unfortunate byproduct of that particularism, however, has been the development of a certain
stance among whites that views blacks as a monolith, apart, often alienated and angry. The interplay
of these two viewpoints has led to the current situation in which even blacks who rise into the middle
or upper middle class now tend to live in self-segregated communities, such as Prince George’s
County, Maryland and Teaneck, New Jersey
(Massey and Demon, 1993). But buying into such a
limited housing market has implications for the
ability of blacks to build up long-term financial capital (Oliver and Shapiro, 1997).
The divisive racial atmosphere in which we
live makes such a seemingly contradictory stance
entirely predictable. We now have an increasingly
diverse black middle class in the midst of a black
working class that has seen its fortunes decline rapidly with the industry that supported it. In turn, the
weakest members of the working class find themselves slipping into the growing underclass. The
Republican Right stirs up the latent racism of those
who are inclined to see black people as incompetent, at best, and, at worst, freeloaders who are getting something for nothing. At the same time, black
leaders, such as Louis Farrakhan and the Reverend
Al Sharpton, fan the flames of separatism, challenging blacks with the question of whether whites are
really worthy of integration.
This places the middle class black in a bind: If
he leaves behind his ethnic particularism, he may be
seen by blacks as a sellout and therefore something
of a failure even though he has achieved success in
white society; but if he embraces particularism, his
chances for success may be adversely affected. This
dilemma, previously unknown to whites, was thrust
into the public spotlight in the O.J. Simpson trial,
particularly with regard to Christopher Darden.
Regardless of the merits of the case, many blacks
found themselves disgusted with a black man who
would prosecute another.
Darden’s dilemma is one that many blacks in
professional positions are experiencing in the 1990s
but that could not have been foreseen in the 1960s
when Glazer was considering the issue of assimilation. Many of these blacks face the dual pressures
and expectations of being “professionals” in a white
world and of dealing with what it means to be
African American in the context of a reanimated
racial pride. The choice of coming to terms with
their situations as blacks or as professionals, as the
example of Darden shows, is not always left up to
them and is made all the more painful by those
who see racial loyalty as an either/or proposition—
you’re either for us or against us, a race man or a
The idea of the race man goes back to the segregated black community, in fact, all the way back
to the time of slavery. The term itself comes from
the classic ethnographic study of the black community in Chicago, Black Metropolis, carried out in the
1940s by two sociologists at the University of
Chicago, Horace Cayton and St. Clair Drake. By
Cayton and Drake’s definition, the race man (or
woman) was a particular kind of black leader who
lived in a segregated society and felt strongly
responsible to the black race, especially in front of
whites or outsiders to the community. Such a person
was intent on “advancing the race” by working as a
role model, both to uplift the ghetto community and
Beyond the Melting Pot Reconsidered 3
to disabuse the wider society of its often negative
view of blacks. Implicit in this belief was a kind of
racial solidarity, a peculiar celebration of racial
“particularism,” of putting matters of race above all
other issues. For a long time, there was a critical
mass of race men and women in the black community.
However, over the past several decades, the
wider system has been pressured to treat blacks as
full citizens. At the impetus of the civil rights movement and the insurgencies and civil disorders of the
1960s, the white system began the process of granting blacks civil rights and incorporating blacks
more fully into the economic system. By the 1970s,
a black middle class was developing, increasingly
assimilated with the wider society, particularly in
terms of education, employment, residence, and
lifestyle. But one of the costs of becoming a trusted
member of this system is to divest oneself, to some
extent, of one’s own ethnic particularity, to display
a commitment to the values of the dominant culture.
Adopting this posture works against the ideology of
the race man: the more his people are assimilated,
the less important is his role. Thus, the process
we’ve been witnessing on a large scale in the past
quarter century is the emergence of a new type of
black professional who, even though he or she often
experiences divided loyalties, appears as interested
in his or her class or profession as in his or her race.
and the implicit marginalization of people like Jesse
Jackson, Coretta Scott King, and other moderate
black leaders who actively supported integration. A
concomitant, parallel development has been the
emergence of an oppositional culture among black
youths, especially in the inner cities (Anderson,
1999). Unlike many of their parents and grandparents, these young people often pride themselves on
being racially particularistic and identifying with an
ideology that is often diametrically opposed to
“white” conventions, the norms of the wider society, an attitude that appears to be spreading. Fueled
by an increasingly resistant white system, it is one
of the most dramatic developments in the black
In this context, at a time of heightened feelings
by blacks of being persecuted by the society at
large, the race man has reemerged to defend and
serve the group. But this time it is a new race man.
The former race men were integrationists, striving
to attain the same rights, duties, and privileges for
blacks that were claimed by whites. In contrast,
Farrakhan and others like him promote separatism.
Their goals for the black society—such as selfreliance and stable families—are largely shared by
the white society, but they see the ideal black society as parallel to, rather than an integrated part of, the
white society. Several factors have been at work to
bring this situation about, some obvious and well
documented and some perhaps more subtle.
As described by Glazer and Moynihan, this
process is, in many respects, similar to what the
Irish, Jews, Italians, and other ethnic groups have
undergone. All these groups have had their race men
at certain times in their histories, but as the groups’
fortunes have risen, the need for their respective
race men has declined and other individuals have
emerged who are increasingly more interested in
their professions and class positions. These individuals don’t necessarily forget their roots, but often
the requirements of their profession win out, and
class issues take precedence over public displays of
ethnic and racial particularism. This is what we
have come to expect as a normal consequence of
upward mobility in the United States. The exception
is that of race and the nature and complexity of
racism that blacks face.
One element is the growing trend toward ethnicity and particularism among groups throughout
the wider society (and the world), including the
newer waves of immigrants. Many are educated and
already middle class and thus are under less pressure than previous immigrants to divest themselves
of their ethnic identities in exchange for upward
mobility, in contrast, they are encouraged to hold on
to their particularities and even to celebrate them as
cultural diversity, and with heightened ethnic consciousness, groups from previous waves join that
trend. Blacks, having always been apart from the
wider society to a large extent, have a real and justified interest in more fully embracing their own
ethnicity, celebrating it, becoming ethnocentric.
And many do.
In the 1990s, after this age of integration and
the gradual loss of traditional race men and women,
we have seen the emergence of Farrakhan, Al
Sharpton, the Rodney King beating and its aftermath, the Simpson case, the Million Man March,
Strongly related to these considerations are the
many forces that are pressing on the inner-city black
population today. Repeatedly, blacks have witnessed the precipitous rise and fall in their fortunes
through slavery, emancipation, segregation, the
4 Beyond the Melting Pot Reconsidered
civil rights movement, affirmative action, and now
political retrenchment as politicians are gaining
political clout by proving themselves hostile to the
advancement of blacks. Today, we are experiencing
the transformation of American cities from centers
of manufacturing to centers of service and high
technology. The loss of well-paying manufacturing
jobs in the cities as U.S. corporations have sent their
low-skill jobs to Third World countries and nonmetropolitan areas of this country has devastated
the black working class (Bluestone and Harrison,
1982; Reich, 1992; Wilson, 1996; Rifkin, 1996).
The resulting poverty has created a social breakdown in our inner cities on a huge scale—witness
the all-too-familiar and escalating problems of
alienation, drug abuse, violence, teenage pregnancy,
family disintegration, record rates of arrest and
incarceration, AIDS, homelessness, and endemic
At the heart of the matter, and of the rise in the
fortunes of this new generation of more separatist
race men, is the dominant culture’s denigration of
the character and competence of black men.
Because men are considered to be responsible for
providing for the welfare of their families and communities in our society, many people who are confronted with the widespread unemployment of black
people have reached a simple conclusion: There is
something terribly wrong with the black man. His
moral fiber, his common decency, his very masculinity are being called into question. In any discussion of prisons, welfare, joblessness, family
desertion, crime, violence, or drugs, his name is
invoked. Shopkeepers fear him. Taxi drivers refuse
to pick him up. And policemen “profile” him or
sometimes shoot him dead. It has become easy to
grumble that he is the reason for our nation’s problems. And some politicians have responded by
slashing welfare and ignoring economic and structural realities, such as the aforementioned devastation of the inner cities, threatening to turn back a
generation of racial gains, in addition, in public
interactions, blacks’ images of themselves may be
called into question by the set of negative stereotypes that emerge from the mass media’s reports on
the plight of the underclass.
The young inner-city black man has not failed
to respond to this state of affairs. Resigned to a society that does not include him in the American
Dream, he comes of age realizing the hard truths
that American society is not there for him, that a
racially stratified system is in place, and that his
place, fortified through acts of prejudice and discrimination, is at the bottom of it. This creates in
him a profound sense of alienation and forces him
to adapt (Anderson, 1990, 1999). That resignation
can be observed in the young men’s looks, in their
actions, and in their tendency to disparage white
people except for those who can be used to attain an
immediate goal. Life has taught the young black
man that he can do certain things but, cannot go
beyond his limited situation; dreams are simply
never fulfilled. He knows the dream that says people will “judge you not by the color of your skin, but
by the content of your character,” but he also knows
“the real deal”—that he must always pay a tax for
being black in America. A common response is to
embrace the profound alienation represented by the
oppositional culture of the street.
Even the black men who win—”make it” in
mainstream society—must have a certain distrust of
the prize: Their own success alienates them from
the black masses but fails to win them true acceptance by the wider system. Those young middle class
black men who acquire the resources to negotiate
the wider system and who, in the process, have
worked so hard to eliminate any potential confusion
between themselves and their inner-city counterparts feel eternally in limbo between two extremes:
the drug-dealing, gold-wearing street hustler who
“disses” the conventions of the wider society, on the
one hand, and the successful mainstream professional, on the other hand. Therefore, black professionals must constantly struggle to define themselves on their own terms, in the context of a society
that both demonizes and celebrates them (O.J.
Simpson being a good case in point). All this contributes to a certain precariousness of place that
results from people’s presuppositions with regard to
the black man. The black man’s color and maleness
become his master status, putting into question anything else he may claim to be. Darden’s dilemma,
therefore, is one he shares with many African
Americans. He was trying to serve two basically
contradictory gods, that of black racial particularism and that of meritocracy and universalism.
Blacks often see these events as reflecting the
racism of a white population that has always discouraged their demands for fuller inclusion and participation in the wider society’s economic, political,
and social life, and they respond by embracing their
own ethnic particularism. Unfortunately, the line
between ethnocentrism and alienation can be blurry.
Whether young blacks are of the street or of the
Beyond the Melting Pot Reconsidered 5
middle class, it is hard for them to see themselves as
part of the wider society. At black colleges and other
black institutions, young people display elements of
the street culture simply to prove to others that
they’re truly black and haven’t sold out, that they
haven’t forgotten their roots. Most young African
Americans ultimately come to terms with these feelings of alienation. Those with fewer resources,
however, may express it through drug abuse and
violence. Only one of the resulting tragedies of this
alienation is the tendency of some whites to discriminate against all blacks because to do otherwise
simply requires too much energy and an understanding that they do not possess.
This is the hand blacks have been dealt by the
circumstances of history, particularly such recent
events as the Rodney King affair and a whole host
of grievances toward the police that had been building up in the black community—the hand from
which Johnnie Cochran extracted the “race card.”
Cochran’s defense was to transform Simpson into a
symbol of black persecution in a white judicial system that is already distrusted by a large number of
blacks. In these times, when the black community is
seen to be under assault by the wider society, the
community is coming together around the defense
of black victims at the same time as it is searching
for race men, leaders of the race.
A disturbing implication of all this for
American society is that as a result Christopher
Darden found himself out of style because the prevailing racial atmosphere is one in which the ultimate value of integration and conformity with the
larger society is increasingly being called into
question. This is a situation that Glazer and
Moynihan’s Beyond the Melting Pot did not
anticipate or expect, but Glazer’s most recent book,
We Are All Multiculturalists Now, is consistent with
this reality and is testimony to how much things
have changed—and how they don’t remain the
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A minority response to prejudice and discrimination; based on powerlessness, fear for
personal safety, desire for economic security, or split-labor-market theory fatalism.
The irrational fear of or contempt for strangers
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