On assimilation into American culture – Longmont Times-Call
I was struck by something I read recently: “The history of Britain is often presented as one group of invaders after another displacing the native population. The Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans all left their mark on Britain both politically and culturally. However, the history of Great Britain is much more complex. In fact, modern studies suggest that the early populations were not wiped out, but the newcomers adapted and absorbed them.
It occurred to me that a similar assessment could be made in many parts of the world, including our own. Most believe that the modern human race started in the same place. Modern archaeologists tend to think it was somewhere on the African continent. We all dispersed from there. This means that almost everyone has been populated by invasions, either in areas occupied only by non-human animals or by other humans who arrived first.
The first people to enter America today are now commonly known as Native Americans. Wikipedia references a 2012 “Nature” article which says the dominant theory is that Native Americans migrated through Siberia to present-day Alaska. The next invaders came mainly from Britain, France and Spain from the end of the 15th century. They were followed by immigrants from the rest of Europe, Asia and other parts of the world.
The British, French and Spanish were not absorbed in Native American culture. However, immigrants who arrived later were generally absorbed in British, French and / or Spanish culture, especially British as far as our country is concerned. This resulted in what can generally be called an “American culture”. Notable exceptions to full assimilation into “American culture” were African Americans, who were forcibly brought here as slaves, and Native Americans.
Much of the reason why these groups fail to fully assimilate into mainstream “American culture” can be attributed to government actions. Before the Civil War, in order to justify slavery, slave owners conspired with politicians, mostly Democrats, to promote the false concept that African Americans were an inferior race. The bloody civil war waged by the first Republican president ended slavery, but many in the former slave-owning states clung to the ingrained belief that African Americans were somehow inferior.
To curry favor at the ballot box, politicians in many states, again mostly Democrats, instituted the segregation of African Americans which largely continued until the 1950s Civil Rights Movement and 60 resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although this law was passed under a Democratic president, it would not have passed without overwhelming Republican support. There was still a lot of Democratic opposition from the former slave states.
Since 1964, much progress has been made in ending the exclusion of African Americans. Much remains to be done, especially to secure economic opportunities. The last Republican administration made significant progress in this direction.
The exclusion of Native Americans from “American culture” is a different situation. Those who live on reserves (only about 22% according to the Census Bureau) do not seem to have assimilated very well. Poverty is fairly widespread on reserves and education levels are low. Drug addiction, poor health services, low employment rates and substandard housing are also persistent problems.
It is difficult to find reliable information on the 78% who do not live on reserve. My own assessment based on growing up in Oklahoma, where there is a large Native American population but very few live on reservations, is that they seem to have adapted quite well to “American culture”. In fact, I remember, and the Oklahoma Historical Society documents it, that a chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was also the general manager of the Phillips Petroleum Company. The problems of assimilation of Native Americans seem to be mainly due to the reservation system of the federal government.
Overall, it seems that most people in our country are doing quite well at assimilating to “American culture,” and with some changes by the government, all probably could. So why do we have so many politicians, again mostly Democrats, trying to stop assimilation and turn us into separate warring groups?
Carl Brady is a retired engineer who has lived in Frederick for 16 years.