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The United States have witnessed tremendous changes and developments in its racial and ethnic composition in the last three centuries owing to factors such as colonization, immigration and more recently the economic globalization.
Although the world has experienced massive integration over the years, the United States remains the only country where the bulk of the integration has occurred. More importantly, the racial diversity has become a common determinant in the business environment with major implications on economic fortunes of locally and foreign based companies.
The success of integration of immigrants is believed to influence the market dynamic and consumer expectations. In addition, integration of races has elicited much debate among racial sociologists with some supporting heterogeneity while others are keen on the homogenization of all races to form an American culture.
This research paper will offer the differing perspectives of the melting pot and the salad bowl images in interracial relations. The paper will provide a brief description of the two metaphors and relate them to appropriate theories of relations before discussing their strengths and limitations.
To start with, it is imperative to define the two metaphors in order to have a clear picture of what they represent in the American society. The salad bowl is a concept widely used to denote the successful incorporation of divergent and differing cultural values and norms in a different setting such as the United States.
Although some form of integration occurs in the society, the specific cultures do not overly merge to form a homogenous culture, but retain their distinct values. On the other hand, the melting point has been regularly been used to bring out the tendency of a society losing its heterogeneity of cultures thereby embracing a common and homogenous cultural concept.
The assimilation of the cultural diversity occasioned by massive influx of immigrants to the United States in the later stages of 18th century is a good example of the melting pot concept (Yitzhaki & Schechtman, 2009, p. 140).
American culture from 18th to early 20th century can be explained through the melting pot concept owing to the fact that major developments and realignments on socio-economic and political dynamic occurred during this period. The concept has been widely been regarded as among the pillars that helps the American people enjoy much success in social and economic circles.
Taking into consideration that America has its origin in immigration, the massive influx of foreigners from Europe pitched camp in the United States thereby setting a foundation of the American culture. The arrival of the Africans and Latinos as slaves followed by the Hispanics brought a rich cultural mix (Henderson, 2009, p. 11).
Although interracial relations were limited owing to stereotyping and legal challenges, considerable merger of the culture occurred in the early years of immigration buoyed by the close relationships that formed between the employers, farmers, slaves and the tradesmen.
Although segregation based on ethnicity and economic might was prevalent, integration gained momentum in the years after American independence especially in major cities such as New York (White, 1989, p. 28).
The interaction of the different ethnic groups within the various neighborhoods and in the workplaces increased the speed of assimilation of cultural diversity to form a distinct and dynamic American culture. Rosaldo (1994, p. 405) asserted that assimilation started at the lowest level where a lot of social mobility is observed and improved as the immigrants improved their social status.
Increasing discontent by the opponents in the first half of 20th century fuelled by inequalities in the social environment resulted in the embracement of the salad bowl. The legalization of interracial marriages took effect in 1967 and the enactment of the immigration Act of 1q965 meant that an increasingly number of immigrants entered the country thereby imparting negatively on their integration in the American culture.
The desire of the minority groups from Asia and Latin America to retain their identity and heritage meant an end to the homogeneity of the American society thereby resulting in the wide application of the salad bowl concept (Henderson, 2009, p. 23).
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Currently, America enjoys the most dynamic culture with almost all aspects of its socio-economic structures having a well balanced representation brought about by political and social changes of the preceding decades. A walk through the streets of major cities reveals a huge presence of Hispanics and African Americans in addition to the Asians and blacks which has made America to be regarded as a land where plurality of races.
In view of the above, the melting pot has been widely used to refer to the act where all immigrants are introduced into the large pot, which is America, and are assimilated gradually just like the components of the pot melt away to form a common item. The act of melting down of cultural beliefs to embrace the American model is widely observed in language, dressing and lifestyle. In contrast, the salad bowl offers a current representation of the American society (Banton, 1998, p. 54).
The salad bowl consists of several ingredients that bring their unique tastes and flavors. It is worth noting that an increase in the ingredients commensurate to a rich and often tasty salad. The presence of the ingredients as entities is imperative to achieve the delicacy of the salad. Likewise, America is allowing large numbers of immigrants into its territory each year thereby resulting in influx of a variety of cultures.
The upsurge of immigrants in the last few decades meant the segregation of the newcomers, who in turn delved to retain their identities, hence forming a mosaic type of scenario. This has led to the emergence of distinctive ethnic enclaves that are bound by the American vision thus forming a whole entity, just like in the salad (LeMay, 2008).
Proponents of multiculturalism have been in the forefront in championing the salad bowl due to their desire for the society to retain the diversity offered b y this concept. On the other hand, the melting pot has played a major role in uniting people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds thereby making it popular in places experiencing conflict.
The melting pot is therefore associated with assimilation whereby the larger society is protected from receiving undue influence from the some cultures. Therefore, melting pot is associated with assimilation while the salad bowl is close to the theories of multiculturalism (Aguirre Jr. & Turner, 2008, p. 65).
In addition, melting pot has lost relevance in America owing to changes in social dynamic s and technological advancements although it still holds clout in other countries where cohesion among different ethnic populations is needed to ensure stability. In contrast, salad bowl has become a modern day concept that allows retention of cultural diversity in the society thereby creating more avenues of influencing the social economic dynamics.
Theories of racial relations
Theories of racial relations have continually served to shed light on the different perspectives of the melting pot and salad bowl. In fact, they offer a systematic approach that enhances the understanding of the holistic study of races in relation to the social environment particularly with regard to concerns over discrimination and conflicts.
Assimilation theories have been widely utilized to expound on the concepts behind the melting pot in interracial relations. Park (1930, p. 183) asserted in his theory that the immigrants make an initial contact with the larger society, similarly to introduction to the large pot.
Close interaction occurs during the first few months and years before a competitive phase ensues whereby the ethnic populations are often faced with dwindling resources and opportunities resulting in stiff competition. Scarcity of employment opportunities and social amenities brings about discontent between the two competing sides to an extent where ethnic conflict occur (Kivisto, 2004, p. 76).
In addition, the immigrants are entirely blamed for the social problems by the larger society thus providing more time for interaction whereby learning of each other ways take place (Aguirre Jr. & Turner, 2008).
In comparison to the components of the melting pot, the immigrants together with their descendants surrender and start learning the norms of their new environment thereby improving their relations with their other races. Incorporation in joint ventures is achieved when close interaction occurs at workplaces and social activities resulting into sharing of cultural values.
In tandem with the melting pot concept, the merger of the two cultural entities led to the invention of a distinct cultural identity (LeMay, 2008). It is worth noting that the assimilation process is effective only when conducive predisposing factors that promote interaction of the various ethnic populations. However, the assumption that assimilation is a relentless process while failing to explain the impact of the discriminatory forces makes the theory’s premise weak (Yitzhaki & Schechtman, 2009, p. 148).
The embracement of salad bowl in mid 20th century provided a good basis on which the population dynamics could be explained. The salad bowl concepts shares similarities with the pluralism theories due to their assertion of retention of distinct identities in advent of social pressures to homogenize.
The pluralism theory champions the preservation of cultural and organizational structures while maintaining the behavioral characteristics as a form of curtailing discriminatory efforts towards a certain group. In tandem with the contents of the salad bowl, pluralism theory is concerned with the perpetuation of the ethnic identities hence creating a pluralistic society that is unique due to its mosaic nature (LeMay, 2008).
Pluralism theory realizes the inevitability of change thereby creating avenues of minimal adjustments in the cultural values with the sole aim of shielding the small populations from discrimination. While minimal deviation from the norms is advised, the theory asserts that retention of elements that denote the ethnic heritage should always precedence at all times.
More importantly, the theory supports the view that heterogeneity and diversity offers better prospects in terms of development of cultural values (Spiro, 1955, p. 1234). Despite serving to complement the salad bowel, pluralism theory is criticized for failing to take into consideration the broader social forces that perpetuate discrimination; its explanation is premised on ethno genesis.
Strengths and limitations
The melting pot set the foundation of the formation of an American culture that has unified the people irrespective of the differing demographic variables. The cultural assimilation concept involving all the ethnic identities ensures the resulting cultural dispensation receives wide acceptance from the masses (Yitzhaki & Schechtman, 2009, p. 143).
However, the concept fails to take into account the implications of the disparities between the various ethnic populations in terms of economic power and numbers. Although cultural assimilation occurs, a high tendency of segregation and homogeneity has been observed based on ethnic origin.
It is not uncommon to find distinct neighborhoods habited by a certain ethnic population, and such examples are evident in majority of the cities. In addition, the skewed distribution of new immigrants in terms of settlement denotes impediments to the overall integration of the American society at social, cultural and economic levels while taking into account the existence of ethnic poverty and dispersion (Yitzhaki & Schechtman, 2009, p. 143).
Empowerment of the minority groups is acknowledged by the salad bowl where they are provided with an opportunity to preserve their identities as a way of cushioning themselves from discrimination. More importantly, improved living and relations within and without the cultural ethnic enclave is efficient owing to the mutual respect developed amongst the populations.
However, the tendency of manipulating the supportive environment through legislative or social changes aimed at disadvantaging a certain group is rife. Loss of diversity and eventual demise of variety through exposing the minority groups would exacerbate the situation thereby rendering them vulnerable to massive challenges in the society (White, 1989, p. 89).
Taking into the variations in the ethnic populations of the immigrants, the eventual integration in the American way of life has become a difficult task. While opposing views exist between the two concepts, their success in improving interracial relations has proved a success story. However, the holistic and unpredictable nature of the American socio, economic and political environment has eroded some achievements leading to fragmentation of the society at the local level. Moreover, manipulation of the balancing mechanisms would water down the fruits of salad bowl and melting pot. It is therefore imperative for the American people to remain vigilant in ensuring the premises behind the two models are retained thus ensuring peaceful coexistence and improved interracial relations.
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