- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

If we've been here before, why are university professors and activist groups whipping themselves into a separatist and counterproductive frenzy? This is the challenge that Michael Barone poses in his masterfully crafted book, "The New Americans."
The answer that Mr. Barone comes up with, logically enough, is that those who would claim to help America's minorities, while well-intentioned, are nonetheless impeding the progress of assimilation. And assimilation, despite the dirty connotations it has acquired in some circles, is the central goal for which Mr. Barone argues. Lest there be any confusion, the author explains that assimilation, far from coercing the new minorities into abandoning their cultures, promotes a healthy interweaving within American society and ultimately leads to "more functional habits of mind."
Mr. Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report and a regular panelist on "The McLaughlin Group," has presented us with an impeccably organized study of six minorities, three from the year 2000 and three from 1900. With the logic of history, the author instructs us that in its current state America is not in a new position. In innumerable ways Mr. Barone links the plights of today's Latinos with yesteryear's Italians, blacks with the Irish, and Asians with Jews. To the narrow-minded, these groups appear divided by the immoveable barrier of race, but such thinking is to be dispelled if "the melting pot can work again."
The irony of the current view on racial integration, the view that would advocate bilingual education and the like, is that it inevitably leads to isolation and separatism. Diversity, Mr. Barone reminds us, is integral to the American character, but must never come at the expense of unity. In a speech espousing this separatist view, Al Gore is quoted as having translated E Pluribus Unum as "out of one, many." Mr. Barone soberly reminds us that this mentality is a living, breathing roadblock to the integration that is so essential to American progress.
Mr. Barone begins with the Irish and blacks, reminding us that while the similarities may not be apparent to the average American, they are undeniable. Suffering under the British yoke in Ireland and an American system of slavery, respectively, the two groups share a history of oppression as "second-caste citizens." Both groups were also denied educational opportunities, thus perpetuating a weak economic status. Another key ingredient to their compromised position was the externally imposed isolation, leading to a fortress mentality that precluded mixed marriages.
The author adds, however, that not all of the problems the Irish and blacks encountered were thrust upon them. A mixture of causes including fatherlessness and substance abuse were central impedements to advancement. The discrimination each group suffered was demoralizing and functioned — at least — as a partial roadblock, but many blacks and Irish persevered in spite of such hurdles and achieved significant economic success.
It is between Latinos and Italians that Mr. Barone draws the closest parallel. Both have a strong tradition of political apathy rooted in a distrust of institutions. Largely, this comes from the ineffective and often corrupt forms of government that characterized their respective countries of origin. The logical extent of this mentality is to turn within and develop strong familial ties. It has also imbued them with a strong work ethic.
Unfairly, both groups have been labeled as lazy, violent and subversive, while history tells a different story. Each group has produced celebrities in sports and entertainment, and both, despite stereotypes, have earned a substantial measure of economic prosperity.
Finally, Mr. Barone discusses the similarities between Asians (primarily Chinese and Japanese) and Jews. And in the case of these two groups, he acknowleges the limitations of the correlation, but both groups have risen to an elite status and this stands out. On the faculties of the most prestigious universities both Jews and Asians abound, despite the efforts of racial quotas aimed at curbing their advancement. And while they differ in their religious origins, both groups share a strong sense of family.
The thesis of the book is clear and compelling. The predicament of today's minorities, at least of those surveyed, is neither unique nor insurmountable. Mr. Barone's conclusion, "We've Been Here Before," succinctly advances the point that we must remember our history and, thanks largely to this book, study the ways that the immigrants of 1900 integrated into American society, because, if we could do it then we can do it now. And perhaps most importantly, Mr. Barone urges those well-intentioned but misguided proponents of diversity at any cost to stop impeding the process of assimilation for the sake of what amounts to isolation.

Kenneth Corbin is an editorial writer at The Washington Times.


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