Thu, 18 Aug 1994

United States is still a white state

U.S. is no `melting pot'. Movement toward becoming world's largest multicultural society seen as a racial questions.

By Edward Neilan

SAN FRANSISCO (JP): A Kyoto sage once said that all contemporary Japanese problems are related to "space" while all current United States problems are related to "race".

That shortcut explanation may be a bit too convenient as it is based on the two words rhyming in English. Nevertheless it is true that Japanese are striving to escape the domination of the tatami mat as a measurement of housing space, and to think in terms of expressways that do not turn into parking lots once they are opened.

The boast of Tokyo's Shinjuku that six million travelers pass through its wickets every day illuminates the situation.

Westerners' descriptions of Japanese homes as "rabbit hutches" extend the argument. With a population of 123 million crammed into an area about the size of California, Japanese have reason to be preoccupied with space, to learn to live with wa or harmony; their homogeneity gives them little inclination to deal with the bothersome issue of race.

The United States has plenty of space so three bedroom homes with den and two-car garages proliferate. Most of the citizens of the United States, twice the number of Japanese in Japan, do not feel overcrowded. But race is another matter.

Even critics say America is showing a glimmer of progress working on its race problems, its racial makeup, its multicultural situation, the unevenness of incomes along racial lines; ditto in crime statistics and educational patterns.

The American establishment still has a predominantly Eurocentrist outlook and stirrings of multiculturalism raise the wrong hackles. Immigration fear mongering is a new sport among politicians who realize that the United States is heading away from a "predominantly white" make-up.

Ethnic specifists, on the other hand, complicate the natural drift toward multiculturalism by over focusing on their narrow arguments such as "Black awareness", "Korean-American awareness", Hispanic-American studies, and "native American (Indian) studies".

University of California Prof. Ronald Takagi, a third- generation Japanese American, told the Bay Guardian newspaper the other day by telephone from his present assignment in Durban, South Africa, that someday whites will be in a minority in the United States.

He said South Africa is a harbinger of the United States to come because South Africa is a multiethnic society in which whites are a distinct minority.

Takagi is the author and editor of seven books on multiculturalism, including the well-received Strangers from a Different Shore and the more recent A Different Mirror. He grew up in Hawaii and believes what Hawaii was yesterday - a society with names like Hammamoto, Kauhane, Wong, Smith and Camara - is what the United States will be tomorrow.

"I think the idea that we will become a multicultural society is scary to people because there is this popular notion that America is white. I think many politicians are catering to these fears, and I think it is tragic to people in a state like California, for example. It blinds people to the real problems. Immigrants alone are not responsible for the sharp downturn of the economy. The state is suffering mainly because during the Cold War, 25 cents of every defense dollar was spent in California."

For Takagi, the multiethnic mosaic mandates a comprehensive approach too often ignored by contemporary thinkers.

The old "America as a melting pot" concept may have won some awards for a slogan-writer but it was never essentially accurate. A multicultural comparative path seems the more realistic route.

America is a nation being redefined, ever-changing, becoming one people comprised of many peoples. In the long run, that is its strength.

Window: America is a nation being redefined, ever-changing, becoming one people comprised of many peoples. In the long run, that is its strength.