Hyphen-Nation

This article is about the transformation of American conceptions of national identity over time. Specifically it looks to the change from the classic American concept of the “melting pot” towards “structural pluralism.” This represents a distinction both from old racial ideas as well as the melting pot idea, the notion that everyone can and should assimilate to a singular American identity. The passage begins by taking a look at President John F. Kennedy’s transforming effect on American consciousness. President Kennedy was remarkable in his unapologetic Irish identity- which was particularly troublesome to some who worried about the loyalties of the first Roman Catholic president at a time when anti-Catholic nativism was still somewhat prevalent. However, ultimately most would come to see Kennedy’s identification with his Irish heritage as not at odds with his Americanness, and increasingly there has been a spread in ethnic consciousness among Americans of many diverse backgrounds. However, the article also warns that despite the best efforts of some, the concept of ethnicity and ethnic pluralism has not managed to get rid of lingering ideas about race and racism. There still remains a fundamental understanding of “whiteness” and “blackness” which affects people and their prejudices.
The article also talks about how ethnicity, race and immigration became increasingly studied and discussed academically in the 1960s and 70s as “Cold War universalism” became increasingly replaced by pluralistic ideas, and the notion of the “nation of immigrants.” However, the article goes on to discuss an erasure and sanitizing of American history that comes with this new understanding. Indeed the article speaks of “the harsher realities of power that are most often hidden in the celebratory rhetoric of heritage.” There’s a certain irony in the fact that as Ellis Island became increasingly important and even hallowed ground in widespread public consciousness, it was overwhelmingly a place for white immigration, and that contemporary immigration is still often ignored or marginalized even while historical immigration is celebrated by the mostly white population of Ellis Island descendants. The article describes this as “self-congratulatory” and “strangely exclusive.” It concludes by noting that the modern, diverse “nation of immigrants” concept is not the Anglo-Saxon Protestant America of yesterday, but still white and exclusive nonetheless.

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