The melting pot: half empty?
PUBLIC policy, like anthropology, is full of taboos. Certain subjects are so volatile that an open and honest dialogue is almost impossible. Race is such a subject in the United States. Regardless of the taboos, we simply must muster the courage to talk about the pattern of disaffection that is being created among American minorities -- particularly black and Hispanic youth. The risks we run in failing to discuss this issue dwarf all else.Skip to next paragraph
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This assertion may seem incredible because our nation believes passionately in the effectiveness of the melting pot and equality of humanity. Both tenets have worked so well here that we enshrine them as universal truths. We not only expect people to be created equal, but we expect each culture to succeed equally once it is fully exposed to our country.
Clearly, success stories are part of the American lore. The poor, uneducated immigrants of one generation are leaders in politics, business, and science of the next. ``Only in America,'' we tell each other with blind faith.
Yet two groups, blacks and Hispanics, continue to face extraordinary crime, joblessness, and illiteracy rates. My generation marched in Selma, Ala., and fought discrimination throughout society. We take great pride in the degree of advancement and integration we have achieved together. But the overall profile is not encouraging. Consider the following:
Blacks account for 12 percent of the US population, but 46 percent of the arrests for violent crimes. In 1982, 49.2 percent of all murders and nonnegligent manslaughters known to police were committed by blacks, often against other blacks. Hispanics account for 6 percent of US population, but account for 12 percent of all arrests for violent crime.
Forty-six percent of this nation's black males over 16 are jobless.
Approximately 44 percent of black teen-agers and 56 percent of Hispanic teen-agers are illiterate.
Nearly 50 percent of all Hispanic youth in America never finish high school.
These same minority groups are the fastest growing subgroups in America. For example, approximately 30 percent of all four-year-olds are black or Hispanic. The declining birthrate has been largely confined to Caucasian and middle-class families. Meanwhile, illegal immigration is swelling our Hispanic population dramatically.
Thus, the demographics of America are changing -- something that would be relatively unimportant if not for the fact that the groups of young people most involved in this change are among those with the most socioeconomic problems. We tend to ignore this issue; however, America's future is inextricably wrapped up in what happens to these children.
Daniel P. Moynihan tried to tell us in 1965: ``From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern Seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men (and women) to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future . . . that community asks for and gets chaos.'' We ignore these
words at our peril.
The breakdown of the black family has been staggering; the exploding Hispanic population is not following the traditional ``escape from the ghetto'' route, and the social problems affecting these groups are growing dramatically. The melting pot is no longer working and we must ask why.
Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, gave part of the answer recently when she said, ``. . . the statistical facts have changed dramatically in one area: Today an overwhelming majority of all Black children are born to single teen-age mothers.''
Can we expect improvement in the status of minorities when more than 50 percent of all black births and almost 80 percent of all births in Harlem are to single mothers, and when 70 percent of all black and Hispanic ninth grades in New York City will not finish high school? An estimated 41 percent of black women will bear their first child before their 20th birthday. These numbers do not give us hope; they are a social time bomb.
Our immigration laws present us with another but related problem. Fewer than 5 percent of legal immigrants are admitted to the US for their skills. Most legal and illegal immigrants are unskilled workers; two-thirds of all legal immigrants are women and children. Studies show the average educational level of illegal immigrants from Mexico is fifth grade. Yet Spanish-speaking immigrants make up a large majority of all immigrants, often living in Spanish-speaking ghettos and not assimilating into American
culture or even learning English.
We are heading for an America in which we will have two angry, underutilized and undereducated, frustrated, resentful, jealous, and volatile minority groups existing unassimilated and unintegrated within our borders. Their numbers will increase dramatically and, unless we act swiftly and imaginatively, they will be largely outside the mainstream economy and world of jobs.
This nation will not remain economically competitive if our crime, welfare, adolescent parenthood, high school dropout rates, and illiteracy rates remain so much higher than other industrialized countries. It is not racism but realism that demands that we openly talk about this problem. These are our children.
Richard D. Lamm is the governor of Colorado.