Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal published an op-ed piece in Politico where he says in part:
We have made tremendous progress, but as long as our society is comprised of imperfect human beings, we will always be striving for a more perfect union. We must not let this constant process prevent us from acknowledging the enormous strides we have already made.
Yet we still place far too much emphasis on our “separateness,” our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few.
Here’s an idea: How about just “Americans?” That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our “separateness” is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot.
There is nothing wrong with people being proud of their different heritages. We have a long tradition of folks from all different backgrounds incorporating their traditions into the American experience, but we must resist the politically correct trend of changing the melting pot into a salad bowl. E pluribus Unum.
There are several problems with this argument. One is that racial and ethnic identities have become in the modern era important aspects of our sense of self and so cannot be discarded as simply as he suggests. Another problem is that research in cognitive science shows that categorizing people is a fundamental way our minds work, so urging us to simply see sameness is unrealistic. See the recently published Blindspot for an accessible overview of this research. Yet another problem is that his suggestion that we all just think of ourselves as “American” means in practice thinking of ourselves as white. A 2005 study by Devos and Banaji shows that most Americans implicitly associate being American with being white. And since whiteness is the dominant frame that shapes our cultural images and conceptions, assimilation to ‘Americaness’ just means assimilation to whiteness.