Relabeling Americans

For two centuries, the melting pot was America's defining symbol and crowning achievement. It allowed millions of integrating immigrants to formulate and maintain this nation's social contract. But new concepts of separateness, new feelings about diversity, and new definitions of ethnicity have all but destroyed the melting pot and the social contract. To be politically correct today, how should one categorize the following naturalized or native-born Americans, all of whom I know or have known?

A Kenyan-born white woman whose parents were born in South Africa and whose grandparents were born in the Netherlands. A black man who was born in Libya, whose parents were born in Egypt, and whose grandparents were born in Ethiopia. A woman who was born in French Algeria, whose parents were born in Tunisia, and whose grandparents were born in France. A fifth-generation Argentine-born couple who are Sephardic Jews. A Japanese-American who was a student of mine at Temple University Japan. He was born in Philadelphia, his parents were born in Hawaii, and his grandparents are natives of Japan. A woman who was born in Madrid, as were all the members of her family except her children. She considers herself to be of European stock, with no interest in Spanish-speaking America. A man from Rio de Janeiro whose slave ancestors were from West Africa and whose modern ancestors were born in Brazil. He hates the designation "Latino" and never calls himself that. If he has any cultural ties to the Iberian Peninsula, they are to Portugal, not to Spain. A man from the Bronx whose parents were born in Haiti and whose grandparents were born in the Dominican Republic. A fourth-generation Jamaican-born woman. A woman from Harlem who migrated to Manhattan from the Florida Panhandle. Her parents were born in Alabama.

I should also include myself: a fair-skinned Ashkenazi Jew born in Brooklyn whose parents and grandparents came from Russia. As my high-cheek-boned grandmothers grew older, they looked more and more like American Indians. Because I have epicanthic folds in my eyes, I was often taken for Asian when I lived in Tokyo.

No longer a numerical concept, the word "minority" has been redefined in this country. It is no longer an objective numerical measure, but an indicator of socioeconomic status. Countless U.S. government, business, union, and university programs are based on this redefinition.

Thus, the Japanese-American is not a "minority" because he belongs to an educationally and economically gifted ethnic group. Never mind that there are only about a million Japanese-Americans in the U.S. and that not all of them are well-educated or well-to-do. Neither are Jews in America a "minority." For they, too, belong to a group of educational and economic overachievers. Never mind that Jews comprise only about two percent of the population, and that not all of them are well-educated or well-to-do. Because their names end in a vowel, the former Argentineans fit the fashionable definition of Latino or Hispanic. But they aren't Christians; have no Indian, mestizo, or Spanish ancestors; don't celebrate the Día de la Raza; and never call themselves Hispanics.

How should I categorize the former Libyan, Algerian, or Kenyan? They were were all born in Africa. But I can't call them African-Americans, because that's now the official synonym for American blacks, most of whom have never seen Africa. Nor have the former Brazilian, Haitian, Jamaican, and Floridian.

It is obvious that "diversity" and "minority" as currently labeled and applied are dangerous concepts. At the very least, they foster class warfare, balkanization, and resegregation. The time has come to drop the terms and call ourselves just Americans.

Edward Bernard Glick is a professor emeritus of political science at Temple University in Philadelphia.