The Care and Feeding of a Multicultural Glutton

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It has taken me a long time to digest all of the nuances and subtleties of the multiculturalism movement. At first, I embraced it, as an artist, a writer, and a mother-rejoicing in the variety of colors, languages, dress, belief systems and cuisine that it offered. But somewhere along the line, something struck me as insincere, self righteous and pervasive. Then it hit me: Orwellian shades of Big Brother.

Too many movements are so caught up in their own "rightness" that they fail to see entrenchment in their own "isms." The multiculturalism movement has reached this precipice. It has lost sight of the individual, if it ever saw him at all. When a person's culture eclipses his own thoughts and values, something is terribly wrong. And when "culture" is confused with "heritage," an entire country is being misled.

Use a mental zoom lens to go from the big picture to the personal: When you first gaze into the face of your newborn, or catch the first glance of your soon-to-be toddler, there is a spark, a visceral tug that is so primal, so wrenching, it brings tears to your eyes. "My son, my daughter, my child," you think. This is the way it should be. One human being connects with another. You take your new family member home, and somehow, that one-on-one connection is swallowed up by bigger, nobler plans. "I plan on exposing my son to as much African/Indian/Vietnamese/Korean/Brazilian/etc. culture as possible," you say. You want to do "the right thing." One mom on my computer adoption bulletin board writes, "I buy my son only dolls with his skin color." Never mind that he's 2 years old and uses the dolls as Scud Missiles, and that he prefers trucks over dolls altogether. Mom is "doing the right thing."

What happens when your 2-year-old grows into a rebellious teenager with a pierced nipple, and spends hours mindlessly surfing the Net? Does his denial and rejection make you a political failure or a racist?

Many parents who adopt children from countries outside the U.S. "fall in love" with that child's birth culture. They go so far as to take language courses, learn to cook that country's traditional dishes, attend cultural summer camps. Adoption of these children offers parents an exciting new exposure and immersion that they would not otherwise have. But I would caution these parents not to lose sight of their own family culture, their neighborhood culture, their national culture. Family ties and identity come first--they provide love, stability, security. Substitution of another culture is a social experiment that threatens to fragment our children's identities. Children are not vehicles to take us on a world tour.

Face it: By virtue of the fact you are raising a child born of another's flesh, you are removing him from what would have been his native environment and replacing it with your own. That is the nature of the beast. No amount of study, travel or cultural immersion will change that.

The original point of multiculturalism, I believe, was simply to highlight and celebrate diverse ethnic groups within America, to remind people that all of our histories and backgrounds should be celebrated, not just those of northern European immigrants. But the philosophy no longer serves its purpose. Rather than celebrate diversity and individualism, it accentuates differences. If you're not "in," you're "out."

Multicultural advocates who insist that alternative languages show up on voting ballots are advocating disunity and dissention. No one says you cannot speak another language at home or at a restaurant. The point is that we must vote in the same language to achieve a common goal. I am appalled when I see freeway and subway signs in dual languages-flagrant beacons begging for accidents. When American nuclear power plants boast control panels in any language other than English, they're just asking for a meltdown. We're not talking multiculturalism here. We're talking safety. We're talking survival. "It is a very hard undertaking to seek to please everybody," said Publilius Syrus in the first century. I would add, "and potentially dangerous."

In a recent editorial, British leader Margaret Thatcher wrote of the dangers of utopia as promised by the New Left. She warned of three ideologies and projects that are inherently dangerous: The regulated state, the multicultural society, and the European superstate.

In her words:

"...cultural inclusion is, in fact, the only way to achieve a successful multi-ethnic society. Previous generations achieved such a society by creating a healthy, unified culture in which all people are encouraged to feel loyalty and patriotism toward their country regardless of whether they were born there or arrived by immigration. The concept of multiculturalism threatens to unravel all that good work. Here [The U.S.] is a genuinely utopian enterprise, more utopian indeed than the Tower of Babel. (The Babel builders did not intend for people to end up speaking different languages. That was a divine punishment.) In the United States, multiculturalism is an aspect of devolution. The U.S. is moving toward a system in which the government presides over a number of different social groups, some of which have their own language and type of education. The approach undermines social unity and allows construction of a multicultural society, which is the very opposite of America's previous practice. The government aims to supervise these different groups and keep the peace by redistributing income from one to another. ... it involves a bureaucratic class presiding over a nation divided into a variety of ethnic nationalities. That, of course, looks awfully like the old Soviet Union."

Because my son is mixed race, including African, Irish, English, Russian Jew, and French Canadian Indian, I wonder, to which culture and to what extent am I expected to expose him? Why must he fit into a convenient little oval on a federal survey? And why must I shun traditional Protestant American culture as though it is inherently evil-or at least, a social embarrassment?

The year 2000 marks the millennium. This is not Colonial America. "Traditional Protestant American culture" is, in fact, a melting pot. Americans have embraced customs, recipes, expressions, beliefs and designs from a myriad of cultures, and woven them into the fabric of what we are today. A recent issue of National Geographic grapples with this very issue. It points out that McDonald's in Tokyo, Big Bird in China, Star Wars screenings in Hong Kong, and Indian henna tattoos in America create an overlap that blurs the boundaries of culture worldwide. Conversely, American multiculturalism threatens to separate the threads and snip them into unweavable fragments. You need only read the daily paper to understand that cultures kept entirely separate often end up at war. As the maxim goes, "you never know how good something is until you've lost it."

The color of his skin or the religious or artistic practices of his ancestors may well define my son's historical identity-his roots. But his philosophy, and hence, the foundation for his future, will be defined otherwise. It will be shaped by his father and I, who raise him, the friends he makes in school, the teachers who educate him, the books and magazines he reads, the movies and TV shows he watches, the every-day, chance experiences he encounters as he grows, and finally, most importantly, his own choices. My son's ability to shape his own destiny-his wings-will be defined by his own beliefs. "What matters," said philosopher and author Ayn Rand, "is what you accept by choice, not what you are connected with through the accident of your ancestry."

It is one thing to be given a historical legacy as a gift. It is another altogether to be enslaved by your heritage.

I applaud parents who wish to expose their children to other cultures. I myself am such a parent. But I question why this exposure appears to be the exclusive domain of adoptees and why it absorbs so much of adoptive parents' thoughts and activities. Why wouldn't any parent raise a child with his eyes open? But to immerse him in another culture-including language classes because his parents cannot speak the native tongue of his ancestors-is ludicrous. Do these parents spend half as much time exposing their children to their own values? If not, why did they choose to adopt these children to begin with, and not leave them to a more appropriate placement?

The multicultural movement has created another target group for bureaucrats to circle in red ink and exploit. Adoptive parents, beware. Have you ever filled out a form for school admission or a survey for a marketing firm and struggled with the issue of which box to check for "race"? A lot of assumptions are tied into those little oval boxes. Entire programs are designed around the resulting percentages. This is where "race" collides with "culture" head-on, thanks to Big Brother.

Just when we were getting to the point where we had a dialog about race; just when we were beginning to fully enjoy the variety and diversity we share as a culture; just when we were beginning to heal old wounds and form new alliances; in stepped Big Brother to label it as a circus act and force it to perform.

Your children are yours. They do not belong to a "movement." They are citizens of the United States and deserve its protection and embrasure. They deserve the benefits of social unity. For those who are unsure as to why culture should be kept separate from heritage (or race), I offer this advice: don't confuse options with assumptions. I ask any parent whose outward appearance or country of origin differs from their child's: how would you like it if your parents treated you like a pre-programmed genetic automaton based on your appearance or birthplace?

By giving your children your roots, providing stability and love, you give them confidence to grow their own wings. Allow them to fly with an American heart, and an array of plumage.

Credits: Terry Cox-Joseph

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