Race Riots and Assimilation
Over at The Glittering Eye, Dave Schuler extends the argument he’s made in the comments of my tongue-in-cheek post on the fact that the media continues to ignore the ethnic-religious component of the rioting in France.
He argues that the problem goes beyond religion and is ultimately about assimilation and “giving the descendants of immigrants a stake in the country that’s the only one they’ve ever known.”
He’s right. Indeed, I allude to that even in my glib observation that, “Clearly, not much has been done over the past two years, since the last set of youth riots, to integrate the youths into French society.”
How to go about that, though, is the question. The politics of race and ethnicity is especially difficult in an era where we’re supposed to simultaneously pretend that cultural differences are immaterial and yet revel in the wonderful diversity that different cultures add.
Despite a history that includes slavery, racial apartheid (Jim Crow), and ethnic cleansing (the Indian wars), the United States has done relatively well in assimilating those from alien cultures into our own. Since the passage of the 14th Amendment, all who are born on American soil are automatically endowed with all the rights of citizenship and people are considered “Americans” by their fellows regardless of racial, religious, or ethnic background so long as they speak the language and obey the rules. That’s not the case in much of Western Europe where even a third generation German-born Turk is still a Turk, not a German.
Still, removing legal barriers to citizenship clearly isn’t enough. While not on the scale of the Muslim riots that are now in their second go-round in Paris or those that happened across Europe a couple years ago owing to some cartoons in a Danish paper, we’ve had our share of race riots in the United States even in the post-Civil Rights Act era. The riots following the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles are the most noteworthy, but there have been several lesser ones involving outraged blacks and Hispanics over perceived police brutality; those in Miami (1980), Crown Heights (1991), St. Petersburg (1996), and Benton Harbor, Michigan (2003) are the most notable.
To be sure, these are rare events. That those old enough to have lived through them remember them vividly is a testament to how unusual they are. Still, they happen.
The idea that we should deal with the “root causes” is all well and good but it’s not clear exactly how one goes about doing that. Nor should the fact that there are legitimate grievances be considered justification for mayhem.
Photo credit: The Age/Reuters