This article originally appeared in The City Journal, dated February 16th, 20201.
On his final day in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized multiculturalism in a tweet. “Woke-ism, multiculturalism, all the -isms—they’re not who America is,” he wrote. “They distort our glorious founding and what this country is all about. Our enemies stoke these divisions because they know they make us weaker.”
Somewhat predictably, mainstream media sources blasted Pompeo for criticizing multiculturalism, with some implying that he was criticizing America’s varied cultural groups. “This country was built on multiculturalism,” said CNN commentator Keith Boykin. “That’s why a descendant of Italian immigrants like you could become Secretary of State. You should know this history. If you don’t, you should never have been Secretary of State.”
Boykin and other Pompeo critics misunderstand what multiculturalism truly means—not the mere fact of cultural diversity but, as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it, a rejection of “the ideal of the ‘melting pot’ in which members of minority groups are expected to assimilate into the dominant culture.” Multiculturalism denies the idea that there is anything uniquely desirable or morally worthy in American culture as compared with others. All cultures—even dead ones, or those we might consider depraved—are of equal worth.
Assertions of this kind immediately run up against several questions. If all cultures are equal, why does America’s attract the largest number of immigrants? If there is no morally relevant cultural difference between the United States and, say, Cuba under the Castros, why would more than 200,000 Cubans risk their lives in ramshackle boats to make the 90-mile journey to Miami?
Binh Vo, whom I interviewed for my upcoming book An Inconvenient Minority, is a first-generation Vietnamese-American. Just over a decade ago, Binh’s family members were barely-hanging-on businessmen denied better jobs because of their past affiliations with the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government. In Vietnam, he says, “the Communist government has been sucking the resources out of Vietnam. If you are poor you have nothing. It brings out the worst in people.”
Upon arriving in America, Binh immediately found differences. “When I first got [to America] in 2009, I was waiting for the bus. A police officer stopped by and asked if I needed a ride home. Today I realized I should have said yes,” Binh says. “This country is so generous, and they are so welcoming. I do not see the racism in white people. I hang out with rednecks. I feel like liberal media has been pushing a strong image about America. I am more welcome here in the U.S. than in my own country.”
Taking in more than 1 million legal immigrants every year requires a culture of racial tolerance and a belief that in many parts of the world seems almost unnatural: that a complete stranger should be welcomed, because he or she has the potential to contribute something meaningful to the United State. This is what Binh means when he says that America is a generous country.
Ironically, to advance multiculturalism and deny American exceptionalism is to strike at the foundations of what makes America so appealing to immigrants the world over. What message should we be sending minority and immigrant youth growing up in a society where they don’t look like most people? Do we tell them that the American dream can be theirs, too, if they adopt our common language and a strong work ethic? Or that assimilation is fruitless, that this country will always reject them, and that they must never surrender the slightest bit of their culture?
Thomas Sowell puts it best: “The biggest losers in [multiculturalism] are those members of racial minorities who allow themselves to be led into the blind alley of resentment and rage, even when there are broad avenues of opportunity available. And we all lose when society is polarized.”
Yet woke intellectuals like Ibram X. Kendi propose that assimilation “standardize[s] the cultures of White folk.” They chastise those who dare to leap beyond their surface-level racial identity into a truly multiracial American identity, one that takes people from all backgrounds and builds them into fully realized citizens.
In doing so, the multiculturalists create another yawning inequality in our society: between those who believe in and benefit from America’s cultural melting pot and those who reject it and become strangers in their own land.