Twelve years ago, Daniel P. Moynihan and I, reviewing the condition of politics in New York City for the second edition of Beyond the Melting Pot, described two models of group relations which we dubbed “Northern” and “Southern.” Both models, we wrote, rejected the idea that the fate of ethnic groups and races in the United States was to acculturate to a common American mean, and both affirmed the reality of group distinctiveness. But otherwise the differences between the two models were striking:
In the Southern model, society is divided into two segments, black and white. The line between them is rigidly drawn. Other groups must choose to which segment they belong, even if . . . they do not really want to belong to either. Violence is the keynote of relations between the groups. And “separate but equal” is an ideology if not a reality.
The Northern model is quite different. There are many groups. They differ in wealth, power, occupation, values, but in effect an open society prevails for individuals and for groups. Over time a substantial and rough equalization of wealth and power can be hoped for . . ., and each group participates sufficiently in the goods and values and social life of a common society so that all can accept the common society as good and fair. There is competition between groups, as between individuals, but it is muted, and groups compete not through violence but through effectiveness in organization and achievement. . . .
These words were written in the late 1960’s, in the midst of the explosion of racial violence in Northern urban ghettos, and at a time when the old idea of “separate but equal,” under which whites had long kept down blacks, was being startlingly resurrected by blacks themselves under the name of “black power.” This movement emphasized separation from all whites, even the potential allies among them, in favor of a “turf” on which blacks could wield independent power. In the light of this, I would admit that our intention as authors was to show the superiority of the Northern pattern, in which Moynihan and I had both grown up, to the Southern pattern with its emphasis on separatism and its tendency to violence.
Despite the limitations of our now twelve-year-old formulation, I still think there is much merit in it. Modifications are, as we shall see, necessary, but the present situation in group relations is still largely understandable in terms of a conflict between these two patterns.
One pattern does not seem to be in the cards, although it is a model to which liberals and nationalists once aspired—that of assimilation pure and. simple, in which people act politically on the basis of interests other than ethnic or racial. Both the Northern and Southern patterns which have replaced that model operate instead on the premise that we are not a homogeneous society, ethnically or racially or religiously, and that the conflicts which dominate all democratic politics are, in the American situation, affected by ethnic and racial and religious considerations which are not simply reflections of economic interest. They may be rooted in part in the dominant socioeconomic characteristics of a given group, but they also reflect values and convictions. In what way, for example, could we interpret the now severe conflicts over abortion and school prayer, or over school busing, as conflicts based on economic interest?
But to return to our two models. The Southern pattern takes for granted the primacy of one central division in society, between white and black. The white South was itself ethnically much more homogeneous than the rest of the country, with only moderate infusions of European immigrants and very few Chinese and Japanese immigrants to complicate the stark black-white division. Where European ethnic groups were present (Italians in New Orleans, Jews in many cities), they simply became part of the white majority, willy-nilly, sharing in the benefits of legal segregation and formal discrimination. By the same token, American Indians and Chinese in the South were assimilated by white prejudice into the lower black caste.
Inevitably such a stark division in society meant that every issue had to be seen in black and white terms, in both senses. Moreover, since one group was being held in an inferior position, violence was part of political reality, whether exercised legally by the police or illegally through lynchings and threats of bodily harm. But violence was not an essential part of the Southern pattern; what was essential was the sharp division between the two groups, whose rights and privileges were defined by law. In the South, law codified intergroup relations. Indeed, one evidence of the migration of the Southern pattern into the rest of the country is that, today, intergroup relations throughout the entire society are increasingly defined by law.
The law in question, to be sure, is very different from the law that governed black-white relations and kept blacks in an inferior position in the South. It is a law designed not to insure dominance but to achieve equality. But it shares something with that earlier law: it names groups, and this naming enables individuals to become legal beneficiaries specifically because of their group membership. It defines who has the right to claim the benefits of group membership, and who must do without benefits because he belongs to another group.
What complicates this picture is that, outside the South (but increasingly even in the South as well), instead of simply two groups, there are in reality many. The law thus cannot limit itself to differentiating between black and white, but must differentiate between two groups of groups. There are groups that must be added to the benefit category (some Asians, Hispanics) whose “right” to be so included is challengeable; and there are groups incorporated into the non-benefit category who have grounds for criticizing such placement (Italians, Poles, Jews) or who might even lobby to be shifted to the benefited group (Asian Indians, for example).
The term “Western” (or “Southwestern”) might be used for this developing situation because it is in those regions that the first complications of the Southern pattern came into view. Quite early in the history of desegregation cases the question arose: are the Hispanics to be considered majority or minority? If the former, then it might be possible to have legally “desegregated” schools in which, in actuality, the entire student body was made up of blacks and Hispanics. If the latter, new and more complex solutions had to be found. When the number of groups to be desegregated rose to three, two of which were themselves combinations of other groups (the Hispanic and the Asian, as in San Francisco), the problem became even more complicated.
There are several reasons why the Southern pattern cannot successfully be applied in a situation where there are more than one or two disfavored groups. One reason is that the disfavored are disfavored in varying degrees; they have different histories, and different legal statuses.
Thus the American Indians are the only group in the country whose boundaries are sharply defined in law. Once this definition may have been used to exclude them from rights. Today, on the contrary, it defends their rights and benefits. Indians may possess, through their tribes, important natural resources, and may become the recipients of substantial sums of money as compensation for land-taking. They are also beneficiaries of affirmative-action policies, but these are of minor significance compared with the sums to which individuals may have a legal claim as a consequence of tribal membership. Who is an Indian, and of what tribe, therefore become important questions in stipulating how the various benefits are distributed.
Hispanics are a congeries of groups, each with different legal, social, economic, and political characteristics. The Puerto Ricans are in an ambiguous condition of citizenship—full citizens on the mainland, but of a special status if they live in Puerto Rico—and a simple passage in either direction shifts them back and forth; as often as they move from island to mainland, so often is their political status changed. Mexican Americans range in status from old settlers (some with special treaty protection), to recent immigrants who have become citizens, to immigrants legally domiciled, to illegal immigrants. As a group they stand higher than the Puerto Ricans economically, and exercise more political influence. Cubans are another special category, perhaps closest to earlier European immigrants. Their middle-class status (and perhaps the additional benefits they receive from the government as favored political refugees) has rapidly moved them above both Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans in occupation, income, and, where they are concentrated in sufficient numbers, political influence. (Today the difference between political refugees and any other illegal or legal immigrant is crucial in determining rights and benefits.) Then there are all the other groups of Hispanics who are becoming important in one or another part of the country—Dominicans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Colombians, and others—for each of whom a slightly different story must be told.
Finally, consider the multiplicity of Asian groups, and their varying socioeconomic positions and histories. Asians were first included in affirmative-action programs as a protected group because there had been a history of severe legal discrimination against Chinese and Japanese, and because they were nonwhite. The situation becomes much muddier when we add to the Chinese and Japanese—who were the principal Asian groups at the time of the major civil-rights legislation of the mid-1960’s—substantial and rapidly growing communities of Filipinos, Koreans, Asian Indians, Vietnamese, and some smaller groups, each of varying legal status and socioeconomic position.
A distinguishing characteristic of the new Western or Southwestern pattern, then, is that it places under the “protected” rubric a range of groups some of whose rights to special benefits and protection may legitimately be disputed. This differentiates it from the Southern pattern. What differentiates it from the Northern pattern is the possibility that these new ethnic strains will not blend into the American multi-ethnic spectrum as it now exists. Because of the role of law, and also because of other factors, there is a break between the white majority (with all the ethnic groups into which it can be divided) and the new immigrant groups of different races and cultural backgrounds.
This break reflects the fact that the dominant European ethnic groups completed their major period of immigration to this country sixty years ago. European immigration then came to a halt for more than two decades. When it resumed, in the post-World War II years, it was moderate in size, and the new immigrants—Irish, Germans, Italians, Jews, Poles, Ukrainians—in large measure either affiliated themselves with groups that had been established decades before, or rapidly assimilated. In the 1950’s and 1960’s there were indeed new immigrant infusions from the countries of Europe. But if the impact was visible locally it did not become visible nationally; there was reason to believe that the same patterns of economic/political mobility and of cultural and religious change which had affected earlier immigrants and made them into Americans of a familiar type would operate as well on these newcomers.
The situation since the mid-1960’s is of a different kind. The figures themselves tell the story. In the 1960’s there were 1.6 million European and Canadian immigrants, and in the 1970’s only 957,000, while in the same period Asian immigration jumped from 362,000 to 1.5 million. Immigration from Mexico rose from 432,000 to 624,000. Everyone is aware that substantial numbers of illegal immigrants have come from Latin America. Even immigration from Africa, only 33,000 in the 1960’s, rose to 87,000 in the 1970’s.
This growing diversity, and the shift from European and Canadian sources to Latin American, Asian, and African, have created a new and different pattern. The new pattern mirrors neither the Northern, based on European strains, all of whom have become acculturated, nor the Southern, with its stark black-white gulf based on the history of slavery and a caste system.
What are the consequences for American politics? For one thing, clashes have developed between those raised in the Northern pattern and those who utilize the new conceptions that grew out of the Southern pattern and have been institutionalized in the Western. Nothing is so revealing in this regard as the conflict over the redistricting of City Council seats in New York, which led a federal court in 1981 to suspend New York’s primary elections; the judgment of the court was confirmed by the Supreme Court on the very eve of the election.
There have been many such conflicts in the South over similar issues—how to redistrict to guarantee a certain representation for blacks, the proper role of at-large seats, the effects of annexations on black votes, etc. They have received little national attention, it being understood that such conflicts would inevitably occur in the context of the Southern pattern, where white has stood arrayed against black, and national power has been invoked to help blacks. But the North is a rather more complex matter.
When the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was made to apply to three of the counties of New York City, Hasidic Jews charged that a redistricting intended to increase the number of black congressional seats from Brooklyn had, by splitting their community into two districts, reduced their political power. A third party thus entered the suit, and a close study would undoubtedly have revealed other groups with the potential to enter. In the event, the Supreme Court upheld the redistricting. A new district designed to produce a new black Congressman came into being—and that district has regularly voted into office a Jew, though it has also on occasion been offered excellent black candidates with which to replace him. The stark black-white conflict was thus complicated not only by the presence of the Hasidic community, but by the fact that white candidates can appeal to black voters—contrary to the assumptions of the Southern pattern.
The present New York situation, in which a redistricting plan has been prevented from coming into being by the courts, is even more complex. Not only are there the claims of a variety of racial and ethnic groups to be considered, but strictly political factors, such as the desire of incumbent Councilmen to preserve their seats, also come into play. The New York City redistricting plan pitted black, white, and Puerto Rican incumbents against black, white, and Puerto Rican challengers, and used the time-tested forms of gerrymandering that go back long before there were immigrant or racial communities to complicate the issue. The Mayor of New York knew that in this new situation he had to protect his flank against minority ‘attacks—and he did, or so he thought. Leading blacks, including Congressman Charles E. Rangel, the psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, and Manhattan Democratic leader Herman D. Farrell, who has succeeded to the great Tammany chieftains, all supported the redistricting, as did the Puerto Rican Councilman, Gilberto Gerena-Valentin. Subsequently Gerena-Valentin changed his mind and sued (as did others) alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act.
In the New York City case there was no gang-up of whites against blacks, which is the situation the Voting Rights Act was designed to prevent. If there was a gang-up, it was of incumbents against everyone else. The challengers argued that under redistricting, the percentage of seats that would go to blacks and Puerto Ricans, who had increased substantially as a proportion of the population in ten years, would be too small, while the percentage of seats that would go to whites, whose proportion in the city population had dropped greatly since 1970, would be too large. The law permitted these challenges to redistricting. Elections were suspended, at great cost to the candidates and their supporters and a great deal of confusion has been introduced, which, against the very intention of the law, will probably reduce substantially the numbers voting in the primary when it eventually takes place.
The situation to which the Act was applied in New York had nothing to do with its purposes. It was applied because, for reasons which are somewhat obscure, very low proportions of blacks and Puerto Ricans register and vote in New York City, and so the boroughs with high concentrations of these minority groups fall under the Act’s provisions. Unfortunately, Act or no Act, there is no way of guaranteeing that even very high percentages of blacks or Puerto Ricans in a district will produce a black or Puerto Rican candidate, as the New York case shows.
This is an old story, known to every politician, long preceding the Voting Rights Act, and quite impervious to its intentions or assistance. As Arthur Klebanoff has pointed out, between 1950 and 1965 blacks and Puerto Ricans increased from 9 to 29 percent of the Brooklyn population, but this increase had almost no impact on representation:
The remnants of the older political machinery, once broad-based, continued to control Brooklyn politics as late as 1966. Jews and Italians ran the stores, owned the apartments, and filled the political clubhouses. This was to be expected. The surprise was the absence of any competing Negro or Puerto Rican organizations. Jews and Italians continued in office long after the districts they represented became predominantly Negro and Puerto Rican.
Even more surprising, further massive increases in the percentage of black and Puerto Rican population in the decade and a half since 1966 have not been accompanied by any substantial increase in minority representation. It is the roots of this phenomenon that must be explored, and they cannot be overcome by the brute intervention of a hardly relevant Voting Rights Act. The realities that have created this situation are the demographic characteristics of minority and white populations, the failure (for whatever reasons) of blacks and Puerto Ricans to equal the economic and skill resources of the old immigrant populations, and perhaps some problems of organization in these communities. The Irish got into politics immediately and with great effect. Jews did not; it is only in recent decades that they have been playing a central political role in the city in which they were for so long the largest ethnic group by far. (Abraham Beame, elected in 1973, was, astonishingly, the first Jewish Mayor of New York.) There are reasons for these differences. They have no relation to the assumptions of the Voting Rights Act.
Even under the best of intentions to increase black and Puerto Rican representation, one would be hard put to see what kind of voting system in New York City could “represent” blacks and Puerto Ricans in any proportion within hailing distance of their percentage of the city population. Even if one concentrated minorities up to 70 percent in a district, what would happen if Puerto Ricans and blacks were divided among themselves? In the fight over redistricting in New York, there were splits within the minority groups, there were splits between the two minority groups, and there were discrepant interests among the whites. (It could not have been a matter of indifference whether the whites in question were Jewish, Italian, or Irish.) But significant as these factors were, no one explored them—they were not at issue legally, for everyone had been reduced by the simplicities of the Voting Rights Act to the position of two contending and homogeneous parties.
The distinction between the Southern pattern and the Northern pattern is thus more than academic. The Southern mode forces everything into the courts, into a context of rights and wrongs. In the courts one side is right, and the other is wrong; there are no alternatives.
Outside the courts, however, there is bargaining and negotiation. How can a minority bargain effectively, it might be asked? It can do so because in the Northern pattern, a minority exists alongside other minorities. In a situation where formal equality prevails, where all have access to the ballot, where all have access to the schools and colleges, and in particular the law schools, no minority is fully powerless. There are areas in which and issues on which even a small group and a poor one can be dominant and influential.
Is it more helpful to receive a favorable decision from a court or to get something tangible as the outcome of a negotiation—a new housing project or school, a nomination for an Assembly seat, a promise of a job as an Assistant District Attorney? All this is the common coin of the Northern pattern. To be sure, negotiation is not ruled out in the Southern pattern either—one can still negotiate before, during, and after a court decision. But a special kind of combat is encouraged by the pattern: an adversary lawyer working for a foundation or a public-funded legal defense organization wields a different kind of power from that represented by a community leader. Very likely he comes from a different ethnic group, does not live in the community, and has a rather abstract idea of how its interests may be advanced. His participation may make it harder rather than easier to negotiate and compromise.
Clearly, in the South of the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s, and perhaps the 1970’s, it was essential to appeal to Constitution and law, to fight the crucial issues through the courts. But in the North, the political process that had made way for the Jews, the Italians, the Poles, and other groups did in time make way for the blacks and the Puerto Ricans as well. The political problem of the Northern black is not formal inequality, or actual inequality. The polls are open, the courts are open, the civil service is open, the colleges and law schools are open—indeed, under the new affirmative-action measures of recent years, more than open. The problem, rather, is symbolized by the remarkably low registration and voting figures for blacks in Northern cities, much lower than the percentages in the South.
The matter is mystifying. It cannot be attributed to the notion that blacks are a small minority in Northern cities and that politics are therefore a futile path to the advancement of their group interests. Blacks in Northern cities form a percentage of the population as high as or higher than their proportion in Mississippi and South Carolina, where they are far more active at the polls. Nor is poverty the problem: the blacks of Southern states are no more prosperous. Nor is it the lack of education: Northern blacks are better educated. Nor is it the absence of models to encourage political participation: there have been prominent black Congressmen, Assemblymen, Council-men, and state officials for forty years or more.
Perhaps one factor is the rise of poverty organizations in the 1960’s which provided jobs and access to federal funds. These may have been seen as a more desirable source of benefits, and route of advancement, than the path of traditional local politics. Perhaps, too, the fact that the national government for twenty years was the standard-bearer of minority rights made it seem more valuable to enter the federal civil service in the newer programs than to start out on the hard career of local political representation. Neither factor now operates. The refusal of the Reagan administration to continue in the line of the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations may result in a reentry of blacks and Hispanics into local politics.
Just at the time a new pattern of group relations has made itself felt, America has received new waves of immigrants who themselves differ in significant ways from older immigrants.
The newer groups are often distant from the older established groups in culture, language, and religion. Among the Asians, in addition to Chinese and Japanese there are now Filipinos, Koreans, Asian Indians, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Pacific Islanders, speaking languages for the most part unconnected to the languages of Europe, practicing religions that have had few representatives in this country, and stemming from racial or ethnic stocks distant from the European. Even Mexican culture, with its intriguing Euro-Indian mix, strikes Europeans and Americans as something quite different from simply Spanish culture transplanted.
For this new immigration, issues of legality loom large, and in a new way. Until the 1920’s, immigration to this country was left almost unregulated, and getting citizenship was easy; thus, almost everyone was legal. The questionable legal status of many of the new groups, however, affects deeply their ability to participate in politics.
The new immigrants are also entering a situation in which differences among groups—of income, occupation, educational achievement, language, and voting participation—have become national political issues. They have a right to bilingual education whether they want it or not; they have a right (many of them) to assistance in voting in their own language. They have varying claims to special consideration under affirmative-action requirements.
There is, moreover, a remarkable diversity among the new groups in their ability to take advantage of American opportunities. Some among the new immigrants show a surprising mobility. There are those who come here fairly highly educated and as professionals (Asian Indians, for example). Others have remarkable ability in small business (Koreans), or enjoy rapid success in educational advancement (Vietnamese). The gaps that such achievements may open up between these groups and the older minorities, black and Hispanic, suggest the possibility of future conflict. The matter becomes more delicate insofar as these differences are seen crudely as the result of differential discrimination. A competition over who is more discriminated against, and who more worthy of federal or other protection, may well develop, with nasty overtones.
Finally, there are important international dimensions to the new immigration that must be considered. A few years ago, after hearing testimony on immigration to the United States, a Congressman summed up by saying, “We have been told that by the end of the century there will be 140 million Mexicans, and half of them will be living north of the Rio Grande.” Perhaps those figures are too high—perhaps there will be only 100 million and only a third of them will be living north of the Rio Grande. But we will have on our southern border a neighbor, Mexico, still poorer than we by a great margin, with an enormous minority population across the border in the United States that will have the right to be educated, in public schools, in the language, history, culture, and customs of Mexico. One recalls that only a few hundred thousand Japanese, with their homeland seven thousand miles way, helped give rise to a great fear of the “Yellow Peril.”
Another international consideration has to do with the fact that two substantial new communities—Cubans and Vienamese—have been created in the United States as a result of decisions by foreign powers over which we had no control. In both cases, we responded in accord with old traditions of offering asylum to refugees and a place to live to immigrants. There are many countries in the world in which the expulsion of large parts of the population—ethnic or racial minorities, political dissidents—may seem desirable in decades to come. How will we respond as new groups are added to the Cubans and Vietnamese? And how will the admission of substantial numbers of immigrants who have not chosen us and who have not been chosen by us complicate intergroup relations?
As turbulent as was the assimilation of the European immigrant groups, the tensions of these various factors suggest greater turbulence ahead. The new groups will, on the one hand, form more obvious targets for attack; on the other hand, they will find easier access to legal protection, and to legal rights that are unique in the experience of older Americans, and this will create resentment.
The first pattern of group relations I have described, the Northern, found a resolution to group conflict, at least as far as European immigrants went. However intense the antagonisms, a modus vivendi was in time worked out. While each group maintained its attachments to culture and homeland, it was able to find a place in the American economy, society, and polity.
If anyone in those days had troubled to analyze the statistics, he might have found much to grouse about by today’s standards. Since the Irish dominated electoral politics, all other groups were by that token “deprived.” Since the Jews were the most successful in terms of occupational status, all the others were by that token “deprived.” Yet that was not the way the political debate was conducted. All the European ethnic groups believed they had done well in America, and there is hardly a one that still bears grievances.
The Northern pattern might well have accommodated the blacks as they moved North, the Puerto Ricans as they emigrated to the mainland, the Mexican Americans as they moved into the cities of the West. It has not been successful in doing so, in the perception both of minority leaders and of leaders of opinion for the majority, and to some degree in reality. (Actually, as Thomas Sowell has recently documented, the successes of the Nothern pattern were greater than is generally realized.) This perception of failure has shaped the actions of minority-group leaders and of government, with the result that the Southern pattern has become the national norm.
This national pattern will be challenged as the new wave of immigration reshapes American cities. Do the new immigrants deserve the same benefits as the protected classes of the 1960’s? How will the borders of protected classes be set? If non-white immigrants have greater benefits in law than white natives, how will that affect the willingness to allow immigration to continue at the rate of the 1970’s? As some of these immigrants show success in economic activity and in achieving political representation, what will that do to the viability of the Southern pattern?
It is precisely at this point that a fresh look should perhaps be taken at a model of intergroup relations which has been in ill repute for some time: the model of full assimilation and Americanization which characterized the period of World War I through the 1930’s. The ideal of this model was the assimilation of all immigrant groups to a common cultural type, so that ethnicity would play no role in individual consciousness, groups would not be formed around ethnic interests, “hyphenated Americanism” would be a thing of the past, and the United States would become as homogeneous as the nations of the old world.
Two things were wrong with this model. The older Americans themselves did not hold to the ideal with full consistency; and it was completely unrealistic to expect people to give up ethnic attributes, attachments, and loyalties within a brief period of time. Yet there is still much to be said for it as an ideal vision for American society. After all, group differences have almost always become a source of conflict, and maintaining them in a high profile will likely lead to more. Assimilation, on the other hand, has proceeded so far and so successfully with so many groups in American society that it is not unreasonable to hope that the same processes can affect the new immigrants as well.
Yet this model has been driven from the field of discussion of ethnic issues. The “melting pot” is now attacked not only on the ground that it never really melted that much or that fast, which is quite true, but on the ground that it should not have been allowed to melt in the first place. “Americanization” has thus become a dirty word.
Without endorsing the programs of World War I and the succeeding years, one can still appreciate the virtue of forging a single society out of many stocks, and acknowledge that this process deserves some public guidance. Beyond Northern, Southern, and Western patterns, there are still, or should be, ultimate goals. Today the most strongly supported goals seem to be, first, that every group must match every other group in economic resources, occupational status, and political representation; and second, that every group should be maintained in its distinctiveness, insofar as it is in the public power to do so, through an educational system that supports its language and its culture. That is a sure recipe for conflict. Perhaps the much maligned goal of assimilation still has a good deal to teach us about managing our multiethnic society.