Then, Now, Us and Them

When I was a child the landscape of downtown Lansing was very different than it is today. There used to be two theaters in the downtown area, the Knapps, JC Penny, and Walgreen stores were thriving businesses, and the Radisson Hotel and Lansing Centers had not yet been built. In many ways the downtown area is foreign to me and I sometimes think to myself that this isn’t the real Lansing. In my mind the city is supposed to be the way I knew it to be. The more I think along this line, however, I am forced to concede that the “real” Lansing of 1978 must have been new and foreign to the people who preceded me and furthermore for the generations after me the real Lansing is and should be the way it was in the 90s or in the way it has evolved in the new millennium. One could argue that we are all right in our own way but that would be stupid. I prefer that we are all wrong. There is no true or right way for Lansing to be, it is constantly evolving subject to new social and economic pressures and events. Our conceptual biases notwithstanding, there is no point of stasis.

I mention this as a tangential point for the subject of US race, culture, and immigration. In my lifetime the US has experienced massive influxes of Hispanic, Asian, and now Arab immigrants. Inasmuch as these three populations have, unlike European immigrants, to some degree retained some aspects of their cultures of origins there has been a backlash of popular sentiment and sometimes outright alarm with many decrying what they say is the end of America as we know it. It is curious to note, however, that when they say that the non European immigrants are resisting assimilation into the American melting pot they don’t seem to acknowledge or even realize that each immigrant group including all the European ones throughout this nation’s history have changed someone’s America. There were people opposed to the influx of Italians, Jews, Poles, Irish, and German populations at some point in time. That these groups influenced the course of American history is undeniable and what is equally true is that the true nature of America’s melting pot is not assimilation, it is an addition and alteration of whatever was in the pot. If you don’t believe me then go watch a movie from the Humphrey Bogart era and tell me if you recognize that America and I’m not even talking about the presence of minorities. White people today don’t look, act, dress, or sound like the people from that era.

Change is perpetual, inevitable, and undeniable and the only reason people resist it is the fact that xenophobia is an inherent part of the human condition. To varying degrees human beings are resistant to cultural change and are suspicious of people we regard as not belonging to our in-group. For better or for worse, however, people are now thinking of the world being an entire global community and as we regard other populations of the world as belonging to one giant in-group it would seem logical that we should resist our xenophobic impulses.

Ok I’m out of time and I forgot my point. I’m sure I must have had one. This seems like a good starting point for something and maybe I’ll finish this thought this weekend.

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