NEW GEOGRAPHY-It’s increasingly unfashionable to celebrate those who made this republic and established its core values. On college campuses, the media and, increasingly, in corporate circles, the embrace of “diversity” extends to demeaning the founding designers who arose from a white population that was 80 percent British.
In this American version of Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” which tried to eviscerate traces of China’s past, venerable buildings are being renamed, athletes refuse to stand for the national anthem and, on some campuses, waving the American flag is now considered a “microaggression,” while English students at Yale want to avoid reading the likes of Milton, Shakespeare and Chaucer.
Of course, some changes are justified. Asking anyone, particularly African Americans, to revere the Confederate flag or attend schools named after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan is, indeed, offensive. But in our zeal to address old wrongs, we may also be sacrificing the very things that have made this republic so attractive to millions from distinctly different backgrounds for the last two centuries.
Why we come here
Just to clear the air, I have not a single drop of British blood in me. The closest ties I have to what I consider my cultural and political home country come from my great uncle Simon, who served in Gen. Allenby’s Jewish brigade in World War I, and that my wife, born in Montreal, came into the world a subject of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Career wise, I did work for a think tank in London for several years.
But what ties most Americans to the founders is not race, but our embrace of a political and legal culture based on distinctly Anglo-Saxon ideas about due process, representative government, property rights and free speech. These proved infinitely superior to the divine right of czars, kaisers, emperors and other hereditary autocrats for generations of non-Anglo-Americans.
This system, always capable of amendment, has allowed waves of traditional outsider groups -- African Americans, Latinos, women, Mormons, Jews and Muslims -- to join the economic, political and cultural mainstream. In some cases, as in the case of President Obama, they have also secured the highest reaches in the national firmament.
The idiocy of ‘cultural appropriation’
The Maoist nature of the current anti-Anglo campaign is exemplified by the current notion of “cultural appropriation.” By this theory, writers and analysts are being told to stay away from topics that don’t resonate with their DNA.
This approach undermines the very purpose of art as a means of transformation. Can we imagine reconstructing the realities of the antebellum South without “Huckleberry Finn?” Should all of the producers and directors responsible for “Zoot Suit” or “Roots” have been forced to submit to DNA screening? Do we kick Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because of their “appropriations” from African American culture?
When working well, a multicultural society works both directions. Think of the hit play “Hamilton,” written and conceived by a Hispanic, played largely by African Americans and adored by an entire generation of young theater lovers, many of whom are getting their first good taste of American history. By the standards of cultural appropriation, the Daughters of the American Revolution should be filing suit.
The road to nihilism
Cultures, and nations, get stronger when they can incorporate new elements into their existing narrative. The Roman Empire, by offering citizenship to non-Italians, extended its period of pre-eminence. “Rome,” declared the second-century Greek writer Aristides, “is a citadel which has all the people of earth as its villagers.”
As in the case of the Roman Empire, America’s greatest achievement has been to incorporate other cultures into its mainstream. Despite the current racial discord, it must be noted that America has succeeded in welcoming, and integrating, vast numbers of Hispanics, Asians and Middle Easterners over the past half-century.
Their growing success puts the lie to existing racist sentiments that have been fanned, in effect, if not consciously, by the candidacy of Donald Trump. Neither are our multicultural prospects made better by Hillary Clinton’s demeaning of largely white “deplorables” or her embrace of the Black Lives Matter politics of division and victimization.
Both Clinton and Trump seem unable to acknowledge what America already is, or, more importantly, what it can be. On our streets, in our theaters, in our foods and in our music, we experience a rich commingling of cultures every day. Politicians may see advantages in stirring up enmity but America is becoming a profoundly less racist nation, and will be even less so in the future. For example, the percentage of Americans who approve of interracial marriages has grown from 4 percent in 1958 to 87 percent today.
So let’s have more African Americans donning colonial garb to tell the national story while whites add black, Asian or Latino notes in their music, cooking and writings. This is a testament to the greatness of our Anglo founders’ vision, which should be embraced -- even by those of us whose lineage extends far from the British Isles.
Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org. This piece originally appeared on NewGeography.com. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.