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We argue that the history of political diversity in social psychology may be better characterized by stability than by a large shift toward liberalism. The branch of social psychology that focuses on political issues has defined social problems from a liberal perspective since at least the 1930s. Although a lack of ideological diversity within the discipline can pose many of the problems noted by Duarte et al., we suggest that these problems (a) are less apparent when the insights of social psychology are pitted against the insights from other social science disciplines, and (b) are less pressing than the need for other types of diversity in the field, especially ethnic and racial diversity.
Demographic change clearly has complicated prevailing patterns of ethnic relations in the United States. Immigration and differential fertility rates have greatly increased the numbers of Latinos and Asians, and the challenge of their cultural, economic, and political integration is layered on the historic and entrenched racial divide. Nationalism, in the sense of prioritizing a common national identity, and multiculturalism, in the sense of elevating the particular identities of each ethnic group, are based on particular assumptions about human psychology. A driving purpose of our book is to draw on psychological theories to explain patterns of public opinion confronting the search for solidarity in a multiethnic society. We believe that making explicit the psychological assumptions embedded in alternative solutions and testing for them will illuminate the political dilemmas as well. In particular, we argue that the relatively recent political term multiculturalism in fact builds on a much broader and historically quite general social psychological approach to racial and ethnic divisions.
The Psychology of American Intergroup Relations
We begin by presenting and contrasting three broad social-psychological conceptions of how Americans form and utilize their ethnic identifications in the context of contemporary ethnic diversity. In subsequent chapters, we apply these alternative characterizations of ethnic relations to understanding public opinion regarding national identity and multiculturalist ideology.
The monumental legislative changes of 1964 and 1965 that changed American history forever are the catalysts for this book. In 1964, as a response to the growing strength of the civil rights movement, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act put a dagger in the heart of the two-caste racial system in the South, a system that had existed for the more than three centuries since African slaves were first imported to North America. In 1965, the Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act, on the surface tinkering only modestly with prevailing immigration priorities, unexpectedly opened the floodgates to massive influxes of non-European immigration over the course of the next half century.
The consequence of immigration reform has been a rapid rise in the cultural diversity of the nation, mimicking a similar surge a century earlier. Those changes reshaped an overwhelmingly white nation with relatively small minorities of African Americans and Native Americans deliberately kept largely out of sight of the mainstream. In 1965, the United States began on a path that will, a few decades from now, turn it into a nation with no majority racial or ethnic group.1 Just as important, accompanying this demographic change have been new political movements demanding greater equality not only for African Americans but for Latinos and Asian Americans as well.
In the preceding chapter, we described the pattern of ethnic differences on a range of race-targeted, immigration, and language issues, focusing on the level of support for group-conscious policies endorsed by multiculturalism. Here, we pursue the psychological underpinnings of those policy preferences in two ways. We start with the associations of policy preferences with the affective dimensions of national identity and ethnic group identity and with how these identities are prioritized. Second, we test hypotheses about the roots of preferences in the three issue domains we focus on, using the psychological perspectives introduced in Chapter 2.
Throughout this chapter, we again concentrate on race-targeted, immigration, and language policies. But we should provide two caveats at the outset. Liberal policies in each domain generally are supported by multicultural elites. But those elites are by no means their only supporters. We identify them here with multiculturalism simply as an effort to explore fully its group-conscious agenda. Analyzing the full range of issues that have been politically debated within each domain or even the more limited set described in the preceding chapter would lead us to lose sight of the theoretical forest for the trees. Accordingly, in the race-targeted domain, we focus just on affirmative action in terms of special preferences for minorities and government assistance to blacks and other minorities. In the immigration domain, we focus on the preferred level of legal immigration. Finally, the main language policies examined are support for “official English” laws and bilingual education.
This chapter turns our attention away from opinions about general norms and principles to preferences regarding the major policy domains highest on the multicultural agenda in the United States. These policies have evoked heated legislative and electoral conflicts, often dividing the main political parties. Due to their visibility, they are more likely than abstract normative questions about descriptive representation or the maintenance of immigrant cultures to have penetrated mass consciousness.
To repeat our starting point, the two overriding purposes of multiculturalism are to redress entrenched political and economic inequalities between racial and ethnic groups and to assure that religious and cultural minorities can survive and flourish in the face of formal and informal pressures to blend in and conform to the mainstream. As articulated in Chapter 1, multiculturalists believe that solutions based on individual rights such as antidiscrimination laws and efforts to provide equality of opportunity are inadequate. Instead, multiculturalism endorses policies that are group-conscious, sometimes explicitly and sometimes only implicitly.
This book has both psychological and professional origins. On a personal level, what it means to have a national identity and how minority and majority groups coexist were daily questions for Jack Citrin as he grew up in a family of Russian Jewish refugees in China and Japan. Landing in the United States with a student visa in the mid-1960s, he moved from immigrant to citizen in 1978, feeling grateful to a country in which one could quite readily belong yet understanding that his skin color and unaccented English helped make this possible. The first Sears in what is now the United States shows up on the tax lists in Plymouth Colony in 1633, although little is known about him. In contrast, there are compelling family legends about David O. Sears’s maternal great-grandmother Anna O’Keefe who fled the Irish Potato Famine as a teenager in the 1840s and found work in the Lowell cotton mills. Among other things she provided his middle name. Later generations of Sears’s family progressed from farming to academia, yielding descendants with blessedly secure, classically “American” social identities. Perhaps a by-product of this security has been a deep concern about the treatment of minorities in a nation committed so early and so publicly to equality.
On a professional level, this book uses the important demographic changes in postwar American society to pursue our long-term research agendas. We regard ourselves as students of the psychology of politics, although one of us comes originally from the discipline of political science and the other from psychology. But throughout our careers and several earlier collaborations, our primary focus has always been on understanding the underpinnings and political consequences of public opinion. We also have shared an interest in symbolic politics theory as a conceptual starting point in analyzing public responses to societal changes and public events. Citrin has been a longtime student of American political culture, with a particular interest in political disaffection and system support and, more recently, in the future of national identity in a globalizing world. Sears has long done research on both sides of the American black–white racial divide, from black activism and political violence to white resistance to civil rights and racial equality.
The multicultural moment in American politics begins in the turbulent 1960s. Cultural nationalism and cries for black power among African-American activists; the embrace of affirmative action by the Johnson administration and then, more briefly, by Richard Nixon; immigration reform and its consequences for language policy; and the emergence of feminist and gay rights movements together made claims based on group identity a prominent feature of political debate. The multicultural movement argued that representation and recognition of disadvantaged groups – defined variously by race, ethnicity, language, gender, or sexual orientation – is paramount to attaining equal access to desired resources in society, whether money, power, or status. And these historically disadvantaged groups and demographic minorities merited special assistance from the government to overcome the obstacles they confront in the crucible of majoritarian politics.
The gradual adumbration of these ideas in elections, government policy, and academic debates proceeded apace through the 1970s and beyond. As multiculturalism and diversity became political catchwords, the social and ideological underpinnings of party politics underwent radical change. The civil rights movement precipitated the collapse of the New Deal coalition that had undergirded the dominance of the Democrats in national politics between 1932 and 1968. Civil unrest, the war in Vietnam, and the issues of “acid, amnesty, and abortion” further prodded a realignment that ended the South’s exceptional status as a one-party Democratic region. This nationalization of electoral politics culminated in the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. But well before that the two major parties began to polarize, with potential implications for conflict over policies related to the balance of national and ethnic identities.
This chapter turns from patriotism to ethnic consciousness, the other side of the dialectic of nationality and ethnicity. Multiculturalism, in the sense of demands for group-conscious policies, was pushed onto the American political agenda by continuing racial inequalities, even after legal discrimination was ended, by the appearance of two new and growing “visible minorities” that had entered the United States because of immigration reform, and by the sense among many minority leaders that whites continued to resist strong government efforts aiming at compensatory redistribution of political and economic resources. Presumably, if the white majority readily accepted minorities’ grievances, then there would be less pressure for group-based rights and other multiculturalist policies.
In Chapter 2 we suggested that the psychological platform or image of human nature embedded in ideological multiculturalism is the set of assumptions we described as a generic politicized group consciousness paradigm, specifying that people possess strong in-group loyalties that dominate political reactions when ethnic interests are engaged. But American public opinion has generally not been closely examined to determine how common those assumed psychological foundations are.
Adopting a social identity inevitably requires drawing boundaries between “us” and “them.” Nevertheless, in a complex society, individuals usually belong to several overlapping groups, forming multiple social identities that contrast with varied sets of others. The modern person is made up of a mixture of loyalties and identifications: national, regional, linguistic, religious, social, and professional – identities that expand or contract as people’s lives change. The ingredients in one’s mix of social identities thus shift over time, often expanding as one acquires an occupation and plants roots in a specific community or disappearing, as when one leaves a church or emigrates.
The existence of multiple identities raises the problem of prioritization, and in this chapter we examine the balance between nationality and ethnicity. Which takes precedence, loyalty to nation or pride in ethnic group? In the limiting case of an ethnically homogeneous society, nationality and ethnicity completely overlap, and the possibility that national and ethnic identities clash is moot. They are one and the same, so patriotism and feeling close to your own ethnic group are bound together. Japan is Japanese, and so the idea of a loyal, but hyphenated, Japanese identity has no meaning.
In the preceding chapter, we saw that only a small minority in each ethnic group viewed America (or Los Angeles) as a cauldron in which irreconcilable ethnic conflicts boiled and bubbled. However, in establishing the general acceptance of the feasibility and desirability of e pluribus unum, we did not directly assess public opinion about the main principles of multiculturalism as a political ideology. In reviewing the many variants of multiculturalism in the scholarly literature, we distinguished among three components: a theory of personal identity, an image of the political community, and a set of policies designed to implement the normative commitment to the official recognition, representation, and protection of minority groups and their cultures.
In this chapter, we turn to public opinion about these core commitments to group-conscious principles. First, should society recognize an official responsibility for sustaining ethnic diversity, in the sense of government support for the maintenance of cultural differences in the face of the ongoing pressures toward acculturation? We describe this domain as social multiculturalism. Second, should these underlying ideas about the value of preserving ethnic identities and supporting the maintenance of particular cultures on a basis of equality dictate a policy regime based on descriptive representation in domains ranging from politics and professional occupations to the content of education and other cultural areas? We describe this outlook as political multiculturalism.
The civil rights movement and immigration reform transformed American politics in the mid-1960s. Demographic diversity and identity politics raised the challenge of e pluribus unum anew, and multiculturalism emerged as a new ideological response to this dilemma. This book uses national public opinion data and public opinion data from Los Angeles to compare ethnic differences in patriotism and ethnic identity and ethnic differences in support for multicultural norms and group-conscious policies. The authors find evidence of strong patriotism among all groups and the classic pattern of assimilation among the new wave of immigrants. They argue that there is a consensus in rejecting harder forms of multiculturalism that insist on group rights but also a widespread acceptance of softer forms that are tolerant of cultural differences and do not challenge norms, such as by insisting on the primacy of English.
The catalyst for this book was the confluence of increased ethnic diversity and the rise of identity politics in the United States beginning in the mid-1960s due to the civil rights movement and immigration reform. These developments raised anew questions about the solidity of a shared American identity and the capacity to sustain a sense of social solidarity in a multiethnic polity. After years in which the racial divide defined intergroup relations in the United States, a massive and ongoing influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants complicated the dynamics of ethnic relations in the United States by adding new modes of perception, interaction, and conflict. That the new Americans were neither white nor of European origin raised doubts about whether the historical patterns of assimilation – as promoted by the idea of the melting pot – would recur.
Our book addressed the enduring problem of e pluribus unum in this context of demographic and political change. Demography may become destiny, but only as shaped by politics and culture. In the contemporary world, the choice confronting elites was how to accommodate claims for recognition and representation by minority groups. These claims we and others group under the rubric of multiculturalism, which when viewed as an ideology represents a new approach for governing a multiethnic polity.