Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2012
In the mid-1960s Congress introduced landmark civil rights and immigration legislation intended to reconcile the reality of racial and gender discrimination in the United States with the nation's democratic ideals. These laws significantly altered the racial and religious landscape of the country by outlawing discrimination in immigration policy, educational institutions, the workplace, and the housing market. The old melting pot ideal came under assault and was replaced by a more pluralistic vision of America in which cultural and ethnic differences were not only recognized but increasingly valued for their distinct contributions to American society. White Protestant triumphalism in all of its varieties was taken to task as racist, sexist, and downright un-American.
As white, Protestant cultural and political hegemony receded, however, rivalries between different ethnicities surfaced, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as an era of “identity politics.” These rivalries were fueled by governmental “affirmative actions” taken to correct the racist and sexist policies of the past. Social justice, it was argued, demanded more than the simple outlawing of discrimination; it also required giving assistance to those who had been wrongfully discriminated against so that they could finally establish a place for themselves in society. Since these “affirmative action” or “equal opportunity” programs were directed toward women and minorities, many male white ethnics felt left out. They believed that their success in overcoming prejudice by hard work and ingenuity had been overlooked.