Why are culture and identity such contested terrain in contemporary America?

Essay by gilliankewUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, October 2005

download word file, 9 pages 4.9

When considering American culture and identity, one could argue that there is no such thing, since contemporary America is home to a cultural and ethnic mix so great that it cannot be considered as a whole; alternatively, American culture and Identity may be seen as an amalgam of social and cultural differences from the many ethnic groups that inhabit this great continent. These two opposing ideas, of a "salad bowl" (the former) and a "melting pot" (the latter) provide us with the dominant models of American Society and the main source of dissent. A third, less well known idea is that neither of these models effectively represents the difficult balance between commonality and diversity but that a combination of the two is where the truth lies, in that the multiculturalism and ethnic diversity of the salad bowl allows the divergent ethnic groups freedom to pursue and maintain their identities with a concomitant amalgam of core values and beliefs followed by the whole.

The two primary reasons for the tension between the main conceptions of American identity are history and power, or how the so-called "American identity" was formed in the first place and how power in its many forms, i.e., political, social, religious and economic has influenced the shifting debate on whom, or what makes an American. Moreover, power in the United States has, historically been predicated on race and nationality, giving rise to greater tensions over the question of culture and identity for the American people.

Crevecoeur, in 1782, wrote of a nation where "individuals are melted into a new race of man" (Maidment and Mitchell, (eds.) 2000, 19) but that new race of man was to be determined by the Anglo-dominated culture that developed with the first, English, settlers. All the institutions of power and control were set...