The media these days are full of talk about the importance of diversity. Diversity has not been an important feature of the United States until recent decades. It was not important for the first 200 years of American history. Attitudes about what it means to be an American have changed radically in the last few years. It was highlighted for me on Fareed Zakaria’s December 9 GPS show on CNN.
Here is the transcript:
ZAKARIA: Political divisiveness feels like it’s never been higher, but a new poll reveals that most Americans agree on what makes a real American. And it brings me to my question. What is the trait most widely held to be very important to being considered a real American, A, the ability to speak English; B, belief in treating people equally; C, support of the U.S. Constitution; or D, belief in democracy over other forms of government? Stay tuned and we’ll tell you the correct answer. …
The correct answer to the challenge question is B. According to a new Grinnell College national poll, a full 90 percent of people think a belief in treating people equally is very important to being a real American. The next most important trait, taking personal responsibility for one’s actions, followed by accepting people of different racial backgrounds, and then, finally, supporting the U.S. Constitution.
The idea of treating people equally is important. The main cause listed in the Declaration of Independence for the decision to break from Great Britain was:
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.
The colonists rebelled at being treated unequally by the King and the British government. However, the signers of the Declaration of Independence all had British names. In 1776, the United States was not diverse, polyglot country. It was an agglomeration of former British colonies, populated by people who had until then been British citizens. The Declaration did protest that the Crown limited immigration:
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
At that time the American continent was largely empty space, except for the Indians, whom the colonists sought to subdue. The colonists wanted a population to control this mostly empty land. According to Lumen Learning:
The population of the American colonies through the 18th century was primarily a mixture of immigrants from different countries in Europe and slaves from Africa. By 1776, about 85% of the white population in the British colonies was of English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh descent, with 9% of German origin and 4% Dutch.
According to Wikipedia, at the time of the Revolution about 80 percent of the American population was white and about 20 percent was black. The black slaves did not play any substantive role in the formation of the United States, although the issue what to do about them was always difficult and divisive. In 1910, 88% of the US population was non-Hispanic white, about 11% was black, and about 1% was Hispanic, Asian, or other. By 2010, the non-Hispanic white population had dropped to 64%, the Black population was 13%, the Hispanic population was 16%, and Asian or other was 15%. The percentage of white people in the US did not dip below 80% until 1980, when it began a rapid drop to 63% in 2010. Much of the change was due to Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program for illegal aliens, which encouraged massive additional illegal immigration.