Melting pot? No, America is a TV dinner with lines of segregation
By Chris Cavanaugh
Alaska Dispatch News
Chris Cavanaugh is a therapist and lifelong Alaskan. He has been working with youth and families from all over Alaska since 2006 and is currently in the first year of the University of Alaska Anchorage clinical-community psychology doctorate program.
OPINION: Melting pot and salad imagery is soothing, but that's not the reality of America. Pictured: Police officers watch as buildings burn in Ferguson, Mo., after the announcement that a grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown.
On Tuesday, Mike Dingman wrote a very touching piece  about racism in American society and how it affects minority groups like African Americans. There is no question he supports positive race relations and promotes a healthy dialogue among Americans.
Unfortunately, Dingman embedded a myth about American society in his column and it undermines his message. “America is supposed to be the melting pot.” Such as, we should all be one. We should all have the same mentality when it comes to race relations. We are all equal, just look at the Bill of Rights.
Like Dingman, I share what can be called "white male privilege." This is not a currency, but in our society it allows me to have unquestioned trust in our police force; believe that my medical doctors have my best interests in mind, and provides an opportunity for me to have a dangerous level of entitlement when I see people who look differently than me, act differently than I might.
My Facebook newsfeed may look exactly like a model of the second and third phases of oppression: defining what a minority group is doing, and contrasting that with the majority in a covert (or not so covert) effort to show that the minority group should be tamed. That “these people” are acting in an uncivilized manner. Probably the best example is the meme about white people not rioting when O.J. Simpson was acquitted:
"Remember when OJ was acquitted and white people rioted?"
Yes. Riots are uncivilized. I suspect they would say the same on "Downton Abbey."
Let's get back to the melting pot myth though. Actually, lets bring it back to the nineties, 1992 specifically. The R&B group En Vogue released a single called, “Free Your Mind.” It is a song about prejudice and discrimination. It was wildly popular, and was nominated for Grammy and MTV awards that year. Interestingly, the lyrics encouraged us to ignore racial differences: “free your mind and the rest will follow / be colorblind / don’t be so shallow.” This message perpetuates the myth that we are all the same, that we live in a melting pot. That our cultures will synergize.
Sometimes you hear pop-sociologists describe America not as a melting pot, but as a tossed salad where different groups intermingle and are different but are in close proximity to one another. Sounds nice. Sounds like we can be different, but are all equal; because we are all mixed in this great big salad bowl that is America. Like I can be a carrot, and you can be a radish.
Personally, I think that equating race relations with food marginalizes the discussion. However, for the purpose of contrast, I will offer my food analogy to race: the TV dinner. The mixed up, melted theory is not credible. It indicates there are not defined lines in our society that fundamentally impact how races see themselves. Schools in America are still extremely segregated due to residential segregation. We have defined lines in our cities, neighborhoods, school zones and political districts that separate the fried chicken, corn, mashed potatoes and brownie.
Who is what is debatable, but talking about these lines, that do in fact exist, is important. Doing something about those lines is paramount.
Get beyond describing the scary scene in Missouri and ask if you’ve ever felt so enraged that you would participate in a violent scene. I haven’t. I know I would need to feel so helpless that I couldn't do anything but purge my rage. Don’t be dismissive of the Americans who are enraged. Just try to understand they may have a reason to be angry. Maybe their America is different than your America. Stop saying what is going on and ask yourself why.