The Melting Pot vs. The Pot Luck
I apologize profusely for the extended period of silence. Just when things got on a roll here I was bogged down with work, honestly leaving me too swamped to blog as efficiently and effectively as I can and could. I’m hoping to get back into some sort of regular groove, particularly so seeing as July was pretty much one hell of a month for those of us conscious of the Black experience. But alas, I’m back with more cannon fodder for conversation!
A recent experience led me to reflect upon a few things that habitually cause some consternation for me. Simply put, the experience was one where the question our (i.e. “Black folks”) collective assimilation into a particular group reared its comely head. To put this into perspective, it’s a line of thinking that runs parallel with the question of the necessity of HBCUs in the 21st century; the logic behind these questions is essentially, “Since ‘we’ are/have [x], then ‘we’ don’t need [y].”
The lay of the land in these United States involves domination and assimilation; you move in, take over, and whomever is left has the option of buying into the system or face suppression, demoralization, and oppression until they decide to “fit in.” In the event they refuse, they become social pariahs in the eyes of everyone else and are figuratively or literally eliminated from existence, one way or another. The dominant group creates a system of uniformity in order to maintain a certain level of control; those who can’t or don’t fit in with the agenda of homogeneity are labeled as agitators and radicals, fighting unnecessarily against a system that works for “everybody” when it honestly only works for one type of person. The end result becomes generations of people fighting desperately to fit in, even though by virtue of the God-given way they entered this earth, they’ll never truly “fit in.”
What’s interesting to me, however, is the fact and reality that our country was not built on homogeneity, but rather the collective influence of scores of individuals who brought their own unique cultures and beliefs to the table, ideally creating one spectacular place with the essence of a beautiful collage of colors and beliefs. Everyone worked together to help one another out; things were intended to be communal, to celebrate the dynamic differences while rejoicing in the things that we had in common. People don’t like to see death; people don’t like to see others in pain and suffering. We love to celebrate birthdays, we love to hug our loved ones. We’ll see someone in need and we help each other out with no prerequisites. THAT’S what the United States was supposed to be, and that’s what we’re taught it “is.”
But somewhere along the way the idea of the melting pot came along, and the idea of assimilation was slowly introduced into our consciousness and we all adapted it to it readily because the poetic language used to describe our United States of America experience was indeed moving. The reality of a melting pot, from my perspective, is far from what was described in the previous paragraph.
When I hear the phrase “melting pot,” I think of one big black cauldron, which immediately makes me think of this:
Now in this melting pot, people are allowed to toss in ingredients of their choosing to contribute to one big massive and questionably delicious soup. The ingredients mix and mingle with one another and over time combine to make a distinct flavor that will define the taste of the soup itself. Sure you may taste the spiciness from the cayenne pepper, or the bitterness of the parsley and tartness of the fresh cherries. In the end, all of that doesn’t matter because the soup is what’s spicy or bitter or tart. If people don’t like their soup to be tart, then the cherries get thrown out; if it’s too bitter or spicy, then we ease up on the parsley and cayenne pepper. The most important thing becomes making the soup digestible for the majority instead of the minority.
In my humble opinion, that’s exactly how the country operates even though it’s not how it should be.
I imagine the United States of America being more like a pot luck than a melting pot:
In a pot luck, individuals are invited to bring their own favorite dishes to a large table, and everyone can partake of as much of a particular dish as they please. The focus of the meal shifts from making the meal itself digestible for everyone, but rather everyone bringing a bit of themselves to the table so that the meal is enhanced for everyone.
To use the metaphor from before, the folks that don’t like tart foods avoid the dishes with cherries, and the cherry-laced dishes are still welcome to be present on the table and at the meal. For the folks who thoroughly enjoy bitter or spicy foods, they can take a little from the parsley or cayenne pepper infused foods. Some dishes may be more desirable than others, but no one is barred from bringing their gifts to the pot luck.
To explain this shift a little better than I did before, the focus of the melting pot is the food itself, while the focus of the pot luck is the people who bring the food.
The melting pot analogy makes people the “object” of the meal, ingredients that can be added or tossed out at the whims of one chef who cooks to his/her own taste. Tons of salt, a pinch of pepper, no guacamole, a hint of cumin, a liberal sprinkling of soy sauce, and barely a touch of naturally organic green vegetables. THAT’S one tasty soup and if you don’t like it, you can kick rocks; the soup is far more important than you.
On the other hand, the pot luck analogy makes people the “subject” of the overall meal, with complete meals added by each individual to make a robust dinner suitable for all people to enjoy. Shepherd’s pie, fried chicken, plantains and tamales, curry chicken, sushi and stir fry, and fresh and raw spinach salads with corn and carrots. THAT’S one big ass and delicious feast that EVERYONE can enjoy because it’s far more important that everyone eats, so everyone must contribute to the meal.
The melting pot says, “We don’t need your fried chicken because everyone’s eating the soup.” The pot luck says, “The meal won’t be complete without your friend chicken.” The melting pot says, “We have enough chile peppers as is; anymore will mess up the soup.” The pot luck says, “The chile peppers add spice to the party! Do you have any more?”
We can nuance these thinly veiled perspectives all day, but the point of the matter is the notion uniformity being the key to what makes our nation great is egregiously flippant. To deny people their God-given legal right to simply be themselves is outrageous. To ban or disregard people’s contributions to the whole of society, to actively lobby to eliminate the structures and institutions designed to help people contribute to the whole of society is to speak against the very thing that makes us who we are as Americans living in these United States.
From the people that crossed the Bering Strait or walked up from Latin American and inhabited the country well before European settlers arrived, to the Africans and Asians that made it to these shores on their own accord or otherwise, and even the poor and oppressed European settlers that lived and died on this land (and NOT just the elite seafaring sailors credited with navigating to the place), this land was made by everyone adding freely of themselves to the greatest pot luck ever known in the history of mankind. How dare anyone question the authenticity of one’s contributions for the good of all. There would be no [x] if it were not for [y], and the only reason we push to keep [y] is because we—you and I and everyone else—make [x] what it is.
But what do I know … what do we know as Black folks? After all, we’re the ones (among others) that are constantly told we’re making the soup taste funny.
I’m seriously interested in your thoughts; fire away. BC