Paul Kusuda’s column
Melting pot/Diversity revisited
Part 3 (conclusion)
By Paul Kusuda
This is the conclusion of my thoughts about “melting pot” and “diversity” societal viewpoints with
reference to how racial minorities fit into the larger society’s everyday doings. The process may be
described as integration, acculturation, acceptance, tolerance, assimilation, fitting in, being one of the
gang, entering-in or interacting with mainstream society, etc. Tolerance is probably the least acceptable
concept because that infers involvement of a less-than-desirable trait, characteristic, or similar
Well-meaning people try to overcome ideas of social barriers by developing and carrying out ways to
promote their well-intended paradigms (or models) of human behavior. Many in the real world accept and
try to do their best on behalf of their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, obstacles seem to grow despite
all good intentions. Some are foreseeable while others, not.
In the case of “melting pot,” the mix never did develop. Key to the concept was that racial minority group
members would gradually become like and merge into the societal framework of majority societal living.
That did not occur; members of neither groupings fully accepted the necessary requirement of
homogeneity because it just did not exist.
Recognition that the “melting pot” idea did not produce a uniform pot of brownness led to the “diversity” model. The possible beginning
was the relatively short-lived “Black is Beautiful” phase that had strong support. When I was in Chicago in the late 1940s, the movement
gained much support as did the Black Muslim movement and “rap” talk (from “rapport,” I think). Young Black Americans in the streets
challenged each other rhyming: “You tall; an’ you gonna fall” and “You brown; an’ you goin’ down.” The youth were sharp-witted and were
able to continue the dialog in rhythm without music.
The focus of “Black is Beautiful” was to increase feelings of self-worth and pride. Some discarded “slave names” in favor of African
language-based names. Others chose Muslim-related names. The eventual goal was to encourage Blacks to appreciate their heritage and
to convert that knowledge and pride into improved self image and group progress economically and other aspirations.
The basic concepts took hold; race pride began to replace feelings that Whites looked down on them because of color differences. The
evident positives were viewed by those interested in social behavior, including academicians and public bureaucrats, to be an effective
replacement for the failed “melting pot” paradigm for social change. The approach worked so well for Black Americans, why not for other
racial minority groups? That’s how I think “diversity” came about.
The University of Wisconsin, other educational institutions, and racial minority groups latched on to the evidence-based model for
American society to move to help resolve many of the obviously visible disparities between the mainstream and non-White components of
As noted in a previous article, I thought the melting-pot approach failed, and diversity appeared to be a much better approach. So, I
bought into the approach and even joined efforts to help establish the Midwest’s first Asian American Studies Program (AASP). I really
believed that the development of AASP would be a way to help Asian American students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison become
more appreciative of their heritage and similarities among various groups of Asian backgrounds, thus gaining more strength to become
integrally involved with mainstream American society.
Unfortunately, it appears that only part of the diversity approach is developing according to the overall paradigm. Asian and Asian
American students at UW-Madison have begun to bond, building bridges among different Asian backgrounds (e.g., Chinese, both Mainland
and Taiwan; Korean, both South and North; Japanese; Hmong; Vietnamese; Laotian; and Cambodian) to form a grouping called Asian. It
seems as though a heretofore missing in-group identity was only minimally stressed. The focus of entering into the mainstream of
American society appears to be but an illusory end to the means of directing efforts for participants to know about and be Asian.
If my observation is accurate and applied to the African American Studies Program, Hispanic American Studies Program, and Native
American Studies Program, a question may be raised as to whether diversity programs are working or are, contrary to purpose, creating
divisiveness. Is the diversity paradigm exacerbating a social situation it’s intended to ameliorate?
The diversity model requires re-examination, re-evaluation, and reorganization. Efforts should be directed toward developing a
strategic plan that includes an overall vision, goals and measurable objectives, and definite timelines for achieving end-points related to
specific goals. Staff responsible for diversity programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at Madison Area Technical College
would not have to collaborate in the review; however, each institution may want to rethink how diversity can be used as a useful tool in
the development of students and to help them enter mainstream American economic and social mileau with a better understanding of the
many facets comprising diversity.
I recognize this will take effort and time, but at least it will reduce or eliminate the appearance of a “front-office minority” façade.