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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

A Cold Pebble (p. 328)

From chapter "Assimilation"

The Chinese were hated, in part, simply because they looked different. I was going to say, “looked different than whites,” but realized the last two words were unnecessary. They’re implied. They’re always implied. That’s the problem. Whites are the standard against which all others are deemed similar or different, acceptable or unacceptable. Blacks fall outside this standard. Indians, too, whether from East or West. Difference, in this case, is a big disadvantage. Europeans have had it easier: Germans, Jews, Italians, and so on could and can anglicize their names, but the Chinese could not change the color of their skin. They were different, and thus feared.

It’s not just color, though, and, in fact, color is only a small part of it. Another reason the Chinese were hated, and this is another way of getting at the same point, is that they did not so readily enter the “melting pot” like many European immigrants, but instead wanted to maintain a separate identity. They kept their queues, their dress, their “heathen” worship practices. They ate their own food. And, perhaps most horrifying to many Americans, they bathed.

The same hatred, once again, extended to the Indians who did not assimilate, and thus had to be eradicated. Once the cultures of the Indians had been decimated, that is, once the cultures and individuals no longer posed a serious threat to the ability of those in power to exploit anyone and anything around them, those in power—and by extension, all of us—no longer had to hate them. We were at leisure merely to despise them.

But the hatred goes beyond the maintenance of a simple power to exploit: These people were and are hated for their true difference, for reminding us that our way of living, which we have declared to be the One True Way, is not in fact the only way to live. It is possible to live without capitalism. It is possible to live without huge gaps between rich and poor, without the sweat of the many providing comforts for the few. It is possible to live without science. It is possible to live without destroying the planet. It is possible to live without penitentiaries. It is possible to live without slavery. It is possible to live without rape. It is possible to live without child abuse. There have existed cultures without any of these.

The Chinese (and I’m not suggesting the Chinese had no rape, child abuse, slavery, and so on; they have certainly had their problems) similarly were hated because they would not assimilate, or, to put this another way, they would not allow the process of consuming them to proceed to its bloody end: As a United States senator said of the Chinese, “These people are an indigestible element in our midst, a cold pebble in the public stomach that cannot be digested.”

I’ve always been amazed that so many people continue to think of the notion of the melting pot as a good thing. Unless all parties act under conditions of equivalent power, and unless the melting is purelyvoluntary at every step of the process by everyone concerned, it seems by definition genocidal: whoever gets melted—assimilated— loses separate cultural identity. That’s genocide.