America’s Skepticism about Diversity Not New

american diversityFirst the good news.  The United States is not as polarized as would seem from the recent government shutdown.  To be sure there’s a liberal and conservative base anchoring our political spectrum.  But the bulk of Americans, whether they be suburban soccer moms or blue collar Midwesterners, are somewhere in the middle.  In other words, our country is not just red and blue, but rather a hue of purple.

Now the bad news.  According to a recent Esquire-NBC News survey, Americans are leery of the nation’s increasing diversity.  There are those that say they are “very anxious” about increased diversity, about twenty percent or 1 in 5 survey respondents.  Then there is the majority, 65 percent, that simply feels uninspired by the increasing diversity in this country. For these individuals, “diversity inspires in them no hope for the future.”

Putting these two groups together there doesn’t seem to be much of a warm and fuzzy feeling toward non-whites.

Looking at the issue of immigration, this skepticism toward diversity is borne out.  Over half of the survey respondents do not support a pathway to citizenship within immigration reform.

But is this bad news even news at all?

America is a nation of immigrants, but as immigration scholar Dan Tichenor notes, Americans embrace their sojourner past and scorn new and future arrivals.  Historically, public opinion toward immigration has been lukewarm at best and usually hostile.

So the findings from this most recent survey show us nothing new at least in terms of immigration attitudes.  As a nation we are no less open or closed to diversity via immigration than in the past.

The “bad” news about attitudes toward immigration also needs to be placed in context.  One of the main reasons that immigration has historically inspired little support is the issue of economic competition.  While at the macro-economic level immigration helps the U.S. economy, at the individual level it represents competition.

For the individual worker there is the sense that immigrants are taking scarce jobs and resources.  And in the wake of the Great Recession these feelings are heightened.  Regrettably in tough economic times immigrants are scapegoated.  But as the economy improves feelings of economic competition should decrease and by extension so should anti-immigrant feelings.

Another reason for negative feelings about diversity is that it is a relatively new phenomenon.  Just 50 years ago the U.S. was overwhelmingly white.  While there was a small black population it was regionally concentrated in the South and a handful of industrial cities.  And Latinos in the 1960s were less than five percent of the population and primarily found in Texas or California.  Given these statistics, the demographic transformation over the last several decades is truly impressive.

Today we not only have a boom in diverse populations but a dispersion of these groups.  The traditional destinations for immigrants were one of five gateway cities – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Houston.  Today immigrants are in all corners of the country.  So nervousness at diversity isn’t just about the sheer numbers of immigrants but about their newness in several regions.

The good news, however, is that as time passes and the new and old populations spend more time together, inter-group apprehensions should decrease.  Academic research based on social contact theory shows that as individuals have more interactions, the better the feelings.

victoria defrancesco sotoThe fact that there is some nervousness about diversity isn’t new.  Our country since its beginning has struggled with the theory of democratic inclusion and the practice of minority exclusion.  In the end, what matters is that as a country we continue going forward toward the ideal of democratic inclusion.  That policies such as comprehensive immigration reform keep being pushed, because in the end actions speak louder than words.

Victoria Defrancesco Soto

Saturday, 19 October 2013


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    Note that ‘diversity’ is undefined in this article. Apparently it simply refers to the presence of people who are viewed as ‘different’ from what you now or used to view as ‘normal’ or ‘your own kind’. So – understandably – people at first tend to be ‘skeptical’ about ‘diversity’. That follows almost by definition.

    For some, diversity means differences in skin color, while for others it means diversity in language, or even in income or in some aspect of behavior. But what has happened in recent decades is that no longer does the USA possess a single obvious dominant kind of ‘diversity’ – i.e. white vs black. In terms of color alone, we now have at least white, black, brown, yellow and red. The number of clear and identifiable minorities has increased from just one, and the once-dominant majority is shrinking to simply a largest minority. In this situation, contra the article’s message and claim, more and more folk – at least those of us who live in ‘diverse’ cities like here in Long Beach, CA – are actually reassured, rather than unnerved, by ‘diversity’.

  2. Ryder says

    I think the author doesn’t understand the polling data.

    Diversity is not a thing. It doesn’t actually exist. Diversity is a concept.

    Before invention of “Diversity”, it was just understood that people were different on different levels.

    Diversity, on the other hand, is a political concept… what people are reacting to is the stupidity of diversity(tm) as an important idea.

    Diversity is a blind idea… it just says that diversity is good, but really can’t say why.

    Lets say everyone spoke a different language. 300 million different languages in the US. This “increased diversity” simply means there is no unifying language. No common ground.

    People instinctively know that this is a bad idea.

    The other thing is that diversity in different areas where we are TOLD it’s important, make no sense. Diversity in professors? I’m sure the lesbian view of mathematics is really important! Not.

    Diversity is a tool of division as often as acceptance.

    Finally, diversity is a lie.

    The people that sell it, choose diversity of only THEIR favored types.

    Klansmen need not apply… they are not on the approved diversity list. Neither are misogynists, or creationists. When do diversity advocates jump up and say “Hey, there aren’t enough creationists in greenpeace!!”

    Diversity is a political code for race, gender, and sexual orientation and little more…. more specifically, not white, not male, not straight.


    The polling data suggest to me that people are tired of the promise of division for the sake of politics.

    If all of the engineering professors are white males, then great… as long as they are the best. Making one of them a hispanic lesbian with disabilities is not going to improve anything… especially if they are less qualified than the person they displaced.

  3. says

    There’s a limit to how much diversity one nation can handle, or did you forget World War I and the Balkans? While Hispanics can definitely be compatible with the American body politic, it’s the MUSLIMS that will destroy everything, no matter how many lies Pres. Obama tells about them. The only proof needed is to see how they butcher each other every day in the Middle East. Who needs them to bring that here, much less combine against non-Muslims like they do there? Let’s not even mention the explosive combination with Jews. It’s not a racial thing, but ideological. The ideology of Islam is not just a form of worship, but demands political control of the land, and as such it won’t melt in our melting pot, sorry. The awful reality of jihad and Sharia can’t be melted away.

    Do we want peace or perpetual war? The U.S. needs to decide that there’s a limit as to what can be successfully and peacefully absorbed, and come to a national consensus. It then needs to admit that Mexicans are part of the New World, and seek to erase the line in the map that makes two governments fight for control of the same territory when only one is needed, and incorporate Mexico as 10 new states for a new launch of the American Dream, sans Muslim immigration, and sans the ever-corrupt Mexican government that has long been the elephant in the room. Ironically, the people of Mexico have no say on our disastrous permission for mass Muslim immigration, even though their children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences as the jihad spreads.

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