Making Americans Response
King should have given Making Americans the more appropriate title, “Constructing American Identity: The National Legacy of Race and Ethnicity.” The work tiptoes across a dangerous, four hundred year old minefield. Tackling American Identity always leads to a discussion of race. It is near futile to avoid. If steps on any of the sensitive mines, carefully concealed under a bushel of political correctness, the scholar must endure criticism and allegations from the various ethno historians that immerged in the 60s and 70s. Prior to this, the scholar, convinced that they squeezed the delicate pulse of American Identity, yet only slipped and stumbled into the pit of American exceptionalism where he found plenty of equally blissfully ignorant company.
He is correct to cite Tocqueville who was sure he had Americans figured. But he failed to properly include African American contributions, in fact, going out of his way to dismiss them. He is not alone. Benjamin Franklin comments on liberty and the building of self, but as a Middle Colonist has nothing to say about slavery in his definitive autobiography. Thomas Jefferson believed he had correctly identified American Identity in his Letters from a Virginia Farmer, but labels the African as inferior; and not the omission of American. Washington answered that he did not need to resort to the wretched African for military aid when pressed to allow the nation’s blacks to serve. Indeed our founding fathers may not be the best place to look to find national identifying answers.
Making Americans seeks answers by examining our history of racial exclusion and especially immigration policy to find answers. Immigration exclusion policies were certainly American responses to their own national questions. The answers unattainable, the soul searching too painful, rejecting people based on race, language, and religion must have seemed prudent to nativist decision makers. Those decision makers too liberal to be nativist proposed Americanization as an active process to assist in making American pluralism desirable to conservatives. This is where, I feel, a further look into the American shows that the policy of Americanization is not as 20th century as it seems in the context of immigration reform. Conversionists, though largely successful in converting slaves to the common protestant identity saw their...