Bias Busters: Is diversity America’s new Manifest Destiny?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Bias Busters

Three MSU covers of cultural guides

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome Joe Grimm, editor of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s series of guides to cultural competence. Here is Joe’s first of five columns …

MSU 100 Questions International students guide front

Click this cover to visit the bookstore.

Besides July 4 parades, picnics and fireworks—this week will feature citizenship ceremonies in many cities. These inspiring civic ceremonies, where men and women from around the world become Americans, are reminders that we are a nation of immigrants. (And, here’s one immigrant’s story.)

The elasticity of the noun, “Americans,” has been coming up a lot at Michigan State University. Consider this: Michigan became a state in 1837.  MSU was organized to fulfill a mandate in Michigan’s 1850 Constitution that called for the creation of an “agricultural school;” and the first class of 63 young men were almost exclusively farmers.

Today? Now, MSU is a community of 50,000 students from countries all around the world studying nearly every academic discipline offered at major universities. The campus welcomes every race and ethnic group in the U.S., and MSU’s Office for International Students reports more than 7,000 students arrive each year from other countries, including China (our biggest international group at more than 4,000 students) plus Brazil, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and dozens of other nations. As part of the faculty of MSU’s School of Journalism, I just returned from a week of teaching classes held in Saudi Arabia.

As American Independence Day rolls around this year, I’m thinking that, as Americans, we need to rethink our vision of Manifest Destiny. In the 19th century, Manifest Destiny meant that America should stretch from sea to sea. It was one pressure that led to the acquisition of a large part of Mexico by the United States. That old Manifest Destiny also gave American leaders an excuse to conquer many of the native peoples living on this continent.

I’d like you to join me this week for a five-part series about diversity in America. And our first question is: In the 21st century, could America’s new Manifest Destiny be that of becoming the most diverse nation on Earth?

At MSU, we’re already laying the groundwork so that diverse communities can peacefully embrace these many cultures. I teach a series of classes in which MSU journalism students become “Bias Busters” and rigorously research guidebooks to understanding various aspects of our nation’s growing diversity. Professionals refer to this as achieving “cultural competence”—and that goal already is encouraged in major corporations, health-care systems, schools and other public institutions.

This series of Bias Busters guides we are publishing answer the simple, everyday questions we hear in coffee shops and at work. But the guides and this week’s holiday also surface some big truths. Here are two of them:

  1. While we may look different, sound different and have different traditions, our basic values, needs and hopes are fundamentally the same. We all want to live in peace, to be clean and safe, to go where we wish and to do as we like. We want this for others, too. Understanding this makes it much easier to ask the questions and hear the answers in a way that draws us together and not apart.
  2. Several of the 10 core values in Wayne Baker’s book, United America, really resonate this Fourth of July week. They include symbolic patriotism, critical patriotism, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

Come back each day, through Friday! In the next four parts of this series, I will look at four of our most intriguing minority groups. You may pick up some fascinating facts to share at your own Fourth of  July party.

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