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.

New British Invasion: US and UK, which is more diverse?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The New British Invasion

Pew Research Center report on Cultural Diversity around the World

If you wanted to experience real cultural diversity, where would you go?

Would you pick Great Britain or the US?

Our primary focus in is America, but we get perspective when we compare “our” nation to others. So this week we’ve tapped into the renewed American fascination with all things British to learn about America by comparing it with Great Britain. We’ve seen that Americans and Britons have similar attitudes about extramarital affairs, but different opinions about the importance of God. We saw that we like the Brits more than they like us. The two nations are similar in the difficulty young people have rising to a socioeconomic class that is higher than their parents’.

Today, we look at cultural diversity. The US is more diverse than Great Britain, but it’s not that diverse when compared to other nations around the world. The most diverse places in the world include Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, and Congo, according to research reported by Pew. (Click the map above to read the entire Pew report.) These places have large numbers of ethnic groups, tribes, and languages.

The least diverse nations include Uruguay and Argentina, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Comoros, and Rwanda. As Pew analysts point out, Rwanda was diverse until the Hutu majority wiped out the Tutsi. The BBC reported in 2008 that over 800,000 Rwandans were killed in just over three months time.

The US is in the middle of the ranking of 94 countries—diverse, but not that diverse. Canada is actually a bit more diverse that the US.

Are you surprised to learn that the US is not that diverse?

What stood out this week as the most interesting comparison of the US and Britain?

Common Ground: A new nation of immigrants?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series American Common Ground
Scene from PBS Independent Lens docmentary Las Marthas

OUR FOUNDING FATHERS? Yes, our Hispanic founding fathers! In February, PBS will broadcast an eye-opening documentary, “Las Marthas,” about a long tradition in Laredo, Texas, of marking Washington’s birthday by celebrating Hispanic ancestors in the region. (Click this photo to learn more about regional, public previews PBS is scheduling for the film.)

It’s a cliché to say that America is a land of immigrants, but it’s still true—and it’s truer today than it has been for a long, long time. We’ve experienced an historic immigration milestone in our history. Is this milestone making us a new nation of immigrants?

The historic milestone is this: Over 40 million immigrants (including those unauthorized) now call America home, according to Pew’s analysis of Census data. This figure is a new record. Percentage wise, this means that 13% of the American population is now foreign born.

This is the highest number of immigrants in absolute terms. But is it also the highest percentage? It’s not, according to U.S. Census data and analysis. The highest percentages of immigrants occurred over a century ago, at three time points: 1870 (14.4%), 1890 (14.8%), and 1910 (14.7%). For the record, these were the periods when my immigrant ancestors—on both sides of my family—came to America.

One big difference is the source of immigration—the countries of origin. In these earlier years, Europe was the biggest source. Now, Mexico is the biggest source, accounting for almost three of ten (29%) of immigrants, according to Pew. Mexico is closely followed by Asia (25%).

The reception of immigrants through American history has been tumultuous, occasionally bloody. But I believe it is also a reinforcement of one of America’s 10 core values: respect for others. Respect for others includes respect for people of different faiths and of different races and ethnicities, as I discuss in my new book, United America. Generally, our nation has been more welcoming of immigrants than other nations.

But before you leave today’s column thinking of Mexican-Americans as newcomers: Watch your local PBS TV schedules in mid-February, when the public-TV network airs Las Marthas. Filmmaker Cristina Ibarra takes viewers inside a tradition little known outside of Laredo, Texas. For many generations, Mexican-American families have marked Washington’s birthday by introducing their young debutantes in elaborate American Revolutionary-era gowns. The point of the festival is to remind Americans that many “Mexican” families have lived in what is now the U.S. for hundreds of years. (Are you a teacher or small-group leader? Here’s a wonderful, free, 14-page discussion guide to Las Marthas.)

Are you surprised at the record number of immigrants?

Do you welcome our new emerging ethnic mix?

Jokes: Rule of 3 can be hilarious (or hurtful)

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Jokes

Famous Movie Comedy TriosA Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: On this week spanning two years, please welcome back contributing columnist Terry Gallagher. Here is the second part of Terry’s latest series on—Jokes.

You might have heard this one before.

A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar.

The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”

That formula is based on the well-known “rule of three,” the idea that things are more comprehensible and satisfying if they come in groups of three.

Not to mention funnier, too. There’s a reason they weren’t the 4 Stooges. (And before you start objecting—sure, there were more than 3 Stooges, but at any given time they performed as a trio. The Howard brothers learned that from the Marx Brothers. Who even remembers their dud of a brother Zeppo?)

The Rule of Three is as old as Aristotle, and it doesn’t only work for jokes. This season, we remember that Scrooge was visited by three ghosts, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.

One of the ways it works in jokes is to have the first two parts follow logically, then to have the third part break the pattern.

Readers who are as old as I am remember Buddy on the Dick van Dyke show, always making fun of Mel’s bald head. “Can I get you anything,” Buddy asked Mel one time. “Coffee? Doughnut? Toupee?”

A joke like that on a classic television show, no harm done. The coffee and the doughnut just let us know the punch line is coming.

But that’s also the pattern of a hurtful joke, the one based on mockery and disdain. When someone wants to tell you the one about the Irishman, the Englishman and the Italian all arriving at St. Peter’s Gate at the same moment, you just know the Italian will be catching hell.

Okay, maybe the Italians can take it.

But what if he was Polish?
Or a blonde woman?
Or black?
Or gay?

When does the joke stop being funny?

Jokes: Is it okay to laugh?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Jokes

early edition Tom Swift and His Airship coverA Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: On this week spanning two years, please welcome back contributing columnist Terry Gallagher, a popular OurValues writer whose earlier series have explored Gifts, James Joyce, Aging, the Real World and even his own Soupathon. Here is the first part of Terry’s latest series on—Jokes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

I love jokes. Love them all the time—except when I don’t like them at all.

What jokes do I love? Some of my favorites are Tom Swifties, those clever one-liners where the adverb makes a pun on the quoted expression.

(Oops. That’s the kind of joke I don’t like, the ones you have to explain.)

For example:

“Who swiped the pencil sharpener?” Tom asked, bluntly.

“I think the magician is going to saw that woman in half,” Tom said, intuitively.

One reason I like Tom Swifties so much is their inclusivity, in addition to their brevity. You can share them easily and widely, and as soon as the penny falls, and the hearer connects the pun to the quoted line, it makes for shared understanding, two or more people smiling at the same time.

“I just flew back from China,” Tom said, disoriented.

Children especially seem to love them, and they’re a mainstay of the jokes page in magazines like Highlights and Boy’s Life.

(Maybe that’s why I like them so much, because I’m so childish.)

Tom Swifties are, for the most part, inoffensive. Although I do know a few blue ones, suitable only for mature audiences.

And most jokes are that way, inclusive and inoffensive.

But what about the other kind of jokes? We all have heard jokes that are exclusive, hurtful, offensive, cringe-inducing. I’ve told a few of them myself.

How do we feel about them? Is it okay to laugh?

For the first time, “Happy Holidays” wins over “Merry Christmas”

CLICK on this image to see the entire PRRI graphic.

CLICK on this image to see the entire PRRI graphic.

Christmas—a holiday that 90% of Americans celebrate—is coming. A religious observation for many and a cultural event for others, it presents an annual dilemma: Do you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

For the first time, Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings has edged out Merry Christmas as the salutation of choice, according to a December 2013 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Almost half (49%) of all Americans say that “stores and businesses should greet their customers with ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ out of respect for people of different faiths. Forty-three percent disagree, preferring ‘Merry Christmas.’ Only 8% didn’t venture an opinion on the matter.”

This appears to be a cultural watershed. In 2010, the proportions were reversed. Then, 49% preferred “Merry Christmas’ and 44% preferred a secular greeting.

Is there a “War on Christmas”?

That’s the question posed by PRRI. It’s an eye-catching question, though it may be an indulgence in dramatic license. Still, is there a deeper meaning? Note that the survey item gave the reason for a secular greeting: respect for people of different faiths. Respect for people of different religions, races, and ethnicities is one of the 10 core American values, as we’ve discussed before on

A preference for secular or religious holiday greeting varies considerably by age, political affiliation, and religious affiliation. Two-thirds of young Americans (ages 18- 29) prefer “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays,” while only 39% of Americans 65+ also prefer a secular salutation. The majority of Democrats prefer a secular greeting, while a majority of Republicans prefer “Merry Christmas.” Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants have the strongest support for the traditional religious greeting; the religiously unaffiliated have the weakest support.

Among friend and family, which greeting do you use?

What’s the norm in your workplace?

Do you express your preferred greeting, or do you say something else?

New American Center: Test yourself. Are you in or out?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The New American Center
Click this screenshot from the Esquire-NBC website to take the survey yourself.

CLICK on this screenshot from the Esquire-NBC website to take the survey yourself. When you reach that website, look for this graphic to “Get Started.”

Are you a member of “The Righteous Right” or “The Talk Radio Heads”? If so, you are not in the New American Center.

Perhaps you are a member of “The Bleeding Hearts” or “The Gospel Left”—if you are, then you are not in the Center, either.

What does it take to be in the Center?

A new poll by Esquire/NBC News argues that Americans are not nearly as divided as many think. Indeed, they identify what they call the New American Center. This Center includes 51% of Americans, with the rest divided between “liberal base” (“The Bleeding Hearts” and “The Gospel Left”) and “conservative base” (“The Righteous Right” and “The Talk Radio Heads”).

As readers know, a long-standing theme of this blog is the recognition that Americans are united around a set of 10 core values. These core values are strongly held by a very large majority of Americans—much higher than 51%.

Why is there a difference?

It all comes down to the type of survey questions asked. In my surveys, I asked about values—the guiding principles that transcend situations and issues. The Esquire/NBC News asked about attitudes—opinions about dozens of specific social and political issues. These include term limits for members of Congress, government spending, internet regulation, dependence on foreign oil, gun control, guaranteed minimum income, and much more.

The overall findings, then, are consistent. I also found less agreement about specific attitudes. I only wish that this new survey had asked questions about underlying values. Nonetheless, it is reassuring to know that “agreement” is the main message from the Esquire/NBC News survey.

Do you want to know if you are in the New American Center? Click on the graphic with today’s OurValues column to take an interactive quiz and see if you are in the new American center. I took the quiz—and I warn you that it isn’t a short survey. But this is a good thing, because too often these media-inspired interactive quizzes are so short that they are of dubious scientific value.

If you are in the Center, you will be in one of four centrist categories identified by the pollsters: “Minivan Moderates,” “The MBA Middle,” “The Pick-up Populists, and “The #WhateverMan.” This week, we’ll define all these categories and discuss what they mean for American unity.

Are you in the New American Center?

Are you a member of the conservative base?

Or the liberal base?

Please, take a moment to add a Comment, below. And invite friends to read along. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon.