Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once said that being a minority in 19th century Europe was like living in someone else’s home country. The aristocrats were the owners of the house. Other people could live there, but they were only guests. They did not have the right to set rules, operate institutions, or dominate culture.
America in the 1950s could be described similarly. However, as the decades passed, the Protestant elite crumbled and America became a wonderful, more diverse country. If you decided to read this text, it is likely that you belong to a minority group, or to several. You may be of African descent, Jewish or Muslim; gay, trans, Hispanic, Asian-American, socialist, libertarian, or Swedenborgian.
Even the former owners of the house now feel like members of a minority. The main Protestant denominations that once enjoyed great dominance, such as the Episcopalians and the Methodists, now have a smaller proportion and have lost influence. Even some of the people who used to be considered part of the majority now feel minorities. Currently, Caucasian Evangelical Protestants make up only about 15% of the country. One of the reasons they vote for people like Donald Trump is that they feel like foreigners in their own land, oppressed minorities forced to fight for their survival.
We live in the age of minorities. People express their minority identity with justified pride. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that America is now a place of competing minorities. It is crucial to answer the following question: How do people conceive the identity of their minority group and what is their perception of minority relations?
Throughout history, according to another observation by Sacks, at least four different mindsets have been identified: first, assimilation. Assimilationists feel that their minority identity limits them. They want others to consider their individuality, not to be seen as members of a category of outsiders. They try to eliminate attributes that could identify them as Jewish, Mexican, or members of another group.
Second, separatism. The separatists want to preserve the authenticity of their own culture. They send their children to school with other children of the same culture and socialize mainly within the same group. Having a strong cohesive identity gives your life meaning, so you don’t want it to get lost. The third mindset is combat. Those who take this approach see life, in essence, as a struggle between oppressive and oppressed groups. Intolerance is so ingrained that there is no real hope of integration. Their duty is to fight against groups that despise them and whose values are alien to them. In fact, this battle gives your life purpose.
The fourth approach is integration without assimilation. Those who prefer this mindset appreciate what their group has brought to the nation as a whole. E pluribus unum. Members of this group celebrate pluralistic, composite identities and varied mix of groups, each with unique contributions to American identity.
US politics is very ugly today because many people find the third mindset more compelling. Americans are a deeply religious people, especially when they believe they are not religious. Today, a trend that I would describe as the “religion of minority” has taken hold of many hearts.