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The fondue pot

At first it seemed as though she were dying. She looked different, and her slurred words made me think oh my god brain tumor, and her hair, once loose and liberated like the Iraqis, now reduced to a string-cheesy mat anchored to her head with a homely hodge-podge of rubber bands. She, like many others, is the helpless victim of a new disease sweeping across the postmodern landscape. Happily, it isn’t fatal: It’s cultural. She went from being Hispanic and integrated in our high school, speaking His Majesty’s English and dressing in the middle of the sartorial bell curve, to talking in dialect and wearing cornrows a few months before departing Duke. Not that there’s anything wrong with this of course; it’s just interesting that several years here is enough to cause a complete ethnic metamorphosis. But what are the murky forces that drive such a change, the fearsome powers that would convert a White egg into a Spanish fly?

After three years of classes and two “diversity retreats,” it seems to me that a multicultural thought virus that has convinced us to worship at the altar of difference is to blame. The melting pot has been replaced with a centrifuge, and an expensive one at that. According to Duke Student Government’s Student Organization Financial Committee 2003-2004 budget report, student groups based on race secured more than $40,000 dollars from the student government alone, to say nothing of the $100,000 slush fund set up to subsidize cultural activities in a trigger-happy University response to an anti-reparations ad published in The Chronicle in 2001. Although these groups deserve a place in our community, we must recognize that in 2005 University-funded ethno-cultural groups also have the insidious effect of making people hyper-conscious of and hyper-sensitive to the place of race in their lives, with the ill effect of seeing everything with a melanin tint.

There should be no doubt about it; the University’s aggressive effort—as is outlined in the Multicultural Center’s philosophy—“to create an environment where difference is cherished and respected” has been overwhelmingly successful: Duke has become Balkanized, a small area where similar people of roughly the same socioeconomic status erect fictional cultural barriers. This isn’t celebrating diversity; it’s promoting ethnic separatism. The trajectory of my friend—and others like her—is a lamentable example of what the diversity agenda yields when it is taken too far and self-consciously institutionalized. Flush cultural groups program aggressively and, through their high-profile activities around campus, heighten race-consciousness, which reminds otherwise unconcerned and accomplished minorities of their distinctiveness and encourages them to break off into separate racial enclaves.

Oftentimes, as one might expect, this emphasis of race is coupled with an unapologetic disdain for Caucasoids that one can practically see running around on spindly legs at diversity retreats. Whites are invariably the oppressors, and there’s nothing more entertaining than watching affluent Anglos buy into this while minorities of equal or lesser qualifications are picked over them for jobs and places in graduate school. At this point in history it is undeniable that smart, motivated minorities are playing a game of existential foosball with the table tipped heavily in their favor.

Solving the problem of racial non-association on our campus may be impossible, but there are a few options emerging from the gloom, other than scaling back university support for cultural groups. Though it may be true that the melting pot has its problems, its sister approach to race relations, the fondue pot, is becoming more and more common. It’s not easy to collect data on this, but from personal experience I suspect that many of the minority students at Duke are really “pseudo-minorities,” sufficiently ethnic to be called ethnic, but by all appearances white. So there we have it; the best solution to the problem of competing ethnic rivals may be a merger-interbreeding, the genetic swirl fondue. If anything, more cultural funds ought to be spent promoting dating between groups.

In the meantime, the ethos of the melting pot deserves another look, if for no other reason than because it promotes the success and integration of minorities into American society. I, for one, am grateful that my grandmother embraced American culture, abandoned Spanish and forced her children to assimilate. In doing so she showed foresight as great as the taste of her Spanish rice and prepared her descendents for success in the greatest nation on earth.

Matt Gillum is a Trinity senior. His column appears Wednesdays.



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