Social Education 58(6), 1994, pp. 349-353
National Council for the Social Studies

Five Paradigms of Ethnic Relations

Rod Janzen
A major focus of contemporary American education is the nature and character of interethnic relationships. This is evident whether the analysis and debate is about global issues, the domestic multicultural agenda, or social issues in general. The views expressed in the debate reflect a diverse set of ideological assumptions, though these are often concealed rather than explicit.
The present study is based on an intensive review of the literature pertaining to interethnic relationships, as well as the author's attendance at numerous interpretive presentations on diverse forms of "multiculturalism." From this review, I have identified five different perspectives, or paradigms, on the basis of which Americans in general define ethnic relations.

Our view of different ethnic and cultural groups is conditioned by the paradigms that guide our understanding of and vision for interethnic relationships. This is the case whether one is an administrator, teacher, student, or member of the community. Educators, in particular, need to come to terms with the diversity of interethnic paradigmatic understanding. While this paper does not offer specific solutions to our national multicultural dilemma, it will hopefully help clarify some of the reasons why solutions to our problems do not come easily in this complicated time.

The first paradigm is Traditional Eurocentric Racism. In this vision, America is defined as predominantly northern and western European in its culture and institutions, with a dominant Anglo-Saxon and Protestant foundation. In this vision, which reflects the actual development of American history, other "white" Europeans are always at some point (usually within the second generation) pulled into the northern European center (Novak 1971, 114).

Irish immigrants, for example, initially experienced extensive discrimination due to their ethnic uniqueness and their adherence to Catholicism. Immigrants from southern Europe experienced similar bias. Because of their later date of mass immigration, they also had to deal with discrimination related to job competition with "reaquot; Americans. The fact that many eastern Europeans were adherents of Orthodox Christianity (a tradition with which most Americans were not familiar) further complicated matters. Still, American citizens in general wanted Irish and southern and eastern European immigrants, now that they were here, to become "like" them, i.e., to become northern and western European in customs and beliefs. If one could assist in "Protestantizing" Catholic ecclesiastical and theological traditions along the way, so much the better.

Paradigm I thus describes a way of thinking and acting which brought all "white" Americans into the national fold, with one exception. Traditional Eurocentric racism never fully accepted the Jewish people because of their non-Christian religious commitment, even though Jews tended to adhere, for the most part, to northern and western European cultural traditions (Takaki 1993, 298). Jews thus found themselves occupying a quasi-purgatorial niche in American society.

According to the Paradigm I way of thinking and acting, non-Europeans were never fully accepted as "Americans." Blacks, American Indians, Asians, and Mexicans, for example, were all considered inferior peoples, culturally and intellectually. The Irish, southern Europeans, and (to a lesser extent) Jews, could at some point be recognized as "reaquot; Americans as they were assimilated (with certain stereotypical perceptions still held and acted upon), but persons in the non-European groups were never fully accepted, due to an ethnocentric bias against the cultures from which they claimed descent. Citizens of the United States wanted members of inferior ethnic groups to become "like" them with regard to customs practiced, dress, religion, and attitude toward work (though the work of the inferior peoples might be supervised by European-Americans); but they were not regarded as equals.

Paradigm I thus describes the historical American approach to latter-day non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants. This was also the approach applied to America's indigenous peoples. It established a vision still held, in different forms, by many American citizens today who fear and do not want an America which might become darker physically, less Christian religiously, and less European with regard to its understanding of the best way to design social-political institutions. Even in the field of education, there are many who hold certain Paradigm I principles, even though they do not put their thoughts in print.

Paradigm II, Melting Pot Assimilationism, offers a different point of view, and an alternative interpretation of American history. In the melting pot vision, various cultural groups from all over the world, whether they originate in Europe, Asia, the United States itself, the Middle East, Africa, or South America, are treated with essential equality in the United States. In their constant interaction-one culture crossing over into another- they begin at some point to join together to create one large heterogeneous mixture (Zangwill 1909, 37, 199).

Like the tiger who runs around a tree and turns into a stack of pancakes in the well-known folk tale, the various immigrant groups rotate ever more rapidly around whatever the central but constantly fluctuating definition of America has become. In the end, the United States itself is explained as a complete mixing together of various cultural traditions with regard to language, customs, religion, economic system, and political system.

With regard to language, for example, all immigrant groups eventually accept an Americanized form of English as a common tongue. Simultaneously, capitalism is accepted as the best economic system. Even though not all Americans belong to the same religious denomination, there is general acceptance of comparable moral principles and values. The Old Testament's Ten Commandments, for example, are valued in the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions.

Through the relationship with other melting pot citizens, one ceases at some point to perceive oneself in any terms other than "American." Individual ties to ethnic groups culturally rooted in other parts of the world are not considered important or relevant. These connections in fact are seen as representing potentially disruptive forces which can give the melting pot too many distinctive and distracting ingredients, leaving citizens the sense that there is no melted-together foundational understanding of what it means to be an American. Individual immigrants are expected to discard connections to ancestral homes. Further, by marrying across ethnic boundaries in the North American "new world," they assist in the creation of a new world people, the "American people."

Paradigm II suggests that most immigrants in the past jumped into the pot voluntarily and with great enthusiasm (Fitzgerald 1980, 82), ridding themselves of many remnants of past existence. As the newly-arrived cultures of the world melted into the pot, they did, of course, bring cultural traditions along with them. These customs, in various manifestations, continued to inform the debate with regard to what made someone an "American." Since everybody was equal before the law, the new immigrants could feel that they had as much ethnically-based influence on what defined America as anyone who had melted into the pot at some earlier time.

Paradigm II is a description and vision for America still held by many. Indeed, a number of educators lament the fact that this model is no longer as widely accepted in the late 20th century. The melting pot paradigm does not, however, provide an accurate account of what actually transpired in American history. That story is perhaps more adequately portrayed in Paradigm I, particularly into the l940s.

Paradigm II suggests, in a visionary sense, the melting away of all original ethnic cultures and traditions. The best part of each theoretically becomes part of what makes America a unique and great inter-ethnic experiment. Constant interaction theoretically stirs the multicultural stew together, and a gloriously harmonious unification is the end result of such mixing.

In fact, however, most new immigrants to America found themselves pressured by the power of the institutionalized public school system and generally-accepted American cultural principles to give up most ethnic traditions, unless these happened to be Anglo-Saxon Protestant in nature, and to melt into an essentially northern and western European cultural pot. Instead of melting equitably into the American soup, immigrants had first to shed essential aspects of traditional cultural belief and practice (Alba 1981, 91).

In the end, most non-Anglo-Saxon ethnic traditions were lost, with the exception of such customs as the placing of Christmas trees in American homes during the month of December and (more recently, in California) the production of tamales during that same time of the year. The fact that America's large population of ethnic Germans has had so little impact on the predominant culture in the United States is perhaps the best example of the way in which the melting pot process has actually functioned. During World War I, many states even outlawed the use of German in church services (Teichroeb 1979, 96).

Paradigm II thus denotes a melting pot which in actual fact "melted away" non-Anglo-Saxon traditions. Yet this paradigm has become an integral part of mainstream American thought. It is a worldview which has been taught and promoted in American public schools both as ideal and fact, and one which has been accepted by the media in general through much of the 20th century. A large number of Americans thus still believe strongly that this is the most accurate description of historical American inter-ethnic relationships.

Both Paradigms I and II promote philosophies which are essentially assimilationist in nature. Each paradigmatic understanding assumes a common set of cultural standards which new immigrants must accept either voluntarily or by compulsion.

Many melting pot theorists today, however, call themselves "multiculturalists." They believe in the vision of a melting pot which encourages new immigrants to add to the ever-changing melted-together, contents of the pot significant (not superficial) aspects of their traditional ethnic cultures, even as those persons are themselves transformed into ethnic "Americans" (Glazer 1991, 18).

Generally speaking, Paradigms III, IV, and V are most often used to define the multicultural way of thinking. With these paradigms we move directly into the waters of pluralism, with its emphasis on the retention and maintenance of traditional cultural beliefs and practices. There is a significant difference of opinion, however, even among advocates of pluralism, with regard to how it should be interpreted.

Paradigm III, Ethnic Nationalism, for example, suggests that each ethnic group, regardless of origin, should preserve its unique character, customs, languages, and ways of knowing without being assimilated. In this vision, the ethnic community is the principal source of one's personal and group identity.

America itself is held together, in this model, by a collective commitment to democratic institutions and practices and by the English language, which each cultural group teaches alongside other ethnic languages. Ethnic nationalism assumes the establishment of certain relationships across cultural boundaries. It expects, however, that most immigrants and Americans who have retained strong ethnic identities will focus their attention on their own cultural groups, the source of the ethnic nationalist's primary identity (Barrera 1988, 42).

Exponents of the ethnic nationalist vision often identify their ideas with the cultural mosaic concept promoted by the Canadian government. That vision was founded historically on the basis of a bicultural, French/English confrontation. Rather than being purely "multi-culturaquot; in nature, primary institutional support was traditionally given to two identifiable language groups (Lipset 1990, 179). Since 1971, however, the Canadian Government, through its Cabinet-level Ministry of Multiculturalism and Citizenship, has encouraged every ethnic group living in Canada to retain ideological and behavioral uniqueness via substantial government-funded programs (McConaghy 1993, 190).

Pluralists who support ethnic nationalism seek to preserve special cultural and linguistic understandings and customs which have generally diminished in cosmopolitan settings. Ethnic nationalists thus emphasize the importance of retaining, in some measure, closed ethnic enclaves within American society at large. They remind us that it is not possible to express certain beliefs and feelings outside the boundaries of specific psycho-cultural-linguistic traditions. The center, in the ethnic nationalist vision is, therefore, a weak one.

Much of the Afrocentric curriculum movement fits this particular paradigm, though when it places additional emphasis on viewing the world through the lens of a myriad of cultural perspectives it might also find itself positioned within the parameters of Paradigm IV and V definitions (Hilliard 1992, 13). Persons who suggest the viability of creating semi-independent ethnic republics within the United States follow this model most closely (Barrera 1988, 160).

It is important to note that the Paradigm III model assumes that each national grouping contains within itself a multiplicity of ethnicities. Within the Laotian group, for example, the Hmong represent a unique group of people (traditionally semi-nomadic and illiterate). Ethnic nationalism thus has major implications for schooling if educators seek to meet the psychological needs, ways of knowing, and cultural expectancies of different native groups.

Paradigm IV, Globalism, provides a different pluralist twist by suggesting that the increasing economic, ecological, and political interconnectedness of modern life demands that we reach consensus on an international ideological and behavioral center which then forms the foundation for all world cultures, rather than thinking only in terms of what might hold Americans together (Paradigms I, II, and V) or with regard to those customs which provide communally separated cultural uniqueness (Paradigm III).

In this Star Trek vision, a Planet Earth melting pot is formed on the basis of continuous discussion concerning that which is common in the experience of all ethnic cultures, including common elements in the beliefs and practices of the various global religions (Fersh 1989, 17). In this model, one's own cultural identity is not of primary importance, except insofar as it provides input into the establishment of the new world order's central principles.

There is a continuous search for the center in the globalist vision, via unending discussion with regard to commonly-accepted principles. The center itself draws upon the experiential and intellectual traditions of all world cultures. Global awareness, in this vision, may be promoted for social, economic, religious, or other reasons, but a central raison d'etre is the importance of working together peaceably as world citizens.

While the global ideological center is being sought, that which separates and distinguishes each nationality is not simply overlooked. Through the process of constant inter-ethnic discussion, each ethnic group is given influential power with regard to the creation of the new earth culture. In order for this culture to be equitably based, in view of the world's political, economic, and demographic contexts, a tremendous amount of negotiation and discussion is demanded. One global model sometimes referred to is the United Nations, which is organized and functions in such a way that the rights of those nations which are not as strong militarily, economically, or demographically are still theoretically protected.

Paradigm IV appeals to those pluralists who fear the possibility of the inter-ethnic conflict which has sometimes accompanied ethnic nationalist emphases-in Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Union for example-though supporters of Paradigm III counter that the underlying reason for conflict in those regions is indeed the historical attempt by some ethnic groups to destroy the cultural vitality of neighboring ethnic groups.

Ironically, if the global vision were actuated in the way its proponents seem to desire, it might ultimately establish a culture very similar to what some melting pot enthusiasts, in a more specifically nationalistic way, appear to envision for their ideological and interpretive position based on Paradigm II. The entire world, however, would now find itself melted together.

If there were, for example, nearly complete global interethnic fusion, brought about in part by increased personal relationships, leading to cross-ethnic marriage en masse worldwide, it might be difficult eventually to distinguish one ethnic tradition from another. People might then rather define themselves in terms of highly idiosyncratic interests, behaviors, and beliefs. (This is what the melting pot model envisions on a national scale.) For this to happen, however, global citizens would have to begin thinking transformatively in terms of internationally-recognized principles and be open to almost continuous change, over a long period of time, with regard to the agreed-upon nature of those axioms.

Paradigm V, Centered Pluralism, is a more conservative and pragmatic approach to pluralistic multiculturalism than that suggested by either ethnic nationalist or global paradigms. An underlying assumption of centered pluralism, for example, is that America needs to continue to hold itself together as a vital national system, and that this will not happen, politically or socially, unless certain established central traditions are adhered to by most citizens (Banks 1992, 32).

Centered pluralists, like ethnic nationalists, therefore insist that all Americans speak a common language (English) though they simultaneously encourage both the retention of first languages (where this is relevant) and the learning of additional official languages. Centered pluralists are also committed to democratic institutions though these are not defined from an exclusively Anglo-Saxon constitutional perspective.

In both of these emphases, centered pluralism is much more prescriptive in nature than globalism. Paradigm V also goes much further than ethnic nationalism in its general support for a commonly-accepted and centrally-established knowledge base. It suggests, for example, that all Americans have a common literacy foundation. This literacy base is expected to be a multicultural one, so that not all books read and studied are those written by Europeans and European-Americans, with those particular ethnic interpretations (as different as they might be). Still there are common intellectual threads, primary readings, and conventional subjects which hold Americans to similar standards of interpretation.

This paradigm also supports a national commitment to communal as well as individual socio-economic traditions, a mixture of capitalism and socialism. Centered pluralism even allows for the possibility that democracy itself might be understood differently-and perhaps in more helpful ways-in other cultural traditions. The two-party political system and representative republicanism might therefore be reviewed with regard to operational effectiveness in the modern American context. Centered pluralism assumes, however, an underlying commitment to the kind of general principles enunciated in the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights (Haynes and Kniker l990, 306).

Centered pluralism thus establishes a commitment to many traditional "American" beliefs and practices. At the same time, this paradigm assumes the integrity of all indigenous cultural identities. A central set of beliefs and practices, previously established, undergoes continuous gradual metamorphosis through constant, desired reflective interaction between various ethnic groups and their respective traditions. In this process all ethnic communities have some impact on the slowly changing character of the American "center." Centered pluralism assumes nearly complete ethnic equality and cultural acceptance. It represents a practical response to assimilationist critics of Paradigm III who attack ethnic nationalist multiculturalism for perceived divisive tendencies.

Interestingly enough, centered pluralism, in many ways, correlates to a paradigm hinted at by Milton Gordon in the mid-l960's (in his book, Assimilation in American Society). It is a vision, which, if Gordon was correct in his analysis, ultimately and paradoxically establishes a melting pot. Unlike that actuated historically, this melting pot provides full cultural equality (Gordon l964, 158).

In this way the eventual outcome of a commitment to centered pluralism appears to be similar in nature to that predicted by melting pot multiculturalists, even as the latter do not place much emphasis on retention and maintenance of ethnic uniqueness. If, for example, all cultures are treated equally, one would expect that through direct association and intermarriage most ethnic groups would eventually melt away into one new American culture, still predominantly Anglo-Saxon in its foundation but with Arab-American, African-American, Asian-American, Pacific Islander-American, and Latin-American nuances.

Centered pluralism differs from melting pot assimilationism, however, in its willingness to support affirmative action to assist in leveling out the playing field for those ethnic groups which have experienced substantial discrimination and prejudice based on their association with certain ethnic traditions in the past. In theory, most of these are people other than non-northern, non-western Europeans; in practice, most of them are non-Europeans. Centered pluralists recognize a need to eradicate ethnocentric concepts already embedded in the American psyche and social order. Paradigm V thus envisions a melting pot which incorporates much greater ethnic diversity than that anticipated by melting pot multiculturalists.

Unlike the vision presented in the globalist Paradigm IV, centered pluralism is not international in character. Though centered pluralists speak in terms of internationalization of the curriculum, for example, their primary focus is on the United States of America.

The fact that Americans tend to view inter-ethnic relationships from the perspective of these paradigms, and that there are divergences even among those who call themselves "pluralists," makes for a very confusing situation for educators. Educators are not only asked to "multiculturalize" the curriculum but to decide, in effect, which of at least four paradigmatic understandings best describes their personal perception of multiculturalism, which then may differ from that proposed by other educators and academics. All of the paradigms discussed in this article, for example, have supporters in the public school system. Teachers are required to attend inservice workshops and often volunteer to enroll in classes which certainly expose them to some form of "multiculturalism," but which may be suggesting any one of four very different versions of that concept.

It is important to note that this article's thesis that there are five general ethnic relations paradigms does not suggest that all multiculturalists abide by these theoretical paradigms in any pure sense. They may, in fact, operate out of the perspective of one or more of these models, some rationally and with purpose, others chaotically and illogically.

In addition, teachers and educators must deal with a general public whose opinions, according to polls, are much more weighted toward assimilationist models (Paradigms I and II). It is perhaps most confusing that supporters of four of the paradigms (II through V) have representative leaders who all refer to themselves as "multiculturalists," and who all employ the same term, from Nathan Glazer to James Banks to Mario Barrera. So the following question continually arises, "Who are the real multiculturalists?" and we see constant struggle, attack, and counterattack between advocates of the various paradigmatic approaches.

It is the hope of this writer that a paradigmatic understanding of why we have reached this point of multicultural confusion will be useful in helping us to comprehend why we are doing what we are doing. Further, it will push members of the educational audience, as they listen to presentations on multiculturalism, as they read articles and curriculum documents which describe the multiculturalist vision, to be more demanding with regard to what particular philosophical position is being encouraged by presenters and writers. It is always important to know the assumptions, values, and goals of one's mentors. With this knowledge, the debate will continue with the reflective educator much more knowledgeable of the deep complexity of this issue.

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Rod Janzen is Professor of History and Social Science Education at Fresno Pacific College, Fresno, California.