67 Paths to Belonging: The Constitution and Cultural Identity
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67 Paths to Belonging: The Constitution and Cultural Identity KENNETH L. KARST Virtually every cultural minority in America has had to face exclusion, forced conformity, and subordination. All these patterns are variations on the same theme: those who are different cannot belong as full members of the community. The victims of cultural domination, therefore, face a serious problem: they must necessarily live their lives within the larger society, and in order to define themselves they must satisfy their basic needs for connection. They may choose to turn inward to the solidarity of the excluded group, banding together to confront the larger society. Alternatively, individual members of the cultural minority may, as to some aspects of their lives and in varying degrees , be assimilated into the culture of the larger society. Cultural Politics: From Solidarity to Integration Although most people have their cultural identities ascribed to them at birth, a great many people find their cultural identities thrust upon them. One principal source of cultural identity in America has always been the perceived need to band together in defense against domination or hostility. Indeed, the outside world plays an important part in the very definition of a group's cultural identity. The immigrants from a single European country typically came from different regions with marked cultural distinctions , but in America the people from a given village or region generally were few in number ; naturally, they sought association with others of the same religion or from the same country. Natural affinities, of course, did exist: a common language, or a common religion , or both. However, much of the sense of community felt by the members of an American ethnic group today originated in the ways in which the members' ancestors were labeled-for example, as "Italians" or as "Jews"-and, by those labels, set apart as outsiders .I "Defensive" identification with an ethnic or religious group has always been a major source of cultural pluralism in America; the victims of domination become bound together in a community, a "fraternity of battle."2 Yet when the members of cultural minorities have intensified their group attachments by living in ethnic neighborhoods, or focusing their economic dealings within the ethnic communities,3 or founding ethnic social or political organizations,4 the outside world has been ready to call them "clannish" and unas64 N.C. L. REV. 303 (1986). Originally published in the North Carolina Law Review. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material 408 Kenneth 1. Karst similable. Like many another process of social subordination, this one is circular. The exclusion of members of a cultural minority from full participation in the larger society causes them to focus their need to belong on the cultural group itself; and this very solidarity stimulates further outside suspicion and hostility. Racial and ethnic domination has often led to defensive separatism. Black separatist movements, from the explicit black nationalism of Marcus Garvey5 to the more ambiguous "Black Power" and "community control" movements of recent years, have origins that seek to replace the skepticism, frustration, and resentment produced by domination with a revitalized sense of pride.6 The hostility of the outside world is by no means the only source of ethnic solidarity in America. The very openness of American society, for all its assimilative power, also can impel some people to seek the solidarity of a cultural group. An ethnic group can offer shelter from the insecurity that stems from a sense of isolation in a crowd of strangers, even when the strangers are not hostile but indifferent. Yet, when an individual feels fenced out of the larger society or mistreated by it, the ethnic community may serve" as a solace for exclusion, a retreat from slights and prejudice."? The cultural group serves as a defense against a world that "measure[s] acceptability by appearances-skin color, dress, deportment -and by customs-language, family governance, religious ritual-according to broad racial and nationality stereotypes."s Facing either hostility or indifference, the members of a cultural minority may conclude that they will fare better if they act as a group, particularly when their aims can be satisfied only by participation in the larger community . A quarter-century ago, in a study of black leaders in Chicago, James Q. Wilson distinguished between status goals and welfare goals.9 By welfare goals Wilson meant tangible improvements such as better schools, new public housing, and better access to health services . Status goals focused on the principle of equality and on the integration of blacks into...