Assimilation is a process in which persons of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds come to interact, free of these constraints, in the life of the larger community. Wherever representatives of different racial and cultural groups live together, some individuals of subordinate status (whether or not they constitute a numerical minority) become assimilated. Complete assimilation would mean that no separate social structures based on racial or ethnic concepts remained.
Assimilation may be distinguished from accommodation, a process of compromise characterized by toleration, and from acculturation, or cultural change that is initiated by the conjunction of two or more cultural systems or the transference of individuals from their original societies and cultural settings to new sociocultural environments. Assimilation is to be distinguished also from amalgamation, or biological fusion.
Complete segregation and total assimilation of a group are opposite ends of a continuum along which may be located: varying degrees of limited desegregation; the substantial pluralism found in many communities in the United States, Canada, and Switzerland; a hypothetical integration which values structural and cultural differences, while insisting upon equal life opportunities for the members of all groups; partial assimilation (e.g., small-town Jews, who tend to be bicultural rather than marginal; see Williams 1964, pp. 303–304); individual assimilation; and group assimilation.
History of the concept . The history of the “melting pot” theory can be traced from J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur’s 1782 volume, Letters From an American Farmer, through Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis of 1893 concerning the fusion of immigrants in the crucible of the Western frontier into a composite American people, and Israel Zangwill’s The Melting Pot of 1909, to Ruby Jo Reeves Kennedy’s “Single or Triple Melting-pot” studies of 1944 and 1952 (see Gordon 1964, chapter 5).
As a concept in American sociology, assimilation has had various meanings. Henry Pratt Fairchild (1913, p. 396 in 1925 edition) equated assimilation with Americanization. For some scholars assimilation and acculturation are synonymous (Berry 1951, p. 217; Bierstedt  1963, p. 176). More often assimilation has included acculturation. According to a widely quoted point of view: “Assimilation is a process of interpenetration and fusion in which persons or groups acquire the memories, sentiments, and attitudes of other persons or groups, and, by sharing their experience and history, are incorporated with them in a common cultural life” (Park & Burgess 1921, p. 735). Park’s (1926) “race relations cycle” (contacts, competition, accommodation, and eventual assimilation) has been criticized for its assumptions of the inevitability and irreversibility of the process. Vander Zanden (1963, p. 269) distinguishes unilateral assimilation, the process in which one group relinquishes its own beliefs and behavior patterns and takes over the culture of another, from reciprocal fusion, in which a third culture emerges from the blending of two or more cultures, and, also, from various intermediary levels of assimilation.
Gordon (1964, p. 71) sees the assimilation process and its subprocesses as a matter of degree, but complete assimilation would cover seven variables: change of cultural patterns to those of the host society; large-scale entrance into cliques, clubs, and institutions of the host society on the primarygroup level; large-scale intermarriage; development of a sense of peoplehood based exclusively on the host society; absence of prejudice; absence of discrimination; and absence of value and power conflict. This conceptual scheme provides the most satisfactory criteria yet proposed for measuring assimilation and for determining to what extent it is taking place.
The process of assimilation is affected by the interaction of several classes of variables: demographic, ecological, racial, structural, psychological, and cultural. There is at present no systematic comparative analysis of the variables that are most significant in different types of situations.
The importance of group size can be seen in the case of Hawaii, where there is a stronger tendency for members of the smaller ethnic and racial groups to marry outside their own groups than for those of larger groups; also, women from groups with a more balanced sex ratio outmarry to a greater extent than women from groups with a less balanced sex ratio (Cheng & Yamamura 1957, p. 81). Ecological factors have been important in the United States, where “cultural islands” created by immigrant groups often provide security but also isolate newcomers from the mainstream of American life and arouse distaste in the eyes of Old Americans. Likewise, demographic and ecological factors apparently affect the likelihood of Negro assimilation in Great Britain; Collins (1955, p. 90) attributes the more amicable interaction between Negroes and whites in London’s northeast dockland, in contrast to the west and northwest dockland, in part to the size and pattern of Negro settlement in the former area.
Relative importance of racial factors
Park (1930, p. 281) held that assimilation might, in some senses and to a certain degree, be described as a function of visibility, and he attributed the Negro’s lack of assimilation in the United States, during three hundred years, to physical rather than cultural traits. This oversimplified explanation has been replaced by one that stresses the interaction of racial, ecological, historical, structural, and other variables. For example, physical characteristics were an important factor, but by no means the only variable involved, in the decision made by more than 670,000 persons (Stuckert 1958) to “pass” from the Negro group to the white group in the period 1861 to 1960. Other variables of importance in “passing” are age and socioeconomic status; people who are well established in the Negro community and older people seldom pass socially and completely. However, color continues to be an important factor; for example, a study of Chicago’s Negro community shows that color affects choice of marriage partners, recruitment into the professions, social relations, and other aspects of life (Wilson 1960, p. 171). Recent studies have shown that color and social class are not the only variables affecting the differential assimilation of Negroes. In a study of New Orleans Negroes, primary role identifications occasioned by conditioning in one of four “social worlds” (the middle class, the matriarchy, the male gang, the isolated family, and a residual group of the culturally marginal) were found to play a larger part in the selfconceptions and the experiences of individuals than any identification with the Negro race in general (Rohrer & Edmonson 1960, pp. 51–55, 71–74, 80–83).
For overseas students in London, finding a room depends largely on color: approximately 70 per cent of the landladies were unwilling to accept colored students and, in the case of very dark Africans or West Indians, the figure was 85 per cent (Senior 1957, p. 306). By virtue of sharing halls of residence and dining rooms, as well as having more opportunities for participation in university societies, the social life of colored students is fuller in Oxford and Cambridge than in London (Coloured Immigrants … 1960, pp. 79–80).
Assimilation in Latin America
When slavery was abolished in Brazil toward the end of the nineteenth century, the population increased and changed in composition with the influx of more than a million Italians, thousands of Polish and German settlers, and many Portuguese, Spanish, and Syrian immigrants. These nationalities continued to migrate to Brazil in the twentieth century, together with some 200,000 Japanese, who have multiplied to about 500,000 persons. Most of those entering the middle sectors of the economy have been of European origin; but mestizos, mulattoes, and Negroes in substantial numbers also have found opportunities to improve their status. Persons of dark color are not barred from assimilation into the national society, but the preto’s attempts to advance are made more difficult because he lacks one determinant of status—light color. Some of the residents of German, Italian, and Japanese colonies have not been assimilated into Luso-Brazilian life, in part because of language differences and their physical separation from other Brazilians (see Smith  1963, p. 62; James  1959, p. 522; Johnson 1958, p. 4). The interaction of cultural and ecological factors in the process of assimilation can also be seen in the conditions for accepting “recognized Indians” into the national societies of Latin America: learning to speak the national language (Spanish or Portuguese) fluently; adopting Europeantype clothing; and moving from a recognized Indian community to a city or town that is regarded as national in its culture (Gillin 1960, pp. 19–20).
Ideology and culture
Psychological variables play an important role in the process of assimilation. For example, Banton emphasizes that much of British conduct toward colored people and Jews is a form of avoidance of strangers that is found in nearly all societies, adding that if groups are to be respected they must to some extent be exclusive (Banton 1959, pp. 112–113, 181–182). On the part of newcomers, aspirations and responses to settlement in Britain vary considerably. Asians constitute an accommodating group trying to live alongside the local community, while west Africans and West Indians seek acceptance within the community (Banton 1959, pp. 182–183).
Attention should be called to attitudinal factors that have retarded assimilation in specific historical situations, particularly the belief that the members of one or another racial or ethnic group are unassimilable. Practices and policies of segregation, mass expulsion, and even genocide have been rationalized on the ground that some groups are unassimilable because of their innate inferiority. For example, the Nazi “racial” policies were based on the doctrine of the unassimilability of the Jews. South Africa’s policy of apartheid derives from the belief that differences between Europeans and Africans require social, political, and economic separation to permit each group to attain its fullest development. In the United States, a recrudescence of the belief in the innate inferiority of the Negro and, consequently, the necessity of opposing steps toward integration characterized the “race and reason” movement in the early 1960s (Comas 1961). The French colonial policy of “assimilationism” during the first half of the twentieth century was supported, like the continuing colonial policy of the Portuguese (Herskovits 1962, pp. 288–289), by the belief that for a long time only a select few among a non-Western people are capable of being absorbed into the metropolitan system.
In contrast to the policy of forced separation of racial and cultural minorities, antipathy toward minority groups has also taken the form of forced assimilation. In 1917 the communists promised freedom for the customs and institutions of Russia’s numerous cultural and national minorities; Stalin was instrumental in formulating the policy of separating statehood from nationality, and cultural autonomy was permitted within the framework of Soviet economics and politics. However, since 1940 the reinstitution of some aspects of the tsarist policy of Russification has dispersed some minorities. Jews have been labeled “cosmopolitans,” and since 1957 a campaign against the remaining aspects of Jewish communal life has been carried on. The goal of this program appears to be the “total assimilation” of Jews (Goldhagen 1960, pp. 42–43).
Opposition to assimilation also may be shown by members of a minority group. In the United States the Old Order Amish and numerous other religio-ethnic groupings have sought to preserve their separateness and distinctiveness (Williams 1964, pp. 302–303). Among Negro Americans a small but militant group known as the Black Muslims is virtually alone in not seeking complete assimilation. Black nationalists perceive white society as united in rejecting Negroes as full citizens. Thus, feelings of alienation and powerlessness cause these persons to reject American society and culture, and the leaders of the movement strive to develop an awareness of group identity among the urban masses of Negroes (Essien-Udom 1962, pp. 54–59, 325–329; Lincoln 1961, chapter 2). Among the group’s objectives are the establishment of a Negro homeland and a postapocalyptic Black Nation, goals that are only vaguely defined. Another new nationalist movement in North America calls for a revision of the relationship between French and English Canadians: Some French Canadians envision the “separation of the State, not Province, of Quebec from Canada; if not separation, then a new constitution giving Quebec a special status” (Hughes 1963, p. 884). The history of these and many other minorities in the New World is discussed by Wagley and Harris (1958, pp. 285–289), who analyze the different strategies for working toward the opposite goals of assimilation and pluralism.
Assimilation of immigrants in Israel
The interaction of structural, cultural, and psychological variables is clearly seen in the assimilation of immigrants to Israel (Eisenstadt 1954). The basic motivation of settlers during the mandatory period (1920–1948) was rooted in the decline of traditional Jewish society amidst the modern, universalistic societies. Their aims were mainly solidary and cultural rather than adaptive and instrumental. Unlike many who came during the mass migration to Israel after 1948, the earlier immigrants, in general, showed a relatively strong predisposition to change and a lack of adherence to the social patterns of their countries of origin.
The new immigrants came from four main types of communities. The traditional sector (Yemenite Jews and some north African Jews) was characterized by a relatively high degree of social autonomy and orientation toward particularist Jewish values and traditions and a cultural view of the out-group that was mainly negative. In contrast, the insecure transitional sector, made up of large parts of urban north African Jewish communities and most of the central and eastern European communities, showed a very low degree of social autonomy and relatively strong aspirations toward entrance into the Gentile society. The secure transitional sector, composed of Jewish communities settled within and approved by Gentile society (Serbian and Bulgarian Jewries in Eisenstadt’s sample), was marked by a small degree of social autonomy, strong primary identification with the general community, and acceptance of their Jewishness by the Gentile community as a subsystem within the general social structure. They had immigrated as a result of general upheavals; there was no question of deportation. In the sector consisting of exinmates of DP camps, their experience in those places overshadowed other social traditions. Among these new immigrants a positive predisposition to change was found mostly in the traditional sector and the secure transitional sector, while a negative predisposition occurred mostly in the other two sectors.
Among the structural factors that had a strong bearing on the incorporation of newcomers into Israeli life were the various bureaucratic agencies that defined the immigrant’s initial situation and, later, the army and the educational system, which took the lead in transmitting universal roles and the common orientation of the absorbing society. Finally, the values and roles of the immigrants were transformed through mobility of groups and individuals in the larger society and through leadership selection and development [seeRefugees].
Chinese and Japanese Americans
Ecological, racial, cultural, and structural variables have affected the assimilation of the Chinese in the United States. In earlier years, racial-cultural barriers threw Chinese-American young people back upon their own group. However, wars and depressions gradually weakened the economic and social structures of Chinatowns and helped to bring about a redistribution of their populations. As the process of acculturation has continued, upward mobility has increased. Moreover, as persons of Chinese ancestry become more acculturated, intermarriage will increase; evidence of the increased tolerance of white-Mongoloid marriages is seen in the growing number of marriages between American servicemen and Japanese or Korean wives (Lee 1960, p. 251).
Although the economic integration of Japanese Americans has steadily increased, assimilation in other respects has been slower, except for those whose education and broad interests have made possible contacts in the larger community. The interaction of psychological, cultural, and structural factors in the assimilative process is shown in a study of Japanese Americans in Chicago. The compatibility of the Japanese and the American middle classes, in terms of their value systems and personality structures (Caudill 1952, p. 29), will facilitate the acculturation, as well as the eventual assimilation, of Japanese Americans.
Interrelationships among ecological, demographic, racial, and cultural variables are revealed in studies of marriages among American Catholics. Considerably higher percentages of intermarriage occur in middle, upper, and suburban rental areas than in lower or in mixed lower and middle areas. With the exception of groups characterized by marked color differences, the rate of assimilation tends to be correlated inversely with the group’s size.
Surveys taken in the 1930s revealed that approximately 6 per cent of Jewish families in the United States were intermarried; in 1957 the federal government’s survey of religious composition showed that 7.2 per cent of all Jewish families had a non-Jewish partner. Marriage licenses in Iowa in 1953 showed that 31 per cent of the Jewish marriages were mixed. A 1960 survey of the Jewish population in Washington, D.C., indicated an intermarriage rate of 12.2 per cent, and the intermarriage rate in 1959 in San Francisco was 17.2 per cent. According to Rosenthal (1960, p. 288), if the national intermarriage rate of 7.2 per cent found in 1957 is accepted and if it is assumed that the Iowa and San Francisco rates are simply regional variations, Jews may be justified in concluding that the current “survival” formula (a modicum of Jewish education; voluntary segregation; and residence in a high-status area) is adequate for group preservation. Kennedy (1963) calls the high degree of endogamy in the Jewish group “selective assimilation” and emphasizes that the important point on the intermarriage of Jews is not the fact that it is increasing, but the very slight extent to which it has increased.
It should be pointed out, however, that available data on the intermarriages of Jews and non-Jews in the United States are minimal figures, because they do not include the cases where the spouse was converted to the religion of the other prior to marriage. Furthermore, certain developments in contemporary life contribute to the further individual assimilation of Jews. Of the Jewish population between the ages of 18 and 25 years, 62 per cent are attending colleges or graduate schools, as compared with 22 per cent in their parents’ generation (Fishman 1963, p. 147). Moreover, twothirds of American Jews live in suburban counties of metropolitan areas, and this dispersion of Jewish urban concentration may have marked effects on attempts at Jewish retentionism. For example, Cahnman (1963, pp. 179–180) reports that the intermarriage rate of Jews tends to be higher in high-status neighborhoods and among college graduates.
Popular belief holds that Negroes in the United States desire to marry white persons, but in a Chicago study (Bogue & Dizard 1964, p. 7) almost no respondents, including middle-class Negroes living in mixed neighborhoods, said they would encourage their child to marry a white person. Despite this lack of desire for intermarriage, at least on a conscious level, increasing desegregation and integration will inevitably raise the rate of Negro-white marriage.
In southeast Asia structural separation and cultural differences prevent intermarriage from promoting further group assimilation. The indigenous women who marry Chinese in Indonesia contribute Chinese children to a Chinese subsociety, but they do not form a bridge from one subsociety to another. Likewise, although intermediate social and cultural types have been produced by intermarriage in Thailand and Indochina, a Chinese subsociety has continued in these countries (Freedman 1955, p. 411).
Although the incorporation of minority peoples into American life over time presents a mixed picture, the general trend has been toward greater integration and assimilation of these groups. Some indications of this change with respect to Negroes are cited here (for more complete information see Simpson & Yinger 1965). Slight gains in employment opportunities have been made during the postwar period, but these have been offset to some extent by higher rates of unemployment among Negroes as compared with whites. The average Negro family’s income, as a percentage of the average white family’s income, has fluctuated during the 1950s and 1960s, but Negroes now receive approximately 5 per cent of the gross national income, as compared with less than 1 per cent in 1935. The proportion of Negro pupils in the 17 southern and border states and the District of Columbia attending biracial schools rose from 6 per cent in May 1960 to 10.8 per cent in the fall of 1964. Although only 2 per cent of all the Negro public school children in the 11 southern states were attending school with whites in 1964, the number of these pupils almost doubled in the fall of that year. At that time slightly over half of the 513 colleges and universities in the 11 southern states accepted both white and Negro students. By the early 1960s discriminatory policies on the admission of Negroes to medical schools had declined greatly, and a marked improvement had occurred in the availability of internships and residencies, mostly in white hospitals.
Negro voting registration in the South increased from an estimated 70,000 in the 1920s to more than 1.5 million in 1964. Between 1943 and 1958 virtually complete integration was achieved in the armed forces of the United States. One-third of the Negro Roman Catholics in the United States attend racially mixed churches. However, integration in Protestant churches is increasing slowly; presently from 10 to 15 per cent of the “white” Protestant churches in the North and West are interracial to some degree, but not more than 2 per cent of Negro Protestants attend interracial churches. Widespread segregation in housing remains a key factor in the total Negro-white situation, especially as it relates to the problem of school segregation; in some areas housing segregation has increased as an unanticipated consequence of publicly assisted urban-renewal programs. In the period 1945-1965 resistance to Negro-white intermarriage remained at a very high level, while resistance to all other types of intermarriage (interfaith, international, and interracial) declined.
In addition to legislation, litigation, and intergroup education aimed at increasing integration, a significant development in the 1960s is the “Negro revolt” (Simpson & Yinger 1965, pp. 533-535), which has actually included persons of diverse racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds. The emergence of organized protest groups and skilled leaders who are capable of articulate and determined opposition to patterns of segregation is important among the factors facilitating assimilation.
Future prospects. Among the practical consequences of a greater degree of integration in American economic life is the likelihood that business and professional people in racial and ethnic groups who have benefited economically from segregation will be forced to take a more active part in the attack on discrimination. An example is the picketing of the American Medical Association by young Negro physicians because of the inclusion of an increasing number of Negro patients in insurance schemes that give them access to clinics or hospitals that are not open to Negro physicians (Hughes 1963, p. 886). Reduction of discrimination in places of public accommodation undermines the protected economic position of the older Negro middle class. Within another generation, or sooner, increases in intermarriage and individual assimilation rates will force organizations that depend upon ethnic group support to consider the problems of membership, funds, and program.
If the ultimate test of complete assimilation is large-scale intermarriage, that state will not be reached in the United States in the near future. Changes will occur in the relations between members of diverse racial and ethnic groups, but these changes will consist mainly in a closer approximation to equal educational and economic opportunities, increased political participation, and an acceleration of desegregation in schools and places of public accommodation. The rate of integration will vary from region to region and from one social institution to another and will be affected by the general trend of events domestically and internationally. As desegregation and integration increase, it is inevitable that assimilation will be furthered.
George Eaton Simpson
[See also Acculturation; Constitutional law, article oncivil rights; Ethnic groups; Minorities; Prejudice; Race; Race relations; Segregation; and the biographies of Frazier; Herskovits; Park; Turner.]
The Statistical Summary of school desegregation, issued annually by the Southern Education Reporting Service (SERS), Nashville, Tennessee, is the best source on educational desegregation in the United States. SERS publishes bimonthly the Southern Education Report, containing information on educational developments, with emphasis on programs for the education of the culturally disadvantaged in the 17 Southern and border states and the District of Columbia. The Southern Regional Council, Atlanta, Georgia, issues reports from time to time on various aspects of race relations in the South. The annual reports and other publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights are valuable. Phylon, The Journal of Negro Education, and Crisis publish useful articles on changing race relations.
The most comprehensive work on American Negroes is Simpson & Yinger 1965. Attention is given in this book to other minorities, but the major emphasis is on the Negro. Pettigrew 1964 and Broom & Glenn 1965 are good briefer books.
Banton, Michael (1959) 1960 White and Coloured: The Behaviour of British People Toward Coloured Immigrants. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press.
Berry, Brewton (1951) 1965 Race and Ethnic Relations. 3d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → First published as Race Relations: The Interaction of Ethnic and Racial Groups.
Bierstedt, Robert (1957) 1963 The Social Order. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Bogue, Donald J.; and Dizard, Jan E. 1964 Race, Ethnic Prejudice, and Discrimination as Viewed by Subordinate and Superordinate Groups. Unpublished manuscript. Univ. of Chicago, Community and Family Study Center.
Broom, Leonard; and Glenn, Norval D. 1965 The Transformation of the Negro American. New York: Harper.
Cahnman, Werner J. 1963 Intermarriage Against the Background of American Democracy. Pages 173–195 in Werner J. Cahnman (editor), Intermarriage and Jewish Life: A Symposium. Conference on Intermarriage and Jewish Life, New York, 1960. New York: Herzl Press.
Caudill, William 1952 Japanese-American Personality and Acculturation. Genetic Psychology Monographs, Vol. 45, 1st half. Provincetown, Mass.: Journal Press.
Cheng, C. K.; and Yamamura, Douglas S. 1957 Interracial Marriage and Divorce in Hawaii. Social Forces 36: 77–84.
Clark, Kenneth B. 1965 Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power. New York: Harper & Row.
Collins, Sydney 1955 The British-born Coloured. Sociological Review New Series 3: 777ndash;92.
Coloured Immigrants in Britain. By J. A. G. Griffith et al. 1960 London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press. COMAS, JUAN 1961 “Scientific” Racism Again? Current Anthropology 2:303–340. → A review of recent instances of “scientific” racism, with critical comment. Crisis. → Published since 1910 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. (1954) 1955 The Absorption of Immigrants. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Essien-Udom, E. U. 1962 Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America. Univ. of Chicago Press. → A sociological analysis of the Black Muslim movement. FAIRCHILD, HENRY P. (1913) 1933 Immigration: A World Movement and Its American Significance. Rev. ed. New York: Macmillan.
Fishman, Joshua A. 1963 Moving to the Suburbs: Its Possible Impact on the Role of the Jewish Minority in American Community Life. Phylon 24: 146–153.
Freedman, Maurice 1955 The Chinese in Southeast Asia. Pages 388–411 in Andrew W. Lind (editor), Race Relations in World Perspective. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.
Gillin, John P. 1960 Some Signposts for Policy. Pages 14–62 in Richard N. Adams et al., Social Change in Latin America Today: Its Implications for United States Policy. New York: Harper.
Goldhagen, Erich 1960 Communism and Anti-Semitism. Problems of Communism 9:35–43.
Gordon, Milton M. 1964 Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origin. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Herskovits, Melville J. 1962 The Human Factor in Changing Africa. New York: Knopf.
Hughes, Everett C. 1963 Race Relations and the Sociological Imagination. American Sociological Review 28: 879–890.
James, Preston E. (1942) 1959 Latin America. 3d ed. New York: Odyssey.
Johnson, John J. 1958 Political Change in Latin America: The Emergence of the Middle Sectors. Stanford (Calif.) Univ. Press.
Journal of Negro Education. → Published since 1932 by Howard University, Bureau of Educational Research.
Kennedy, Ruby J. R. 1963 What Has Social Science to Say About Intermarriage? Pages 19–37 in Werner J. Cahnman (editor), Intermarriage and Jewish Life: A Symposium. Conference on Intermarriage and Jewish Life, New York, 1960. New York: Herzl Press.
Lee, Rose Hum 1960 The Chinese in the United States of America. Hong Kong Univ. Press; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Lincoln, Charles Eric 1961 The Black Muslims in America. Boston: Beacon. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Beacon Press.
Park, Robert E. 1926 Our Racial Frontier on the Pacific. Survey 66: 192–196.
Park, Robert E. 1930 Assimilation, Social. Volume 2, pages 281–283 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.
Park, Robert E.; and Burgess, Ernest W. (1921) 1929 Introduction to the Science of Sociology. 2d ed. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1964 A Profile of the Negro American. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.
Phylon. → Published since 1940 by Atlanta University.
Rohrer, John H.; and Edmonson, Munro S. (editors) 1960 The Eighth Generation: Cultures and Personalities of New Orleans Negroes. New York: Harper.
Rosenthal, Erich 1960 Acculturation Without Assimilation: The Jewish Community of Chicago, Illinois. American Journal of Sociology 66: 275–288.
Rosenthal, Erich 1963 Studies of Jewish Intermarriage in the United States. Volume 64, pages 3–53 in American Jewish Year Book. New York: The American Jewish Committee.
Senior, Clarence 1957 Race Relations and Labor Supply in Great Britain. Social Problems 4: 302–312.
Simpson, George E.; and Yinger, J. Milton 1965 Racial and Cultural Minorities: An Analysis of Prejudice and Discrimination. 3d ed., rev. New York: Harper. Ω The first edition was published in 1953.
Smith, T. Lynn (1946) 1963 Brazil: People and Institutions. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press.
Statistical Summary. → Issued annually by the Southern Educational Reporting Service, Nashville, Tennessee. The best source on educational desegregation.
Stuckert, Robert P. 1958 The African Ancestry of the White American Population. Ohio Journal of Science 58: 155–160.
Vander Zanden, James W. 1963 American Minority Relations: The Sociology of Race and Ethnic Groups. New York: Ronald Press.
Wagley, Charles; and Harris, Marvin 1958 Minorities in the New World. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → A comparative analysis of six minority groups.
Williams, Robin M. Jr. 1964 Strangers Next Door: Ethnic Relations in American Communities. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Wilson, James Q. 1960 Negro Politics: The Search for Leadership. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Yinger, J. Milton; and Simpson, George E. 1956 The Integration of Americans of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Oriental Descent. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 304: 124–131.
"Assimilation." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968. Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045000060.html
"Assimilation." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045000060.html
Assimilation is the process by which individuals or groups adopt (either voluntarily or forcedly) the language and cultural norms and values of another group. In most cases, it is the minority group that is expected to conform to the normative practices and ideals associated with the majority group. Additionally the issue of assimilation is often an issue of racial supremacy. That is, who is allowed to assimilate into the dominant culture largely depends on the whether that group will fit into the political, social, and economic desires of the dominant group, a group that historically has been (and continues to be) comprised of European white ethnic groups. In the United States, for example, Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans have lived in the United States much longer than most European American groups, but instead of being viewed as the normative culture (or part of the normative culture), these groups are viewed as “others” outside the “American” culture.
There are three main factors that explain why some racial and ethnic groups tend to assimilate more quickly than others. The first explanation, which is especially relevant for understanding assimilation in the United States but also instrumental for understanding assimilation in countries that have faced European colonialism, can be summed up as having to do with racial discrimination and in particular white supremacy. For instance, although many European ethnic groups that immigrated to the United States in the 1800s faced racial and ethnic discrimination and prejudice, eventually they were able to integrate into American society as “whites.” Groups that were unable to pass as whites because of skin color, phenotype, or even accent remained largely excluded from full assimilation into American society.
Much research has been conducted on the relationship between minority group size and racial prejudice and discrimination. Some scholars have suggested that a perceived “racialized” threat to the dominant group from a minority group, even if the threat is unfounded, leads to increased prejudice against the minority group (Quillian 1995; Burr, Galle, and Fossett 1991; Fossett and Kiecolt 1989; Blumer 1958; Blalock 1967).
The second factor involves socioeconomic status or class. Groups that have economic resources tend to assimilate into society more quickly than groups that have few or limited resources. Groups with large financial resources are able to have greater access to education, jobs, and even politics. In the United States, for example, Cubans have achieved a greater level of assimilation compared to Mexicans (Saenz 2004). Although skin color is a factor explaining the relatively higher success of assimilation for Cubans (they tend to have lighter skin tones compared to Mexicans), the fact that Cuban Americans tend to be better off economically allows them greater mobility and access to good jobs and better education.
Finally, a third factor has to do with the historical context of a society. A number of scholars have argued that prejudice against immigrant groups is higher during economic downturns than in times when the economy is prosperous (Becker 1971). During economic difficulties, there is a tendency for the majority group to blame minority groups for a perceived loss of jobs, economic insecurities, and threat of job competition, and the level of hostility toward racial and ethnic minorities tends to rise. In other words, there is an inverse relationship between a society’s economic prosperity and discrimination against minority groups.
Although all three factors provide plausible explanations for understanding why some groups are more likely than others to assimilate, more contemporary analysis of assimilation reveals that a complex intersectionality exists between race, class, and the economy. However, many scholars have argued pointedly that race and colorism continue to be the most salient reasons why many minority groups are still referred to as “hyphenated Americans” (e.g., African Americans or Mexican Americans) rather than simply “Americans” (Bonilla-Silva 2001).
Robert Erza Park (1864-1944), one of the first American sociologists and scholars to focus on ethnic relations, is considered a founding father of early assimilation theories, although his take on assimilation can be traced to the works of earlier social scientists, such as Herbert Spencer, Hermann Schneider, William Sumner, Franz Boas, and Ruth Benedict, among others. Indeed it was Herbert Spencer’s analysis and explanation of how larger societies capture and integrate other peripheral cultures and societies into their own, often forcing them to adapt to the larger and more powerful society’s normative climate and values, that enticed Park into thinking more about the role race and ethnicity played in the larger equation. Other influential scholars who helped to shape Park’s sociological imagination were John Dewey, George Simmel, and Booker T. Washington.
Before Park, racial implications of assimilation were minimally discussed at best, but there were models centered on cultural or national levels of assimilation. For example, Hermann Schneider in his two-volume book World Civilizations (1931) developed (albeit on a very macro-level) one of the earliest models of assimilation, though he never used that term. According to Schneider, as civilizations advance technologically, they grow larger and begin to incorporate other cultures in a three-stage process. At stage one it is through migration, invasion, or conquest that civilizations progress. At stage two, a period of miscegenation and amalgamation takes place in which the two cultures physically mix with one another. Finally, stage three begets a period of internal conflict in which class dynamics are restratified and there is a re-creation of new cultural symbols in the form of art, music, literature. Schneider never envisioned this process as a linear one but rather as a cycle that repeated itself every time a civilization progressed.
Park’s assimilation theory, widely referred to as the “race relations cycle,” was one of the first to incorporate the term assimilation into a model. Park suggested that immigrants are incorporated into a given society in four stages: contact, conflict, acculturation, and assimilation. His theory was that all immigrants face hostility and struggles initially, but gradually they are able to shed their ethnic identities and conform to the normative climate of the dominant group in society. Eventually, then, the group melts right in with the dominant group (i.e., A + B = A). At the time that Park was conceptualizing his cycle of race relations theory, a massive number of immigrants from European countries (e.g., Irish, Italians, Jews) were slowly being incorporated into the social, economic, and political spheres of the United States. However, it remained unclear whether African Americans and other non-European groups would be able to do the same. Park assumed that, given time, non-European groups would be able to assimilate into the dominant culture in the same manner that European groups were already doing.
Park’s theory was widely accepted (Duncan and Duncan 1955; Burgess 1928), but not everyone agreed with the simplicity of his model. For instance, Emory Bogardus developed his own model in which he proposed seven steps toward assimilation, including the native population’s curiosity about immigrants, followed by an economic welcoming, then competition, legislative antagonism, fair play, quiescence, and finally partial second- and third-generation assimilation (Bogardus 1930). The last stage of Bogardus’s model is worthy of attention because he never claimed that immigrants would be able to assimilate fully into the receiving society but rather that second and succeeding generations would be accepted partially yet still sometimes scrutinized depending on their country of origin (i.e., A + B = A + b). Here the little b represents the partial acceptance of certain second-and third-generation immigrants and their cultures. This is different from the concept of cultural pluralism, or the “salad bowl theory,” which suggests that both cultures remain intact and get along with each other. Bogardus’s model has some of the same problems as Park’s in that he made too many assumptions, particularly in regard to the initial acceptance of immigrants as mostly favorable. Bogardus is better known for his social distance scale (the “Bogardus scale”) used to measure the preferred distance between two groups of people. Although Bogardus’s model of assimilation has remained relatively unknown, especially in comparison to the works of other assimilation scholars of his time, his social distance scale has been widely adopted as a measurement tool for racial and ethnic attitudes and levels of intimacy between groups, and both of these factors have been used as indicators of assimilation.
Milton Gordon dramatically overhauled and expanded Park’s theory in the 1960s with a more complex model of two main stages along a mostly linear path to assimilation: acculturation and social assimilation. Stage one, acculturation, deals with the initial contact and the conflicts experienced by immigrants coming into another society. Stage two, social assimilation, is the interaction and slow process of developing friends, social networks, and intermarriage within the dominant culture, eventually leading to total assimilation, which is broken down into seven substages: cultural (acculturation), structural (participating in education, church, etc.), marital (amalgamation), identificational (self-identifying and shedding of ethnic background), attitudinal changes (prejudice), behavioral changes (discrimination), and finally civic assimilation.
As minority groups went through these stages, Gordon theorized three possible assimilation outcomes: Anglo conformity, cultural pluralism, and the melting pot. Anglo conformity, which Gordon dealt with in Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins (1964), refers to the idea that the assimilation of the minority group into the majority group (i.e., Anglos) results in a loss of the norms, values, language, and culture of the minority group (i.e., A + B = A). Outcome two, cultural pluralism (also referred to as the “salad bowl theory” or “multiculturalism”), refers to the idea that minority groups are able to assimilate into the dominant groups’ social structures (e.g., schools) while continuing to maintain their own cultures, traditions, and languages (i.e., A + B = A + B). Finally, Gordon’s notion of the melting pot theory refers to idea that the culture of a society changes as elements of minority groups are taken and incorporated into the values, norms, and institutions of the dominant group (i.e., A + B = C).
Assimilation theorists took a beating in the 1960s and 1970s from scholars who argued that many racial and ethnic groups remained unassimilated in the United States, even though in some cases they had been in the country for three generations (Glazer and Moynihan 1963; Novak 1972). However, starting in the middle to late 1980s and continuing in the early twenty-first century, research on assimilation has been picked up and expanded upon by a whole new group of scholars. Changing the notion of what it means to be assimilated into the dominant culture, scholars such as Lisa Neidert and Reynolds Farley (1985) argued that although they have not achieved assimilation as defined by Park in his race relations cycle model, newer immigrant groups in the United States have achieved some level of socioeconomic success. Edward Murguia (1975) has suggested that anti-Anglo-conformity practices, such as those initiated by the Chicano movement in the 1960s, could also have drastic consequences for Mexicans and other immigrants who were seen as troublemakers and discriminated against because of their culture and heritage. A groundbreaking article by Richard Alba and Victor Nee (1997) offered a staunch counterargument to scholars critical of the assimilation concept. Their basic argument was that it is unnecessary to abandon the concept of assimilation in favor of new terminology, especially considering that the assimilation model is still useful in studying contemporary immigration in the United States.
One the best known assimilation theories, introduced in the early 1990s by Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou (1993), was segmented assimilation. Segmented assimilation refers to the idea that there are multiple routes to assimilation and that these routes are not necessarily positive in their outcomes. Depending on their national origins, wealth, skin colors, phenotypes, accents, social networks, and opportunities, some groups may be able to assimilate more quickly or easily than other groups. Historically western European and other lighter-skinned immigrants have been more successful in assimilating into mainstream American society compared to their darker-skinned counterparts. Mary Waters’s Black Identities (1999) rocked assimilation theorists still using methods derived from Park and Gordon by suggesting that there are some immigrants (e.g., English-speaking Caribbeans) who are doing better than native-born Americans. Other authors, such as Portes and Ruben Rumbaut (1996), suggested that some second- and third-generation immigrants, because they are losing their cultural identities, fare less well compared to their parents and grandparents, who are viewed, for example, as hard workers.
Although Park’s assimilation model has proven unsuccessful at predicting assimilation of groups such as African Americans or Mexican Americans, it remains debatable whether assimilation theories have outlived their usefulness in the social sciences. Nonetheless, for many immigration experts, such as Richard Alba and Reynolds Farley, assimilation models are still a good predictor of future outcomes, because many social scientists predict that the United States will one day have a “majority minority,” which will change the pattern of who gets assimilated into the system and who does not.
SEE ALSO African Americans; Benedict, Ruth; Boas, Franz; Business Cycles, Theories; Class; Colorism; Discrimination, Racial; Immigrants to North America; Immigrants, European; Immigrants, Latin American; Immigration; Mexican Americans; Minorities; Native Americans; Park School, The; Park, Robert E.; Race Relations; Race Relations Cycle; Spencer, Herbert; White Supremacy
Alba, Richard, and Victor Nee. 1997. Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration. International Migration Review 31 (4): 826-874.
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Gordon, Milton M. 1964. Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins. New York: Oxford University Press.
Murguia, Edward. 1975. Assimilation, Colonialism, and the Mexican American People. Austin: University of Texas Press.
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David G. Embrick
"Assimilation." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045300124.html
"Assimilation." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045300124.html
Assimilation is the process by which individuals from one cultural group merge, or "blend," into a second group. The concept of assimilation originated in anthropology and generally refers to a group process, although assimilation can also be defined and examined at the individual level.
CONCEPTS REGARDING ASSIMILATION
The term "assimilation" describes a change in individual or group identity that results from continuous social interaction between members of two groups such that members of one group (often a minority culture group) enter into and become a part of a second group (often a majority culture group). In this process of assimilation, the minority group or culture may disappear by losing its members to the larger and more dominant cultural group. One of the more extreme forms of assimilation involves intergroup marriage (e.g., interracial marriage). Consider, for example, an immigrant Spanish-speaking Mexican woman who is Catholic marrying an English-speaking Anglo-American Protestant male. If the woman learns English, changes her maiden name and religion, and later becomes a U.S. citizen, she will have assimilated into mainstream American culture. While she does not necessarily need to change her religion and citizenship as the result of her marriage, if she were to make these changes while abandoning her native cultural ways, then this would be a case of full assimilation. In this case, entering another cultural group via marriage has resulted in a woman relinquishing most or all important aspects of her native identity. As part of this full assimilation, this person would undergo psychological changes in her cultural orientation (i.e., beliefs, attitudes, values), and in her cultural behaviors (i.e., customs, traditions) as well as in her personal identity, to the point of losing all or most of the traditions of her original native culture. A health-related question arises as to whether such an assimilation is socially and psychologically healthy. A century ago, scholars regarded such a complete change in identity and behavior—the "melting pot" notion—as a natural and necessary aspect of immigrant adaptation to life in the United States.
Historically, the melting pot notion has not progressed in its entirety within U.S. society, due in part to the presence of structural barriers, including prejudice and discrimination, that have limited some immigrant and native-born minority persons from significant access to the resources and privileges of the dominant social group. Moreover, within the United States some ethnic people have actively chosen not to "give up" their native heritage and identity, despite their desires to participate successfully within the American economy.
The process of assimilation is facilitated by education, and by conformity to the linguistic and most prevalent cultural norms that are valued within the dominant society. Within the United States, the dominant society (the "Anglo Saxon cultural value system") includes the values of individuality, freedom, democracy, and achievement orientation, efficiency and practicality, and science and technology. Thus, for immigrants coming to the United States, learning English is one of several adaptive changes necessary for successfully entering and participating in the social institutions of the dominant culture.
Historically, some ethnic minority groups have experienced a threat to their culture by the imposition of forced assimilation, resulting from governmental policies and programs that used education as a means of assimilating minority people. The classic case of this involves American Indians. Beginning in the 1890s, American Indian children were removed from the reservation and transported to Indian boarding schools where they were forced to learn English while they were also prohibited from speaking their native language. This effort to inculcate mainstream or dominant cultural ways and to eliminate minority culture, or "Indian ways," operated as a form of forced assimilation. Nonetheless, in the case of American Indians, this effort at "Anglo-Saxon conformity" failed to convert these American Indian children and their parents to dominant cultural norms, and subsequently these policies for the educational assimilation of Indians were discontinued. One question that arises, of course, is whether forced assimilation is detrimental to mental health.
Assimilation is to be distinguished from the related concept of acculturation. Both assimilation and acculturation refer to the process by which individuals undergo changes in their way of life through adaptation to pressures to conform to the lifeways of a new society. Acculturation, however, refers to changes in beliefs and behaviors that occur as an individual adjusts to life in a new culture. Level of acculturation has typically been measured by way of acculturation scales. Such scales typically consider: (1) the individual's level of proficiency in language (e.g., in speaking only Spanish, only English, or both); (2) prior life experiences within his or her native country; (3) current preferences regarding friends; (4) preferences regarding television and radio programs broadcast in English or in their native language; and (5) other aspects of cultural involvement.
While both assimilation and acculturation share a common process of adaptation, assimilation constitutes a more extreme form of change compared with acculturation. In other words, while acculturation involves changes in the individual's pattern of living in adapting to the new society, under acculturation the person often maintains some aspects of his or her original cultural ways and identity. As noted previously, with full assimilation the individual blends entirely into the new society losing most or all aspects of his or her previous cultural identity. By contrast, some immigrants develop a bilingual/bicultural identity, which involves the integration of language, beliefs, and behaviors learned from each of two cultures. This integrated bicultural identity is seen by some as a more mature and healthy resolution to the acculturative stress that affects many immigrants.
ASSIMILATION, ACCULTURATION, AND HEALTH
Public health research has examined the relationship between acculturation and health status. The results of these studies provide a mixed picture as to whether successful acculturation, and perhaps successful assimilation, can improve or denigrate health status. Generally, many studies have shown a positive relationship between a high level of acculturation and an increased number of health-risk behaviors that are prevalent in the dominant society. In other words, racial and ethnic minority populations have often observed a greater number of health-compromising behaviors as they acculturate into U.S. society. However, as many of these studies are cross-sectional in design, rather than longitudinal, this conclusion involving the apparent ill effects of acculturation has been inferred rather than observed directly.
In one line of health research—the Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HHANES) survey study of health status, which was conducted from 1982 to 1984—results generally showed the aforementioned association between levels of acculturation and various health problems. The association was stronger among women, although it was also apparent among men. Among Hispanic women, higher rates of health-compromising behaviors have been observed across levels of acculturation for cigarette smoking and for alcohol use. Moreover, for both males and females, a greater level of acculturation has been associated with higher rates of illicit drug use, particularly marijuana and cocaine. However, this general trend, when examined in greater detail, shows that the relationship between assimilation or acculturation and health status is very complex. For example, via the process of acculturation, individuals also tend to improve in socioeconomic status—which means better jobs, better insurance coverage, better access to health services, and, therefore, a greater likelihood of having better health.
Research on the influences of acculturation status on mental health and substance use further demonstrates the complexity of this relationship. For example, some researchers suggest that the occurrence of deviant youth behavior and subsequent substance abuse are prompted by the occurrence of acculturation stress among the parents coupled with subsequent parent-child relationship problems. Such problems often occur because immigrant children acculturate at a faster rate than their parents. Among adult immigrants, acculturation stress occurs as the result of the pressure toward conformity to dominant cultural ways that many immigrants experience in their effort to survive within a new country.
Others have argued, however, that the strong family orientation that is characteristic of Hispanic and other minority families serves as a protective factor against delinquency and other types of anti-social behavior. A clearer interpretation of these apparently contradictory findings will require greater depth of analysis regarding the sociocultural and familial factors that may add risk or protection to the lives of immigrants as they adapt to life within a new society.
A recent study of the lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders among various Mexican-American migrant laborers in California revealed some important relationships between acculturation and rates of psychiatric disorder. In comparisons of migrant laborers having a low level of acculturation with those having a high level, those having the highest levels of acculturation exhibited higher rates (adjusted odds ratios) of diagnosed mood disorders (depression) and of diagnosed drug abuse or dependence (addiction to illegal drugs). In addition, those migrant laborers who lived in the United States for less than thirteen years exhibited the lowest levels of any psychiatric disorder (lifetime prevalence rates), with higher levels observed for those who had lived in the United States for over thirteen years. Moreover, the highest levels of psychiatric disorder were observed among those who were native-born Mexican Americans. These results suggest that some process involving acculturative stress and/or adjustment to the normative living conditions within the United States increases the risk of depression and of illicit drug use among Mexican-American migrant laborers. Further developmental and longitudinal research is needed to clarify the mechanisms that may produce these effects.
From a different perspective, young immigrants who engage in deviant behaviors (including substance abuse) cannot be characterized solely as being of either high or low acculturation status, but instead can be seen as outcasts or "marginalized," because they do not "fit into" either group. Such individuals do not relate to either the dominant culture or to their native cultural group. In other words, these are persons who have failed to assimilate into the society. Such members of racial or ethnic minority groups may enter into socially deviant lifestyles in efforts to obtain coveted goals (e.g., economic rewards) that are otherwise blocked via conventionally sanctioned mechanisms (e.g., school achievement). These alienated youth may not only isolate themselves from the mainstream culture, but they may also become alienated from their native reference group. Isolated from both cultures, they may choose to become members of street gangs as a means of obtaining mainstream goals. While joining a street gang may serve as an adaptive form of survival in ghetto or barrio environments, it may be unhealthy in the long run, as these youth face greater risks of being victims of violence and of developing drug dependence. Similarly, minority youth who are alienated from the mainstream culture may develop a radical identity that avoids the mainstream culture but that expresses strong loyalty toward their native culture (i.e., separatists). These youth may or may not belong to a street gang, but they do exhibit strong cultural loyalty and adherence to certain traditional cultural traits such as (among Hispanic groups) family bonding (familism), respeto, and machismo.
As the above discussion suggests, acculturation (of which assimilation represents an extreme form) is a complex process. Many immigrants to the United States exhibit improvements in lifestyle as they acculturate and move up in socioeconomic status. However, as they do, some of these immigrants may also exhibit greater rates of unhealthful behavior, reflecting the prevailing or normative unhealthful behaviors that are prevalent within certain sectors of conventional U.S. society. These more complex patterns of change in lifestyle and in risk for various diseases and disorders due to acculturation and assimilation require further study to clarify which life changes are indeed healthful (and why they are healthful), and which increase the risk for disease or antisocial behavior.
Felipe Gonzalez Castro
(see also: Acculturation; Cultural Factors; Ethnicity and Health; Immigrants, Immigration; Migrant Workers )
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Castro, Felipe Gonzalez; Lopez, Vera. "Assimilation." Encyclopedia of Public Health. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404000070.html
Castro, Felipe Gonzalez; Lopez, Vera. "Assimilation." Encyclopedia of Public Health. 2002. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404000070.html
ASSIMILATION refers to the integration of the members of a minority group into the broader society to which they belong. According to the sociologist Milton M. Gordon, it is a seven-stage process, in which "acculturation," or the adoption by newcomers of the language, dress, and other daily customs of the host society, is the first step. "Structural assimilation," the second, involves the large-scale entrance of minorities into the cliques, clubs, and institutions of the host society, in a manner that is personal, intimate, emotionally affective, and engaging the whole personality. Once a group has achieved structural assimilation, the remaining stages "naturally follow." Those include "amalgamation" or frequent intermarriage, the development of a sense of peoplehood based solely on the host society, the disappearances of prejudiced attitudes and of discriminatory behavior toward the minority, and the absence of civic conflicts in which the competing interests of the majority and minority groups are an issue.
Assimilation is a problematic term. It can refer to the experiences of a group or of its individual members. Originating in the natural sciences, it identified a process through which one organism absorbs another; the latter then ceases to exist in recognizable form. Scholars are vague about the techniques for measuring the progress of assimilation and imprecise in defining its practical completion short of the disappearance of the minority, which rarely occurs. Some focus on socioeconomic adjustment and demographic behavior, while others emphasize changes in identity. Advocates with differing political agendas regarding national development debate whether assimilation is a desirable outcome for a society containing multiple groups.
Theorists have given names to existing, implicit models of assimilation and have proposed alternative ones. Identifying the boundaries that separate terms such as "melting pot," "pluralism," "cultural pluralism," and "multiculturalism" is not easy. The use of ancillary concepts, including "Anglo-conformity," "triple melting pot," "primordial ethnicity," "symbolic ethnicity," and "postethnicity" further complicates discussions.
The Melting Pot
In the 1780s, Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur offered one of the earliest descriptions of the formation of the American population as the physical melding of diverse European peoples into a new, single people. Israel Zangwill's eponymous 1908 play made "melting pot" the twentieth century's phrase for Crèvecoeur's idea. An English Jew who espoused various forms of Zionism throughout his life, Zangwill nevertheless presented, as the outcome of life in the American cauldron, the union of seemingly implacable enemies—a Russian Jewish immigrant to New York and the daughter of the tsarist official who had ordered the destruction of his village.
Although melting pot implies mutual change leading to the creation of a new alloy, most who adopted the phrase described a process, which Milton Gordon later called "Anglo-conformity," through which newcomers adapted to norms derived from an Anglo-American heritage. Alternative visions arose almost immediately. In 1915, Horace Kallen described the United States as an orchestral combination of constant European cultures. Cultural pluralism, as Kallen's outlook became known, rejected the melting pot and described ancestral roots as so determinative that Americanization had to be repeated with each generation. Writing as an opponent of U.S. involvement in World War I, Randolph Bourne critiqued the melting pot ideal as the effort of Anglophiles to place their own culture ahead of others and envisioned Americans sifting and winnowing the best from all traditions. Unlike Kallen, Bourne implied greater mutual change among the nation's constituent groups, with residual differences being of little consequence. Bourne's phrase, "trans-national America," has not survived, but the term "pluralism," or some variant of it, has captured the spirit of his ideas.
The melting pot metaphor, especially as expressed by proponents of "100-percent Americanism," held sway through World War I and after. As of the New Deal and World War II, however, concepts like "cultural democracy" and versions of cultural pluralism closer to Bourne's point of view than to Kallen's became predominant. Under the influence of thinkers like the sociologist Robert E. Park, the criteria for assimilation became political loyalty, adoption of generally accepted social customs, and conformity to national practices and aspirations.
As limited immigration changed the demographics of America's foreign stock after the 1920s, the Great Depression, World War II, cinema, radio, and eventually television spread generations of common experiences across the nation. By the 1940s, the sociologist Ruby Jo Reeves Kennedy argued that a "triple melting pot" had emerged. Clear ethnic boundaries were disappearing, as Protestants, Catholics, and Jews willingly married across nationality groups but within their religious traditions.
Religion's potential for segmenting the population was a source of concern. Paul Blanshard accused Catholics of hostility to America's democratic and liberal traditions. Several observers noted the lagging socioeconomic status of Catholics, and Gerhard Lenski attributed the gap to values rooted in the religion. Overall, however, the triple melting pot was simply an elaborated expression of the benign pluralist model of the era. Will Herberg, in Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (1955), argued that the nation's three major religions shared the political and civil values that made the United States the world's leading theistic power. Subsequent scholarship indicated that, on average, foreign-stock Euro-Americans had "caught up" by 1950. For those seeking reassurance, the election of John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, as president offered evidence that differences based in religious background had waned.
Race Succeeds Religion
The issue of race was peripheral to the assimilation debate in the first half of the century. With the rise of the civil rights movement, however, race succeeded nationality and religion as the final frontier of America's assimilation history. Drawing from works like Stanley Elkins's Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959), liberals assumed that slavery had deracinated blacks and made them the most culturally American of all the peoples who had come to the New World. Color prejudice, therefore, was the primary obstacle to total assimilation.
This optimism waned when dismantling discriminatory legislation proved an inadequate means to achieve rapid structural assimilation for black Americans. Critics argued that the legacy of slavery and the visibility of color differences made it impossible for racial minorities to attain assimilation of the kind achieved by Americans of European origin. They denied that blacks had reached the status of an "interest group," which Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan saw as the remaining function for group identity among the Irish, Italians, Jews, blacks, and Puerto Ricans of New York City. Rediscovering ties to Africa, or reinventing them, activists posited the existence of true cultural differences separating blacks from the majority in the United States. Similar developments occurred among smaller minority populations, including Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians who had experienced discrimination analogous to that suffered by blacks.
The Revival of Multiculturalism
After the 1960s, Kallen's version of cultural pluralism, which the author himself had long since abandoned, enjoyed a revival, often under the term "multiculturalism." Although some commentators used the word simply as a synonym for the view of pluralism dominant at midcentury, others offered multiculturalism as a distinct alternative. They saw ethnic and racial identities as primordial or ineradicable; accepted the existence of real and permanent cultural differences; vested the strength of the United States in its diversity, which the government, therefore, had an obligation to preserve; and stressed the importance of group as well as individual rights.
Multiculturalism did not escape criticism, especially when its proponents reduced American diversity to a split between Europeans and allied "peoples of color," and, in an era of renewed immigration, not only predicted what the future would be but also offered policy prescriptions for what it should be. Although Asian and Latino newcomers to the United States in the late twentieth century had direct or indirect ties with groups that had suffered prejudice on the basis of ascriptive characteristics, they arrived in an era when the nation had rejected discrimination based on such grounds. They constitute majorities in the minority groups to which they ethnically belong, and the empirical evidence leaves it open to debate whether their experiences are replicating the history of exclusion associated with race or the history associated with the integration of European immigrant groups.
Michael Novak, in The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics: Politics and Culture in the Seventies (1972), adopted some multicultural premises but used them to demonstrate that Europeans from quadrants outside the northwest of that continent suffered exclusions similar to those experienced by racial minorities. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., in The Disuniting of America (1991), and Nathan Glazer, in Affirmative Discrimination: Ethnic Inequality and Public Policy (1975), more thoroughly disagreed with the contentions of the multiculturalists and with the various programs they endorsed to preserve minority cultures and to promote access to education and employment for minority group members.
Moderate commentators have sought to find themes that may lead to a generally accepted interpretation of assimilation. Although cognizant of the real experiential differences between the heirs of European immigrants and descendants of African slaves, Matthew Frye Jacobson, in Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (1998), demonstrated the overlap-ping histories of the terms "race" and "ethnicity" and the constructed rather than substantive meanings of both. Herbert Gans has claimed that for Americans of European descent ethnicity is primarily a "symbolic" identity that they can use voluntarily and in positive ways. Ann Swidler has similarly described ethnicity as just one of the cultural tools through which persons can express their identities. David Hollinger, in Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (1995), argued for a future in which all persons can comfortably claim one or more ethnic identities without having their expectations or behaviors limited by those identities.
Blanshard, Paul. American Freedom and Catholic Power. Boston: Beacon Press, 1949.
Bourne, Randolph. "Trans-national America." Atlantic Monthly 118, no. 1 (July 1916): 86–97.
Gans, Herbert J. "Symbolic Ethnicity: The Future of Ethnic Groups and Cultures in America." Ethnic and Racial Studies 2, no. 1 (January 1979): 1–20.
Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1963.
Gordon, Milton M. Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.
Kallen, Horace. "Democracy Versus the Melting Pot." The Nation (18 Feb. 1915): 190–194 and (25 Feb. 1915): 217–220.
Lenski, Gerhard E. The Religious Factor: A Sociological Study of Religion's Impact on Politics, Economics, and Family Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961.
Park, Robert E., and Herbert A. Miller. Old World Traits Transplanted. New York and London: Harper, 1921.
Swidler, Ann. "Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies." American Sociological Review 51, no. 2 (April 1986): 273–286.
"Assimilation." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401800295.html
"Assimilation." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401800295.html
In 1964 Milton M. Gordon (b. 1918) produced a groundbreaking book called Assimilation in American Life. He informed readers that three different theories of assimilation existed in the United States: "Anglo-Conformity," the "Melting Pot," and "Cultural Pluralism." Gordon acknowledged, though, that Anglo-Conformity was "the most prevalent ideology of assimilation in America throughout the nation's history" (p. 89). The other two theories, proposed by members of minority groups who wanted to "fit in" but who were unwilling to accept the cultural demands of the dominant society, suggested that all people who came to the United States ultimately mixed together and formed a "new American," or that individuals could "assimilate" while maintaining aspects of their own culture. History has shown, however, as Gordon himself noted, that to be accepted by others as an American, one had to conform totally to the values of Anglos in the United States. ("Anglo" values are sometimes referred to as WASP—white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant—characteristics.)
No one questions, of course, that the United States, and the British colonies before the formation of the American government, almost always welcomed European Caucasians as future citizens. In the colonial era there was an incessant call for additional laborers. And although much of the need was filled by black Africans, white people had no desire to intermingle with them socially or on an equal basis. Since the way to assimilate in American society requires marriage with a member of the dominant culture, and adoption of the folkways and mores of that culture, any non-Caucasian could not be considered. Nonwhites could not become white, and prejudice prevented most white people from marrying people of any other skin color.
Starting in colonial America, however, the standards for assimilation included adoption of the religion and language of the community. Most of the Pilgrims, Puritans, and others who traveled to the southern part of what is now the United States were Protestants. Catholics were feared because they were viewed as subject to the "tyrannical dictates" of the pope in Rome. The epithet "Jews, Turks, and Infidels" assumed inferiority, non-Protestant faiths, and lack of the attitudes and characteristics required of all Americans.
These views did not prevent Catholics and Jews from coming to the colonies, but these groups were rarely accepted as equals by members of the dominant culture. It is true, also, that some Protestant denominations, such as Quakers and Huguenots (French Protestants), were also looked down upon. Once they changed their denominations, however, they had the option of blending with members of the dominant culture. Some accepted the colonial demand for assimilation into a more mainstream Protestant denomination. This choice, however, was usually made by their children or grandchildren. Moreover, other European immigrants could either conform to American values or choose to remain with people of similar backgrounds. The latter was not acceptable to the colonists; it concerned members of the dominant culture. Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) warned fellow Pennsylvanians in the eighteenth century about the Germans in their midst:
Why should the Palentine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together, establish their Language and Manners, to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglyfying them? (Dinnerstein et al., 1999, p. 7)
Franklin's thoughts reflect not only the values of people of his own time but also those of Americans throughout the centuries. As a result of their anxiety about maintaining the dominant culture, colonists feared new immigrants who might undermine it with their own preferences. Often individuals, some of whom had been here perhaps for less than one generation, expressed the most hostile feelings about the new immigrants. Subsequent generations in the United States also frowned on newcomers with different backgrounds. Only foreign-born Protestants who spoke English were easily accepted without criticism by Americans.
From the colonial era stereotypical impressions of almost every group became part of the thought and expression of members of the Anglo-American culture. Descendants of the English regarded Germans as fat, stupid, and drunk; Jews and Quakers as clever and wealthy; Scots-Irish as violent and drunk; and French, Spaniards, and other "papists" as "hot-blooded lovers" and "slaves" of tyrannical rulers in the Catholic Church. Nineteenth-and twentieth-century immigrants like the Irish, the Poles, and the Jews were similarly branded with epithets Americans fantasized.
Responses to Crisis
Whenever a crisis occurred in American society, some ethnic group was usually targeted as the culprit. In the 1790s, at the time that the English and French were battling for control of the Atlantic Ocean, French "radicalism" supposedly undermined American society. Fears of the French led to the passage in 1798 of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which gave the president unilateral power to jail and/or force people back to where they came from if they criticized the government. During World War I, Americans denounced people of German ancestry; during World War II, the U.S. government incarcerated Japanese-Americans; and after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001, legislation quickly passed through Congress calling for the "registration" of Muslims from several Middle Eastern and Asian nations. In each of these periods, most other Americans regarded members of these groups as threats to the security of the nation.
Throughout American history, once crises had passed, Caucasians could engage in whichever economic endeavors they chose. Members of society who had not married people of the dominant culture, however, had a more difficult time functioning in the United States. Some, who were even prohibited from having equality by state laws or customs, such as Asians and Mexican-Americans, nonetheless found their niche in a variety of endeavors. The Irish, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, could buy saloons, join the army, or attend law school. Civil-service positions were generally open to them as well as to others of different backgrounds who passed qualifying examinations. Through the middle of the twentieth century many political "bosses" were of Irish ancestry. Given the opportunities for independent entrepreneurships, Jews as well as Japanese rose in society. After World War II, where educational opportunity existed, everyone who partook of it fully moved up a notch or two on the socioeconomic scale.
Nonetheless, many newcomers and their children still retained traditional values and refused to marry outside of their cultures. Although almost everyone acculturated in stages, that is, adopted the characteristics, attributes, and behavior of members of American society, it sometimes took three or four generations before they actually assimilated. For these people and their descendants, "success," but not total acceptance, was also possible. Thus, in tracing the evolution of people in American history, one notes that while wealth or accomplishments were always signs of having succeeded in the dominant culture, such attributes were not enough to be considered "one of us." An athlete or an entertainer might be extremely skillful, popular, and appealing in his or her field of endeavor, but still not accepted as an "equal" by members of the dominant culture. At one time a Jewish actor or an Italian baseball player might be universally applauded, but that did not make Jews or Italians part of the mainstream.
In general, Americans welcomed all Caucasian immigrants until approximately the 1920s. There were always concerns, though, that non-Protestants could not fit into American society. Thus, when the tide of European immigration turned overwhelmingly Catholic and Jewish in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Congress passed laws curbing their influx. In the 1920s new immigration legislation favored people whose compatriots had predominated in the settlement of the United States. Laws establishing quotas for different nationalities passed in 1921 and 1924, respectively. These bills set low quotas for southern and eastern Europeans but much more generous ones for the British, Germans, and Irish. In the 1930s American consular officials placed more stringent restrictions on Jewish people trying to emigrate from Germany than they did on non-Jews. Similarly, after World War II, legislation to bring in displaced persons from Europe favored non-Jews over Jews, and former fascists over Communists. Not until 1965 did Congress pass immigration legislation favoring family unification.
The opportunities for assimilation in American society have always been greater for Caucasian Protestants than for people of other backgrounds. Before World War II sociologists noted that people of different national heritages had begun marrying members of other ethnic groups who shared their religion. In the 1960s, the nation witnessed a rise in the rates of inter-marriage by people of European descent who had had different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The United States Supreme Court then declared, in Loving v. Virginia (1967), that states could not ban interracial marriage. Immediately the prohibition of interracial marriage, which still existed in twenty-two states, mostly in the South and the West, ceased.
Since that time, Americans of all stripes have witnessed increasing numbers of marriages based on individual choices and characteristics. Demographers and statisticians, moreover, have concluded that more than 50 percent of all Americans have chosen life partners based on individual characteristics rather than religious, ethnic, or legal considerations. As one boy put it in 1993, "I'm half Italian, half Japanese, and all American."
Class, rather than any other factor in the twenty-first century, should be examined before making assessments about intermarriage as well as ease of assimilation. In the twenty-first century, in countries such as Germany and England, both class and heritage play a more significant aspect in acceptance than they do in the United States. But unlike the United States, where place of birth determines citizenship, in some European countries—for example, Switzerland—one is never automatically a citizen, regardless of birthplace.
See also Americanization, U.S. ; Asian-American Ideas (Cultural Migration) ; Identity, Multiple ; Loyalties, Dual ; Migration .
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An aspect of adaptation proposed by French psychologist Jean Piaget.
In the cognitive development theory of Jean Piaget , assimilation is one of two complementary activities involved in adaptation , the process of learning from and adjusting to one's environment . Assimilation consists of taking in new information and incorporating it into existing ways of thinking about the world. Conversely, accommodation is the process of changing one's existing ideas to adapt to new information. When an infant first learns to drink milk from a cup, for example, she tries to assimilate the new experience (the cup) into her existing way of ingesting milk (sucking). When she finds that this doesn't work, she then changes her way of drinking milk by accommodating her actions to the cup. The dual process of accommodation and assimilation leads to the formation and alteration of schemas, generalizations about the world which are formed from past experience and used to guide a person through new experiences. According to Piaget, cognitive development involves the constant search for a balance between assimilation and accommodation, which he referred to as equilibration.
In the context of personality , the term "assimilation" has been used by Gordon Allport (1897-1967) to describe the tendency to fit information into one's own attitudes or expectations. In the study of attitudes and attitude change , it means adopting the attitudes of people with whom we identify strongly.
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1. In PHONETICS, a process of connected speech in which one sound becomes similar to another, neighbouring sound, as for example with the phrase one man, in which the /n/ of one is assimilated to the /m/ of man (‘wum man’).
2. The same process exhibited orthographically: for example, in the Latin-derived word aggression (originally adgressio), the d of the prefix ad- has been assimilated to the g of the base -gress-; in the informal English word wanna (‘want to’), the t of both want and to have been assimilated to the preceding n.
3. In LEXICOLOGY, the adaptation of items into one language from another, such as into English from French. The degree of assimilation of loanwords generally depends on the length of time since the borrowing took place and on the frequency of use. Compare the degree of spoken and written assimilation of honour (c.1400), salon (c.1700), sabotage (c.1900): see BORROWING, LOAN.
4. In SOCIOLINGUISTICS, the absorption of speakers of one language or dialect into another. Immigrants into the English-speaking world experience pressure to adapt and different metaphors are sometimes used to discuss and even euphemize the processes involved: immigrants to the US are said to enter a melting pot, while immigrants to Canada become part of a mosaic.
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