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Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America - Essay Example

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Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. The central metaphor of the mirror is used in Takaki’s book to make his readers think about the way we see ourselves in the past history of our country. He seems to be saying that looking at the past is like looking in a mirror, and that the mirror many people use for this purpose is warped, and it therefore presents a distorted picture…
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Download file to see previous pages In the account of America’s early history, which Takaki gives at the beginning of the book, there is considerable praise for the commitment that was made to equality of all citizens, and the fine ideals of the Constitution. The stories of the different ethnic groups in America, and their respective struggles to achieve access to the most basic rights, reveal that the fine ideals were not put into practice, and that in later centuries many minority group leaders appealed to the Constitution in vain, when they were oppressed and disadvantaged. Frederick Douglass is quoted saying that the Constitution had stated “We the People” and not “We the white people” (Takaki, 1993, 374) This challenges the conventional perception of America, and its idealistic representation of itself as a land of opportunity for all who arrive there. Takaki shows that much of this was rhetoric which applied to selected ethnic groups, who were white, and which excluded other groups including the indigenous native tribes, African Americans, the Mexican immigrants and migrant workers, and many others who wanted to play a full and equal part in American society. The stories narrated in this book are remarkable in their diversity. There is no clear narrative of North versus South, nor even White versus Black, which so many history books use to explain America’s past. The opposition that Takaki uses is that of the many versus the few, in the sense of the many different perspectives, versus the one dominant perspective of the Caucasians. The concept of the “savage” was used by this dominant group to demonize all other ethnic groups, including especially Indians and African Americans, and more significantly to dehumanize them, and erase the cultures that made them different from the Caucasian elite. Takaki explains how Shakespeare’s play The Tempest can be used as a key to unlock the thinking of the white settlers in America. There is an arrogant assumption that the book learning and town-dwelling culture of the Europeans is inherently superior to the “wilderness” of the indigenous peoples, and the “savagery” of their customs (Takaki, 1993, p. 43). The old narrative of early America was constructed on this concept of the wilderness, and by extension all its inhabitants, to be tamed and transformed. Takaki mentions the concept of the wilderness, and the ever changing frontier, as a testing ground for whites, and uses the concept of the crucible to describe other tests of the American people such as the Urban Crucible of the Black South, and the crucible of World War II. The difference between Takaki’s interpretation and the mainstream historical view, is that these testing grounds did not show up pure and strong white Americans, but instead produced lively resistance in the ethnic groups who were the intended victims in these processes. If there is one lasting message from this book, then it is the way it explains the linkage between race and culture that led to America’s shameful history of exploitation and oppression. The technological skills of the incoming ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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