Welcome to the Jungle: America After Vietnam
                                       AP US History 2007

Neeraj Kohirkar

Author's Bio

Paula D. McClain is a professor of government and a chair of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia. With a PHD and a black politics background, McClain was able to put together a concise depiction of the minorities' scene in America. Now at age 56, McClain has spent over two decades studying the increasingly prominent multi-racial and social aspects of the American government.

The Failed Arbitrage

     In her ground-breaking book Can We All Get Along?: Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics, Paula D. McClain examines the individuals of our society indirectly affected by racism. This racism, moreover, spurs fervor to change the policies and behaviors of American society. Covering the issues of citizenship, suffrage, and participation in the political realm, McClain portrays a deemed-inferior minority class struggling to assimilate into the Western community. With detailed analysis of "geographic concentration, socioeconomic status, degree of political participation, and coverage by contemporary voting rights participation," McClain depicts how a population, once regarded as unwanted, converges into a respected one.
     In the first section of this book, McClain sets the scene of this time period by defining essential vocabulary terms and background information. At first she alludes to Alexis de Tocqueville in order to analyze the American dilemmas of citizenship, voting, and political participation. She emphasizes that minorities are "cross-pressured by the presence of both democratic ideals and racial discrimination," hindering them from fully assimilating into society.2 Also conspicuously depicted in reality, she suggests, is the contradiction between the foundations of this nation and the subjugation of American minorities, serving as the precursor to contention from the early 1970s. Adding to the overview of this book, she establishes in this section that socioeconomic status is essential to determining one's participation in the political process. This serves as an important reason for the depriving of rights and privileges for minorities, including Asians, Latinos, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Most importantly, whites 每 regardless of increasing populations of minorities 每 remain the sole controllers and majorities of the political realm.
     McClain presents the movements of various minority groups in this section. In this time period, American Indians were dispersed throughout the West and Midwest, Asians predominantly in the West and gradually across the nation, and Hispanics dense in the Western regions. And as ideologies and realities began to conflict, minorities 每 especially Blacks 每 expressed their chagrin. This minority, in fact, set the stage for and catalyzed other minority movements. For most minorities, "casting a vote was the most basic formal act of participation in polity,"2 so they actively sought this right. American Indian activism, for example, reemerged in the early 1970s with the passionate goal of attaining political power. Yet, nonetheless, discrimination was prevalent, as proven by the 1984 United States Black Survey, which stated "90 percent of Blacks surveyed believed discrimination was still a problem for African Americans."3 Even the United States Latinos Survey complied, denouncing the rampant racism still prevalent in society as late as the 1980s. This section highlights the fact that, despite a plethora of attempts to improve their political situations, minorities continued to struggle in America, with conflict overriding consensus in a tense nation.
     McClain later zooms in on the actions and reactions in the scope of minority-integration of the late twentieth century. Three steps take place in instituting a policy: first adoption, second implementation, and third evaluation. In order to adopt a policy, appeals must be made, giving the opportunity for minorities to push for their issues 每 outside initiative model. Consequently, the issue is expanded to the public, labeled the mobilization model. This certainly served successful and beneficial for minorities, as "more minorities were being represented ever since the Voting Rights Act of 1965."4 Yet, minorities had their limitation; their realm certainly did not include presidency. This post has incredible capabilities to shape public policy, and giving this authority to a minority would flip the status quo of society, surely to favor minorities over majorities. Nonetheless, with humane leaders as Bill Clinton, there was a "revolutionary increase in minority group representation among a group of policymakers."5 Also, Jesse Jackson, who struggled for the advancement of his people, highlighted the desires of the minorities in a presidential campaign. He hoped to be the "voice for those outside of the political system and to increase both his, and, by inference, black influence on the policies and positions of the party."6 Despite his failed presidential campaign, minorities expanded their influence: 1971 marked the formation of the Congressional Black Caucus and 1977 marked the formation of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Another issue discussed by McClain involves equal education opportunities. She depicts the obvious Chinese attempts to improve their predicament in schools, as shown by Lao vs. Nicholas in 1974, during which "the Supreme Court required that school districts take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency of the national origin minority students to open their instructional programs to these students."7 An Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act was passed in 1975, promoting "Indian control of Indian affairs in all matters relating to education."7 By showing the changes in policy beneficial to the minorities, McClain proves that minority assimilation is improving dramatically, yet much tension and competition sprouts in later years, as interests among minorities diverge.
     Finally, McClain states the assumptions of the coalition theory: that mutual respect and similar interests will join minority groups; this, however, does not parallel the relations amongst minorities in the late twentieth century. She cites Los Angeles as a counter to the assertion, by showing that Whites are discriminated in a torrent of minority conflicts. In fact, Asians are gaining momentum in the West, with an increased role in government and education, even more so than other minorities and majorities. To cap the analysis of racial minorities, McClain predicts the future scene of this nation: a Black population still within its political sphere, Mexican Americans predominantly within a democratic realm, and Asians being incorporated into various political parties. Issues of race and segregation still bombard the U.S., but progress has been made. She answers her initial question 每 can we all get along? 每 by stating that it is very doubtful. Yet, she encourages her readers to remain "hopeful that progress will continue" and assures that America embrace a diverse, yet egalitarian society.8
     This book portrays the struggles and overcoming of minority-limitations, and McClain shows how a nation gradually shapes itself into a fully egalitarian society. Her thesis, hence, follows these lines: With the clear presence of racial inequality in a nation that promises equality, minorities struggle to assimilate into Western society through the realm of politics, ultimately clarifying and edifying the ideals of this nation. McClain argues that minorities played an essential and important part in the liberation of American society, which was previously bound to false, hindering policies and social generalizations. Had the minorities remained passive and simply accepted the status quo of American society, not only would the nation be more homogenous but also more rigid, with a White majority completely overshadowing the widespread minorities. The individuals who fought for liberties, who fought for equality, who fought for participation每 these were the men and women who opened the nation's eyes to its flaws, to its injustices, to its cruelty. Granted, the "political success was not attained without struggle," but the fight itself pushed the nation to higher ideals.9 McClain, thus, does not regard minorities as merely foreign individuals attempting to improve their lifestyles, but as revolutionary forces driving the wind of the nation from past segregation to civil privileges. Her book precisely addresses her thesis, which shows how the "rhetoric vs. reality gap" develops into greater political participation.10
     The author of this book makes some evident assumptions. She assumes that "relationships among the various racial minority groups will be one of mutual respect and shared political goals and ideals," yet this generalization fails to account for the rifts between various minorities.11 While a larger minority movement attempted to expand political participation for all minorities, minorities engaged in conflicts amongst themselves, attempting to address their individual, rather than group, interests. Also, McClain strives to be unbiased. This is apparent because she presents a plethora of factual information in the form of data figures, tables, graphs, maps, and pictures, portraying accurate information rather than opinion-based information. Nonetheless, with a background in Black History and Foreign Studies, McClain shows sympathy for the minorities by stating that Whites manipulated and subjugated them immensely. This further glorifies their escape from this plight, as they struggled to overcome the racial barriers and societal biases and fought to assimilate themselves into American society. This bias is apparent in her writing, as she focuses on the successes rather than failures of the minorities, favoring the incorporation of minorities over the rigidity of the white majority. Other sources also recognize her bias and assumptions, yet, nonetheless, commend her for her accurate depiction of American social situation in the late twentieth century.
     Two professional criticism 每 written by Karen Kaufman and Timothy McAllister 每 comment on McClain's writing. Kaufman, in her critique of the book, agrees with McClain that minorities came together in a current of "liberal optimism under the banner of minority solidarity."12 Furthermore, McClain suggests that the suffrage issue was a source of contention between Whites and minorities, since the vote每which the minorities desperately sought每 was the quickest method of giving minorities a voice in the political spectrum. Yet, despite shared interests in expanding political rights, "interracial competition for jobs, housing, and status" hindered a full-fledged, inexorable minority activism movement from taking place.13 Kaufman commends McClain for her accurate portrayal of minority-integration in American society and goes deeper into the dilemma of racial assimilation by stating that minorities should embrace interracial cooperation in order to establish stronger movements. Timothy McAllister, a second critic, states, "one of the most volatile dilemmas facing our nation is explored in this book;" this dilemma, furthermore, according to McAllister, has shaped the ideals of this nation.14 McAllister lauds McClain for her credible authorship and her use of maps, tables, figures, pictures, and charts. He also agrees with and emphasizes her analysis of policy formation, which allows for minorities to become integrated into society. In addition, McAllister recognizes the underlying assumptions of McClain: the stereotype that "minorities think alike because of their minority status."15 McAllister proves this by suggesting that McClain, despite isolating each minority group in the sections of his book, presents the minority dilemma, nonetheless, as a whole, implying a joint effort with joint ideals. As a reader, I applaud McClain's thorough and convincing usage of factual information to back her assertions. This serves as her greatest strength in the book, for her arguments and depictions of minorities' struggles and victories are all the more convincing with figures and tables confirming them. However, she makes a shallow and unconvincing analysis of Los Angeles as a counterpoint to racial integration. Despite her depicting L.A. as a scene of minority conflicts, the dilemmas in the city still represent a struggle for greater political participation, greater social recognition, greater individual status每all still goals of a unified minority class. Nonetheless, her concise analysis of racial and ethnic minorities in American politics is convenient and effective to the reader.
     America from the 1970s to 2000 represented a transforming society, highly influenced by the changing relations between majorities and minorities. According to the author, after the passage of "the Voting Rights Act in 1965, there has been a significant increase in the number of [minority] elected officials."16 Minorities gained the confidence to protest established thought by putting forth candidates such as Jesse Jackson in presidential campaigns and advocating suffrage, citizenship, and political participation. And, with the aid of the Supreme Court and a conforming White population, minorities gained more privileges in this nation, ranging from voting rights to housing privileges to educational opportunities. Asians moved from insignificant to much more dominant in the schooling atmosphere, just as Blacks moved from an invisible status to a group increasing in political involvement. All these evolutions, along with assimilation into political parties and issues, suggest a gradually diversifying, yet egalitarian American society throughout the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. In my opinion, these cultural and social changes greatly shaped modern American society. A generally widespread liberality encompassed the 1970s 每 2000, allowing for a broader, open thought, expanding not only the scope of Western ideology but also the opportunities of minorities. As culture became more welcoming, humane, and accepting, so too did the relationship between minorities and majorities, with greater minorities' representation in education, politics, and other formerly white-dominated roles and offices.
     This period of history certainly marked a watershed in American political history. It changed previously held values, practices, and ideas through its increasing inclusion of diverse people. America converged from a society of enslavement to limited assimilation to elite participation in government to increased and wider participation in government, allowing for more of the population to take part in its political affairs. In fact, this era brought to light the ideals of our founding fathers每the ideals of liberty and equality 每 and positively coerced America into accepting its identity as an egalitarian nation. The liberties of today's people, the expression of today's people, the openness of today's people, the diversity of today's people, the cooperation of today's people 每 these are all a result of the various minority movements and struggles for attaining civil rights and personal voices in government. The brave individuals of this era, who did not fear the wrath of White "superiors" and did not doubt the "importance of racial minorities to the American political system," initiated and brought to life the fruits that our society reaps today.17 It is due to these courageous humanitarians that individuals today enjoy a predominantly free and equal nation.
     According to McClain's title question and book Can We All Get Along?: Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics, it is highly unlikely that American society "will fully embrace a segregation-free society."18 Rifts between minorities and majorities will continue to exist, but the advancements made by our ancestors have greatly changed today's world for the better. Minorities ranging from Asians to Latinos to Hispanics to Native Americans to African Americans all contributed to the liberation of American ideals. Minorities helped free man from shackles, from constriction, from suffering, and from subjugation; minorities helped man embrace expression, freedom, and the American life. Minorities changed resignation to passion, inferiority to equality, and subjugation to assimilation. After enduring much rejection, much burden, the racial and ethnical minorities of this nation lifted its people from the depths of stratified classes to the heights of level population. Minorities improved man's predicament to the point that any man can have the same privileges as another man, regardless of skin color and background. And this, the ticket for political participation, the privilege of diversity, and the right of equality, is the resulting American dream.


1. McClain, Paula. "Can We All Get Along": Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics. Westview Press, 1995, 11. 2. McClain, Paula 45. 3. McClain, Paula 52 5. McClain, Paula 88 6. McClain, Paula 92 7. McClain, Paula 106 8. McClain, Paula 150 9. McClain, Paula 82 10. McClain, Paula 43 11. McClain, Paula 113 12. Kaufman, Karen. Still Waiting for the Rainbow Coalition?. "Group Rationality and Urban Coalitions." < http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/apworkshop/kaufmann3.pdf>. 1 13. Kaufman, Karen 1 14. McAllister, Timothy. Review of "Can We All Get Along?" http://www.wisbar.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Wisconsin_Lawyer&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=34677. 1 15. McAllister, Timothy 1 16. McClain, Paula 113 17. McClain, Paula 147 18. McClain, Paula 148

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