What a shock it must be for a visitor from India or China to visit the United States. In his country, almost everyone a visitor meets on the street will look like him with black hair, dark eyes and similar skin color. Not so here. Really, not so. If he gets off of an airplane at Los Angeles International the first four people he meets are likely to be of Hispanic, Asian, African or European decent with black, brown, red or blond hair.

From coast to coast and from mountains to bayous, we are more diverse as a people than any other country in the world. That is true in how we look, in language and especially in politics.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt called America a “melting pot,” and listed diversity as one of our great strengths. Other great strengths are the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and a healthy respect for the rights of individuals, local government and states to express their individuality. America is not a “one-size-fits-all country.”

The 2010 census tells us that despite our diversity, we tend to cluster by ancestral origin. Our Hispanic population is heaviest in the Southwest and Southern Florida, Asian in the New York region and on the west coast, and African in the South and the inner cities of the North. Those of European descent are spread all over.

One of the truths of humankind is that we tend to gravitate toward where there are others like us. That is true with where we chose to live, whether red states or blue; where we send our children to school, whether public or private and where we go to church, whether Catholic, Protestant, or “other.” The old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” holds true. The acceptance of that premise is step one in holding our loose knit federal union together.

As diverse as we are, should it surprise us that residents of Arizona and California who must deal with illegal immigration every day want more restrictive laws than Missouri or Indiana? Should it surprise us that New York City, with a Muslim population of 450,000, would approve the building of an Islamic Culture Center right down town on Manhattan Island? Should it surprise us that the people of Nevada want to have gambling and legalized prostitution? These things may not be our “cup of tea” and not something we want to have in our community. But, the fact that those who live in Arizona, California, Nevada and New York want to be different, just shows our diversity.

That is also true with gun laws. I grew up in a small town in the heartland of America where people did not lock their doors and cars were parked on the street with impunity. People there just shake their heads at the serious problems cities like Chicago have where more than 700 people lost their lives to gun violence last year. Is it any wonder that people in Chicago want to own guns to protect their families? That, despite the statistics that a gun in the home is four times as likely to kill a family member than an intruder.

In recent months we have seen much more negative rhetoric regarding issues that used to be settled by compromise. It is debilitating in government to watch different sides of a philosophical disagreement dig in their heels and say, “my way or no way.” Such attitudes cause the wheels of government to grind to a halt.

We need to recognize reality. We are a diverse people and, with patience and tolerance, we should be able to accept our diversity and celebrate our strengths. And, we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. (They do read this column in Washington D.C., don’t they?)
You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at marklhopkins@att.net. Books by Hopkins, “Journey to Gettysburg, The Wounds of War, The World as it was When Jesus Came,” and “Facts & Opinions on the Issues of our Time,” can be acquired at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and through the email above.