Pot, Bowl, or Magnet

Bill Neinast


Saturday, the Brenham Activist Association sponsored it’s 32d annual Black History Month
breakfast. After an opening prayer and the pledge to and posting of the American flag, the attendees sang James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

This song is also known as the Negro National Anthem and records keeping the faith through times of sorrow and travail. Here, for example, are several lines from that anthem,  “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us….Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died, Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet, Come to the place for which our fathers sighed….”

These thought provoking words were followed with an address by Dr. Walter Jackson, the first Black Superintendent of the Brenham Independent School District, the oldest public school district in the state.

Dr. Jackson’s theme was Keeping the Dream alive.  The dream was that of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The essence of the dream is for a colorless, classless society.

If I understood Dr. Jackson correctly, he advocated keeping Dr.  King’s dream alive by bringing it to reality today.   That could be interpreted to mean quit referring to individuals as black or white or by any other ethnicity or origin.

Dr. Jackson told me that not what he meant and that he agrees with me  that it is a lofty and admirable goal, but may be a little premature.

Eight decades ago, I was a grade school student.  Back then, there were three school systems—white, black, and Mexican—in Somerville, my home town.  We were constantly told that,  “Any one, even you, can become President of this great country.”

Everyone was considered in those days to mean white boys only.  Females had just recently won the right to vote and Blacks were still being effectively blocked from voting.  No one could even imagine a female or a black person becoming President.

Today, of course, we have females and Blacks in every public office imaginable.  There is, however, a lingering feeling that Blacks are still bumping against a white ceiling.

For that reason, continuing to refer to Blacks in prominent positions as Black serves an important psychological function for young school students.

Knowing that Barrack Obama was the first Black President, that Walter Jackson is a doctor and the first Black Superintendent of the Brenham ISD, that Condoleezza Rice was the first Black female Secretary of State, that Colin Powell was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on and on will impress on young Black males’ and females’ minds that all roads are open for them.

Dr. Jackson’s discussion 0f the United States as a melting pot where all cultures or creeds are melted together to become just plain old proud Americans brought to mind Jessie Jackson and his salad bowl. 

Under that concept, various cultures and creeds are thrown into a salad bowl and mixed together, but like tomatoes and lettuce in a dinner salad, each retains its own, specific identity.

A better metaphor for the country might be a magnet.  No other country has  any semblance of America’s attraction force.  We are still pulling in millions, both legally and illegally, who are seeking a place where they have a chance for personal success.  Simultaneously, other countries are being flooded with immigrants who are not looking for better opportunities but are just fleeing terror in their homelands.

A magnet picks up nails, nuts, bolts, washers and other metal objects and holds them closely together in a tight bundle.  Each piece holds it shape and identity permanently but is bound tightly with all the other items in the mix.

So here’s the perspective.

Which is the best metaphor?  Is the United States a melting pot, a mixing bowl, or a magnet?

No matter which designation you choose, the end result should be the same.  We, or our ancestors,  were thrown together voluntarily or involuntarily, and have emerged proud Americans.  

This does not mean that we have not lost our unique culture identity.  We can still be proud German-Americans, Africa-Americans, or just the currently popular Black-Americans.

Whatever we are called, we are all just plain, proud Americans sharing the same rights, privileges, and duties. 


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