The American Mosaic

Briggs, Vernon M Jr

The American Mosaic By Anthony Patrick Carnevale and Susan Carol Stone. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Pp. 526. $29.95.

VERNON M. BRIGGS, JR. Cornell University

The “mosaic” that is the subject of this book is, of course, the population and labor force of the United States. Already diverse in personal characteristics, both are rapidly becoming more so. The authors are not content merely to describe the phenomenon. They praise the trend and see diversity as providing an edge that can enhance organizational efficiency as well as American competitiveness. Some studies by others are cited to support their viewpoint, but no new research is offered. Instead, a host of buzzwords – like “better people management,” “creative action goals,” and “culture change initiatives” – are used that imply the need to cope with diversity as opposed to there being any inherent merits to the concept itself. No worries about divisiveness are raised – either by the experiences of other nations or as a consequence of the implementation of diversity-seeking policies in the United States to date. The thesis that is presented frequently crosses the line between scholarly inquiry and advocacy As a consequence, it seems at times to be little more than a paean for political correctness.

As a convenient reference source, however, this book has few peers. Its tabular material and data presentations are excellent. They are supplemented by insightful anecdotes and informative historical synopses. But critical analysis of relevant developments and policies is scant. Demography, immigration, pressure group influences, and changing social attitudes are treated largely as givens for which workplace responses are expected. There is no explicit discussion of the complex human resource development policies that are required to transfer the diversity of people and interest groups into a productive and unified labor force that can seriously compete in an increasingly global economy. The world may be diverse in its entirety, but it is essentially homogeneous in is component parts. Indeed, the authors seem to ignore the fact that the member nations of the European Union, as well as the various countries of Southeast Asia (eg., Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia), are economic powerhouses in the new world order precisely because they focus on human resource development rather than on human relations policies. It is strongly implied that the United States will somehow surpass these other countries in the worldwide market simply because it has a diverse labor force. This conclusion exceeds the boundary of credulity.

The contemporary challenge to the United States is how to prepare its diverse labor force to face increasing international competition. To do this, the emphasis must be on commonality of interest. A country like the United States can have a multisocial, bigender, multireligious and multiethnic laborforce. Furthermore, its workplace can be designed to incorporate disabled and older workers while tolerating differences in sexual preferences by workers in their private lives. But it is questionable whether a nation can have a multicultural population and still call itself a nation. The authors assume it can, but there is little explanation as to how

To succeed in what the authors want to do, they must discuss all of the segments that make up the U.S. labor force, not just selective groupings. The authors, for example, clearly state that they are not going to discuss non-Hispanic white males. But this does not mean that they can avoid such an inclusive approach and still be taken seriously when the whole purpose of the study is to discuss diversity. Moreover, when they try to identify cultural attributes of certain groups – like Native Americans and African Americans – they can say, as they do, that they are not stereotyping those groups and that there are individuals in these groups that do not fit into these patterns. But when they identify group characteristics, it is hard to believe that stereotyping is not precisely what is being presented as generalized facts. Moreover, how can a reader take seriously the idea that Africans, Hispanics, and Asians have cultural attributes, but that Americans do not? Is the United States only a group of diverse people held together by a standard of living? Or, why it is of special consequence to understand Arab Americans (who are discussed at length), but not of significance to understand Italian Americans or Irish Americans (who are ignored)? Why is it necessary for a labor force to be aware of the attitudes of Moslems in its midst, but not of Christians, Jews, or Buddhists? Why are older workers identified for special concern, but not young workers (whose proportion of the labor force, beginning in 1996, is increasing again due to the labor force consequences of the “baby echo” that began in 1980)? Indeed the growing alienation, drug usage, and lack of job preparation of youths of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds in the U.S. population is probably the most serious of all the incorporation challenges that confront the next generation of this nation. Likewise, why is there no explicit discussion of the foreign-born workers as a group as their ranks are increasing faster than many of the other designated groups that are singled out for attention. Immigration, while taken as a given in this text, is a discretionary action of the federal government. Its effects are rapidly altering the composition of the nation’s labor force and population. Immigration policy, however, is not neutral in its influences. Although there is variety among the groups compromising the foreign-born population, Asia and Latin America have accounted for over 85 percent of all the immigrants to the United States for the past two decades, and the 1990 census revealed that 28 percent of the nation’s entire foreign-born population are from only one country: Mexico. It would seem, therefore, that the consequences of extant immigration policy are in direct conflict with the pursuit of diversity as presented by the authors, but they do not see it.

Although there is much to be learned rom this book, it is disturbing to be told that diversity is an end itself Diversity is a characteristic of the U.S. laborforce. But it will bethe pursuit of unity goals, not the glorification of differences, and the enactment of human resource development policies that will determine the nation’s economic destiny as well as the state of domestic tranquility it achieves in the years ahead.

Copyright Center for Migration Studies Summer 1997

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