Assimilation

The definition of “assimilation” and its subsequent usage has long been a contentious issue in American scholarship. Fundamentally, assimilation raises difficult questions about the social composition of a society or culture. More specifically, the debates around the term address the adaptation of those populations or individuals understood as outside or different from mainstream society. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “assimilate” as a verb meaning to “take in (information, ideas, or culture) and understand fully” and “absorb and integrate.”

The dispute over the meaning of assimilation follows the intertwined history of racial formation, immigration politics, and national identity in the United States. In 1897, W.E.B. Du Bois published “The Conservation of Races,” in which he argued against assimilation. Du Bois pushed for the substantive retention of racial difference, beyond that of physical difference, in acknowledgment of distinct, racial experiences and their particular contributions to society. In this way, to assimilate …

This essay may be found on page 14 of the printed volume.

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