If your friends and colleagues are like mine, they tend to orient their domestic travel plans around cherished ethnic restaurants. So do I. But many carry their enthusiasm a step further, seeing the extraordinary variety and quality of ethnic cuisine now available in the United States as evidence of the unalloyed benefits flowing from our racial and ethnic diversity. I call thissyndrome "sushiology."
For a more nuanced view of the profound demographic changes sweeping the United States, talk to a priest in a typical Catholic parish in southern California. The priest might, like the rest of us, wax poetic about his favorite local ethnic restaurants. But he will also note the daunting problems of, say, putting on Sunday mass for parishioners who speak English, Spanish,Vietnamese, and Tagalog. Should there be a separate mass in each language? Or should masses be multilingual, with different parts in various languages? Whichever he chooses, someone will feel neglected. And in any case, he must find priests with the needed language skills.
Language is only the most obvious problem introduced by diversity. In a small town in Iowa large numbers of new Latinoimmigrants create resentment among long-time Anglo parishioners when they bring little children to church and let them roam about during services. Such resentments are typically attributed to Anglo "insensitivity" or "racism." But as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, intense animosities have flared between newly arrived Mexicans and more established Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in apredominantly Latino parish in the Bronx. No wonder the Hispanic Jesuit Alan Figueroa-Deck, writing in the liberal Catholic magazine America, criticizes the hierarchy's "ideology of multiculturalism" and points to the remarkable success of Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants in building ethnically homogeneous congregations among Latinos. Clearly, diversity's beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Doesdiversity work? And how well? Surprisingly, neither question gets much attention. The benefits and costs of diversity have yet to be adequately evaluated in light of specific problems or objectives. In this brief space I will move beyond the anecdotal evidence?beyond sushiology?and review some findings of social scientists who have systematically examined the consequences of racial and ethnicdiversity. Not surprisingly, these findings conflict. But at the very least, they show the sushiologists' view to be wildly optimistic. A more sober perspective is needed, one that remembers what political and social thinkers have long understood: that diversity is typically associated with dissent and conflict. Why is this downside of diversity so consistently overlooked?
Balancing Benefits and CostsLet's look again at ethnic restaurants. What does it mean to patronize such establishments? Analytically, it means engaging in a market exchange relationship where the negative externalities sometimes associated with immigration are minimized, ignored, or reversed. For example, a language barrier, inconvenient in other contexts, is part of the ambience diners enjoy in a restaurant. And if theydon't like the food, they can take their business elsewhere. They can also focus on those dishes that please their palates, such as chicken mole, and avoid those that do not, such as menudo, the pungent soup that Mexicans make from bovine entrails.
So visits to ethnic restaurants feature a high degree of consumer sovereignty. Indeed, the public accommodation provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Actoffer customers complete freedom of choice among eateries, while giving proprietors practically no choice about whom they may serve. Surely this is one reason why Americans enjoy ethnic restaurants so much and why diversity enthusiasts cite them so frequently. But the imbalance built into such relationships makes them atypical, a poor basis for generalizations about the costs and benefits of...