sealPurdue News

December 1998

Book on race relations discusses middle approach

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- As the United States enters a new millennium, a Purdue University sociologist says we must move beyond simple rhetoric to really understand race relations.

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In his recently released book, "Diversity and Unity," (Nelson Hall Publishers, $29.95) Martin Patchen, professor of sociology, takes a look at different approaches to handling racial and ethnic diversity. While not advocating any one approach, Patchen does point out a middle ground.

He says the United States has tried assimilation, which is the idea behind the melting-pot theory. And many people in this country support multiculturalism, which emphasizes ethnic differences. He says both methods can present problems. "However, there is a middle-of-the-road approach that should probably be considered," Patchen says.

Cosmopolitanism -- while recognizing different ethnic groups -- puts the emphasis on individuals. It's a concept that has arisen in recent years, and Patchen discusses it as a possible compromise between those who would erase ethnic differences and those who want to celebrate them.

"A cosmopolitan society would recognize and respect ethnic differences, but not promote them," Patchen says. "Culture and ethnicity would not necessarily determine the 'master identity' for any person. Rather, each individual would be seen and treated in terms of a variety of social identities, only one of which is ethnic origin."

He says cosmopolitan thinkers believe that dividing everyone into a few categories, such as "white," "African-American," "Hispanic" and "Native-American," is too arbitrary and restrictive. He says the categories don't recognize various ethnic mixtures. He says cosmopolitans emphasize common ideals and interests that unite members of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. "For example, we all desire a robust economy, clean air, strong families and good education," he says.

While presenting cosmopolitanism as an option, Patchen says his purpose in writing "Diversity and Unity" was not to advocate a personal opinion. "I want to provoke people into thinking about this issue," he says. "We can't solve our problems with slogans -- we need to be more savvy."

Whether government policies such as bilingualism or affirmative action continue into the next century is not the point, Patchen says. He says people have strong feelings on these issues and should take the time to support their views with hard evidence. "Diversity and Unity" explores many sides of racial and ethnic relations and attempts to explain why passions run so high.

"We often discuss racial and ethnic diversity in simplistic terms. However, you can't just say to someone 'Don't be a racist," Patchen says. He says many factors lead to outcomes such as prejudice, segregation and discrimination. Among them: intergroup contacts, economic competition and population shifts. He says problems usually center around inequalities among ethnic groups.

"Many people believe that if members of different groups 'just get to know each other,' then things would be different," he says. "But contact is not enough."

Patchen says the most successful attempts at achieving intergroup understanding revolve around cooperation in multi-ethnic groups. He says the key is to give each member of the group equal status. He says these efforts can center around schools, the workplace, the church or the community.

As far as changing society, Patchen sees no magic bullet. "To improve race relations, legislation can only go so far," he says. Oftentimes, reflects Patchen, neighborhood and other grassroots efforts do just as much good.

Source: Martin Patchen, (765) 494-4693; e-mail,

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Review copies of the book are available from Nelson Hall Publishers, (312) 930-9446, e-mail,

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A Purdue sociology professor explores racial and ethnic relations in his book "Diversity and Unity." Martin Patchen says inequalities among ethnic groups often lead to prejudice, segregation and discrimination. (Purdue News Service photo illustration by Vince Walter)
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