The Deep Roots of American Diversity

Ben Railton, Fitchburg State University

From the time of the nation’s founding, America has been home to diverse peoples and cultures – including Moroccans, Filipinos, and Chinese along with Native Americans, Africans, and others. Bigotry, nativism, and xenophobia have long vied with mutual acceptance.


In his unique Key Findings brief, Railton dispels the myth that U.S. debates about diversity are a recent development. Cultural clashes – and sharp disputes about who belongs and who doesn’t – go all the way back to America’s Revolutionary Era, and such debates informed key provisions of the U.S. Constitution. History also casts new light on today’s disputes about “undocumented” immigrants, as Railton explains in a recent piece for Talking Points Memo called “No, Your Ancestors Didn’t Come Here Legally.” In a second article for Talking Points Memo, he compares instances of unrest throughout American history to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri to shed light on our current media’s use of the term “race riot.”

Ben Railton teaches English and coordinates American Studies at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. He studies the history of immigration and disputes about social diversity and has written about topics ranging from the Salem witchcraft trials to the Chinese Exclusion Act, always asking how past patterns and episodes can inform policymaking in the present. Railton is also part of a group of scholars working to establish the American Writers Museum, the first national institution in the United States dedicated to engaging the public in celebrating American writers and their influence on our history.


Using a full range of research methods, SSN scholars from many disciplines contribute to our understanding of immigration, ethnic diversity, and related political issues. Most recently, findings and perspectives from SSN experts were assembled in an August 2014 Forum on the Immigration Impasse.

November 2014