Andrew M(oran) Greeley Naomi Bliven - Essay

Naomi Bliven

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Why Can't They Be Like Us? America's White Ethnic Groups"] is a short, intelligent work that its author, Andrew M. Greeley …, announces is both a preface to and a plea for further studies he thinks should be done about the individual natures and peculiar qualities of those American groups that still identify themselves with a European ethnicity. Some of the chapters report on surveys, some argue, some are anecdotal or impressionistic, but the theme is all one—a plea for the rights of ethnicity. The book is informative, pleasant to read, sometimes diverting, and sometimes surprising. It is also frequently perplexing, since findings about ethnic groups can be mysterious, at least to outsiders: Why do Polish-Americans and Irish-Americans get along badly? Greeley's enthusiastic espousal of ethinc nationalisms in the United States is even more puzzling, inasmuch as he admits that the European contributions to these hyphenated American cultures are not especially glorious but merely the cultures of European peasant villages that—both cultures and villages—failed to sustain themselves in nineteenth-century Europe. One of Greeley's points—the most important, perhaps—is indisputable: prejudice against members of white ethnic groups is as unjustifiable as any other prejudice. But on this matter, too, Greeley is puzzling. He keeps saying that ethnic groups dislike each other …, but just as often he suggests that prejudices against ethnic Americans are held only, or mainly, by left-wing intellectuals....

(The entire section is 621 words.)