Coat of Many Colors


I’ve been convinced for some time that the United States should not be thought of as a melting pot but as a coat of many colors.

The Melting Pot was a 1908 play that popularized the idea of a fusion of different nationalities, ethnicities and cultures into an ideal republic.

Modern sociologists have largely discarded the term. "Cultural pluralism" or "multiculturalism" are more to the point in describing the kind of assimilation we experience today, where immigrants are keen to retain their national cultures and ethnicities even as they take up residence in the U. S.

The metaphor of “coat of many colors” comes from the Genesis story of Joseph. In the King James version:

Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors.

Most coats worn in those days were functional—plain, knee-length and short-sleeved to allow freedom of movement for work. But the coat Jacob gave his son was beautiful—colorful, ankle-length and more in keeping with coats worn by those who did not work with their hands—nobility and royalty.

The coat of many colors symbolized favoritism. But that very favoritism by their father alienated Joseph from his brothers, who tried to do him in by selling him into slavery. The story has a happy ending, with Joseph eventually becoming governor of Egypt and reuniting with his father and brothers.

The story was popularized in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the first musical staged by the celebrated team of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It ran on Broadway in 1982-83 and also has seen more than 20,000 school and amateur theater productions.

Country singer Dolly Parton, too, settled on the theme when she recorded her Coat Of Many Colors in 1971:

My coat of many colors that my momma made for me

Made only from rags but I wore it so proudly

It is these words … “made only from rags” … that so closely describe the make-up of our nation.

So many of our immigrants—from Mayflower Puritans to Syrian refugees—are ragged fragments torn from the whole cloth of the countries they fled for the freedom of America.

And, like Joseph, the biblical shepherd who became a ruler, they are dreamers who settle on these shores to pursue dreams.

Former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the commencement speaker at my Fordham graduation, isn’t quoted very often. But, in my book, he did well with this thought:

The time has long passed when people liked to regard the United States as some kind of melting pot, taking men and women from every part of the world and converting them into standardized, homogenized Americans. We are, I think, much more mature and wise today. Just as we welcome a world of diversity, so we glory in an America of diversity—an America all the richer for the many different and distinctive strands of which it is woven.

The coat of many colors represents various things. Perhaps it mostly stands for the divine favor of God.

In my next blog, “Running Late”


Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

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