Not a melting pot, nor a mosaic, America is a Pizza.
The exotic toppings give it the flavor, the zing and pizazz. Some stick with one (pepperoni forever, though it’s forbidden to many), or we mix and match according to our preference. Salty and sweet, spicy and sour, strictly vegetarian for some, everything but the kitchen sink for others. My family are the feta and olives (we are still unclear if they belong on a pizza or not) my wife’s family the ham and pineapple (natural enough to seem like one singular topping to some, unacceptable to others). The toppings may touch and overlap, but each remains distinct for the others. We do not mistake ham for olive, or onion for pineapple.
The toppings give the flavor, but they are not the pizza. One can have a slice of ‘za with nary a topping. A handful of toppings by themselves is the beginning of something else (a stir-fry? a salad?) but the defining characteristic is the cheese. What kind of cheese, you might ask, but does it really matter? Mozzarella, provolone, or a five cheese blend, they all meld together and become the base layer, each offering their own variation but made indistinct from one another when baked. Its whiteness goes without saying, and all subtle variations in color, aroma, and flavor are subsumed into the greater identity of one common cheesiness, without which you are stuck with a round breadstick and sauce.
Many are content with cheese alone. All those toppings get in the way, add unnecessary complication, obscure the warm comfort of the gooey good stuff. Don’t brown the edges!
(The temperature of our national oven is rising, the spots of crispy cheese are growing).
A pizza is meant to be shared, but deciding which toppings are acceptable by everyone at the table is complicated. Cheese alone is easy, palatable, landed on by the process of making the least offensive choice. A mediocracy. We can, and often do, ask the pie to be split, half cheese, half some wild cornucopia of toppings, but don’t let your strange flavors touch my side! Sometimes things are easier this way, each to their own taste unchallenged by the possibilities on the other side of that deeply cut dividing line between one half and the other.
(Everyone knows those who like the toppings will dally with a slice of cheese if they must).
(Everyone knows those who like cheese will take remove the toppings and make a discarded pile on the side of their plate if they must).
And beneath the layer of cheese, the hidden sauce, the unspoken lifeblood of the meal. The secret base that comes before all others, the scaffolding on which everything else is built. We do not notice when it is there, it is covered by the cheese which rests on top covering what lies beneath, but we would know immediately if it were gone. It is the flavor upon which everything else sits, though we rarely talk about it.
Is the metaphor of blood too strong an image? Is America not similarly built on the blood of the unseen? The indigenous who died and continue to die, the enslaved and indentured who erected the buildings and laid the tracks, the huddled masses who farm the fields, pick the crops, all covered by the America we know and can see, the true, white, America?
And beneath that, the land which supports us and stretches beyond the people, that which we take most for granted but which binds us together making us one, and without which we would be nothing at all.