Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Multiculturalism - a definition I like

Was planning to do a post on mis uses of the term 'multiculturalism' (by both sides), but Robert Sharp has done a pretty good one already:
Communities living side-by-side, not integrating, becoming ghettos, that in turn become no-go areas for the police and ordinary citizens. Cultures and ethnicities living side-by-side without integration or communication is not what I would call multiculturalism… just antagonism. Multiculturalism has to imply a certain degree of integration, assimilation, and above all, a process of change for it to be something to value.
To me, multiculturalism is the ability to have a friend who's muslim, another who's jewish and to chase after a girl whose grandmother came from Africa. We learn from those who move here, just as they learn from us, we take on board the bits we like, condemn the bits we dislike (forced marriages anyone?) and the new communities do the same with us. Eventually, they merge together, so differences in religion mean as little to us as the differences in denomination now do mostly everywhere (except Northen Ireland of course).

This vegetarian isn't likely to be buying a kebad any time soon, but my local Thai place does a damn fine tofu based thing I can't pronounce. I like that. Still can't figure out how to cook the stuff though...

6 comments:

ken said...

I agree with your ideals on this, but are they not better known as a melting pot rather than multiculturalism?

Which seems to mean that all cultures are equal, and there should be no value judgments made, if you, for instance, question forced or arranged marriages, you are already making a value judgment based on your own cultural norms.

Of course within any society there must be some value judgments and ghettoism is a natural short term phenomenon, when you have an influx of peoples from a different culture than the host. Over time the new peoples will take on some of the characteristics of the host, and enrich the host as the ghettos hollow out and the people naturally disperse into the host community.

The problem arises when you have state sponsored multiculturalism, here the difference between the cultures is preserved in perpetuity, and ghettos continue in existence for much longer than their natural life would allow. So instead of being one people we end up as splintered groups of disparate cultures that do not mix.

MatGB said...

Well, really, a melting pot is the essence of multiculturalism. That's what the term always meant to me, and to Robert it seems; Immigrant communities can and should integrate with their host culture, but the process of change occurs on both sides. It is the acceptance of this fact, and managing the change in a positive way, which we call ‘multiculturalism’.

I utterly reject the ghettos, segregated faith schools, etc as the complete opposite of multiculturalism. I've always objected to faith schools of all types, even when I was a little kid (my parents moved me to a secular school when I was 7).

It's the mixing that matters, segregation isn't multiculturalism, it's just stupid.

chris said...

this isn't multiculuralism as it is currently practiced, it is simply what will always happen without any outside involvement.

ken said...

Oh! I really do agree with you absolutely no question, It is just that when I have postulated exactly those thoughts, I have been attacked as being a racist by Multiculturalists. Who have put forward a different interpretation, one that neither you nor I would agree with, because as you rightly say this leads to a form of cultural isolation. A point that is completely denied by those who do support separation, they simply cannot see that what they are proposing is tantamount to the worst kind of segregation, and can only lead to problems at some time in the future.

Robert said...

Thanks for the link, Matt. The 'melting pot' concept that Ken mentions, and the notion that cultures will mix anyway (chris) are important ideas for me. Whether they will eventually replace the word 'multiculturalism' as a favoured term remains to be seen.

My starting point for these kinds of political debates is to accept that cultures can and will change over time... and that this is a good thing. Too many political discussions, especially with regards to immigration and the EU, seems to revolve around the idea of stifling that change, which I see as being rather like King Canute!

MatGB said...

King Canute; I like that one, may use it. Chris has also added some comments on strange stuff; we are a mongrel nation, we should exult in that, rather than ghettoise and point fingers.