|Perhaps we could go back to talking about multiculturalism, since that's the title of the thread. I've been sitting on some ideas of my own, but thought I'd not post, since the discussions was heading away from talking about 'multiculturalism' itself. Maybe I'll do so, since that avenue is looking more and more unproductive. And I'd also like to ask that people go back and read Future Perfect's comments, because I think they're important. |
I can think of lots of problems with 'multicuturalism' too. But I understand it in a very different way to, say, the Daily Mail article above. (Note: not the person quoted, because I'm not even sure that's any kind of attack on 'multiculturalism' at all.) Multiculturalism as I would define it is an ideology of Keynesian welfare-state liberalism. I think this is because, as Jackie says, multiculturalism in Australia was a government policy (and I'm in Australia); but I think it's had an effect on Anglophone government policy in othr places as well, mostly the UK and US (and probably Canada?)
To begin with, I'd say multiculturalism assumes that difference is important primarily on the level of 'culture' -- and that social unrest is about cultural rather than economic difference. It also assumes, from the beginning, the existence of a social majority culture, or set of values. (Read: middle-class Anglo values). Thus, I'd argue, the discourse of multiculturalism is about tolerating the existence of non-white people, as long as they agree to be governed by those majority values (which are said to be universal) and express their difference from the 'majority' only in terms of culture: dress, language, food, religion, etc. Difference can then be packaged and commodified; all Iranian people are 'traditional' Muslims and wear 'traditional' dress; all Black people listen to hiphop; all Indigenous Australian people prefer to live in humpies and make dot paintings, etc.
So, the ideal multiculturalism permits a diversity of different cultures to co-exist in the same space. However, the displacement of difference to the field of culture means that the unequal distribution of resources can remain fundamentally unchanged, and is actually concealed. Owing to the strange oddities of global history, ie colonialism, rich white folks tend to have more capital in the first place, so they can earn and reproduce more money; non-white folks generally have less capital in the first place, so they are able to earn, and reproduce, far less capital. When the welfare state was far stronger than it is now, multiculturalist discourse had a moment of desiring to redistribute wealth, I think -- or at least, lots of funding inititatives were thought up as a way of 'evening the score'. My feeling about those various initiatives is that they merely institute competition for resources as the condition of being 'multicultural'. Cultural difference and disadvantage based on ethnicity become markers that one must prove in order to access this particular scholarship, or that particular arts grant, or that particular right. As alas says, fish in a barrel. Then it's a question of who's more 'different' or whose difference is better/more in fashion this year; who is more disadvantaged, etc.
At any rate, neoliberal economnics has mostly done away with the public aspect of that method of 'redistribution', or privatised it. Multiculturalism nowadays is often no more than a tokenistic 'celebration' of (non-threatening) cultural difference, and/or policing of cultural differences that are threatening.
I think this is expressed quite beautifully by Anis Shivani:
Multiculturalism has always only wanted disenfranchised groups to share a piece of the pie; its aim has never been to change the taste and shape and size of the pie. The peak of the multiculturalist moment was Clinton as president, calling for a national initiative on race which led not to outlawing of racial profiling but a set of feel-good recommendations by his advisory board to get to know the other. That was the sign of things to come. Economically, liberals don't even make the pretense of taking care of you anymore, but you can still have your social identity and be proud of it.
Saturn's nod said:
Mutliculturalism as I understand it means dismantling the invisible/unmarked "white" culture, by getting each person to engage from an awareness of what their culture consists of, whether that's particular ways of knowing, particular ways of using language, or their family's traditional rituals like roast dinners or christmas trees. No two families in the whole world have quite the same rules about what makes something clean, or dirty, or how to celebrate a special occasion. Once we're honest about that we can stop trying to pretend that there is a monoculture.
That's weird, because I haven't heard 'multiculturalism' defined in that way, and I have more sympathy for a politics that wants to undo any conception of any kind of 'monoculture' than what I think of when i think of multiculturalism. But then, that's cuz I live in Australia and it's been government policy here. At the same time, I think what you're saying still displaces the role of economic distribution of wealth and its relation to ethnicity and neocolonialism, and treats value as if it's only about culture.