The Times today carries an interview with the new Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, complimented by a leading article. He criticises the concept of ‘multiculturalism’, suggesting that it means a trumpeting of other cultures at the expense of Englishness.
The problem I have with his views, and the way they are reported in The Times, is one of language. The words used to describe the concept of culture are past tense. For example:
… the essential part that Christianity has played in the formation of modern British culture.
England is the culture I have lived in, I have loved…. My teachers were English. As a boy growing up, that is the culture I knew
I don’t think this is a minor quibble. The implication is that English culture (indeed, any culture) is fixed and homogenous for a given set of people, and that by being in and around those people, you become 100% part of it too. In reality, cultures are fluid, changing things. Worrying that a particular culture is being marginalised is a pointless exercise. They are all evolving, and the better parts of what he considers ‘Englishness’, such as parliamentary democracy are hardly on the wane.
What is odd is that Dr Sentamu seems to be the very proof of this positive cultural evolution. He was brought up in Uganda, and has done well bringing his African roots and Ugandan Missionary Christianity to the UK, and to London in particular, where he advised the MacPherson enquiry. It is precisely his dynamic, ‘fire-stoking’ approach, borne out of his alternative background, which has allowed him to contribute so successfully to public life. Dr Sentamu’s very existence corrupts ‘Englishness’, and the English are the better for it.
I am in agreement with him on ‘tolerance’:
It seems to me the word tolerance is bad, because it just means “putting up with it” … I was raised in the spirit of magnanimity. That is a better word than tolerance. If you are magnanimous in your judgements on other people, there is a chance that I will recognise that you will help me in my struggle.
Moving on from simple ‘tolerance’ is at the heart of the multicultural debate. It is not enough that we simply live grumpily side-by-side. If this is what multiculturalism has become (both Trevor Phillips of the CRE and The Times seem to believe this is the case) then Dr Sentamu is right to be critical. But a multiculturalism that runs deeper, and sees the constituent cultures merge into something greater than the sum of their parts, is worth supporting. Christian morality may be a part of what we become, but everyone needs to accept that other parts of their culture will be left behind. Talking of Englishness as something fixed and tangible will not help this come about.