The World Cup and European Cup can both be relied upon to kick-start debates about national identity. All the flags of St George we see about still conjure memories of sinister appropriation by far-right groups, and national identity is the natural topic of conversation if we are already debating xenophobia. Over at Pickled Politics, Sunny has been musing on the English Defence League and their ridiculous manoeuvre to stop the sales of ‘Anyone But England’ T-shirts, on the grounds they incite hatred.
I left a comment there about how the problem seems to stem from the lack of an adequately defined ‘English’ identity, brought about because other identities like Scottish, Welsh and Irish, or Black-Asian-Minority-Ethnic, tend in part to be defined by their not-Englishness or their not-Whiteness. And I enjoyed the metaphor I settled on at the end:
Personally, I think this calls for more multiculturalism, not less. by this, I mean the mindset that cultures can meet and exist within individual identities (rather than in communities). Those from ethnic minorities are, it seems to me, most adept at reconciling the competing claims on their identity. To take the case of Sri Hundal, our host here: he can be Indian, Silkh, English, British or European as the circumstances dictate. We all live within a giant Venn Diagramme of overlapping affiliations. I think the intellectual contortions of the EDL/CEP are simply attempts to avoid recognising this – a game of political Twister, if you will, which becomes more and more ridiculous at every turn.
I often worry that the sort of multiculturalism I support should more accurately be described as the ‘melting pot’. However, that would look unattractive as a Venn Diagramme: one big circle. The perpetual and unresolved diversity has value if we are each to make a genuine choice about our way of life, and diversity of thought and opinion is essential for democracy and progress too… So I am sticking with ‘multiculturalism’ for now.
Meawhile, I’ve also been listening to old Philosophy Bites podcasts, 15 minute introductions to some of the major issues in contemporary philosophy. Specifically, Anne Phillips on Multiculturalism. I enjoyed Phillips analysis of why multiculturalism is the least worst option for dealing with a society changed by global migration:
If you set up multiculturalism as opposed to mono-culturalism, then I think you have to say that multiculturalism is the way forward, because mono-culturalism is inequitable, its oppressive, its coercive. But what I would argue for is what I, rather polemically, would call a Multiculturalism without Culture. One that is no longer premised on these very solidified notions of culture, which I think encourage and promote cultural stereotypes, which in themselves prevent us from developing the kind of multicultural diversity I would support.