Multiculturalism Notebook

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.

I see Anne Phillips has written a whole book called Multiculturalism without Culture.  The recognition that cultures are fluid is an essential piece of the puzzle.

7 Replies to “Multiculturalism Notebook”

  1. “Inequitable, oppressive and coercive”? I think those charges apply equally well to multiculturalism, and I don’t think that multiculturalism will succeed unless or until those charges are addressed. The unwillingness of the multi-culture proponents to accept this is, IMO, the greatest biggest stumbling-block to their endeavour that I can see.
    Perhaps it is the arrogance of the mono-cultural English to presume that mono-cultural Englishness does not require or warrant the same protection or celebration within multiculturalism as any other culture. But whatever its source, in a context of equality, that presumption does not appear to be entirely justifiable.
    If all the different strands of Britishness are equally valued, then there is one which seems to be getting short shrift in multiculturalism, every bit as much short shrift as mono-culture has historically given to all the others. Replacing one form of cultural oppression with another by swapping recipients simply maintains an inequitable and trouble-making state of affairs.
    There is also the question of consent. Don’t forget that the mono-cultural English did not consent to the immigration policies that have given rise to an increasingly multi-cultural population. Embracing multi-culture must be a choice, and the choice not to must be equally respected. The main challenge for multi-culturalism must therefore be to find ways to promote it as a choice, and to remove the very real obstacles to that choice that its agenda in itself helps to create.
    Otherwise you end up in the ridiculous, problematic, and unfair situation where people who’ve never emigrated anywhere, people with less complex or exotic personal Venn diagrams, feel that their ‘own’ cultural heritage is being eroded, forbidden, or devalued, in preference to ‘newer’ additions.

  2. If all the different strands of Britishness are equally valued, then there is one which seems to be getting short shrift in multiculturalism, every bit as much short shrift as mono-culture has historically given to all the others

    Are you saying that the ‘Englishness’ of the majority is already under-promoted? Or that the mathematics (shall we say?) involved in giving equal space to all identifiable cultures necessarily means that those of the majority will necessarily be given less weight than their proportion demands? Can you give an example of what you mean?
    Though I probably disagree either way. When it comes to the prominence that the government, local government and their agencies (like, say, the Arts Council or the BBC) give to culture, and the way cultural differences are treated in law… the weight is hugely in favour of what we might call the dominant culture.

  3. Do you actually know anything about the CEP? I don’t understand how on earth you can you mention the EDL and the CEP in the same breath?
    The CEP campaigns for an English parliament for all the people of England irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, etc., they have absolutely nothing to do with the EDL.
    The CEP don’t argue for monoculturalism, they argue for a civic English nationalism in which everyone is English through the ballot box.
    Check your facts right before you start conflating two completely unrelated organisations.

  4. Thank you Robert. I am a member of the CEP and I am most certainly not a member, nor even a supporter, of the EDL. If you want to understand more about what the CEP is about then there are two articles written by myself that might help demonstrate the differences (here & here).
    I don’t believe that the CEP needs to undergo any ‘intellectual contortions’ to make it’s case. We’re not trying to prevent multiple or dual identities. What we do say is that it is as valid to hyphenate English and Asian as it is to hyphenate British and Asian. I am married to an immigrant and we’re expecting our first baby, and I fully expect that our child will feel fully English but only half-English (indeed I, and certainly my wife, will encourage her to take an interest in her Canadian roots). It’s my view that the failure to provide the English (and “Englishness”) with any form of democratic expression (ie an English parliament) is a boon to organisations like EDL and BNP, who seek to create an ethnic grievance out of a constitutional issue.
    Or as Tom Nairn put it in After Britain:
    “Blair’s Project makes it likely that England will return on the street corner, rather than via a maternity room with appropriate care and facilities. Croaking tabloids, saloon-bar resentment and back-bench populism are likely to attend the birth and to have their say. Democracy is constitutional or nothing. Without a systematic form, its ugly cousins will be tempted to move in and demand their rights – their nation, the one always sat upon and then at last betrayed by an elite of faint hearts, half-breeds and alien interests.”

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