Your Turn II: We Have Never Been Multicultural

Posted by sepoy on August 05, 2005 · 4 mins read

Rob is a fine young scholar raising hell across the pond. His post came right before I saw Hanif Kureishi's piece in the Guardian, The Carnival of Culture. With a 600 percent increase in hate crimes, Blair announcing further support for faith schools and deportation for hate-mongers, it appears that the conversation about multiculturalism is about to go beyond chai, curry and bhangra.

Multiculturalism is a word I have never been entirely comfortable with, but then with what words are we? "Sofa"? Multiculturalism is really entirely unlike a sofa, although you can sit on it for a few sentences if you're attempting to humourously evade a post on it. To begin with things were much easier for me. I guess it was my internal compass putting multiculturalism firmly on the Left. The Bad People don't like the Brown People. Angry right-wingers daily berating those dastardly, bleeding-heart liberals for sacrificing Our Way of Life -- only that Way of Life seemed to involve being over 50, living in the Home Counties and beating up gypsies.
Funnily enough, it was this same automatic association (multiculturalism-the British left) that began putting me off it. Precisely? When New Labour ministers started associating the invention of new curries with a decent society. I mean, it should've been so natural: curry and decency forever intertwined. But here was my preferred form of sustenance being paraded by a party devoid of anything genuinely fulfilling, nutritious, intellectual or otherwise. "Isn't it all a bit cheap?" I wondered. What others might take as a sign of pride and success I took as a sign something might be wrong. There are still ethnic/religious/regional sections of the British population who are comparatively disadvantaged in severe ways. Certain culturally-specific practices are still a stage for heated debate. If, as Stuart Hall suggested somewhere, one of the most positive outcomes of a positive form of multiculturalism is to constantly force us to rethink and rework our assumptions, why did it seem as easy as inventing a curry?

Recently, it's all come in for a lot of stick from the usual suspects. Slavoj Zizek has called multiculturalism "The Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism", while Alain Badiou has condemned any politics based on "communities". Zizek is right about at least one thing: writing pieces on multiculturalism is a ripe opportunity for punning on the titles of famous books and essays on modernity. "Multiculturalism: An Unfinished Project"? If it hasn't been published, it will be.

But enough flouncing about! A lot seems to be going on at the moment that makes a fair number of people think that "British Multiculturalism" is under threat. ID cards that will certainly not be demanded of white 50-somethings in the Home Counties; the Metropolitan Police instituting href="">racial profiling for stop-and-search; a massive increase in racist attacks in the past few weeks; and of course the early closure of West End musical Behind the Iron Mask, starring ex-Three Degrees star Sheila Ferguson as an exiled gypsy. (OK, no more jokes.)

So, CMers, while I disappear for a few days to move house, I ask you a few questions, hoping that I can benefit from this temporary audience on a subject of long-term importance. Is British-style multiculturalism worth defending? Is there even such a thing? If there is, do we want it? And is it really under threat? I'm still working my way through these, so any help would be great.

Also see Amardeep on Kureishi.


Emullah | August 07, 2005

Probably "Diversity" is a better idea than Multiculturlism.