Multiculturalism an Excuse

There are basically two ideas about the levels at which immigrants are integrated into this country. One is the idea that all cultures should be subverted to the dominant American schema, or “the melting pot”. The other is the concept that each culture retains elements of uniqueness, which together comprise the larger culture (“the salad bowl”). For the past two decades, the multicultural view has been dominant in public policy. As a student of many cultures, I have agreed with the basic premise, because it supports my foundational concepts of civil liberties: the right to worship, believe and practice as one wishes.

But today’s open characterizations of people based on race, culture and sex have made me wonder whether the multicultural approach, emphasizing as it does the differences among people, is such a good idea. I touched on this issue in my previous post on feminism, but it is larger than that.

Anti-Jewish graffiti
in Massachusetts

It is interesting, for example, to examine the anti-semitism that is increasing throughout the world: recent hate crimes against Jews seem to rise in proportion to public support for the Palestinian cause against Israel. At the same time, an Institute for Jewish and Community Research survey on college professors noted sympathetic views about Jews, Buddhists and others at the expense of evangelical Christians and Mormons. The Washington Post reported that the survey was originally conducted to determine levels of anti-semitism, but instead found bias against evangelicals, a point which the National Review and other right-wing publications were quick to publicize.

In these discussions, religion and culture are not considered to be elements that an individual carries, but a group identity that is immutable. All evangelical Christians, all Jews, all Mormons, do not necessarily hold with their group’s assumed views. There is much individual variety in belief and practice. And yet we feel comfortable tagging individuals, more and more, as members of an identifiable cultural group, and judging them accordingly.

In gender relations, saying “it’s a guy thing” is common, and it implies a judgement of all men based on cultural conceptions about men. Multiculturalism gives us permission to say things about people which perpetuate stereotypes (positive and negative), and to continue dividing the human race along political, ethnic and cultural lines. In the guise of accepting everyone’s cultural differences, we have instead frozen them in some kind of conceptual cement. Is anti-semitism really on the rise, or is it just OK now to say you don’t like someone because s/he’s Jewish?

It is much easier to ignore larger social problems when you can blame them on cultural differences, and much easier to divide society when you start with a mindset that divides them already. The acceptance of the open expression of people’s biases against others is not a victory for multiculturalism, but a disgraceful excuse for further prejudice and the prevention of equality.]]>