Monday, February 3, 2014

The Myth of Multiculturalism?

Forget whether or not “diversity” is a positive or a negative; in today’s highly balkanized U.S. society, is such a concept even remotely plausible anymore?



“Multicultural education demands a school staff that is culturally competent, and to the greatest extent possible racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse. Staff must be multiculturally literate and capable of including and embracing families and communities to create an environment that is supportive of multiple perspectives, experiences, and democracy. Multicultural education requires comprehensive school reform as multicultural education must pervade all aspects of the school community and organization.” 


“To every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction.”


In 2007, Robert Putnam, he of “Bowling Alone” fame, released a report titled “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century.” Within said study, he made the following cheery proclamation: “Increased immigration and diversity are not only inevitable, but over the long run they are also desirable. Ethnic diversity is, on balance, an important social asset, as the history of my own country demonstrates.”

However, in the very next paragraph, Putnam completely obliterates his own thesis: “In the short to medium run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital.”

The findings from “E Pluribus Unum” are distressing, although in realist terms, not surprising in the slightest. Per Putnam, ethnically diverse communities in the U.S. tend to have less altruism, lower levels of community interaction and greater mistrust -- even among neighbors who do happen to be of the same race, ethnicity or national origin. Although the author says new forms of “cross-cutting,“ all-inclusive social identity can ultimately surmount this temporary[?] community distrust, Putnam -- as do many of the most ardent proponents of “multiculturalism” -- remains suspiciously non-descriptive when it comes to what these one-size-fits-all social identities resemble, let alone the sort of cultural mechanism necessary to ascribe these new “definitions of self.”

The vague doctrine of “multiculturalism,” which is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “diversity,” has become one of those unquestioned de facto crusades of contemporary American existence -- this intangible quest for colorblind equality and justice that, for reasons that I have yet to hear adequately explained, serve as a social necessity.

On paper, of course “multiculturalism” sounds great: everybody accepts everybody for who they are, regardless of their ethnicities, races and cultural histories. A terrific policy, through and through, except for one thing: as a social construct, “multiculturalism” is an impossible ideal to implement, yet alone institutionalize.

The fundamental problem here -- and this is something that, for whatever reason, I never hear anybody discuss -- is this bizarre hypocritical message within the “diversity” ideology. You see, the proponents of multiculturalism say that we best ought to downplay our racial and ethnic differences as part of holistic society, but at the same time, the philosophy demands individuals to respect the distinct cultural differences of others. In essence, we are being told that racial, ethnic and national identities don’t really matter, but at the same time, they should be celebrated as individual qualities. Multiculturalism, in a way, is something of a variation on the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy: you can be as culturally distinct as you want at home, but out and about in society, you have to curtail your own ethno-racial identity.

Universities and colleges are easily among the worst offenders here. Not only do professors yammer on and on about the moral righteousness of multiculturalism, many schools actually implement policies based upon the absurdly abstract ideals of diversity -- and depending on who you ask, there are many that allege those multicultural protocols of, ironically, being racist themselves.

Of course, that’s not even addressing the obvious cognitive dissonance going on here: although the institutions praise the gospels of “diversity” -- that is, the amorphousness of the student body -- those same institutions are also home to an endless variety of student organizations that are wholly anchored around the cultural and ethnic differences among the student body. In class, kids are told race and nationality don’t matter, and as soon as the bell sounds, all of the Korean students flock to the Korean Student Association table and the African-American students rendezvous with their chums in the Distinguished Black Gentlemen Club. That multicultural education (or “indoctrination,” if you’re to the right of the political aisle) appears to have failed in its ambitions of creating a student melting pot -- go to any college campus in the U.S., and you’re more likely to encounter a social scene that resembles an egg carton: Hispanic students in one pocket, Caribbean students in the next, and the Jewish students in another.

Really, the problem with “multiculturalism” as a practice is that it offers us something that pretty much all of us consider worse than what we have at the current. For “multiculturalism” to become a 100 percent successful ideological practice, that means complete and utter uniformity AND the elimination of history. Indeed, the only way to get people of all races, nationalities and ethnicities to meld into a singularity is to eradicate thousands of years of rich distinct cultural legacies in favor of some newfangled “shared identity” -- as consumers, or pop-culture aficionados, or tech-heads, or freedom fighters for the hard-to-describe-and-even-harder-to-implement concept of “equality.” Yes, these may indeed be important qualifiers to some, but I hardly think anyone would gladly abandon their sense of self derived from one’s religion or family heritage in favor of a blander identity centered around their mass media proclivities or disposable income expenditures.

The ironically antagonistic multicultural message, as such, has backfired in many ways; instead of fostering a pan-racial social system, it’s actually cemented core ethnic and racial distinctions even further in the United States. As Newton explained above, the scientifically inevitable has transpired: you force kids to worship at the altar of “inclusiveness,” and you wind up with a sizable subset of young folks with an incredible disdain for the entire “multicultural” ideal.

The problem with “diversity,” it appears, is that it’s an uneven attempt to institutionalize a characteristic -- that is, tolerance of intercultural differences (which, I might add, is not the same thing as “understanding,” and most certainly not the same thing as “acceptance.”) The general vagueness of the doctrine is reason alone for most individuals to dismiss it as flighty idealism, but it’s death knell is ultimately the fact that people -- of virtually all walks of life -- DON’T want to form a new “social identity,” and they most certainly don’t want to form said identity at the cost of their own distinct personal heritages.

Is it really that weird or offensive if people of similar backgrounds prefer to hang out with each other? A shared language, or a common history, or even a certain geographical familiarity is sometimes all that’s needed to form a bond with another individual, and is it really that much of a problem if people tend to associate with those that share said commonalities as opposed to those who don’t? If we’re going by the social scientific, “race as construct” ideology, it’s actually a unified, shared cultural narrative that makes up one’s ethnicity, anyway: as such, people really don’t flock with people of the same skin hue as they do people with the same social prologues that they have.

The rub with all of this “multiculturalism” hubbub is that it insinuates that race and ethnicity don’t matter, when, as apparent by the general public’s rejection of “diversity” as a social imperative, race and ethnicity does matter. Nor does multiculturalism shine a light on perhaps the true driver of social relationships in the United States, which is socioeconomic class -- a construct that is far more revealing (and institutionally enforced) in determining one’s social interactions than skin color or native tongue anyway.

At the end of the day, the unstated grievance most people seem to have with the multicultural ideal is that they view it as an imposition on who they are. Instead of reinforcing their sense of selves, the “diversity” measures (which are generally championed by those who live and work in among the most homogenous environments) appear to be goading them into a mushy, uniform identity that pays no homage to things like “history” or “tradition” or “customs.” In short, “multiculturalism” is, in their eyes, an attempt to decimate their actual identities in favor of a blander, less distinct self-conceptualization.

And in a nation of so many dedicated “individualists,” why in the world would anybody want to celebrate an ideology of depersonalization, anyway?

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