Multiculturalism’s blind spot

Here’s how the ideas and arguments of multiculturalism go (this is an informal explanation): in the past, white people from strong countries went around “civilizing” the world. They went to Africa, exploited the populations there, and imposed their own culture on those “savages”, who were considered exotic, strange and primitive. That was bad, because it was brutal, unfair, a conquest of another people, exploitation, misunderstanding and despising dismissal. Today we know better: there is no “primitive” culture, our culture isn’t necessarily the best, and other people should be free to manifest their own cultural things because they deserve to do their cultural things, just like we do our cultural things.

It sounds fair, just, and like a good idea, but reality is a bit different.

I learned about multiculturalism in my MA program, which was called “British Cultural Studies”. A bit of context: I’m Romanian. I thought I’d be learning about Britain. ‘Cause Britain rocks. Britain has the Beatles and Dr Who, it used to have an empire, and it definitely had a lot of philosophers and writers who are worthwhile. Oh, and former colonies! Former colonies are cool! Hello, India! Hello, Australia!

Alas, that’s not what the MA program was about. The moment we walked in through the door we were told that “British Cultural Studies” didn’t make sense. Cultural studies are about minorities and “British” just does not go along with “minority”. British people are white. The British empire was a British-centered little prick who went around being superior and evil. Let’s learn about how exploited the minorities are, instead![1]

And here’s the thing: just like our MA program, multiculturalism isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Quite the opposite.

You see, I’m all for letting people be whatever they are – and if they’re different, that’s exciting. Gay? Asian? Asexual? Hungarian? Hell, that’s awesome! Tell me more. What are your stories? What are your myths? What are your clothes, your beliefs, your way of seeing the world? What are the things you struggle with and what holds value for you? (if I know you and you want to tell me; if I don’t know you, I won’t ask. If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine.)

But multiculturalism isn’t that. Multiculturalism is an attempt to emulate politeness and somehow impose it. It tries to regulate who’s wrong and who’s right, erring on the side of the stranger, especially if the stranger is exotic (Romanianness is not exotic enough to warrant political correctness and ethnic help; and besides, we often prefer to be assimilated). And there’s a reason for this: multiculturalism thinks it’s strong. It opens its arms wide and says: “Bring me Africa! Bring me Japan! Bring me the Muslim religion, bring me everything. There’s a place for everyone here!”

What multiculturalism doesn’t know it yet is that it has a blind spot, which is this: it is, in itself, a cultural value. Not the umbrella for all cultures, not the thing which keeps all cultures in place, not the enabler of cultures getting along and playing nice. Multiculturalism is not a true conclusion that all people of wisdom reach. It’s a culture, a set of shared ideas and values which order the world and explain it. It is not a logical conclusion to the past, but a reaction to it; there is nothing I can think of in the world that says multiculturalism as it is must exist, or that it is a resultof some ever-true formula. It it simply a consensus, a shared value, a cultural thing. It exists and that is enough.

But it’s different from other cultural values in that it needs power behind it. The moment it loses power, another culture will get in charge and you will not have a multicultural society anymore, nor a multicultural subculture, whatever it would look like. You’ll have an opinion that the dominant culture should be different. And, even better than that, your multiculturalism and your overall culture will need to submit to the newcomer, who won’t be as tolerant.

Multiculturalism cannot work without power, because it needs to be imposed. You want political correctness? You need to be able to enforce it. You want to help minorities? You need to have the resources to do so. And it weakens itself, because it fancies itself strong – perhaps even invincible. Multiculturalism’s blind spot is that it doesn’t know that it can fail, and that one of the reasons it can fail won’t be the people who share the same history and overall culture. It can fall to the outside, to the people it’s opening its arms wide to welcome. They might be grateful guests, or they might be the sort of guests who break your windows and shit on your stove because they despise you, but they liked the good housing anyway. Go fix it, then allow them to break it again. And so on, until you can’t fix it and they’re in charge.


Footnote 1: Granted, we also had a number of crap courses, like “Leadership”, which was taught by some woman from economic studies; what that had to do with us, I’ll never know. And there was the class on “Britishness and music”, which did not contain the Beatles, Smokie and The Sex Pistols making a mess out of Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee, but Verdi and other people who had Shakespeare in their opera. There was a person who believed in Britishness the way I saw it, though. She explained Christian mysticism in the early centuries, Britain, to us. God bless her, she and the professor teaching the history of emotions made the damned program worth my time

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