In an online article for Catalyst magazine (published by the CRE), Zohra Moosa has a short piece on how government policy of multiculturalism can negatively impact women. She takes the example of Canada, which after all invented the policy. The whole article is worth reading, if a bit academic in its language.
To summarise, she identifies two aspects to the Canadian approach:
1) The Canadian model presumes that the ethnic diversity dilemma posed by migrating people is about reconciling cultural differences. Its â€˜solutionâ€™ is to develop strategies that harmonise these differing â€˜culturesâ€™ and mitigate tensions between them. This conceptualisation implies that culture is a discrete entity with specific characteristics: that it is bounded, homogeneous, and static.
This also applies here, when people who challenge that ‘culture’ (mostly women) are sometimes not supported by the liberal or feminist movements because the latter are not sure if they are ‘being authentic’. A good example is Germaine Greer criticising Monica Ali when the Brick Lane film controversy arose. What a farce that was.
2) The second pitfall of Canadaâ€™s approach to multiculturalism is that culture in Canada is treated as something that â€˜otherâ€™ people have â€“ namely non-white, non-English-speaking, numerically in the minority people. In the national discourse, it is French Canadians and Aboriginal people (including First Nations, Inuit and Metis) and non-white immigrants that have culture. It is their customs and language and foods and clothing â€“ their â€˜waysâ€™ â€“ that illustrate â€˜cultureâ€™. White English Canadians are presented as the neutral backdrop against which â€˜otherâ€™ people are different. Multiculturalism, then, is something that is needed for the racially different Other.
What this leads to in practice is the ‘game’ that women are forced to play in order to get help.
However, in order to make a convincing case, women may need to play into stereotypical, racist renderings of â€˜their cultureâ€™. For example, South Asian women making claims sometimes have to rely on concepts that they are, as Sherene Razack says, â€˜victims of exceptionally patriarchal culturesâ€™ to convince officials that their lives are genuinely at risk. This then allows â€˜white Canadaâ€™ to conceive of itself as the culturally superior rescuer of the Other from backward â€˜cultural dysfunctionâ€™.
Similarly, a number of cases have been documented where ethnic minority men have been able to effectively use â€˜cultureâ€™ as a defence when charged with assaulting their wives. Arguing that their abuse is â€˜culturally appropriate behaviourâ€™, men in these cases have been able to secure more lenient sentences in court. In one case, judicial comments claimed that an abusive relationship was sanctioned by the â€˜South Vietnamese cultural backgroundsâ€™ of the man and woman involved.
I’ve argued against this kind of ‘cultural understanding’ many times in the past. If someone is breaking the law by beating their wife or forcing their children into marriage etc, then the law needs to be invoked and they should be treated as common criminals like others. Cultural differences can be based on history, languages, food, music, religion and such like. But there should always be a commonly enfored and applicable law. When that isn’t applied, multiculturalism fails.
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Filed in: Culture,Race politics