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  • My thoughts on multicultralism (and its demise)

    by Sunny
    7th April, 2011 at 10:00 am    

    The Council of Europe, which is running a campaign against discrimination across Europe, recently interviewed me over the phone for my thoughts on multi-culturalism. They thought I’d be quite defensive, but I came out a bit more nuanced than they expected. I expect there are some faults in this ‘doctrine’ if you can call it that, and criticise ‘state multiculturalism’.

    You can listen to the interview from here
    (I come on 8minutes in. It’s a bit chopped because I rambled on so much)

    Gary Younge from the Guardian was also interviewed.

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    Filed in: Race politics

    16 Comments below   |  

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    1. Kamaljeet Jandu — on 7th April, 2011 at 10:29 am  

      One of the accusation made by the Right on multiculturalism is that our ancesters came to this country to thrust multiculturism on Britain (like a religion). My father was invited to Britain to work in sectors where there were labour shortages (nursing and public transport)or do work that the indigenous people did not want to do eg Foundry indusrty in the West Midlands or the textile industry in the North-our labour was bought cheaply by Employers and Governements. If one discription of this is ‘multiculturalism’ be it.

      The real issue is ‘where Britain goes next?. I believe this should be based on the principle that ‘we are a nation of immigrants’. Virtually every person in Britain can trace their origins to another part of the world. So why do we only see British people of colour as ‘outsiders’.

    2. MaidMarian — on 7th April, 2011 at 11:38 am  

      Kamaljeet Jandu - At the risk of feeding a troll.

      ‘So why do we only see British people of colour as ‘outsiders’.’

      I don’t know who this, ‘we,’ is but I think that one of the biggest problems with multiculturalism was its conflation with skin colour and its handmaiden, identity politics. This idea that, ‘we,’ only see people of colour as outsiders looks brutalist and lacking in nuance at a time when large numbers of white East Europeans have come to the UK and integrated reasonably well.

      My grandfather in the trade unions of the 1970s saw equality not in terms of ramming cultural agendas down the collective throat. Rather he saw it as the necessary correction to the material disadvantages people faced due to a priori moral condemnation. Where once equality was about actively giving people the opportinuty to integrate and better themselves through Labour, now it feel like a competition as to who can assert most victimhood. We need to go back to equality as it was meant to be.

      Could it possibly be that this, ‘we,’ you throw about actually have a pretty good idea of how to rub along and it is only the panto dames who are being divisive?

    3. Kismet Hardy — on 7th April, 2011 at 1:03 pm  

      Americans, for all their faults, seem to get multiculturalism right. I went to Robert De Nero’s house for lunch the other day, he got his mum to make me spaghetti and meatballs, then I popped in on Janet Jackson who fed me a jerk chicken from between her thighs, and in the morning I woke up to Salma Hayek stuffing me with a burrito.

      I dunno how these anti-multiculturalists in the UK are going to eat if everyone stops learning from their own traditions

    4. Boyo — on 7th April, 2011 at 4:18 pm  

      @3 but they were all proud to be American, right?

      MC appears to have evolved as a way to manage mass immigration, with a rather high-handed perspective on the impact thereof on the settled population.

      To the upper and middle-classes who took forward the policy, it seems to have equalled cultural enrichment, better restaurants, a kind of sophistication/ and or alleviation of the guilt they felt for being at the top of the pile without having to, actually, share their position of privilege with the existing working class.

      For the working classes on whom it impacted more negatively in terms of bargaining power and fragmenting communities, all the more so for being told they didn’t actually have a culture, were racists, and had no right to complain when such lovely new restaurants were opening up.

      The end result is precisely as intended: the working class has been shot full of holes, its solidarity eroded by divide and rule with everyone out for themselves (ironically MC is the ultimate expression of Thatcherism), while the ruling elite are secure, elevating a few people from BMI backgrounds into the fore and emphasising race to the extent that class has become a dirty word, and “chav” is an acceptable insult.

      The next thing you know they’ll be privatising the NHS and telling the chavs to get orf their Easy Jets…

    5. damon — on 7th April, 2011 at 5:47 pm  

      It’s such an interesting subject, but I fear too politicised for wide ranging debate.

      See OBV and ”The rise of the inequality deniers” for an example of this political divide.

      Also, in a discussion on this subject, one aspect of multi-culturalism that gets overlooked is in describing the transient ”bedsitland” environment that grows up in ”first port of call centres” for new migration. All the inner city boroughs in London for example, and places where the new migrants, often single young men, gravitate to, and the jobs they do.
      And how their presence, filling jobs in factories, food processing, fast food preparation, black economy jobs etc, has changed the local labour market for the likes of the young people we’ve seen on Jamie Oliver’s Dream School.
      Them young people, no matter if they have grown up in an inner city area, will probably not relish working in a large bakery in Dagenham, where they seem to be the only English-born person working there.
      Not if it’s a rubbish minimum wage job.

    6. Don — on 7th April, 2011 at 6:31 pm  


      But now we’ve got the recipe…

    7. earwicga — on 7th April, 2011 at 6:50 pm  

      Still not answered me damon. How about I highlight a word to give you a clue:

      damon, before moving on, how about you back up this statement:

      Or any public building, but particularly a mosque.

      Without dog-whistle statements.

    8. Sarah AB — on 7th April, 2011 at 8:18 pm  

      I agreed with plenty of things in the interview but thought you excluded some middle ground between the idea that Sharia might just be about things like halal meat and the extreme idea that people might want to impose Sharia on everyone. I think there are legitimate grounds for concern which fall between these poles:

    9. Niels Christensen — on 7th April, 2011 at 9:53 pm  

      Nice to hear your voice, Sunny.
      I don’t know about multiculturalism, I don’t like the word because it’s not very analytical, it’s more like a political slogan.
      But dead ? How do you kill it ?
      But we have a lot of subcultures in western europe, and the funny thing is of course, that the arrive/develop at a moment in history, where the cultural homogenization was very strong. Not that there isn’t big cultural differences between say Sweden and Italy, but the middle class culture is the dominating culture. And there is a big difference between middle class culture and say the culture of a villager from Bangladesh or and anatolian kurdish culture and the way those culture seek to adopt and in the process is creating new subcultures.
      The main conflict zone isn’t religion but the the fact that the middle class culture is individualistic and the new subcultures have difficulty handling individualism. This conflict will continue and continue and take new twists, because no culture or sub culture is static.
      If ‘the end of multiculturalism’ means anything, then it will be that the state will seek to enforce individualism in the subcultures by structural policies.

    10. RD — on 10th April, 2011 at 4:05 am  

      @MaidMarian: You sound like a BNPer not a troll.

    11. RD — on 10th April, 2011 at 4:08 am  

      The reason is because Britain is very fascist and always has been, that’s why it sees people of “colour” as outsiders and people like MaidMarian as the defenders of subtle and casual racism.

    12. Sajid Huq — on 10th April, 2011 at 9:22 am  

      For whatever it’s worth, American multiculturalism seems to be rooted in Americanism. As a subsidiary to an American identity, a racial or religious identity seems to work rather well. However, in the British context, the ethnic identity is seldom a subsidiary isn’t it. I personally know Pakistani Muslims who grew up in Britain but root for Pakistan during cricket matches. To each his own, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good for British nationalism cohesiveness and all that…

    13. damon — on 13th April, 2011 at 11:39 am  

      I saw this picture in the centre pages of the Guardian today. It shows a modern expression of milticluturalism I thought. Not just because a young boy died. These people could just as easily be waiting for a bus outside college.
      In their dress, and the way they look just standing there.

      I also saw this article in the Telegraph by Tony Sewell about ”Black students and the class ceiling”

      It says this of some black school students:

      Many of them do not have the self-confidence, or the family support, to declare that it is nonsense. The problem for these students is not some “cultural deficit”, where they are overdosed with too many white writers and European artworks. The problem is the opposite: the world presented to them by well-meaning teachers and community leaders is just too small and parochial. Education should include being exposed to, gaining understanding of and becoming confident in worlds other than your own.

      Interesting, but controversial.
      Personally, I think that Sewell has better analysis on these things than some of the people who criticise him.

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