Multiculturalism and its discontents: Discuss Essay

On the brink of the 2010 United Kingdom general election, I cannot think of a more pertinent topic to discuss than multiculturalism.

Migration to this country is one of the most important subjects debated by the competing political parties looking to express their policies to the electorate. At the heart of these debates lies multiculturalism, and its successes or failures, depending on what your viewpoint is. I for one believe that the idea of multiculturalism, with its strong moral basis and optimistic outlook is an ideology to be celebrated.

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A rich network of cultures interwoven throughout communities, treated equally and living side by side, is something that the people of a nation can be proud of. However, it does have its discontents. Throughout this paper, I am going to talk about multiculturalism as well as its criticisms in an educational and societal context.Focussing on four key areas, my aim is to highlight the disadvantages of multiculturalism, as shown through the academic writings of its endorsers and its detractors, many of whom fall under both categories.

Furthermore, the aim of this discussion is to stay UK specific. Along with the four key areas, I wish to provide a voice to a subgroup of the United Kingdom which I feel has no exposure: the liberal, multicultural-endorsing citizens of western cultures that reside in this country and who might feel that their own cultural norms are being ignored or even reviled by increasingly larger ethnic communities that share the same neighbourhood. These are people who do not wish to participate in any activity or belief that encourages behaviour with a result of primacy over another cultural group. This type of act or behaviour would define a non-multicultural way of thinking. Yet, they feel that aspects of their own culture are considered inferior by other groups.

The relationship can be summarized in one single statement: prosperity versus primacy. Challenging the reader to consider the effects of multiculturalism upon this subgroup, I will lace this objective throughout the exploration of the four subject areas which are, and within an educational and societal framework: the hidden curriculum; life chances; society & culture and; Britishness & citizenship. In addition to all of this, I invite the reader, whilst working through the subject areas, to consider such themes as: integration; assimilation; prosperity; primacy; tolerance; and superiority.Due to the word limitations of this essay, it is impossible to account for all cultural groups such as race, sex, religion, sexual preference, age etc. Any groups that are outlined within the discussion of subject areas and themes are based on the fact that they provide the best example for the purpose of the writing. The beauty of the United Kingdom is that we are all, as individuals, surrounded by people that are part of a wide network of cultural collections expressing their identities in a varied range of ways, limited or ample.It could be suggested that there is a definite correlation between the official educational curriculum and societal ideology, multiculturalism. Both are a created set of rules, laws and guidelines that govern the way we live and interact with fellow citizens, whether in a school or community setting.

So then, what of the hidden curriculum and its contribution to the undoing of multiculturalism? Meighan & Harber define: “The notion of the hidden curriculum was probably first identified by John Dewey, who referred to the collateral learning of attitudes by children. As a working definition, the hidden curriculum can be defined as all the things that are learnt during schooling in addition to the official curriculum (2007, p.75)”. Further to this, Meighan & Harber quote Reid (1986) analysing the hidden curriculum: “a concept that refers to all those socialising practices that are not included in the official curriculum but that contribute towards the reproduction of our culture (2007, p.75)”.

Persisting with the exploration of the notion of hidden curriculum and where it undermines the value of multiculturalism, Meighan & Harber add some possible ‘learning’s’ that children pick up: “White people are more important than Black people. The Western world is more ‘advanced’ and is superior to the rest of the world (2007, p. 76)”. These attitudes, although not directly taught, become reproduced into society, which is the basis for cultural racist theory: “multicultural education was counter productive and often exacerbated racial stereotyping (Gillborn & Ladson-Billing, 2006)”. One could define this gradual, step by step cultural racism introduced through the workings of the hidden curriculum as anti-multiculturalism. We do not teach racial stereotyping, but it is learned. Blaut continues with the subject: “within cultural racist theory, ‘white’ is no longer the superior ‘race’, but rather, European the superior culture. Non-Europeans are thereby defined as inferior in attained levels of achievement – Cultural Racism (1992, p.

294)”.As highlighted by cultural racist theory, casual racism resides within education and more specifically, the hidden curriculum. Minority cultures are seen to be inferior to the majority culture of this country but isn’t that what multiculturalism was supposed to combat? Or has multiculturalism within education been adopted as a shiny pseudonym for tolerance? Nasima Hassan defines: “Tolerance means to put up with, perhaps reluctantly. It means to endure or permit grudgingly. It is not about acceptance, understanding and most significantly it is not about equality (2006, p.130)”.This definition resonates in more of her writings. Speaking of multicultural strategies in schools, Hassan feels that teachers, under duress, are “forced into unfamiliar territory in direct response to ill-considered multiculturalism, resulting in shallow, superficial and barely recognizable global education (2006, p.

129)”. To add to this, multiculturalism, the ideological tool used to combat educational racism is actually compounding the problem with a lacklustre, perfunctory attempt at covering it up. Hassan’s argument is reinforced by Jaye Richards in the article ‘Saris and Samosas won’t beat Bigotry’. Richards, speaking of the aims of multicultural education claims that “all this really does is raise awareness of other cultures, rather than get to the root of the racism problem, which is a belief in the superiority of one group over another (2003, p.1)”.

The responsibility of course, lies with the central government. Their failure to implement a workable policy that combats racism in an educational setting has been accentuated by factors such as the hidden curriculum and theories such as cultural racism. Hassan, utilising the words of Swann encourages this viewpoint: “All in all, central government appears to have lacked a coherent strategy for fostering the development of multicultural education and thus to have been unable to play a leading role in coordinating or encouraging progress in this field. We regard both the assimilationist and integrationist educational responses to the needs of ethnic minority pupils as, in retrospect, misguided and ill founded (2006, p.130)”.The universal belief shared between all of the above quoted academics is that prosperity in education for all will not be achieved if obstacles, such as the hidden curriculum, continue to hinder the prosperity of any cultural groups. Collectively, they point to the lack of progress in the development of multicultural education as a cause of this.

Anyone looking to criticize the accomplishments of multiculturalism need only look at the life chances of certain inhabitants of the UK. If hidden curriculum cultivates hindering beliefs such as racism, then theories such as labelling theory and self fulfilling prophecy augment them further. As mentioned previously, the school experience cultivates and produces social processes and interactions between cultural groups. Labelling theory, an interactionist perspective, can begin during the formative educational experience. Stephen Walker, writing in “A Sociology of Educating (2007, p.

367)” explains that because of certain features outlined by the process of labelling, the life chances of different cultural groups vary. A change of self-concept can ensue. Walker later claims that “Black and ethnic minority people often talk of a particular individual or a particular incident that finally brought about this change of self-concept…

.Labelling can have a crushing effect on an individual’s or a group’s identity and social behaviour (2007, p.370)”.Tariq Modood, in his article “Political Blackness and British Asians (1994)”, although not speaking of labelling theory directly, feels that “multicultural education has been used tokenistically” because of “a view that black and minority ethnic children have suffered poor self-concept because of the ethnocentric curriculum”. Labelling theory, resonating from the depths of the curriculum will have a sizeable negative impact on multicultural education. In addition to this, with an attempt to balance the failings that are forced upon minority groups, the reciprocal may occur, causing a sense of exclusion felt by all.

Roger Hewitt, in the following quote, talks about how white working class youth feel and the exclusion barriers that exist because of this: “Young people in Greenwich from these kinds of backgrounds failed to understand why ethnic minorities needed to be treated within a different framework of justice. They saw themselves as also constituting an aggrieved minority and there was considerable evidence that, indeed, they were. It was impossible for youth workers to convey why they paid particular attention to the grievances of Black and Asian youth, in the face of the social marginalisation of these young people and the fragility of their own long-term prospects (2005, p.124)”. This is a strong example of the disadvantages of multiculturalism. It shows that the incessant labelling of minority groups will have an adverse effect on the majority culture who, will subsequently, feel excluded.With the continuous action of labelling and expectations placed on the cultural identities of groups, the “outcome can be the establishment of a self-fulfilling prophecy, when the false diagnosis influences the self-concept of the learner, who then learns to behave as expected, thus ‘verifying’ the initial false diagnosis (Walker, 2007, p.367)”.

Within the boundaries of multiculturalism, self-fulfilling prophecy is a potentially fatal flaw that assists in the creation of substantial divides, economically and socially, between cultural groups. “Multiculturalism has also been repeatedly criticized for its failure to address wider problems of economic and social marginalization.Despite more than adequate legislation to secure equal rights to employment, for example, there remains consistent evidence that unemployment is disproportionately higher in minority communities (Brighton, 2007, p.9)”. With the assumption of, what Shane Brighton refers to as “adequate legislation”, what then, are the reasons behind the higher levels of unemployment for people from minority communities? The concepts of labelling theory and self-fulfilling prophecy can certainly be recognized as contributing factors. This is where, even within an outer multicultural ideological framework of living, the life chances of some are incomparable to others.”What is important for critics like Sivanandan is to view other cultures from a (sic) objective position. ‘Just to learn about other people’s cultures is not to learn about the racism of one’s own.

To learn about the racism of one’s own culture, on the other hand, is to approach other cultures objectively (Sivanandan 1983:5)'(Hazekamp ; Popple, 1997, p.29)”.The role of multiculturalism is to celebrate diversity at the same time as creating unity. The sum of its parts, multiculturalism is itself, an individual identity. At the nucleus of multiculturalism is individual identity. So what role does the state have in fostering an equality of identity for all its cultural groups? Tariq Modood, an efficient commentator on multiculturalism in Britain is the focus of Shane Brighton’s words: “As the basis of multiculturalism, then, the idea of integration rests on the assumption that a process is to be created and governed between distinct but equivalent groups whose identity is to be defined by ‘culture’ rather than ‘race’. Modood observes, however, that true multiculturalism emerges only when that process is recognized to be distinct for each group; when it is realized that it is a matter of ‘pluralistic integration’, the distinctiveness of different cultures forbidding any single integrative template.

The communities that comprise a multicultural society, therefore, are assumed to be permanent to it, culturally distinct from one another and sufficiently able to articulate themselves through community representatives that their distinctiveness can be understood and managed by government (Brighton, 2007, p.6)”. Tariq Modood, a curiosity-inducing personality, feels that the state remains for the sake of individual identities and not group identities. Within society “the state exists to protect the rights of individuals, but the question of recognizing new ethnic groups does not arise, for the state does not recognize any groups.

Individuals relate to the state as individual citizens, not as members of the group. The state is group blind, it cannot ‘see’ colour, gender, ethnicity, religion or even nationality (Modood, 2005, p.137)”.

Modood is a staunch supporter of multiculturalism but confesses its weaknesses because of a fragile pride in national identity as brought about by the state in its non-acknowledgement of group identities: “Its articulation has, however, overlooked or at least underemphasised the other side of the coin, which is not just equally necessary but is integral to multiculturalism. This is that we cannot have strong multicultural or minority identities and weak common or national identities (2005, p.6)”. On the other hand, Modood does illustrate the need for British citizens to seize the initiative: “What it does mean is that integration should take a multicultural rather than an assimilative form. At the same time, we in Britain do probably need to work harder to develop a national identity, and forms of belonging to each other, that can win the imaginations and hearts of minorities and majorities alike (2005, p.2)”.

The approach taken on the latter quote comes from an actionist perspective in the way that human beings, or groups of, will be in control of their own social constructs, no matter the social forces that are against them.Typically, in his writings, Modood is presented in the form of the conflict perspective: social order is created as a result of the ongoing interactions between groups and individuals. This explains why Modood is generally quite critical of the role of the state within society as a cause of the failings of multiculturalism. The following quote by Modood links, rather efficiently, society and the next subject area, Britishness, with the incompetent activity of the state in pursuing a common identity for all cultural groups. “The radical multiple self has a penchant for identities but prefers surfing on the waves of deconstruction to seeking reconstruction in multiplicity. It is a post-self rather than a multi-self.

..Reconciled to multiplicity as an end in itself, its vision of multiculturalism is confined to personal lifestyles and cosmopolitan consumerism; more significantly, its vision of multiculturalism does not extend to the state, which it confidently expects to wither away (2005, p.136)”.A common complaint is that the very idea of Britishness has been sacrificed in the wake of multiculturalism. Perhaps multiculturalism is the new Britishness.

The view of what it actually means to be British is going to alter between differing perspectives. In his book “Community Cohesion. A New Framework for Race and Diversity”, Ted Cantle highlights a fault that is magnified by the sheer volume of migrants that enter the United Kingdom each year: “In a multicultural country there must be a clear political will to reach a consensus on what level of ‘difference’ is accepted and which differences are acceptable. The practical arrangements also threaten to compound many of the theories, largely because multiculturalism does not exist in any meaningful way in many of the communities that make up the so-called multicultural nations, with the same physical separation of minority communities established at the point of initial migration, continuing to a greater or lesser extent thereafter.This has helped to maintain the pretence in the eyes of the majority that the minorities are separate and distinct, unwilling or unable to develop an affinity to a different culture and simply not part of the same society. It may also create a feeling, in the eyes of the minorities, that they are denied access to the host society and must cling to their former identities and affinities (2005, p.13)”. Cantle then, is suggesting that we take the actionist approach and create a ‘structured scaffolding’ of what the British identity, gained through citizenship, should be.

Hopefully, Cantle is not suggesting “allowing British society to select elements of cultural diversity that they found particularly palatable (Hassan, 2006, p.129)”. In actual fact, he does not, as further reading of his work prove.

He counters with the contrast of racial stereotyping of the British majority in his article “We Are Not All The Same”:”White working class communities are much maligned.They are often portrayed, at best, as deprived, poorly educated and overly traditional and, at worst, as ignorant, xenophobic and racist (2008, p.2)”. Again, the cultural divide between British majorities and migrant minorities is strengthened by Roger Eatwell: “This portrays a traditional white working class community which was badly affected by welfare policies which were based on need and which therefore helped even poorer newcomers (2006, p.210)”. Cultural divides such as this lead to a negative outcome as Pnina Werbner illustrates: “The notion of multiculturalism-in-history is intended to separate day-to-day tolerance of cultural diversity and arguments over minor state funding allocations from exceptional cultural clashes that seem irresolvable.Historically, such confrontations are usually never resolved; they only ‘go away’, entering the collective sub consciousness of a community as a bitter sediment (2009, p.30)”.

What is the way forward for Britishness and citizenship within a multicultural context? Werbner paraphrases David Cameron (the possible, at time of writing, future Prime Minister of a hung parliament) leaning towards taking multiculturalism out of the equation: “he echoed academic writings in arguing that, although it sounds like a good idea, multiculturalism, instead of promoting the ‘right of everyone to be treated the same despite their differences’, divides, often treating ethnic or faith communities as ‘monolithic blocks rather than individual British citizens’, and allocating housing along ethnic lines (2009, p.36)”. Just like the 2010 UK general election, multiculturalism hangs in the balance.Whether you agree with the idea of multiculturalism or not, the concept of it certainly has positive intentions. What you have just read throughout this essay on the other hand, shows that there are also negative drawbacks. I, wholeheartedly, am in support of a multicultural ethos for the United Kingdom.

As I said in the introduction, it is a way of life that should be celebrated. Whether it is working or not, well that is for each individual to decide. During the writing of this paper, my current personal circumstances are forcing me to rethink my position on whether multiculturalism is a workable ideology. Throughout my research, I have related to people on all sides of the debate, even some that perhaps I would not have done if this situation had not occurred. I happily live as a minority in my community, which I refer to as home, and have done for several years. I do not believe in just tolerating the customs of other cultural groups.Each group should be able to stand proudly as one of the many entities of this nation and of the world with their own public space, symbols and representations without fear of condemnation or disparagement from anybody.

Withholding exact details, at the beginning of April my partner and I, undertaking a very traditional western custom, brought a dog. He is well trained and has absolutely no impact on the lives of my neighbours whatsoever. However, he is a problem for them, because it is not a shared custom from their heritage backgrounds. Needless to say, things are a little uncomfortable and we now have to move out of the neighbourhood that we refer to as home.

This is exactly the type of situation that denouncers of multiculturalism would point to in their arguments against.Would they be aware of it though? I seek no reprisal. I am not about to change my political views and align myself with a far right wing way of thinking. All I am going to do is pack our things and move east and become one of the statistical figures that engage in “white flight”. That is all.

During the introduction, along with considering the effects of multiculturalism upon the liberal-thinking, multicultural-endorsing western citizens, I asked you to reflect on six themes: integration; assimilation; prosperity; primacy; tolerance; and superiority. Now then, I bring this to you, after all you have read and whether you agree with the idea or not, do you think multiculturalism is working?Bibliography.Blaut, J. (1992) “The Theory of Cultural Racism”, Antipack: A Radical Journal of Geography, 23, pp.

289 – 299.Brighton, S. (2007) “British Muslims, Multiculturalism and UK Foreign Policy: ‘Integration’ and ‘Cohesion’ In and Beyond the State”, International Affairs, 83(1), pp. 1 – 17.Cantle, T. (2005) Community Cohesion.

A New Framework for Race and Diversity. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.Cantle, T. (2008) “We Are Not All The Same”, Community Care, 1729, pp. 14 – 16.Eatwell, R. (2006) “Community Cohesion and Cumulative Extremism in Contemporary Britain”, The Political Quarterly, 77 (2), pp. 204 – 215.

Gillborn, D. & Ladson-Billing, G. (2006) “The Routledge Falmer Reader in Multicultural Education”, Routledge Falmer, Taylor & Francis Group, UK.Gillies, V.

(2005) “Raising the Meritocracy. Parenting and the Individualization of Social Class”, Sociology, 39 (5), pp. 835 – 853.Hazekamp, J.L & Popple, K. (ed.

) (1997) Racism in Europe. A Challenge for Youth Policy and Youth Work. London: UCL Press.Hewitt, R.

(2005) White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism. New York: Cambridge University Press.Meighan R. & Harber, C.

(2007) A Sociology of Educating. 5th edn. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.Modood, T. (1994) “Political Blackness and British Asians”, Sociology, 28 (4).

Modood, T. (2005) Multicultural Politics. Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.Modood, T. (2005) “Remaking multiculturalism after 7/7”. OpenDemocracy Ltd.

Richards, J. (2003) “Saris and Samosas won’t Beat Bigotry”, Times Educational Supplement, 17 October.Sharp et al. (2006) Education Studies. An Issues Based Approach. 2nd edn. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.

Werbner, P. (2009) “Revisiting the UK Muslim Diasporic Public Sphere at a Time of Terror: From Local (Benign) Invisible Spaces to Seditious Conspiratorial Spaces and the ‘Failure of Multiculturalism’ Discourse”, South Asian Diaspora, 1 (1), pp. 19 – 45.


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