Saturday, February 12, 2011


I was so sickened by David Cameron's speech the other day on his distorted view of multiculturalism that I couldn't even have a conversation about it, let alone write about it.  I thought of all the wonderful people I met when teaching English to people coming to Stockton from all over the world; people whose first language was French, German, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Punjabi, Kurdish, Czech, Pashtun, African languages whose names I've forgotten, and many more.  I remembered them wanting to know about our customs and how to behave in different places.  Lessons were based on how to talk to teachers about the children's progress and problems, how to shop in supermarkets and on market stalls, how to buy bus tickets, why there are so many different Christian churches in the town, what the Mayor does, how to politely ask a girl to dance at a night club, how to invite someone to join you for coffee and so on - not just the language but the customs were seen as important because without exception these people wanted to be part of Stockton's family.  They didn't want to lose their own culture and language but they wanted to gain a new one.  Many of those people are still in Stockton, still  working and learning and playing in Stockton.  I wonder how they felt if they saw the headlines engendered by David Cameron's speech?  And I wonder how many of the small minority of bigoted people in stockton felt vindicated and supported in their position?
For those who can bear to read more I've reproduced below something written by a Lib Dem in London on her view of multiculturalism there, written much more eloquently than I could ever do:

Last Thursday, generations of Chinese in Soho welcomed the Year of the Rabbit in time-honoured traditional ways. Yet we didn’t hear David Cameron demonise Chinatown as a ‘segregated community’ living ‘apart from the mainstream’. On the contrary, the annual lion dance spectacle has become an essential fixture in London’s calendar, enjoyed by people from many different cultures.
The Oxford dictionary defines multicultural(ism) as “of or relating to or constituting several cultural or ethnic groups within a society”. Note the word “within”. Yet there’s a growing tendency to rubbish multiculturalism, treating it as synonymous with the failed Labour policies referred to in David Cameron’s speech. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
When I first came to the UK in the early 1980s real parmesan cheese was hard to come by. Nowadays you’ll find it in virtually every corner shop, somewhere near the hummus, bagels and microwave naan. A trivial example, certainly, but over the past few decades British eating habits have evolved out of all recognition. ‘Modern British’ cuisine is a product of multiculturalism – and I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to turn back the gastronomic clock.
When people feel welcome, they integrate. My children learned traditional English nursery rhymes not from me but from an Algerian-born volunteer at our local Sure Start. They played with children of Iraqi, Somali, Russian, and Brazilian parentage, while mums in hijabs swapped toddler war stories with mums in skin tight jeans. Some multicultural mums were friendlier than the native West London Sloanes.
Multiculturalism makes London a dynamic and fascinating place to live as well as a magnet for global talent. There are now so many French children in Hammersmith & Fulham that the Tory Council recently set up a bilingual French/ English primary school… State sponsored multiculturalism, Prime Minister?
Positive examples of thriving multiculturalism on our doorstep never seem to make it into big political speeches. Multiculturalism is invariably portrayed as a problem that needs fixing, rather than an enriching everyday reality – and indeed a competitive economic advantage in a complex, globalised world.
Dealing with hate-filled extremists urgently requires a different approach to that taken by Labour. However, constantly framing wider discussion of multiculturalism against the negative backdrop of Islamist extremism misses the huge contribution that cultural and ethnic pluralism has made to modern British life.

1 comment:

John said...

Diversity is usually a good thing but Multiculturalism is not diversity. Multiculturalism is a political movement proposed by the post-modernist philosopher Derrida with the intention of polarizing societies. See Multiculturalism. The genius of Multiculturalism as a political tool is that its supporters can always fall back on "diversity" - I mean, who would be against diversity? It is similar to using class warfare as a polarizing agent, Mao or Stalin maintained that they were only helping the grindingly poor and taming the super-rich - who could disagree with that?