Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A quickie on multiculturalism

Sunny's post on the BNP at Comment is Free - which I'd missed earlier - is interesting stuff, but it was the comments that sparked a semi-related thought. Sunny was talking about the BNP's appeal to alienated working class voters, and soon the usual "multiculturalism" buzzword cropped up in the comments.

Why is "multiculturalism" used almost exclusively in reference to a perceived culture clash with recent immigrants? It has become almost a synonym for "multiracial", yet the difference in cultural background between a university-educated member of the middle classes and that of an undereducated single mother living on benefit on a sink estate is arguably almost as vast as that between a white Englishman and a first generation Pakistani immigrant... Being pretty solidly middle-class and decently-educated myself, I'll generally have far more in common with a fellow middle-class black or Asian Brit than with any number of unemployed and impoverished white Brits with one GCSE, no matter how much more our genetic makeup may be simliar.

At the risk of sounding like a Marxian, these economic and education-based manifestations of the multiple cultures within the UK have generally struck me as being at the heart of many of the problems so often blamed on the racially-tinged "multiculturalism" shorthand. This lazy conflation of culture and race (hand in hand with religion and race) has also made it far harder for moderate voices to try and sensibly point out that there are indeed aspects of certain cultures which are unpleasant without instantly being shouted down as racist by well-meaning (but often not so well-thinking) liberal voices.

This is a debate that could help clarify much fuzzy thinking from all corners of the political divides, yet is currently one that many shy clear of for fear of the racist brand... (And, of course, if you come from a middle class background and raise the issue of sections of the unemployed and benefit-dependent population being a problem, you'll often find yourself dismissed as a Daily Mail reading classist from the self-same well-meaning quarters...)

4 Comments:

Blogger ken said...

Nice post

4/18/2006 10:46:00 pm  
Blogger konopelli/WGG said...

i like it that you style yourself a "marxian."
a small point in a pretty good post, otherwise, too...

4/19/2006 02:12:00 am  
Blogger Jonn Elledge said...

This is a point that has bothered me for a while. Why should race be the key factor in determining someone's 'culture'? Surely a lot of factors, including class and family background, where you grew up, where you were educated, what you do for a living etc all feed into this. Why is race considered to overwhelm everything else?

To quote shamelessly from an article I wrote on this for ak13 about a year back:

"...why should two people that attended the same school, went to the same university, work in the same field and have similar leisure interests be defined as culturally different, just because one is an Asian Muslim and the other white and secular? Why should a liberal cosmopolitan Guardianista human rights lawyer and a suburban Sun reading manual worker be defined as culturally similar just because they are white?"

4/19/2006 12:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonn,
It's a self-fulfilling prophecy innit? If other people treat you differently on the basis of your colour then eventually you're going to be different in some way (even though the differences are generated socially rather than genetically).

This isn't, of course, a process limited to a single life course but over centuries, which is why it's such a bugger shifting it (see also: gender and sexuality). With the rise of identity politics you get the shift away from King's "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" to a position where a racial difference is asserted (albeit couched in "community" terms), but this is seen as a positive thing.

Simstim

4/19/2006 01:38:00 pm  

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