Diversity

Multiculturalism in the United States

In the first part of this two-part essay on the anti-multiculturalism movement in Europe and United States, I attempted to carefully note that the backlash against multiculturalism was far more niched against specific groups—the Muslims in Europe and the UK and the Hispanics in the United States.

I did not mean to suggest, however, that there aren’t other groups that are singled out in those cultures. For example, ever since 9/11, Muslim communities in the US have certainly experienced bigotry in their many attempts to purchase buildings or to obtain zoning rights to build mosques. And the historic persecution of the Roma (Gypsies) in Europe recently prompted a strong list of specific recommendations from a European Commission to counter that prejudice.

In the second part of this two-part blog post, I will focus entirely on multiculturalism in the United States.

Historical Tensions Around Foreign-Culture Issues: Irish, Italian, Chinese

America has consistently had tensions around immigration and foreign-culture issues. Ben Franklin complained about the “swarthy” Germans and expressed his fear that Pennsylvania would become a haven for a “stream of their importation” into Pennsylvania. Franklin’s ethnocentrism would eventually match the intensity of prejudice against those of German heritage during World War I and World War II. This, in spite of the fact, Germans, at one time in American history, were the largest reported ancestral group in the United States.

The Irish also experienced extreme prejudice, particularly after their arrival in the United States during the great Irish Famine of the 1840s. They were often stereotyped as “shanty Irish” or “Lace-Curtain Irish”;were consistently harassed as papists; and stereotyped as criminals and paupers as they were in this famous passage from a Chicago Post editorial: “The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses…Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic.” Such prejudice, of course, led to their ostracism from many urban business communities that often put “No-Irish-Need-Apply” signs in their windows. Continue reading

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The Anti-Multiculturalism Movement–Part I

This Blog Post is the first of a two-part article on anti-multiculturalism in Europe and the United States.

Multiculturalism Under Attack

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that multiculturalism is under severe attack throughout many Western countries, including the United States.

UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, gave an impassioned speech in Munich advocating what he called, “muscular liberalism.” It is a concept deeply troubling to minorities in England, particularly among Muslims.

Cameron’s call for a kind of testosterone-driven toughness on foreigners to assimilate into a homogenized English culture speaks to the fears of many other Europeans that their Caucasian, secular, mono-language base will be diluted by non-Western cultures and values.

Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in a 2010 speech, claimed that the attempts at multiculturalism in Germany have, in her words, “utterly failed.” There is no doubt that she was aiming her comments at the 4 million Turkish and Kurdish Muslims in Germany. Continue reading

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Multiculturalism

In a controversial Munich Multiculturalism speech, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, called for a “muscular liberalism” in the face of what he refers to as state-supported multiculturalism.

According to the Prime Minister, multiculturalism, as it exists in what he considers to be its segregated form, is the disease; complete assimilation, of course, is the cure. Continue reading

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Teaching History and Culture through Film

When I retired from college teaching many years ago, I had become radicalized by my experiences with teaching International film and culture and African-American Literature.

Both courses led me to my belief that “story” is an essential ingredient in teaching students how to understand another culture. Once a student can identify with a person in a story, once they can follow a fictional narrative of a person’s life and conflicts, they are more apt to “identify”with that person, to humanize them. Continue reading

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Book Review: The White Tiger

The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga
HarperCollins, 2009
321 pp

“Sweet-maker…that’s my caste, my destiny,” says the protagonist, Balram Halwai, in Aravind Adiga’s novel, “White Tiger.” Another character in the novel asks the question, “Do you think sweet-makers can manage fourth gear?”

Western readers are not used to reading about castes, an historically rigid class system in India for centuries. Historians tell us, however, that in urban India, the caste system is breaking down, even though it remains entrenched in rural India. Continue reading

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India, Land of Contradictions

India, the Interior Life and the Renunciation of the Material World

Before I began reading “White Tiger” and V.S. Naipul’s “India: A Wounded Civilization,” I had developed several stark stereotypes of the country.

As Buddha’s birthplace, India had become mythologized for me as a culture steeped in self-examination, the interior life, meditation, and the renunciation of the material world.

Gandhi was the other part of the jig-saw puzzle; he fit quite naturally into my notion of India as the golden land of serenity, inner peace, and wise teachers. Although he raised consciousness to more political, social-justice levels, I continue to imagine Gandhi as this austere, simple, reflective man who never raised his voice, meditated daily, and led quiet passive-resistance demonstrations for social equality, Indian independence, the end of English colonial rule, and reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims. Continue reading

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Louise Erdrich’s Novel, Shadow Tag

Shadow Tag
Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins, 2010
255 pp

Reading theorists have told us many times that readers take an active part in creating the very narratives they’re reading. A text is not static, no matter what the intention of the writer. Once the story goes out there, we, as readers, begin a kind of paint-by-numbers process of reinventing the narrative to fit our psyches. The broad outline of the story is there, but we color in the personal textures to suit ourselves.

Louise Erdrich’s novel, Shadow Tag, certainly opened up my own politically-correct notions of what I want to read or see in a fictional work about another culture. It continues to be difficult for me to shift out of a rather rigid belief that indigenous cultures should exist in this rarified world of innocence, that they should not accomodate themselves, in any way, to a dominant, sometimes oppressive culture—Japanese art should be pure “Japanese”; Chinese literature should be untainted by Western values; Indian film should always be driven by the country’s Hindu heritage.

Although I have evolved to having made my own accomodations, I find myself sometimes becoming a kind of politically-correct tourist who doesn’t want any ancient culture to change. I am sometimes particularly hard on writers and artists who produce assimilationist works, hybrids that have their sensibilities in two cultures. Continue reading

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Bliss, Honor Killing, and Turkish Cinema

Demonizing the Enemy, the Old Battle Between East and West

Those of us who are cultural-diversity followers continue to be intrigued by the global verbal battle going on between the conservatives on both sides of the “which-culture-is-superior” topic.

In the West, the Berlusconi followers continue to rant and rave about the superiority of Western Civilization. On the other hand, Islamic fundamentalists and militant jihadists believe that the infidel West is going to hell in a hand basket. Both sides have reduced their enemies to demonized objects. Continue reading

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