Looking at the different definitions of multiculturalism

The word, “multiculturalism” has been on my mind recently, especially with the debate in Washington D.C. on what to do with DACA recipients and the government shutdown. Mark Steyn’s rant on what he believes are changes in Arizona, a state I lived in from 2008 to 2013, also caused me to ponder a bit on what the word actually means. Steyn lamented to Fox News host Tucker Carlson “Arizona’s future is as an Hispanic society. That means, in effect, the border has moved north and the cultural transformation outweighs any economic benefits [Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego, who was Carlson’s guest before Steyn] talking about.” Steyn also bemoaned the situation in Europe, where Syrian refugees fled to when Europe and the U.S. decided to get involved in the Syrian Civil War. He probably has a point, albeit rather disorderly jumbled, when he discusses Democratic pandering, but the point appeared to be lost whilst discussing American citizens versus non-citizens. Steyn’s assertion of “white supremacists are American citizens,” is mostly true, but there are plenty of people with Central and South American backgrounds who are American citizens, willing to wait through the rather difficult process of obtaining a visa, immigrating here, and then becoming naturalized citizens. The thought most people who happen to have a different skin color aren’t American citizens is rather bass ackwards.

Multiculturalism is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “of, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures.” The issue with multiculturalism is the definition appears to have taken a different tenet since the printers put the ink on the pages of Merriam-Webster’s book.

Jazz wrote on the issue in 2015, and he made rather good points on the idea multiculturalism is, “all just multicolored icing on the cake because underneath it all they were all Americans.” President Donald Trump infamously said in 2016, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” and made the same suggestion about the Middle East. There have been countless thought pieces on some of the issues in Europe, with failed French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen claiming, “Multiculturalism is the soft weapon of Islamic fundamentalists, which is allowed by useful idiots under the guise of tolerance.”

Of course, Europe’s definition of multiculturalism appears to be the idea of putting groups of people into districts separated from others with heavy access to the welfare state. The refugee camps are separated from cities, whether it be in actual campsites or in refugee centers. The Economist and Foreign Policy studied the issues in Sweden where there is a huge gap between Syrian refugees and Swedes. Refugees were able to get benefits from the government, despite having issues in getting jobs. Germany has a similar system, thanks to their Asylum-Seekers’ Benefits Act, but the program has received major backlash, prompting changes to their system. Two British friends suggested it was avoiding cultural barriers, with local and national governments working to encourage a more diverse community, with funds available to help foreigners open up restaurants or markets in different areas. They also support giving immigrants access to social programs. It shouldn’t be surprising to see the issues in Europe over migrants because of the heavy welfare state, and the separation from others, which doesn’t always encourage interaction.

There’s also the fight in America over cultural appropriation. White people have been told to not have their hair in cornrows or dreadlocks because it’s culture appropriation. Pulse NG ridiculously claimed long nails were appropriating ‘hood nails’ because African Americans started the trend in the 70s. “Black people have stood aside and watched the culture being taken and served back to us with a neat bow tied around it,” Ntiau Obiora furiously typed, before linking to a variety of Twitter comments condemning Vogue for supporting longer, more decorative nails. New Republic was also incensed at Reason deciding to host Lionel Shriver at a party, and passing around dolls allowing people to dress Shriver in different world dress. “A culture is not something that you can shrug on and off like a jacket. People are not dresses. People are not hats,” Josephine Livingstone raged. “That Reason distributed these images at a private party in promotion of its keynote speaker is further testament to the right’s lack of understanding of the actual issues that surround “cultural appropriation” and make it a sensitive subject.”

Yet Reason analyst Shikha Dalmia, an Indian, called the outrage hogwash. She told Lisa Kennedy on the latter’s Fox Business Show it wasn’t racist or incendiary for her to wear a traditional sari, complete with ancestral jewelry. “The more you appropriate my culture, the more comfortable it gets for me in America to partake in my own culture.” It would be curious to see how those complaining about whites appropriating other cultures would feel if whites decided to say Darius Rucker or Eric July were appropriating culture because Rucker is a country singer and July performs in a rock band. Both men are black. Are European and Middle Eastern rappers appropriating black culture for their own spin on the genre? Are Christians appropriating Jewish culture by reading the Old Testament or American pagans who choose to honor gods like Gaia, Odin, or Tyr? Of course not, and to suggest otherwise is just ridiculous.

There’s also the idea of assimilation, as the key for multiple cultures getting along, but integration is probably the correct definition. The idea of “assimilation,” always brought back memories of the Borg from Star Trek, where more humans and aliens had their beings “taken over,” by the dominant hive mind and lost their uniqueness. Integration suggests a more understanding existence with others. It’s also something which takes longer. First generation immigrants won’t necessarily speak the dominant language of the new country, but second and third generation immigrants probably will. They become integrated into society, whilst maintaining their own identity.

It’s not surprising to see these various arguments over multiculturalism. The debate has actually been going on since the end of the Cold War, with the Clash of Civilization theory posited by Samuel P. Huntington. The State Department consultant suggested the world was being reshaped by the fall of the USSR along more ethnic and religious lines, instead of the previous line of democracy vs. communism. “[People] identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and, at the broadest level, civilizations,” Huntington wrote. “People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.”

It’s an interesting theory, but one which shouldn’t be considered Gospel, especially when it comes to relationships between individuals. I was brought up by my parents in Texas to acknowledge and honor other people, regardless of their race, religion, sex, or political ideology. Every human I meet is a potential friend, not a probable enemy. There are certainly differences, but most of those get thrown in the garbage dump, even if a friend would prefer to listen to, say, Katy Perry or Britney Spears versus my own preferred musical tastes of Amon Amarth and Coheed and Cambria. It’s certainly an easier match with a potential girlfriend to share (or at least accept) my own political and religious beliefs, and share a like or four, but romantic relationships are give and take. Friendships are give and take, as well, which is a good thing because it allows me to learn more about others, and vice versa.

The same goes for business transactions. I know immigrants who send money home to their families because they make more money here than they ever could in their home country. Is it wrong for a Mexican restaurant to have Mexican-inspired art on their walls, play conjunto, or serve traditional dishes? Should a Pakistani restaurant skip the falafel and chapati, Punjabi music (which does include rap), or Muslim art in exchange for burgers and fries? Should my Irish friends tear down their pub, defer from playing Irish folk music, and stop showing rugby or soccer? Or is it perfectly fine for everyone to be here in America trying to earn the most they can, get along with their neighbors, and while participating in the exchange of culture from their home country with Americans?

America is a multicultural society, whether people want to admit it or not. New Englanders are not like Texans, Texans are not like those who call Florida home, Floridians are not like people from the Midwest, and someone from Chicago or Wisconsin isn’t like a resident of the Pacific Northwest. Those who live in the cities aren’t necessarily like those who live in rural areas. But the entire mix of cultures, relationships, ideologies, etc. is actually what makes America great. ‘Tis the art being open to learning about cultures and ideas different to our own which makes life more interesting, and exciting, which should always be encouraged.