Contemporary society, in the West, at least, has wrestled with the ideas of diversity, pluralism, and multiculturalism throughout its entire history. On one hand, countries like Canada and Australia want to encourage multiculturalism and foster the growth of different cultures side by side. On the other side of the argument is the idea that giving free reign to different cultures is harmful and will erode the values nations hold dearest. At the heart of the issue is the concept that Western thought and ethnocentrism, in this case, prevailing Western ideology, is under threat by minorities, immigrants, and anyone else who does not fit into the cultural mold. This debate over whether or not people should preserve their own unique culture or just try to assimilate into one homogenous nation-state has inspired two different approaches: pluralism/cultural assimilation vs. multiculturalism. Advocates for assimilation argue that immigrants and minority groups should consciously live by the principles, idealizations, culture, and language of the predominant culture as opposed to preserving their own unique individual cultures. Detractors of multiculturalism in modern times assert that diversity serves to undermine the traditional values and moral fabric of a society; but ultimately, multiculturalism enriches societies by providing different ethnicities with social inclusion, cultural integration, and opportunities for progress.
What even is multiculturalism? Multiculturalism is not just another one form of ‘diversity’ in societies, rather it is a way of implementing diversity within society. It is a philosophy and is encouraged through policies in order to facilitate immigrant integration into society. Multiculturalism as a philosophy holds that minority groups and immigrants deserve the right to state recognition and protection. This concept in theory and in practice, serves to diversify and enrich the nations in which it takes place. Counterarguments regard multiculturalism as a threat rather than something that has beneficial contributions to society. The main argument against multiculturalism is that it effectively creates a segregated society and than an ethnocentric worldview is compromised for mixed-ethnicities and various perspectives on the world existing alongside one another. Building upon this, people who don’t agree with multiculturalism are afraid that the lack of cultural uniformity can lead to a societal collapse in the form of reduced government programs for all citizens. However, multiculturalism can undoubtedly lead to enriched neighborhoods, political assistance, and economic benefits aside from the social and psychological.
Multiculturalism, in my opinion, contributes much more to society than it has drawbacks. Though it may not be an ideal solution to immigration and minority group issues, it has benefits that range from economic and social all the way to psychological. It can be a useful tool in helping minority groups integrate into a new society while simultaneously being able to preserve their own unique cultural values and traditions. Policies that allow people to integrate into a society while still maintaining their own unique cultural flair are advantageous not only to the marginalized groups being protected, but also to societies as a whole. Multiculturalism allows people of different ethnicities to preserve their own way of life while enjoying the benefits of an integrative society that encourages innovation, sharing of culture, and a non-ethnocentric world view. In addition, multiculturalist perspectives help to encourage people to do their best in the workplace, innovate and create at their fullest potential. Multiculturalism even has a host of economic benefits, helping entire societies advance. Despite the fact that there are those who oppose multiculturalism because they think it can be divisive and encourage discrimination and political backlash, I think all the contributions it brings to the table are worth what critics think is flawed with multiculturalism. Personally, I don’t see how an ethnically mixed society will come to destroy values we as a nation cherish. Sharing culture with one another is a beautiful thing that can fight against racism and discrimination.
Multiculturalism believes that American culture can be enriched through inclusion of diverse peoples and cultures within its borders. Of the benefits of multiculturalism, the most obvious is that it helps to smoothen out majority and minority relations. Specifically, Berry discusses how government policies that stem from multiculturalism help people to better integrate and provide a sense of security for immigrants and minority groups. The Canadian multiculturalism policy, in particular, reflects how normally marginalized groups and societies as a whole benefit from becoming diversified. This policy has many benefits but among the most agreed upon are that it demonstrates a social concern for the human relations in Canada and that it fosters these relationships in a positive way rather than waiting for problems to appear. Canada’s multiculturalism policy ensures that minorities and new immigrants are not being ‘ignored’ and that their individual and cultural needs are being heard in society’s larger context. This in turn creates a sense of security for these marginalized groups and a sense of belonging within society. The sense of security influences immigrants and other marginalized groups to make advances in society. Kymlicka explains that in multiculturalist societies like Canada, immigrants are more likely to become citizens, to vote and run for office, and to be elected to office than in other Western democracies. Also, the children of immigrants in multiculturalist societies have better educational outcomes. It’s clear that multiculturalist policies help immigrants to climb the social ladder within the countries they decide to inhabit.
Multiculturalist policies, when put into practice, also have benefits on the individual level. Feelings of security within a society help to bolster the performance of minority groups and immigrants. Bannerji even goes onto describe multiculturalism as ‘the heir to the deceased civil rights movement’. Feelings of security lead marginalized groups to feeling included within their society, which subsequently leads them to perform at their best in society. Stevens et al. propose that all-inclusive multiculturalism even helps workplace productivity and performance. Minority groups who feel like they are included tend to do better at work. Stevens et al. argue that when marginalized groups feel included and respected within a larger societal context, it allows individuals to innovate, flourish, and reach their fullest potential. However, benefits in the workplace are not only limited to an individual basis. When everyone feels included and respected, entire work organizations can have high retention and attract the most talented people in that field of work. Multiculturalist societies help overall worker productivity too. It isn’t just the immigrants that thrive from multiculturalism. According to The Economic Value of Cultural Diversity: Evidence from U.S. Cities, a more multicultural urban environment makes US-born citizens more productive. The fact that inspired minorities do better in the workplace and as a consequence inspire their native-born coworkers to perform better at work is a testament to multiculturalism’s knack for smooth integration.
The economic and political benefits of multiculturalism cannot be ignored either. The biological systems theory argues that diversity within a society leads to a great variance within that society, which in turn allows a society to deal with changing circumstances more effectively.(2) Berry highlights this by discussing how societies with more varied populations have a wider range of alternatives when something happens within their society. This is contrasted by more homogenous societies, which tend to ‘lose its range of alternatives’ and succumb because homogeneity within a society leads to a reduced capability to respond to changes.(2) In addition, multiculturalism can have unprecedented benefits on a country’s place in the international scene. Diplomatic relations with various countries could improve based on positive perceptions of a multiculturalist policy. Relationships with other countries could be strengthened on a shared value placed on maintaining cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity.(2) This respect for promoting the inclusion of all could definitely appeal to other countries and help to strengthen international relations and be a key aspect in strategic maneuvering for our government. Taking into account that multiculturalist policy has had an impact on Canada’s alignment with other nations, I think the United States should take note and consider implementing similar policies.
Multiculturalism is seen as a movement that has not provided an orientation towards cultural diversity strong enough to process the current conflicts and convergences that make the problem of boundaries more acute than ever. Those who are against multiculturalism are angered by the idea of their ethnocentric worldview becoming compromised by the tides of immigrants and the ideas of cultures different than their own. Generally speaking, the mentality this side of the debate has is one of ‘moral monism’, they think that only one way of life is fully human, true, or best. In fact, the main argument against multiculturalism and multiculturalist policies are that groups who want to preserve their own cultures and exist alongside Eurocentric people are threatening the moral fiber of the country they inhabit. People on this side of the multiculturalism debate are somehow convinced that people have to assimilate into a Eurocentric worldview for society to have ‘order’. Douglas expands on this idea and says that people who value assimilation over multiculturalist integration believe that a core set of values unites all Americans, creating one distinct culture that cuts through all ethnic boundaries. The people who believe in the idea of assimilation think that their way of life and traditional values will be destroyed by multiculturalism. Essentially, they think that cultural diversity will dismantle the principles that make America, America. This sentiment is further discussed by Burayidi. The author tells us that exclusionists see multiculturalism as an affront to Eurocentrism. In addition, those against multiculturalism believe that minorities have benefited enough and should not be allowed to undermine the American ‘common culture’.(1) It’s so strange to think about how there are people who want to hang on to dated sentiments that they consider make us ‘American’. Being more open to other cultures can lead to cultural progress in so many different ways. It begs the question: Why would we want to stay the same as we always have been? Change is good.
The fear of losing long-standing traditions and an overarching dominant culture is not the only thing anti-multiculturalists are afraid of. Critics of multiculturalism assert that immigrants fail to integrate and effectively dissolve the bonds that hold the country together. Bloemraad, in Unity in Diversity, discusses that people fear the idea of multiculturalism because celebrating the distinctions and color lines between ethnic groups can cause societal fragmentation: people can end up living wholly separate lives within a single society. This doesn’t sound problematic at first, but anti-multiculturists are afraid that multiculturalism will inadvertently cause a splintering between ethnic groups, effectively segregating a society. Those against multiculturalism state that these inclusionist policies and mentalities create ‘cultural enclaves’ where people who fail to assimilate into a homogenous culture establish separate in-groups where they are sheltered from and deny the predominant culture of the land.(10) Those who are against multiculturalism assert that it can create a situation in which immigrants/marginalized ethnic groups can be separated from the dominant culture and can become an underclass. Part of the main premise that anti-multiculturalism sympathizers have is that it is divisive, can cause decreased national unity, and has the potential to let ethnic and racial discrimination take root.(2)
The economic repercussions of multiculturalism are also discussed by those who are against it. Objectors to multiculturalist ideals believe that multiculturalists help to create false boundaries between socioeconomic groups on the basis of preservation of culture and this has tangible effects on a country’s economic system. Anti-multiculturalism believers firmly agree on the idea that it contributes to a scaling back of public resources and redistribution efforts by the government.(8) This argument revolves around the fact that governments establish welfare states based on shared values of its citizens. They believe that multiculturalism shifts focus onto very particular populations within a society, dissuading the government from supporting universal social policies. This ‘fragmentation’ is seen as one of the biggest problems of multiculturalism. Also, there is the argument that multiculturalism will waste government spending on programs that help to maintain languages and cultures.(2) These programs are intended to help equalize the playing field for immigrants and minorities, and help to ensure their culture and language is preserved. Research has shown that the majority of the ‘economic’ arguments are simply bigoted perceptions shrouded in rationalism and economics.(2)
In sum, central critiques on multiculturalism practices hold that multiculturalism can strengthen false boundaries between groups of people and can discourage holistic governmental assistance programs. I think this is an overly pessimistic perspective on the immigration issue and the inclusion of minority groups in anglicized nations. As opposed to being strictly based in fact, I think the majority of attitudes that argue against multiculturalism are mostly tainted with opinion and are born out of fear and other emotions instead. This idea is explained further by Verkuyten. In Support for Multiculturalism and Minority Rights, he states that a variety of theories suggest that fear and perceptions of threat play an important role in generating prejudice towards out groups in general and specifically, immigrant groups/minorities. These viewpoints stem from both realistic and symbolic threats. Realistic, as the name suggests, is rooted in the fear that immigrants/out groups are taking up resources and have clashes over material interests with a main population. Symbolic, on the other hand is based off of perceived group differences in values, norms, and beliefs.(11) This type of fear is the one that manifests itself as the majority in group fearing that immigrants will ruin their way of life.
The fear of a culture different from your own displacing your Eurocentric world view is in my view unsound. I think fear that is based in symbolic threats is unjustified because it isn’t based in reality. Fearing ideas just because they are dissimilar to your own is a one-way road to bigotry and narrow-mindedness. The idea of symbolic threats and fearing that one’s life style is under threat just because another culture is thrown into the mix is not based in an objective action or reality and instead plays more on the anxieties of a majority group. In fact, Verkuyten even explains that many studies have shown that perceived threats to in-group values by immigrants and minorities predict more negative attitudes towards these groups.(11) Besides, even if multiculturalism does have some noticeable downsides, it would be foolish to ignore what comes out of multiculturalist policies and idealizations. Multiculturalism contributes to society on almost every level: political, social, and psychological. In principle, multiculturalism is a way to provide an ethical framework to work towards equal human rights and social conditions. Whereas segregation, separation, assimilation, and marginalization reduces the social and psychological well-beings of individuals within a nation, multiculturalism and integration promotes these attributes.(2)
Though some may think that multiculturalism is inherently divisive, it is quite the contrary. It helps bring about relations between socioeconomic and ethnic groups that normally are divided to begin with, commonly seen in our ‘melting pot’ culture. Besides improving relations on a small, individual scale, it can catch the attention of other countries whose multiculturalist principles align with one’s home country and improve a nation’s standing on the international level. Its perceived drawbacks are so worth what it brings to the table. It increases a country’s open-mindedness to cultures that are different from its own predominant culture and helps people be more accepting of one another. Where some may see it as divisive, I see multiculturalism to be inclusive in more ways than one. Instead of seeing multiculturalism as a way to splinter different ethnic groups and something that can cause further dissension and segregation, I think we should look at it with more curiosity than fear. Fearing other people’s cultures isn’t productive and can keep us in the dark about the positive contributions foreign cultures can provide to our country. It provides a stable framework for cultural inclusion to take hold and fights back against bigotry and cultural misunderstandings. It helps people from foreign cultures better integrate and provide what they think is best for collective society. It gives people more equality and is enriching in every sense of the word.
At its heart, multiculturalism is a set of beliefs and policies that encourage foundational and integrative changes within societies. Though opponents of multiculturalism are adamant about it being a threat to a culture that they deem to be ‘superior’ and ‘universal’, multiculturalism enriches countries socially, economically, and politically. Its integrative nature is instrumental in giving immigrants and other marginalized groups a platform on which to voice their opinions and concerns, and become productive members of the society they inhabit. The security they gain from societal inclusion influences them to become heavily involved in the communities they live in, contributing their knowledge and living to their fullest potential. Multiculturalist societies can foster the growth of strong economies with a well educated workforce that can have strongly improved relations with other countries on an international scale. Steering societies away from a narrow-minded and ethnocentric worldview is imperative in advancing social relations between ethnically different groups of people. Shying away from a wider scope of understanding will pull our society backwards instead of pushing it forward. Multiculturalism is a tool that can push for diversity and consequently create a more equal society where people can hold onto their cultures and traditions while pushing to be the best they can be within their respective societies. It is vital in creating a society where people can live side by side, preserving their own ideals yet being able to develop understandings of other cultures, pushing for a place that is not only tolerant of differing perspectives, but fully accepting.
Bannerji, Himani. The dark side of the nation: Essays on multiculturalism, nationalism and gender. Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2000.
Berry, John W. "Social psychological costs and benefits of multiculturalism: A view from Canada." Trames 2.3 (1998): 209-233.
Bloemraad, Irene. "UNITY IN DIVERSITY?" Du Bois Review, vol. 4, no. 2, 2007, pp. 317-336. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy2.usc.edu/10.1017/S1742058X0707018X.
Burayidi, Michael A. Multiculturalism in a Cross-national Perspective. University Press of America, 1997.
Douglas, George, and George Yancey. "Taking Stock of America's Attitudes on Cultural Diversity: An Analysis of Public Deliberation on Multiculturalism, Assimilation and Intermarriage*." Journal of Comparative Family Studies, vol. 35, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1-19. , http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.libproxy1.usc.edu/docview/232582665?accountid=14749.
Hollinger, David A. Postethnic America: beyond multiculturalism. Basic Books, 2006.
Kymlicka, Will. "Multiculturalism: Success, Failure, and the Future."Washington DC: Transatlantic Council on Migration. Accessed 20 (2013).
Ottaviano, Gianmarco IP, and Giovanni Peri. "The economic value of cultural diversity: evidence from US cities." Journal of Economic geography 6.1 (2006): 9-44.
Parekh, Bhikhu C. Rethinking multiculturalism: Cultural diversity and political theory. Harvard University Press, 2002.
Stevens, Flannery G., Victoria C. Plaut, and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks. "Unlocking the benefits of diversity all-inclusive multiculturalism and positive organizational change." The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 44.1 (2008): 116-133.
Verkuyten, Maykel. "Support for Multiculturalism and Minority Rights: The Role of National Identification and Out-Group Threat." Social Justice Research, vol. 22, no. 1, 2009, pp. 31-52. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy1.usc.edu/10.1007/s11211-008-0087-7.