Has Multiculturalism Failed?

Categories: Politics & Economics, Sociology

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This week’s NPR Religion Podcast featured a piece from “All Things Considered” looking into the debates in Denmark relating to Muslim immigration and religious tolerance. Especially interesting was the observation about changing attitudes to multiculturalism in Europe:

The very concept of multiculturalism is now being called into question in much of Europe. Danish writer and journalist Helle Merete Blix is among those who think it’s failed.

Ms. HELLE MERETE BLIX (Writer/Journalist): “Because multiculturalism does not produce more pluralism. What it produces is parallel societies. It has to be a main culture that you sort of integrate into. And if too many people suddenly speak out they want Shariah law, they do not want democracy, that is a major problem in every European country.”

This reminds me of a talk by Duke English professor Ian Baucom a few years ago in which he observed that multiculturalism, though still all the rage in popular circles, was falling out of favor in academic/intellectual circles. In addition to the “parallel societies” problem, Baucom also pointed out that the fundamental problem with multiculturalism is that it effectively involves various “minority cultures” receiving some sort of approval from a dominant culture or group, with the necessary result being a sort of unintentional ghettoization of these “minority cultures,” marked out as “different” from the mainstream. Morgan Freeman’s comments about “Black History Month” a few years ago center on just this problem—in order to “celebrate” the “other,” one must first make someone into an “other” rather than “one of us”:

The grand irony is that multiculturalism—in large measure a product of western postcolonial guilt—essentially winds up being a new sort of colonialism, in which the dominant culture’s control is exerted in giving approval to those groups it marks out as not a part of itself. (Foucauldians, you may nod knowingly now.) To borrow Edward Said’s terminology, multiculturalism requires “othering” every bit as much as the colonialism it intends to undo; that is, it requires the marking off of various groups as “different” or “other” from “us.” Yes, this is ostensibly to “honor” and “respect” “their culture,” but it also has the pernicious effect of marginalizing and distancing “them” from “us.” Put differently, multiculturalism is in some sense self-refuting, thanks to its reliance upon a dominant culture that ensures all the “others” are respected and given a special place. In his talk, Baucom suggested that it would likely take a couple decades for the academic/intellectual recognition of the flaws of multiculturalism to be felt within popular culture (since what is fashionable among intellectuals typically becomes popularly fashionable after the fact) but that multiculturalism would ultimately wind up a rejected fad.

Given these recent developments in Europe, has that already begun to happen? What then will fill the ideological void in the West?

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Jason, provocative post.

    I’ve no clue what will fill the “ideological void in the West.”

    Probably more ideological blowhards to whom no one listens?

    There’s a lemma. I work in poverty/indigent care with minorities on migrant trails. I don’t see browns, blacks, yellows, red natives – migrating around because of any post-modern reading they do of all-glorious Derrida.

    They’re trying to scratch a living.

    How many ethnic people migrate because of theories of multiculturalism? – did Kristeva’s book Des Chinoises Femmes cause mass migrations of women into or out of China seeking multiculturalism?



    • All good points. People don’t migrate because of theories of multiculturalism, but how immigrants are received (and what places are more open for immigration) is in some sense derivative of the given cultural ideology.

  • Jason, a sidebar please.

    I’m enjoying a quiet and small Quaker bible-study blog. We’ve touched on Paul and his blindness. I made a satiric reference to Paul and his blindness (@ http://randomarrow.blogspot.com/2011/07/to-supernova-dust-you-shall-return.html).

    No heavy theological lifting.

    One of my cool Quaker interlocutors replied saying that Paul’s blindness is Luke’s version. Not Paul’s. Paul says he could read and write.

    I don’t have a pony in this race.

    Just curious: is there a most probable resolution?



    • Good question here. Your interlocutor is right inasmuch as the “Damascus Road” event and subsequent blindness and healing from blindness is found in Acts, not in any of Paul’s letters.

      That said, Paul reminds the Galatians that he had first preached to them “because of an illness” and that they “would have taken out their own eyes and given them” to him if they could have. This (and the note at the end where Paul references the “large letters” he writes with) suggests that Paul indeed had some problems with his eyes, although this presumably isn’t tied to the Acts story.

  • Thank you. Both replies. With this response, add “forensics” to your cv! Cheers and thanks, ~ Jim

  • […] First was an NPR piece I heard on the radio on multiculturalism. Second was a friend’s response to it. Third was an article I read about why an African American was “leaving the black […]


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