Multiculturalism, Identity, Britishness
Multiculturalism, Identity, BritishnessMulticulturalismMulticulturalism is a word that provokes strong feelings. It raises questions:about the claims of indigenous peoples who are minorities within the wider community;about the rights and obligations of immigrants to a host society; about the extent to which cultural variety should be tolerated (or promoted) within a society; about the importance of ideas of citizenship and national identity
more particular questions: about government policy dealing with issues ranging from education to the composition of the armed servicesSome proponents of multiculturalism call not simply for toleration of difference or affirmative action to improve the lot of disadvantaged minorities, but for encouraging the development of difference . The liberal understanding of toleration is too weak, it is held, because it tends to assume a certain homogeneity in the population, and looks to assimilate differences The important thing, however, the argument goes, is to allow individuals to express and defend their identities which are rooted in their difference (Young, 1 990) . others see this not as a solution to the problem of coexistence among diverse ways of life but as a recipe for cultural conflict
In multicultural societies diversity is a fact of life . The important question is: what sorts of attitudes and policies should we adopt towards such cultural diversity? Should we celebrate, protect, and encourage it?
Our political morality and our conceptions of the good are connected in this way: we need resources, liberties, and opportunities to pursue our conceptions of the good. We also need to sustain and develop our capacities for recognising, choosing, and living in accordance with correct values, and our political morality has a major contribution to make in helping or hindering us in the development of these capacitiesSo our political morality must include a theory of justice that dictates how social resources are to be distributed. Each person is to have a fair share of resources. Our political morality must also embody just decision-procedures for determining the policies, and shaping the institutions, that are to regulate our economic and social life. So, in broad terms, we know the scope of part of our political morality. The substance of our political morality is a matter of the most fundamental dispute in political philosophyCultural Assimilation
The policy of cultural assimilation requires that minority cultural groups give up that which they regard as crucial to their sense of identity and well-being. Those who refuse to be assimilated will be marginalised and turned into second-class citizens . Many of those who accept assimilation will still be faced with the prospect of a bitter struggle as they seek to internalise the values and adopt the way of life needed for success in a homogeneous society. They will try to alienate themselves from their previous culture around which so much of their former lives revolve Friends and relatives, who are unable or unwilling to join the bandwagon, will be renounced: their speech, their dress, their customs and beliefs, and sometimes even shared physical attributes, will be objects of shame and scorn. The young will have to be indoctrinated into the dominant culture . But in the end there will be enough resistance and non-conformity for the process of assimilation to fail without recourse to substantial force, and perhaps even despotic measures
There is of course a place and a need for some assimilation. There is a unitary political culture which defines the framework within which diverse ways of life may flourish. Immigrant groups will have to acknowledge the shared political morality and live in accordance with it. The liberal political morality gives them the freedom to criticise that political morality itself, and to participate in reshaping it. But they have to do so by conforming to the relevant decision-procedures. Many migrants come from less tolerant societies , and will no doubt welcome this new tolerance. But they too have to pay a price for it.Toleration does not exempt their way of life, their culture, from open criticism and repudiation by others . So there will be some unavoidable pain to them in the process of political assimilation. But political assimilation is all the assimilation to which they should be subjected. Many critics of multiculturalism in Australia attack some migrants, especially Asian migrants, for not accepting the Australian way of life, for rejecting the Australian identity. These critics assume that a policy of comprehensive assimilation is correct
The other route to a homogeneous society is by bringing about a new, common culture out of the diverse elements of existing cultures. It may be that over a long period of time a common culture will emerge through the blending of different cultures as they interact with one another in a free and open society. However, the more likely result is that each culture will change through interaction, but there will still be several different cultures, and not a single culture shared by all.Which are the consequences?If we try to create a common culture by artificial means, we will only succeed in producing something bland and lacking vitality. An artificially created cosmopolitan culture will very likely wipe out all those differences which give strength to particular cultures, and which are the objects of deep commitments.
The British Citizenship Question
Defining British identity has long been the subject of much debate. Questions such as what does it mean to be British? Which values does Britishness enshrine? Is the English language an integral part of our national identity? Invariably generate strong views and lengthy academic discussions; but few satisfying answers
Professor Sir Bernard Crick, former Chair of the governments Advisory Board onNaturalisation and Integration (ABNI) and the acknowledged architect of Britishnationality and citizenship policyBritishness is, to me, an overarching political and legal concept: it signifies allegiance to the laws, government and broad moral and political concepts like tolerance and freedom of expression that hold the United Kingdom together. But there is no overall British culture, only a sharing of cultures. Britishness is a strong concept, but narrower than many suppose. Do we not speak of and recognise at once English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh novels, plays and poems? And whatever Fifa [International Federation of Association Football] may think, we see nothing odd in fielding four national football teams. And we recognise an immigrant literature in English, though even the authors sometimes find it hard to name (Crick 2004)
In 2006, as part of his Our Nations Future lecture series,Prime Minister Blair firmly placed the English language at the very heart of Britainsnational identityWe should share a common language. Equal opportunity for all groups requires that they be conversant in that common language. It is a matter both of cohesion and of justice that we should set the use of English as a condition of citizenship. In addition, for those who wish to take up residence permanently in the UK, we will include a requirement to pass an English test before such permanent residency is granted (Blair 2006)
British citizens come in all shapes, ages, genders and colours; they belong to various social strata and economic backgrounds; speak hundreds of different languages and self-ascribe to a wide spectrum of cultural and political traditions, faiths and religious beliefs. Yet, although powerful the forces that pull these individuals apart may be, they all share an even stronger communal bond that brings them together as one British nation. British citizens, Parekh points out, are not only private individuals, but members of particular religions, ethnic and cultural communities, which are comparatively stable as well as open and fluid. Britain is both a community of citizens and a community of communities (Runnymede Trust 2000, ix).
Whether private or public, minority ethnic or mainstream, monolingual or multilingual, the notion of identity is essentially defined as self-ascription to a particular group. In other words, our sense of identity ultimately depends on the meanings attached to it by us and those around us. Perceptions are indeed a fundamental factor in determining how individuals view themselves, how, in turn, they view others, and how others eventually look upon them. A second-generation English-speaking Bangladeshi child brought up in the East End of London, for example, may see themselves as being wholly British; however it is unlikely that the rest of the indigenous white British population may regard them as being one of them.
The accelerated transformation of Britain into a multiethnic society, in the second half of the twentieth century, has seen the intensification of the trend to reassert the status quo enjoyed by the countrys dominant white citizenry. Mass medias nationalistic prose accompanied derogative depictions of minority ethnic communities and faith groups. Pandering to deep-seated fears of cultural and linguistic fragmentation, unfavourable images of non-white British citizens have strengthened the already growing social divide between us the UKs white indigenous population and them the non-white newcomers. Negative images, stereotypical and pejorative public representations of minority ethnic groups are known to contribute to a sense of alienation and low self-esteem among members of these communities
Unedifying treatment by the British media of some of the countrys minority ethnic communities has time and again contributed to marginalise these vulnerable groups further. During the 1980s, for examp