Multicultural Society

cropped-image11.jpgMulticultural Society

The term multicultural society is a contentious one these days. What was once a term which was supposed to show how progressive and cosmopolitan a country was is now riddled with all kinds of other meanings – with some quarters suggesting that the term should be scrapped altogether. The basis of the argument against it is that by describing a society as such, we are highlighting differences between different people instead of celebrating the experiences that everyone brings to a society.

 The Commission for Racial Equality added fuel to this fire a few years ago when Trevor Phillips suggested the term be outlawed altogether. But since then, a healthy – and not so healthy in some quarters – has raged on about the appropriateness of the term, with camps for and against it rising up.

For the Words Multicultural Society

People who would argue that the term multicultural society should be used will say that the term conjures up a cosmopolitan and diverse community. The argument in favour of the term suggests that by describing a society as multicultural, we are being proud of the fact there are multiple cultures in our communities. They would say that by embracing multiculturalism, we are embracing the experiences people of all cultures bring to the table. This argument says that a multicultural society is the best way of building a successful community, with mutual respect for people of all cultures.

Against the Words Multicultural Society

The people in the camp against the term multicultural society will say that it draws up divides. They argue that by using the term, people will automatically be divided into smaller communities made up of their ‘culture’ to create one larger ‘multiculture’. The people in this camp argue that the term prevents social cohesion and prevents people from integrating as one huge community.

They say that a multicultural society should not be aspired to – rather we should look for a cosmopolitan community which is integrated, where people from all cultures live side by side without anyone taking any notice of what culture they originate from.

The basis of this argument is that it should not, in an ideal world, be necessary to state that there are multiple cultures. This should be natural – and people should go about their daily business without thinking ‘oh, there’s a person from x culture, how nice that I live in a multicultural community’. For, they will argue, how can we learn naturally from each others’ experiences when we are constantly told that others are different. Rather, we should pick things up without realising.

But of course, the term multicultural society is comprised of words like any others. At the end of the day, it is attitudes that matter more than the labels we give to them. Of course, there are some labels that are downright offensive. But with multicultural society, we can debate all day the rights and wrongs of the term, but unless the prevailing attitude is to celebrate differences, then the term is immaterial. This attitude must be to embrace differences without drawing up a divide.

What is Diversity?

We hear a lot about diversity these days from various organisations and individuals. But, surely, in an ideal world, we would not have to worry about diversity because a diverse society would be the norm, without people noticing the differences between each other.

So, if diversity is something which is needed now but is ultimately a concept which should disappear, it begs the question what is diversity? What does it mean, how is it achieved and why do we want it now?

What Does Diversity Mean?

The very meaning of diversity is not a complex idea. Diversity means, in the context of society, having a mixed community of people from all walks of life. When people talk about diversity and having a diverse community, they generally mean that they want to see all minority groups represented in that community.

But some people would argue that forcing diversity on communities is not natural and will result in conflict, and accusations of tokenism – that is, that feeling that there is a person included from a minority group simply to tick a box, to make sure that that group is represented.

Far better, such people would argue, to let diversity happen organically and communities grow up naturally – this will then as a matter of course lead to a diverse community, as long as there are no barriers in place to stop people joining the community.

How Can Diversity be Achieved?

Diversity can also apply to organisations as well as communities. Anyone who scans the recruitment section of local newspapers will see that organisations often describe themselves in job adverts as ‘committed to diversity’ and other such slogans.

It is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their inclusion in a minority group, but some companies and employers actually go one step further and trumpet this ‘commitment to diversity’ from the rooftops. These companies will then have a staff make up of people of all races, all sexualities, all ages and all religions.

The only problem here can be tokenism once again and some people may feel uncomfortable if they are the only person from a certain minority group and have clearly been employed as a token person from that group. Herein lies the problem with encouraging diversity.

Why Do We Want it Now?

It is desirable now so that our communities and organisations do not become stand-alone groups. But it must be true diversity, where all groups are represented, but naturally rather than making it forced. Because if a person becomes uncomfortable that they are no more than a tick in the box, this is bound to result in tension and conflict.

Diversity basically means celebrating differences to create coherent and happy communities. A diverse community is all the richer for the people in it. However, for it to be truly diverse, everyone within the community must contribute to it and bring their own experiences to the group for a richer shared experience and the education of others.

Everyone has something to bring to a community, whether they are members of the biggest or the smallest group and diversity is about embracing all of these members.

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