What is multiculturalism?
Multiculturalism is a notion applicable to a society represented by people from diverse ethnic groups and cultures. Nowadays, it is the reality that everyone is used to. However, the issue of multiculturalism is quite controversial as multiculturalism differs on each side of the Atlantic Ocean – the United States of America and Europe.
What is multiculturalism? Fist of all, multiculturalism can have a demographic dimension, meaning pluralism in a form of coexisting minorities groups, like in case with Switzerland where several linguistic communities coexist successfully, or because of migrating people with different cultural, ethnical, religious and educational background (Bloemraad, 2011, p.1). Secondly, multiculturalism is seen as a ‘political philosophy’ that recognizes, accommodates and supports cultural pluralism (Bloemraad, 2011, p.1). Bloemraad (2011, p.2) explains that ‘the philosophy of multiculturalism’ is an orientation that may be embraced by people, governmental agencies or social institutions. Finally, multiculturalism can be considered as public policy that implies recognizing pluralism de facto and promoting in every possible way, like in the example given by Bloemraad (2011, p.3) - allocation funds for the establishment of schools for minorities regarding their racial, ethnic, or religious background.
Multiculturalism Impact in the U.S.
Turning firstly to multiculturalism in the United States, it should be admitted that the USA is the country of immigrants and a country who provide everyone who comes there with freedom of being themselves without any persecution, and a country that could be truly called multicultural. Today, there’s no longer a ‘melting pot’ concept being promoted in the States, but rather an ‘American mosaic’ concept (Owen, 2005, p.1). The former implies that immigrant groups assimilate to the American society creating a homogeneous society and the latter implies that immigrants should not abandon their identity and should preserve their native languages and cultural traditions (Owen, 2005, p.1). Multiculturalism has been promoted formally by different institutions in the United States and tolerance for diversity has been advocated by the Government via, for example, adoption of a curricular at elementary and secondary schools with the view to grow understanding of diversity (Owen, 2005, p.1).
However, despite the fact that many Americans embrace multiculturalism and many people don’t think they have to assimilate fully and become an American 100%, there’s still ‘societal and political tension’ and a certain extent of intolerance towards multiculturalism. (Owen, 2005, p.1). It has been noticed was studied by Owen (2005, p.2), who referred to the survey as of 2005 stating that “64% of Americans believe U.S. schools should teach all students in English” and should not to switch to the bilingual education.
Obviously, multiculturalism causes numerous debates in the American Society. As Lauter (2009, p.1) suggests in his article, there are two main issues raised in the above-mentioned debates on multiculturalism in the U.S. First one is if “one’s identity a matter of descent―family, tribe, nationality, race―or a matter of consent?” (Lauter, 2009, p.1). The second one is about essence and influence of multiculturalism on American identity. Lauter (2009, p.1) indicates that multiculturalism has ‘a centripetal and dividing power’ that may divide the unity, which is expressed in the slogan meaning ‘out of many, one’ and printed on American dollars. If so, multiculturalism promotes the values of difference and here arise the issue of identity and most provoking questions that Lauter (2009, p.1) refers to - ‘What becomes of national unity, of the meaning of being an American? What holds us together?’
Speaking about identity, Lauter (2009, p.1) also highlight the issue of the impact of terrorism attacks, like that one of September 11 and some others, on American identity.
The issue of identity, including the influence of terrorist attacks in the context of multiculturalism, was already touched upon by Owen. In her article Owen (2005, p. 2), referred to American Exceptionalism, explaining that Americans tend to consider their country to be examples for other countries. Exceptionalism sentiments were enhanced after terrorist attack of September 11 and 90% people claimed ‘to be first and foremost Americans’ (Owen, 2005, p.2).
It goes without saying that multiculturalism is a consequence of immigration which is rapidly growing and influences the diversity of population in the U.S. Owen (2005, p. 4) considers diversity population profile to be the context for further discussions about multiculturalism. Based on some research data, Owen (2005, p. 4) claims that minority groups of the past and present are likely to turn into the majorities in the nearest future. Another trend that was noticed in the American society is that the population of the United States consists of a quite a big number of young people. Turning to some statistical data, according to U.S. Census figures, in 1950, Americans born in other countries comprise 6.9 % or 10,347,395 of a total population of 150,216,110, people. By 2000, the proportion of foreign‐born Americans was 11.1% or 31,107,889 people of 281,421,906 (Lauter, 2009, p.3).
Taking into consideration the above-mentioned facts, it's clear that the United States is a country with a constantly growing population and multicultural society where migrants can leave enjoying all freedoms and adopting American culture and at the same time bringing to this culture a new part of 'American culture' – a piece of their own culture. However, it is not included into U.S. legislation but is formally promoted by the Government. However, there's a certain tension in the society, as multiculturalism alongside with immigration affects the understanding of American identity to the greatest extent.
Multiculturalism in European Countries
Could European countries be named multicultural as well? Bloemraad (2011, p.4) pays attention to the Index indicating that Germany, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Norway, and have the lowest level of multiculturalism, although German government quite enough multicultural policies. Belgium, New Zealand, the United Kingdom are moderate 'multicultural countries'like the United States. The highest level of multiculturalism has not European countries, such as Canada and Australia (Bloemraad, 2011, p.5).
Switching to the European perception of identity, multiculturalism and immigration, there appears a clear difference of European and American diversity, based on the fact that cultural diversity is perceived in different ways, although the European population is not homogeneous either. It happens so, because, probably the only indigenous people are the Scandinavian people – the Sami. Therefore, if the United States is a country of immigrants, European country seems to see a threat in multiculturalism, reducing it to immigration. Immigration policy is paid a great attention to, taking into the consideration the current migration crisis.
Criticism of multiculturalism is distinctly demonstrated in the case with Anders Breivik, 'the Norwegian mass murderer' (Malik, 2012, p.4), who was full of hatred to multiculturalism policies. Ans as it is known, a row of European political actors, such as Angela Merkel David Cameron and even former French Nicolas Sarkozy (Malik, 2012, p.4). However, Malik (2012, p.5) believes that 'the real target of Breivik’s assault is not so much multiculturalism as immigrants, immigration, and diversity'.
Malik (2012, p.1) believes that multiculturalism has two meanings that are 'too rarely distinguished'. The first one reflects the notion of 'cultural diversity, mass immigration, open borders and open minds' (Malik, 2012, p.1). But bearing in mind that multiculturalism is a policy and philosophy as well, the second meaning managing and institutionalizing diversity by 'putting people into ethnic and cultural boxes', that define people's needs and rights and are used to shape public policy (Malik, 2012, p.1). The same vision Malik (Malik, 2012, p.1) applies when explaining the case of Breivik, saying that he puts people into cultural boxes, labeling them ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’. 'In his twisted, fantasy world the presence of Muslims in the Christian box pollutes and defiles it and needs to be eliminated', which caused the aggressive reaction that was transformed into a mass murder (Malik, 2012, p.1).
Current migrants crisis, recent terrorist attacks in France, Beirut, Turkey and other countries definitely affect the image of multiculturalism and make European leaders reoconsider their immigration policy.
Summing up the review of multiculturalism impact in Europe, it is obvious that multiculturalism is seen there as kind of threat, even though some European countries have adopted multicultural policies and considered to be countries with a moderate level of multiculturalism Bloemraad (2011, p.6) reported that seven of nine studies on anti-immigrant sentiments and attitudes showed stable or increasingly negative attitudes of Europeans towards immigrants, and only two studies can boast of more or less positive responses.
It's become obvious that generally multiculturalism is about that making immigrants with different cultural backgrounds feel at home and feel an organic part of the country (Manning 2011, p.6). Moreover, according to Bloemraad's (2011, p.6) opinion, immigrants who live in a country carrying out multicultural policies are likely to participate in political activities without violence, more trust in government and less report about discrimination based on their ethnic belonging.
What about majority groups? Do they feel included into the society? Manning (2011, p.6) highlights one multiculturalism's failure, explaining that the multicultural policies create conditions for minorities to feel a part of the wider society, and at the same time it neglects feelings of white natives, 'taking their identity and values for granted'. Manning's (2011, p.6) findings on the situation in Britain indicate that certain proportion of the white population in Britain 'feel that they are neglected and discriminated against and do not feel a part of British society'.
Finishing the assessment of multiculturalism on both side of the Atlantic Ocean, it should be pointed out that multiculturalism is indeed a controversial phenomenon and will continue to cause the hottest discussions and influence both cultural and political aspects of societies, having a great impact of both political and cultural dimensions of the society, including identity process.
Bloemraad, I., 2011, The Debate Over Multiculturalism: Philosophy, Politics, and Policy. Migration Policy Institute.
Lauter, P., 2009, From Multiculturalism to Immigration Shock (adapted). The Journal of Transnational American Studies.
Malik, K., 2012, What is wrong with multiculturalism? A European Perspective (adapted). Pandaemonium. [online] Available at: <https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/what-is-wrong-with-multiculturalism-part-1/> [ Accessed 23 January 2015]
Manning, A., 2011, The successes and failures of multiculturalism. [online] Available at: <www.policy-network.net> [ Accessed 06 January 2015]
Owen, D., 2005, American Identity, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism (adapted). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University.