In defence of multiculturalism

February 21, 2007 — Interview

Written by Liz Fekete

A briefing paper explaining and defending multiculturalism has been published today by the Institute of Race Relations.

As the government’s commission on integration and cohesion questions the basis of multiculturalism, the independent charity, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), publishes a short, practical guide to the concept, drawing on discussions at its ‘Racism, Liberty and the War on Terror’ conference in 2006.

In defence of multiculturalism by Jenny Bourne, which can be downloaded here (pdf file, 65kb), explains what multiculturalism really means and how it was created out of the positive struggles against racism that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities have waged over three generations. The public debate about multiculturalism having ‘gone too far’ really shrouds, she argues, a desire to return Britain to retrogressive, assimilationist policies.

It was the 2001 ‘riots’ in the northern towns and September 11 and the War on Terror that provided the excuse – in anti-Muslim racism and the Clash of Civilisations thesis – for blaming Minority Ethnic communities for refusing to integrate, preferring to lead ‘parallel lives’. In reality, it was successive discriminatory policies, particularly in housing and educational allocation, that led to segregated communities. Such separation, this briefing paper argues, will not be obviated by top-down, cosmetic cohesion policies but through joint struggles against poverty and deprivation which engage and unite all affected communities.

Related links

Download a copy of IRR Briefing Paper No.2, In defence of multiculturalism (pdf file, 65kb)

* While terms like 'immigrant' and 'migrant' may seem old-fashioned in the UK context, in Germany, where very few communities are officially recognised as 'ethnic minorities', such terms are widely used in public discourse, even to describe the children and grandchildren of the original post-war migrants and guest workers. Whereas migrant support groups are critical of official descriptors, they point out that they are an improvement on the past, when anyone who was recognisable as coming from the global South, even those who were German citizens or born in Germany, was officially described as ausländer (foreigners).[1] In the run-up to the September federal and regional elections, the NPD sent hate mail to thirty candidates with foreign-sounding names, purporting to come from the commissioner for repatriation of foreigners and demanding that they go back to their country of origin within three months. Zeca Schall, who had appeared on Christian Democrat regional election campaign posters, was placed under police protection after receiving hate mail from the NPD which had also publicly described him as a 'token n****r' and urged its members in the eastern state to deliver its message to him personally.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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