Sunday 6 February 2011

Cameron And The Multiculturalism Ritual

Like some kind of tired ritual that every governing party must periodically tick off, David Cameron has got around to making his "multiculturalism is bad, promoting Britishness is good" speech. His predecessor said much the same about 'integration versus separatism' in 2007, but at least this Prime Minister has added a note of novelty by more forthrightly attacking 'state' multiculturalism.

Being Cameron, this was really a speech about making cuts in public spending, although I'm sure that he must know that any genuinely 'radical' organisation that rejects universal human rights would never take funds from the state in the first place. The rest of Cameron's argument is just as muddled - the real reason why the state has chosen to work through self-appointed "community leaders" over the years has been an attempt by mainstream political parties to depoliticise multiculturalism, to remove its dynamic element of resistance to state racism. This is elegantly summed up by Ambalavaner Sivanandan in his 2005 essay "Race, Terror and Civil Society" [1]:

1. In itself multiculturalism simply means cultural diversity. But, in practice, that diversity can either be progressive leading to integration, or regressive leading to separation.

2. The force that drives multiculturalism in either direction is the reaction to racism and, in particular, the racism of the state which sets the seal on institutional and popular racism.

3. The reaction to racism is either resistance (struggles) or accommodation. (Submission is not an option, nor is terrorism.)

4. Resistance to, or struggle against, racism engenders a more just society, enlarges the democratic remit and provides the dynamics of integration that leads to a pluralist society.

5. Accommodating to racism engenders a retreat from mainstream society into the safety of one's own ethnicity and leads to separatism.

6. Anti-racism is the element that infuses politics into multiculturalism and makes it dynamic and progressive. (Note that the Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and 1976 were the result of anti-racist struggles of the '60s and '70s).

7. Remove the anti-racist element and multiculturalism descends into culturalism/ethnicism. (Witness the post Scarman settlement that reduced the fight against racism to a fight for culture and led to ethnic enclaves).

The problem with multiculturalism is not the 'radicalism' it supposedly creates by support for conservative ethnic 'leaders'. The problem is that multiculturalism is no longer radical enough in resisting state racism.

But that doesn't mean that our diversity isn't worth defending against attacks from first Labour and now Conservative politicians.

[1] this essay is not, as far as I'm aware, available online but can be found in 'Catching History on the Wing' by A. Sivanandan, published in 2008 by Pluto Press

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