WD Fyfe

A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society

Multiculturalism: an old-fashioned idea

Way back in the 70s, when Trudeau ruled the Earth and Canadians were purging themselves of all human imperfections, some of the bright boys in Ottawa decided it was time to give up trying to squeeze Canada into a bilingual, bicultural straitjacket and, in the parlance of that time, “tell it like it is.”  The result was multiculturalism which was immediately enshrined in our document de jour, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  (Honestly, I think the idea had more to do with watering down Quebec nationalism than recognizing Ed Wong’s Golden Dragon restaurant, but that’s for another time.)  Multiculturalism has been the law of the land ever since.  Recently, however, our European cousins (notably, Angela Merkel and David Cameron) have decided that multiculturalism doesn’t work and there need to be some national standards all citizens should adhere to.  Surprisingly, this has not sparked the CBC (or anybody else) to raise the alarm in Canada over rightwing racists reaching for their copies of Mein Kampf.  This proves, once again, that Canadians are smarter than journalists and politicians combined and don’t really care about multiculturalism. It was a stupid idea in the first place.

Legislating multiculturalism in Canada is like trying to teach a sea otter to swim.  It doesn’t do any good but it really annoys the otter.  Canadians are multicultural by definition.  We can’t help it; it’s in our collective DNA.  Ask any Canadian what it means to be Canadian, and it might take them a while, but eventually they’ll get around to “We’re not Americans.”  This is exactly what Canadians are: we’re not Americans.  It’s the standard by which we judge ourselves, and after that nobody cares.  It’s the only question on the Citizenship Test (if we even have one.)  Ordinary Canadians don’t give a damn who, what or where a person is from.  We figure, if you’re willing to put up with the weather, you’re in.  Canada could take the Pepsi Challenge on Racism with any other country in the world and win.  It wouldn’t even be close.  Canadians care more about hockey than they do race, creed, colour or religion.

Multiculturalism was conceived in the olden days (the 60s-going-on-70s) when modern travel, information and immigration first brought Canada’s Chattering Class in contact with a few cultures other than their own.  Seduced by the American media’s addiction to race relations, and unable to control our enthusiasm and ignorance, we fell all over ourselves trying to prove our benevolence.  In short order, it became accepted wisdom in Canada that the quaint peoples of the world (who didn’t have modern conveniences like cars) were simply not strong enough to withstand the Anglo-American cultural juggernaut.  In other words, KFC was going to overwhelm tandoori chicken — whether 800 million South Asians liked it or not.  A bold statement from a couple of million Canadians but so be it.  This was called tolerance.  In actual fact, it was a blatant display of soft prejudice.  To naturally assume one culture’s inherent strength compared to another’s is nothing short of racism, no matter what you call it.  However, Canadians decided to take their patriarchal responsibilities seriously and protect these unfortunate people.   Multiculturalism was born.  The vertical mosaic was alive, and all was well with the world. 

Today, we understand that the vertical mosaic has actually become an ethnic archipelago.  Ethnic communities flourish in our major cities without ever having any contact with other ethnic communities flourishing just two or three blocks away.  Our inclusive society is more segregated now than it’s ever been — because we are rapidly losing the group identity that makes people wish to be included.  There is no real advantage to being a Canadian anymore — even in Canada — aside from financial gain and territorial location.  One might just as well remain Filipino, Somali — or Martian — for all it matters.

We also discovered that cultures come with a lot more than just odd hats and different spices in their food.  Sometimes, they have nasty little by-products like polygamy, honour killings, Sharia law and female circumcision, to name just a few.  If all cultures are equal (which by the way they are) in a legislated multicultural society, they must all be tolerated in their entirety.   There’s no third choice on this.  State-sponsored multiculturalism does not allow us to rummage through another person’s values and discard what we feel is inappropriate.  Without a set of core moral judgements, right and wrong become a matter of academic debate – and nothing more.

Canadians are a tolerant people (nutbars don’t count.)  Even though we are all different, historically we’ve had to work together to survive the climate and geography of our country.  Diversity is the natural state in which we exist.  However, as we continue to cling to the old-fashioned model of multiculturalism, many Canadians are beginning to wonder what advantage we gain by emphasising our differences — especially at the expense of all the things that should make us the same.

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One comment on “Multiculturalism: an old-fashioned idea

  1. anne moriarty
    February 9, 2011

    Great idea, multiculturalism; it was likely a necessary policy (paradigm?) for a while to fix up all that evil stuff. But I can tell you that most of my students have had enough. They’re on to ethnic humour, in a lot of cases, as way of escaping the silence that an excessive focus on difference brings.
    You’re bang on on this one, Bill. But you are so for the right reasons. Some, I fear, bash PC and multiculti-politics from a place of anger and bigotry. If I fail to detect this in an anti-multiculti argument, I’ll join in the rational discussion. Without this sense of trust in motives, I’m out!

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This entry was posted on February 9, 2011 by in Social Comment and tagged , , , .
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