8.2.3 Multiculturalism in inhospitable environments

Dr. Arjun Tremblay

A “politics of multiculturalism” can also develop in liberal democracies that by all appearances should be inhospitable to the recognition and accommodation of minority groups. As we saw in the preceding section, the American tradition of liberalism is implicitly mono-cultural and embraces a procedural moral commitment that is insufficient for the recognition of minority cultures. Furthermore, the word “multiculturalism” is often negatively associated in the United States with a form of campus politics that arose in the late 1980s and early 1990s that, its critics argue, promotes ethnic separatism. In fact, the word “multiculturalism” is largely absent in American public and legislative discourse and, when it is used, it is sometimes articulated as a threat to the American ideal of the “melting pot”. Yet, since the 1960s, American governments have designed and implemented a number of policies intended to lower the barriers to social and political participation for immigrants with limited English proficiency. This has included the adoption of policies of bilingual education, minority language assistance in voting, and language accommodation in the delivery of public services. Furthermore, according to the MPI, the United States practices one of the most extensive forms of Indigenous multiculturalism, receiving a score of 8/9 for the year 2010 (Multiculturalism Policy Index; Evidence; United States).

In Britain, the contrast between opposition to multiculturalism and its implementation is perhaps even more striking. At the turn of the millennium, the Blair New Labour government rejected in no uncertain terms a proposal that Britain adopt a declaration of cultural diversity patterned after Canada’s policy of official multiculturalism. Nevertheless, Britain subsequently underwent a true multicultural policy revolution entailing, among other developments, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s adoption of a multi-faith mandate in 2006, diversity-oriented revisions to the national curriculum, and the extension of positive action (i.e., affirmative action) measures to cover religion and belief in 2010.

In brief, multiculturalism has blossomed and can blossom in environments that seem less than amenable to recognizing and accommodating minority groups. In addition, multiculturalism’s development in public policy in Britain as well as in the United States shows that there is often a disjuncture between what elected officials say about the recognition and accommodation of diversity and what governments actually do to make the process of immigrant integration fairer.


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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Arjun Tremblay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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