Exploring Intercultural Identity: Four Voices: Oh, Diversity!

Posted in 2011 Globalization Column The Gnovis Blog  |  Tagged , , , , , , ,

For this entry, I was greatly educated and inspired by the book “Multiculturalism & Intergroup Relations: Psychological implications for democracy in a global context” by Fathali M. Moghaddam. American Psychological Association: Washington D.C., 2008
Multiculturalism is a valuable asset for any society.  Compared to a multicultural society, a hegemonic population is more likely to develop discriminatory sentiments to outgroup members. A society with high hegemony is arguably more limited, one-track minded. On the other hand, children growing up in a diverse society are accustomed to seeing members of different cultures live and work among them. Naturally, one would expect these children to have better prepped minds to accept “the different” as equals to themselves.
There are a handful of countries in the world  that among them, generally foster acceptance of multiculturalism. These countries are immigrant-receiving countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, the USA, etc. Often, the immigrants to these pluralistic and multicultural countries come from highly hegemonic societies. And often, the immigrants leave their mother-land due to discrimination, (e.g., social progress difficulties,  job discrimination and ideological persecution, etc.).  These “victim” populations seek out second homes in order to live freely and are able to practice and preserve their unique cultural identity. The strength and the main attraction of the immigrant-receiving countries is the fact that they welcome diverse populations. However, the irony appears when this very strength can potentially also become these multicultural societies’ Achilles’ Heel.

Multicultural Conundrum

Some logos of cultural groups from American, British and Canadian university campuses.

Multiculturalist policies of ‘welcoming countries’ where, for example, Japanese-immersion public schools are funded by the government are laudable.  (The Virginia public school system is well-known for offering total immersion in non-American languages, e.g. Japanese, Spanish, Arabic.) However, this attraction has a negative side-effect. It often creates increasing distance among identity groups. Cultural identity groups are able to define themselves, create civic associations, and strengthen their exclusive in-group ties quite freely in most of today’s immigrant-receiving countries. The strengthening of group divisions and in-group member unity can also be fuel for a brushfire of sorts. Increased division, according to many studies, can only foster aggression toward outgroups.
A compounding issue is the psychological preference for us to associate with smaller cultural identity units rather than large ones. People are much more inclined to pledge faithful allegiance to their nuclear family than a whole tribe; or for example, to Tibetan Culture Association than a Pan-Asian association.  Given that in immigrant-receiving societies multicultural groups are encouraged to form, and the fact that we naturally gravitate toward allegiance to smaller, rather than larger groups, the whole country as a single unit is threatened.
The conundrum facing immigrant-receiving societies is that they have policies which foster what are essentially “separationist” identity movements within their one great salad bowl. For example, in Canada a government policy is funded to increase support for the non-English origin Canadians–the immigrants–to form civic societies. Immigrant assimilation policies, for example a German-only policy in Germany, are far outnumbered by multiculturalist policies in these countries. Assimilation policies try to instill one common country-wide value, culture, language and history, say German political values, history, language and culture in this case. So assimilation policies discourage multicultual identiity groups. These policies bring “social capital” to a society and that is the “gel” holding everything together, (Putnam quoted in Moghaddam).
However with the shift in most immigrant-receiving countries towards multiculturalism, we have situations such as the following. A Kyrgyz citizen and scholar of his own history leaves his native Kyrgyzestan to come to Australia to learn about his country’s history at an Australian university that boasts a faculty of specialists on Kyrgyz culture. He comes to Australia to better preserve his Kyrgyz identity. So many similar immigrants arrive in the UK, the USA, Australia… daily. However, they immigrate not to preserve British, American, or Australian… cultures but to gain better understanding of their own. It should be noted that I am not condemning either party–immigrants, or immigrant-receiving countries. In fact, I commend the given opportunity in immigrant-receiving countries to preserve other cultural identities. Regardless of any judgment, diversity-preservation policies do hinder the whole. Unity in a multicultural society can potentially become an oxymoron. Can these second-homes to many refugees save them from themselves? Should they?

Check out the other 3 blogs in this series:

Shu Hu – The tradition of Chinese Names

Sarah Inman – Let Down Your Hair!
Katerina Girginova – I am from .bg