from Paul Flewers
Annie O’Keefe’s review of Darcus Howe’s depressing programme on growing hostility between non-white people in Britain (Solidarity, 13 August) fails to indicate a factor that has helped to exacerbate hostility both between white and non-white people and amongst non-white groups.
The old official idea of racial equality has largely been superseded by “multiculturalism”, an ideology that views humanity as being divided amongst discrete “cultural” groups, with a heavy implication that such divisions are immutable factors. Of course, the term “culture” is really a synonym for race or ethnicity, sometimes muddied with the question of religion, as the question of class-based cultural divisions is never raised.
“Multiculturalism” means that people are encouraged to identify with their “own” cultural (that is, ethnic and/or religious) group. Combined with the decline of class-based politics, one cannot be surprised that “multiculturalism” has led to people adopting an inward-looking approach that sees other “cultural” groups as potential and indeed actual rivals. It also encourages each group to emphasise what differentiates itself from the others, and this inevitably leads to the emphasising of conservative and backward practices and ideas. Such barbarities as “honour” killings and female circumcision could be justified under the rubric of “defending one’s culture”.
“Multiculturalism” also encourages political corruption as the usually unelected “community leaders” vie amongst themselves for government and local authority hand-outs, and politicians engage in pork-barrelling to pick up “community”-based votes. It also exacerbates divisions as groups not able to gain favours, or see themselves as disadvantaged in one way or another (irrespective of the reality), take out their frustrations upon those whom they see as obtaining privileges. The big votes that the far right have obtained in certain places is not just the continuation of old-fashioned racism, it is also a logical product of “multiculturalism”, as white people are encouraged by the far right to enter into the “cultural struggle” as well.
Far from being something positive or at least harmless, official “multiculturalism” is a very dangerous ideology that militates against the fight for working-class unity. The left has ignored this question for too long, and it is time that socialists subjected it to a thoroughgoing critique.