Bad Arguments Against Multiculturalism.

Via Andrew Sullivan, Kenan Malik critiques multiculturalism:

There are two ways over the past half-century in which we've stopped treating people as citizens. One is through racism. The racist says "you're not a citizen, you don't have full rights in this society because you have a different skin colour, you are foreign", etc. The second is multiculturalism. The multiculturalist says: "we treat you not as an individual citizen, but as a Muslim or a Hindu or a Sikh or a black".

The irony is that multiculturalism developed as an attempt to combat the problems created by racism. But it has recreated many of the problems by treating people not as citizens but as members of groups, and by formulating public policy in relation to those groups and not in relation to the needs of individual citizens.

Granted, Malik is speaking to European multiculturalism, but I've heard others make a similar argument for the United States, and for us at least, it is ridiculous. When trying to correct for decades of organized and systemic discrimination, you have no real choice but to think of the afflicted in terms of their group affiliation. For African Americans in the Jim Crow South, the mere fact of their blackness guaranteed political disenfranchisement, economic isolation, and state-sanctioned violence. The rules of white supremacy were brutal, totalitarian, and applied to blacks as a group, with few -- if any -- exceptions for individuals. To think that multiculturalism hinders the fight for justice betrays a serious misunderstanding of systemic discrimination, and how it can hinder -- or block -- the prospects and growth of particular groups.

Now, there's something to be said for treating people as individuals and not "members of groups" in terms of formulating public policy. But group-based discrimination requires group-based remedies, and anything less risks avoiding the inequalities and power differentials that actually hinder marginalized groups.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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