Since the mid-1960’s, multiculturalists have worked to counter tendencies of immigrant groups and minorities to be denigrated. They have succeeded in gaining adoption of on-the-job cultural sensitivity programs and educational curricula presenting positive images of nonmainstream groups. Government agencies have implemented multicultural reforms in response to pressure from minorities to decrease discrimination and prejudice, much of which resulted from ignorance of the contributions and customs of diverse cultural groups in American society.
In July, 1941, as World War II was being waged by ultranationalists in Germany and Japan, an obscure book review in the New York Herald-Tribune advocated “multiculturalism” as an antidote to nationalism. The term reappeared in a Canadian government report on bilingualism in 1965 that recommended that “multiculturalism” replace the “bicultural” policies of Canada that had been granting linguistic equality to English and French.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the federal
The movement that produced civil rights legislation also pressured American universities to establish ethnic studies programs, on the premise that the historical status of nonmainstream cultures in the United States had been neglected, consistent with a policy of assimilationist
Because not all employers voluntarily complied with affirmative action and nondiscrimination requirements, members of minority groups felt as frustrated as government officials who monitored that lack of progress. Concrete programs were needed to overcome resistance attributable to stereotypes and other factors. Immigrants with cultural practices that did not conform to the mainstream were particularly disadvantaged. For example, members of minority groups traditionally known for being employed in menial labor had difficulty being hired for white-collar jobs. In addition, federally funded mental health programs serviced few minorities, partly because many members of minorities were recent immigrants from countries in which the concept of mental illness was not understood as a treatable medical condition. To overcome favoritism toward members of the majority group, employers and directors of mental health and other government-funded programs were urged to adopt cultural sensitivity training, which relied heavily on the scholarship of ethnic studies researchers.
Cultural sensitivity training was designed for adults, and it appeared it would be needed as long as children grew up with mistaken and
Multiculturalism soon enjoyed many new forms of government support: approval of radio and
Focus on the special needs of underrepresented groups broadened in scope. Women were the first to benefit, as employment discrimination based on gender was outlawed in the
Commercially, multiculturalism has been profitable. From the sale of traditional furniture and items such as “Black Is Beautiful” sweatshirts, marketing campaigns directed at members of different cultural groups has been successful. At the same time, owners of cinemas have converted single-screen theaters into multiplex operations that can offer films to multiple niche markets simultaneously.
Perhaps inevitably, some multicultural innovations were badly designed or implemented. However, the general, incremental progress of multiculturalism gradually rankled many people in the mainstream who resented being labeled as “Americentric,” “Eurocentric,” “parochial,” or “prejudiced,” or who otherwise felt that they were being vilified. The main premise of the counterattack was that the United States was basically a product of Western civilization, so any attempt to divert attention from that foundation imperiled national unity and undermined fundamental values. For the critics, multiculturalism had gone too far.
In one of the most multicultural naturalization ceremonies in U.S. history, 14,000 immigrants from 111 different countries were sworn in as American citizens in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in September, 2000.
One of the endangered values was said to be respect for competence. Some beneficiaries of
Another criticism of multiculturalism was that the teaching of basic American history was being eclipsed by too much attention to minority history. Because fundamental principles of American culture and democracy were treated as an orthodoxy that needed to be challenged, the result, according to critics, was cacophony and confusion in the minds of students, including members of minority groups themselves.
Multiculturalism was said to unleash identity politics and political correctness. Identity politics involved the pursuit of public policies by each ethnic group without cooperating with other ethnic groups, sometimes resulting in advocacy of conflicting solutions and lack of progress for all groups. Political correctness meant that one would be accused of being a racist for making factual statements about group characteristics or for posing hypotheses about differences among various ethnic groups. Multiculturalists responded that such statements created a “hostile environment” for students and workers, producing a chilling effect on what could be said in public, according to their critics.
Philosophically, multiculturalists were attacked for advocating a relativism in which everything is both true and not true, depending on one’s cultural perspective. Social science was questioned as inherently ideological, so college debates regarding differences of opinion on public policy issues were no longer focused on achieving consensus but instead on mobilizing support among minorities to prevail over the traditional mainstream view or vice versa.
Both monoculturalism and multiculturalism were eventually challenged by interculturalism. The latter view holds that members of different cultures should learn from one another, rather than have one culture prevail or allow diverse cultures to become separatist. Interculturalists strive to find commonalities and consider differences as subcultures.
Another alternative, polyculturalism, insists that the world’s cultures have been in flux in part because they have influenced one another for centuries, are interrelated, and therefore possess common values that should be stressed. Those who have long said that they are “citizens of the world,” rather than nationalists, now reside under the banner of polyculturalism.
The election of
Bennett, Milton J. Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication. Boston: Intercultural Press, 1998. Develops a methodology for intercultural communication. Bloom, Allan. Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. By the most prominent early opponent of the multiculturalist ethos, which the author compares to the malaise in pre-Hitler Germany. Bloom was concerned that multiculturalists saw all “truth” as relative, while the best-financed entertainers promoted mindless hedonism and narcissism. Haas, Michael, ed. Multicultural Hawai’i: The Fabric of a Multiethnic Society. New York: Garland Press, 1998. Collection of articles on aspects of multiculturalism in Hawaii, ranging from literature and music to education and politics. Contributions describe a form of multiculturalism that developed not from government intervention but from social necessity. Some of the state’s diverse cultural groups were historically bitter rivals and had to learn to live together in close proximity on Hawaii’s small islands. Kivisto, Peter, and Georganne Rundblad, eds. Multiculturalism in the United States: Current Issues, Contemporary Voices. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2000. Anthology of article presenting nearly fifty diverse views on aspects of multiculturalism. Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1995. Written by a Canadian, a classic statement supporting multiculturalism. Okin, Susan M. Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. Focuses on how the preservation of cultural diversity may overshadow or even block the effort to dismantle male dominance in American society by marginalizing women’s rights issues, including the right to an abortion and to avoid the humiliating roles assigned to women in traditional non-Western cultures. Prashad, Vijay. Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001. Classic statement of polyculturalism. Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Disunitinig of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. Rev. ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998. While accepting cultural pluralism, in which diverse cultures join together in a democratic culture, Schlesinger attacks the “cult of ethnicity” for endangering national unity by focusing on crimes committed by Western civilization on non-Western cultures while ignoring the positive elements of Western heritage.
Civil Rights movement
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
Lau v. Nichols