Dealing with the Tensions of a Multicultural Society

By Latika Kumar

In this third of three pieces on Understanding Multiculturalism, I detail how societies can integrate multicultural narratives for a more peaceful and positive co-existence.

Acceptance at policy level

The first step is to be open about accepting immigrants at a policy level and understanding the positive contributions of immigrants to the economy. Canada appears to be unique in how it works out the country’s yearly requirement (quota) of immigrants. They have a formula to work out their annual or even near future requirements of jobs vis-à-vis people and skills needs on the basis of occupation categories. The open policy to encourage immigrants to ensure the economy grows, ensuring talent that in due time not only replaces the increasing older, infertile, or retired native-borns, but also adds valued expertise to existing professions is a hotly debated one. While this system appears to push the economy forward and promotes the concept of ‘welfare state’ without burdening the exchequer— native attitudes towards immigrants and also actual immigrant integration are both truly touchy topics that can rouse many a debate.

Social science contributes to social change

Initiatives, studies being conducted by governments, social organizations, schools and institutions and the academia are all positive steps that offer a strong foundation to nurture multicultural capital. The Migration Observatory of the University of Oxford, Centre of Migration, Policy and Society have been informing public debates by helping  journalists, politicians, businesses, civil societies and members of the public, to separate migration fact from fiction, evidence-based research to help make informed choices in policy making.

Harnessing minority entrepreneurship

Businesses should make migrant / minority entrepreneurship success a priority. An Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) initiative by the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority prioritizes minority entrepreneurship in its mandate. Creating inclusive businesses that are welcoming of the migrant community, offering knowledge exchange initiatives, a nurturing network with businesses and the financial sector are all positive steps towards nurturing diverse talent pools across labour markets.

Multicultural issues can be reframed in empowering ways by the creative industries

Films and songs that authentically embrace ethnic differences with deep sensibilities,  often use storytelling as an effective medium. I think of the song “The Long Goodbye” by Riz Ahmed, a concept album about UK’s historical and contemporary relationship with South Asians and British Asians, framed through an extended metaphor of an abusive romantic relationship in the wake of Brexit and the rise of far-right Britain. I quote from the film song: “My tribe is a quest to a land that was lost to us, and its name is dignity.” To broader North American audiences, however, it might take artistes like Lady Gaga or Beyonce to cut through the ice.

Remember that friend who made you feel like you were both co-prisoners in concentration camp?

Even in contexts such as sports and concert arenas the space of crowd collectives creates shared identities that are breeding grounds for the deeper study of motivations that bind people to each other, reducing “other” ness— offering a strong launchpad for solidarity and collaborative transcultural initiatives.

Questioning major social issues like prison cycling

The debate on multiculturalism impinges on the larger issue of the sustainability agenda. Studying closely the circumstances that bring about prison cycling which devastates family and community cohesion and social networking, also negatively affects the ability of communities to become truly sustainable. Prison cycling is a major issue that disallows any social progress. A fully integrated social, economic and environmental approach to a major, complex, persistent problem as it relates to poor, marginalized communities faced with mass incarceration and recidivism can enable societies to create more sustainable conditions.

Lastly, the multicultural perspective rests on an ideal that is far from realized, but one can choose to view reality from a perspective that encourages us to be better than we are now and the best that we can be. Ethnic diversity is a dynamic feature of virtually all societies these days (at least urban ones), but how such diversity is perceived is constantly changing. The same ethnic markers – physical characteristics, cultural practices or religious beliefs that might be virtually ignored in one society, are considered extremely significant in another.

For triggering change towards a more integrating society welcoming of all sorts of differences, government authorities and institutions of civil society should combat discrimination and provide opportunities through legislative action and public education. The media have a special responsibility and can play a key role in this sphere (look at this outlet!) by lending marginalized groups a public voice to combat and contest unfounded stereotypes or hate rhetoric from “mainstream” societies.

Latika Kumar is an independent research consultant at QuickFinder.

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