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Shelton A. Gunaratne , Published June 23 2012

Diversity without distortion

Before condemning multiculturalism as a failure because it is “an anti-Western ideology that wallows in relativism and guilt,” John Calvert (The Forum, June 3) should have clarified whether his objection was based on the descriptive or the normative meaning of multiculturalism.

In the descriptive sense, the United States is another example of a cultural amalgam of diverse peoples.

Calvert confuses the reader by ignoring this distinction in his ardor to support the right-wing conservative thrust for “assimilation” (the melting pot concept), as opposed to the left-of-center advocacy of “multiculturalism” (the salad bowl concept) that has failed to achieve its aims to (in Calvert’s words) “uplift disadvantaged cultural groups, enrich the cultural tapestry and make us more tolerant.” Calvert blames multiculturalism for forcing “race-based admissions, degraded academic standards, censorship and a general regime of authoritarianism.” However, he does not offer concrete evidence to prove these allegations.

Calvert is right that the issue of multiculturalism deserves more attention in the context of the U.S. Census projection that by 2050, the Hispanic and Asian populations will both triple, the black population will almost double, and the white population will barely hold its own. However, in Calvert’s thinking, Islam is the biggest threat to the values preserved by America’s white population. Calvert fails to mention that Islam is an Abrahamic religion (just like Judaism and Christianity) that approves the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament. All three Abrahamic religions believe in the same God.

As the United States becomes more ethnically and racially diverse, a consistent policy of multiculturalism would enable it to foster a prouder nation of diverse peoples stretching in a vast geographic area from Maine to Guam. Such a policy should embrace the slogan “Diversity within Unity,” which reflects the underlying truth of the universe/globe as a massive co-operative of diverse systems.

Calvert has selectively quoted three conservative politicians – former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron – to support his case for assimilation. He could have quoted Adolf Hitler as well. During the imperial era, Britain and France, among other European countries, attempted to assimilate their colonies into Western culture through language, religion, education, etc., and by subtly practicing what Edward Said calls “Orientalism.” The current ethnic and “terrorist” problems in Europe reflect the failure of the imperial policy of assimilation.

Calvert incorrectly asserts that multiculturalism started in Europe in the 1960s when Third World laborers were needed to offset a declining birth rate. Scholars say that as a philosophy, “multiculturalism began as part of the pragmatism movement at the end of the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States, then as political and cultural pluralism at the turn of the twentieth.” Calvert, however, incorrectly asserts that multiculturalism has a much shorter history simply to suit his purpose.

Calvert says, “Multiculturalism guarantees its own failure. It is an anti-Western ideology that wallows in relativism and guilt.” He calls on public schools to teach “upholding ideals that all might share in common” instead of dwelling “on grievances and ethnic chauvinism.” In other words, he wants public schools to resume the propagation of Western culture so as to “assimilate” all alien cultures to the mainstream.

Perhaps Calvert should ponder about the Daoist doctrine of “unity within diversity.” The inexorable Dao represents both unity and diversity. The interplay of the yin-yang mechanism engenders diversity within a system.

Buddhist philosophy also views the universe/globe as a giant system of subsystems that are in a state of constant flux (anicca). Both philosophies support the importance of diversity within the umbrella of unity.


Gunaratne is professor emeritus of communications, Minnesota State University Moorhead.