Psychology of Multiculturalism: Identity, Gender, And the Recognition of Minority Rights
This paper looks at the issue of multiculturalism, its development, its use by society and the ways in which the field of psychology have reacted towards, and used, multiculturalism. Firstly, a brief history of the meaning of multiculturalism will be entered in to, next a brief discussion of the work of five authors (in particular Kymlicka, Taylor and Gerd) who have been influential in the development of research about multiculturalism will be presented, and then the psychology of multiculturalism will be discussed, from the viewpoint of how multiculturalism has been embraced by psychologists.
What exactly is multiculturalism? Everyone has a different idea of the meaning of this word in their minds, and consequently many different meanings of multiculturalism float around in the literature and in popular speak. Multiculturalism has gained particular significance in the United States, where there have been severe cases of arbitrary racism, which are obviously opposed to multiculturalism, and also to the dictates of the American constitution: multiculturalism has, therefore, largely been defined in legal terms in the United States, in terms of defining multiculturalism and also defining legal sanctions against racial hatred and abuse, with these legal definitions and statutes then being used for shaping policy implementation (in education, for example) (Makedon, 1996).
Following this definition, largely enshrined in legal terminology, and based on the American Constitution, and people's (society's) adherence to this, then, this largely means that multiculturalism roughly equates to 'equality for all' which means that all people - of whatever age, sex, race - should be given a fair chance within society as a whole, for jobs, for education and for access to a decent standard of living (Makedon, 1996).
Under other definitions, multicultural identity can be seen to be an expression of freedom, an expression of cultural values, under which everyone is able to express their cultural values and beliefs, and that this expression will be accepted: many people argue that true multiculturalism comes when people from different cultural backgrounds can come together to join other cultures, to assimilate with those other cultures (Makedon, 1996).
This, unfortunately, is where the problem with the term 'multiculturalism' arises, as - for people of 'minority' racial and ethnic backgrounds - there is a sense, in United States societies, that 'multiculturalism' actually means 'assimilation' i.e., adherence to a set of cultural values, usually 'white' cultural values, such that 'multiculturalism' is, in practice, little more than racism in disguise - 'we recognize you are of Latin American descent, and we respect that, but we would prefer it if you could join with other cultures" says society as a whole, where the 'join' means 'become like us or fail'.
It is interesting to note that white American 'culture' is so strong that the world is becoming 'Americanized': Coca-Cola bottles are everywhere, and the decadent lifestyle of rich Americans is the envy of everyone the world over, with levels of obesity, due to the sedentary, do-as-little-as-possible lifestyle rising in many Western European countries, for example, which have been taken over by the 'American dream'. It seems that this lifestyle is the envy of many, and it is not difficult to see why not, as Americans are amongst the most privileged people in the world, with a stable economy, food in ample supply, enough jobs to ensure everyone is fed etc.
Multiculturalism can therefore be seen as the 'weaning out' of the ethnic territory of citizens of a many-cultured democracy, under which multiculturalism is reflected at the social level with the psychological changes that occur within individual members of a society when they embrace many cultures: it has been argued that as a result of traumas suffered as part of a 'minority' group, a member of that ethnic group may eschew their ethnicity and enter in to the multicultural mass at large in order to avoid being perceived, by society as whole, as a member of that traumatized group (Makedon, 1996). This phenomena, which is labeled as ' escape from the traumatized self' by psychologists is well documented in ethnic and assimilation studies, in which people have been shown to disavow their native culture in favor of the dominant white culture (Makedon, 1996).
Under this definition, therefore, again, it appears that one is allowed to 'pick and choose' ones culture, citizenship, and date and time of conversion to another culture: multiculturalism, under this definition, therefore seems to suggest that birth has little impact or effect on one's cultural heritage; rather, one is free to choose which culture one would like to be a part of, instead of having this ascribed to us, on the basis of previous group affiliation or physical characteristics (Makedon, 1996). This, again, is questionable reasoning, especially in view of the fact that if one looks at the racial/ethnic background of high-ranking employees in any public - or private - sector organization, the great majority of these people are white: it seems that the dominant culture in the 'multicultural' United States society is white. This, and many other similar arguments, have led many to suggest that multiculturalism is little more than racism in disguise: the wolf in Granny's clothing like in the popular childhood fairy tale: "we're going to make you feel safe and wanted, but underneath, we're going to eat you up unless you change, and even if you do change, we won't fully accept you." The view of multiculturalism as a modern expression of the political principles that allow both for majority rule and respect for the rights of minorities (Makedon, 1996) is acceptable in principle, and is great dinner party talk for members of the dominant culture, but until there is true equality within U.S. society as a whole, multiculturalism will be little more than a political ideal, little more than dinner party talk.
What have other writers said about the issue of multiculturalism? Kymlicka's milestone 1995 text Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights focuses on the theory of multiculturalism and the issue of group rights, and argues that liberalism is inadequate, as it is too concerned with individual rights, to the detriment of group rights. Kymlicka uses many examples, which are taken mostly from Canadian politics and society, to illustrate his main point, which is that the culturally diverse society in which we live has meant that issues of identity and rights are central to an understanding of how such culturally diverse societies can live together: indeed, one definition Kymlicka highlights often is the definition of multiculturalism as the inclusion of 'perspectives of women, minorities, and non-Western cultures in recognition of the increasingly diverse character of life in modern Western societies' (from The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism). Kymlicka is largely entirely supportive of the way in which multiculturalism, as a veil, offers a defense to individual rights, but his tone is rather doom-filled throughout, with a view to how collective individual rights can be translated in to a fair and equal and just society: he is, after all, aiming to elaborate from his discussion fundamental principles of justice.
It has been argued by many that Kymlicka's definition of culture is flawed, from a societal perspective, as Kymlicka appears to define culture as 'a nation, that is, a historical community, more or less institutionally complete, occupying a given territory or homeland, sharing a distinct language and culture' (McDonald, 2004). This dismisses the problems endured by many 'subcultures' such as gays, the disabled, the poor, by saying that the problems with these groups arise from within their own culture, and as such, that they are not relevant to his main points of discussion, and so many people have dismissed Kymlicka's theories, as too idealized (McDonald, 2004).
The issue of multiculturalism is therefore fraught with problems, stemming from problems with providing workable, all-inclusive definitions for basic concepts such as 'culture': Kymlicka's book was important in that it stimulated debate about the issue of multiculturalism, as much for what was in the book as for what was left out.
Other authors, such as Charles Taylor, with his 1994 book Multiculturalism: examining the politics of recognition, reinforce the problems with attempting to implement multiculturalism in to policy: marginalized groups tend, for ease, for example, to be grouped in to one cultural group, which then defeats the whole implicit purpose of multiculturalism. Taylor's politics of recognition was a call to arms for politicians and policy makers alike, as in the book he argues that culture, identity, is mostly formed on the basis of the recognition, or non-recognition, we receive from others: indeed he states on his opening page, "Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people: it is a vital human need." Later in the book, he talks about the issue of recognition and worth, and points out that the multiculturalism debate tends to reinforce the negative psychological effects of belonging to a minority culture, rather than offering any respite at all for members of these minority cultures.…
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