Multiculturalism's defining juncture
Racist attacks on Belfast’s Roma minority. The BNP handed an opportunity to capitalise on the failures of mainstream politics. The cracks are growing.
In times of economic hardship, skewed self-interest often comes to the fore. The oft-misconceived threat posed by the perceived ‘other’ brings about an increase in xenophobic reactions. And immigration becomes a hotly-contested issue. Meanwhile, in a post-9/11 world, legislation has found it tricky to draw a balance between making ‘them’ do things ‘our’ way and ‘politically correct, relativist tip-toeing’.
Multiculturalism is at a critical and defining juncture.
Indeed, multiculturalist discourse (in its many-voiced and varied forms) has long been the target of wide-ranging criticisms (some more valid than others). But, as argued by Francis Mulhern, in his retrospect of Raymond Williams’ Culture and Society, given the unprecedented endeavours of multiculturalism as a normative prescription to acknowledge, embrace and protect multi-race society , ‘some kind of multiculturalism is the horizon of all progressive thought and practice in its sphere’.
At this point, what we need is a concerted effort from government at all levels, community leaders (self-appointed or otherwise) and anyone else who can, to ensure that there is genuine public understanding of the benefits of living in a diverse, dynamic society; that there is real understanding of the benefits of progressive immigration policy; that there is tolerance for the difference in our society; and that this difference is celebrated, not because of difference per se but because it is grounded in a sense of community and shared norms, embodied by the state.
It comes as a disappointment then that a year after Boris Johnson removed the anti-racism message from London’s Rise festival, he has now cancelled this year’s event, purportedly for lack of funding. His real motivation, however, more probably lies in his distaste for multiculturalism as national/regional policy – being an agenda previously endorsed by progressive forces. As such, while he has expressed a desire to depoliticise such events, his motives are distinctly political and thus reinforce the very political divisions he criticises.
Rise is a festival that has repeatedly brought together different communities in the name of a shared value: condemnation of racism. It goes way beyond the politics of multiculturalism. Its reinstatement would not alone prevent further success for the BNP, but it should form part of a bigger plan to shout out loudly that the fight against racism is far from over.