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Multiculturalism relates to communities containing multiple cultures. The term is used in two broad ways, either descriptively or normatively. As a descriptive term, it usually refers to the simple fact of cultural diversity: it is generally applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, sometime at the organizational level, e.g. schools, businesses, neighborhoods, cities, or nations.
As a normative term, it refers to ideologies or policies that promote this diversity or its institutionalization; in this sense, multiculturalism is a society “at ease with the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit.” Such ideologies or policies vary widely, including country to country, ranging from the advocacy of equal respect to the various cultures in a society, to a policy of promoting the maintenance of cultural diversity, to policies in which people of various ethnic and religious groups are addressed by the authorities as defined by the group they belong to. However, two main different and seemingly inconsistent strategies have developed through different government policies and strategies: The first focuses on interaction and communication between different cultures. Interactions of cultures provide opportunities for the cultural differences to communicate and interact to create multiculturalism. This approach is also often known as interculturalism. The second centers on diversity and cultural uniqueness. Cultural isolation can protect the uniqueness of the local culture of a nation or area and also contribute to global cultural diversity. A common aspect of many policies following the second approach is that they avoid presenting any specific ethnic, religious, or cultural community values as central.
Multiculturalism centers on the thought in political philosophy about the way to respond to cultural and religious differences. It is closely associated with “identity politics,” “the politics of difference,” and “the politics of recognition.” It is also a matter of economic interests and political power. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Despite the fact that multiculturalism has mainly been used as a term to define disadvantaged groups, including African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, and the disabled, many theorists tend to focus their arguments on immigrants who are ethnic and religious minorities, minority nations, and indigenous peoples.
Multiculturalism can refer to a demographic fact, a particular set of philosophical ideas, or a specific orientation by government or institutions toward a diverse population. Most of the debate over multiculturalism centers around whether or not public multiculturalism is the appropriate way to deal with diversity and immigrant integration. Recognition in the context of multicultural education is a demand not just for recognition of aspects of a group's actual culture but also for the history of group subordination and its entire experience.
The term multiculturalism is most often used in reference to Western nation-states, which had seemingly achieved a de facto single national identity during the 18th and/or 19th centuries. Multiculturalism has been official policy in several Western nations since the 1970s, for reasons that varied from country to country, including the fact that many of the great cities of the Western world are increasingly made of a mosaic of cultures.
The Canadian government has often been described as the instigator of multicultural ideology because of its public emphasis on the social importance of immigration. The Canadian Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism is often referred to as the origins of modern political awareness of multiculturalism. In the Western English-speaking countries, multiculturalism as an official national policy started in Canada in 1971, followed by Australia in 1973 where it is maintained today.  It was quickly adopted as official policy by most member-states of the European Union. Recently, right-of-center governments in several European states—notably the Netherlands and Denmark— have reversed the national policy and returned to an official monoculturalism. A similar reversal is the subject of debate in the United Kingdom, among others, due to evidence of incipient segregation and anxieties over "home-grown" terrorism. Several heads-of-state have expressed doubts about the success of multicultural policies: The United Kingdom's Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia's ex-prime minister John Howard, Spanish ex-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar and French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy have voiced concerns about the effectiveness of their multicultural policies for integrating immigrants.
Many nation-states in Africa, Asia, and the Americas are culturally diverse, and are 'multicultural' in a descriptive sense. In some, communalism is a major political issue. The policies adopted by these states often have parallels with multicultural-ist policies in the Western world, but the historical background is different, and the goal may be a mono-cultural or mono-ethnic nation-building - for instance in the Malaysian government's attempt to create a 'Malaysian race' by 2020.
The next country to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism after Canada was Australia, a country with similar immigration situations and similar policies, for example the formation of the Special Broadcasting Service. The Australian government retains multiculturalism in policy, and as a defining aspect of Australia today. 
The White Australia Policy was quietly dismantled after World War II by various changes to immigration policy, the full political introduction of official policies of multiculturalism was not until 1972. The election of John Howard's Liberal-National Coalition government in 1996 was a major watershed for Australian multiculturalism. Howard had long been a critic of multiculturalism, releasing his One Australia policy in the late 1980s. A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity for Operational Police and Emergency Services was a publication of the Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau designed to offer guidance to police and emergency services personnel on how religious affiliation can affect their contact with the public. The first edition was published in 1999. The first edition covered Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Sikh faiths with participation of representatives of the various religions. The second edition added Christian, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander religions and the Bahá'í Faith to the list of religions was published in 2002.
Though not called Multiculturalism as such, the preamble of Argentina's constitution explicitly promotes immigration, and recognizes the individual's multiple citizenship from other countries. Though 97% of Argentina's population self-identify as of European descent to this day a high level of multiculturalism remains a feature of Argentina's culture, allowing foreign festivals and holidays (e.g. Saint Patrick's Day), supporting all kinds of art or cultural expression from ethnic groups, as well as their diffusion through an important multicultural presence in the media; for instance it is not uncommon to find newspapers or radio programs in English, German, Italian or French in Argentina.
Canadian society is often depicted as being "very progressive, diverse, and multicultural". Multiculturalism (a Just Society) was adopted as the official policy of the Canadian government during the premiership of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the 1970s and 1980s. Multiculturalism is reflected in the law through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Broadcasting Act of 1991 asserts the Canadian broadcasting system should reflect the diversity of cultures in the country.
In a 2002 interview with the Globe and Mail, Karīm al-Hussainī the 49th Aga Khan of the Ismaili Muslims described Canada as "the most successful pluralist society on the face of our globe", citing it as "a model for the world". He explained that the experience of Canadian governance - its commitment to pluralism and its support for the rich multicultural diversity of its peoples - is something that must be shared and would be of benefit to all societies in other parts of the world.
The European Union is facing unprecedented demographic changes (an ageing population, low birth rates, changing family structures and migration). According to the European Commission, it is important, both at EU and national level, to review and adapt existing policies. Following a public debate, a 2006 EU policy paper identified five key policy responses to manage demographic change, among them receiving and integrating migrants into Europe.
Historically, Europe has always been a mixture of Latin, Slavic, Germanic, Uralic, Celtic, Hellenic, Illyrian, Thracian and other cultures influenced by the importation of Hebraic, Christian, Muslim and other belief systems; although the continent was supposedly unified by the super-position of Imperial Roman Christianity, it is accepted that geographic and cultural differences continued from antiquity into the modern age.
In the 19th century, the ideology of nationalism transformed the way Europeans thought about the state. Existing states were broken up and new ones created; the new nation-states were founded on the principle that each nation is entitled to its own sovereignty and to engender, protect, and preserve its own unique culture and history. Unity, under this ideology, is seen as an essential feature of the nation and the nation-state—unity of descent, unity of culture, unity of language, and often unity of religion. The nation-state constitutes a culturally homogeneous society, although some national movements recognized regional differences.
Where cultural unity was insufficient, it was encouraged and enforced by the state. The 19th-century nation-states developed an array of policies—the most important was compulsory primary education in the national language. The language itself was often standardized by a linguistic academy, and regional languages were ignored or suppressed. Some nation-states pursued violent policies of cultural assimilation and even ethnic cleansing.
Some European Union countries have introduced policies for "social cohesion", "integration", and (sometimes) "assimilation". The policies include:
Other countries have instituted policies which encourage cultural separation. The concept of “Cultural exception” proposed by France in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations in 1993 was an example of a measure aimed at protecting local cultures.
Since its establishment in 7th century Bulgaria has hosted many religions, ethnic groups and nations. The capital Sofia is the only European city that has peacefully functioning, within walking distance, four Places of worship of the major religions: Eastern Orthodox, St Nedelya Church; Islam, Banya Bashi Mosque; Roman Catholicism, Cathedral of St Joseph, Sofia; and Orthodox Judaism, Sofia Synagogue, the third largest synagogue in Europe.
This unique arrangement has been called by historians a "multicultural cliche". It has also become known as "The Triangle of Religious Tolerance" and has initiated the construction of a 100-square-meter scale model of the site that is to become a symbol of the capital.
Furthermore, unlike some other Nazi Germany allies or German-occupied countries excluding Denmark, Bulgaria managed to save its entire 48,000-strong Jewish population during World War II from deportation to concentration camps. According to Dr Marinova-Christidi the main reason for the efforts of Bulgarian people to save the Bulgarian Jews during WWII is that within the region they "co-existed for centuries with other religions" — giving it a unique multicultural and multiethnic history.
Consequently, Bulgaria has become an example within the Balkan region of multiculturalism in terms of variety of religions, artistic creativity and ethnicity. Its largest ethnic minorities, Turks and Roma, enjoy wide political representation. In 1984, following a campaign by the communist regime for a forcible change of the Islamic names of the Turkish minority, an underground organization called «National Liberation Movement of the Turks in Bulgaria» was formed which headed the Turkish community's opposition movement. On January 4, 1990 the activists of the movement registered an organization with the legal name «Movement for Rights and Freedom» (MRF) (in Bulgarian: Движение за права и свободи: in Turkish: Hak ve Özgürlükler Hareketi) in the Bulgarian city of Varna. At the moment of registration it had 33 members, at present, according to the organization's website, 68,000 members plus 24,000 in the organization's youth wing . In 2012 Bulgarian Turks were represented at every level of government: local, with MRF having mayors in 35 municipalities, at parliamentary level with MRF having 38 deputies (14% of the votes in Parliamentary elections for 2009-13) and at executive level, where there is one Turkish minister, Vezhdi Rashidov. Twenty one Roma political organizations were founded between 1997 and 2003 in Bulgaria.
In October 2010, Angela Merkel told a meeting of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party at Potsdam, near Berlin, that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany had "utterly failed", stating: "The concept that we are now living side by side and are happy about it does not work". She continued to say that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany's culture and values. This has added to a growing debate within Germany on the levels of immigration, its effect on Germany and the degree to which Muslim immigrants have integrated into German society.
Multiculturalism in the Netherlands began with major increases in immigration during the mid-1950s and 1960s. As a consequence, an official national policy of multiculturalism was adopted in the early 1980s. This policy subsequently gave way to more assimilationist policies in the 1990s. Following the murders of Pim Fortuyn (in 2002) and Theo van Gogh (in 2004) there was increased political debate on the role of multiculturalism in the Netherlands.
Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, made a distinction between tolerance and multiculturalism, citing the Netherlands as a tolerant, rather than multicultural, society. In June 2011 the First Rutte cabinet said the Netherlands would turn away from multiculturalism: "Dutch culture, norms and values must be dominant" Minister Donner said.
India is culturally, linguistically, religiously and to a certain extent, ethnically, one of the most diverse if not the most diverse country in the world. As per the 1961 Census of India, the country is home to 1652 mother tongues. The culture of India has been shaped by its long history, unique geography and diverse demography. India's languages, religions, dance, music, architecture and customs differ from place to place within the country, but nevertheless possess a commonality. The culture of India is an amalgamation of these diverse sub-cultures spread all over the Indian subcontinent and traditions that are several millennia old. The Indian caste system describes the social stratification and social restrictions in the Indian subcontinent, in which social classes are defined by thousands of endogamous hereditary groups, often termed as jātis or castes.
The term multiculturalism is not much used in India. Within Indian culture, the term unity in diversity is more commonly used.
Religiously, the Hindus form the majority, followed by the Muslims. The statistics are: Hindu (80.5%), Muslim (13.4%), Christian (2.3%), Sikh (2.1%), Buddhist, Bahá'í, Jain, Jew and Parsi populations. Linguistically, the two main language families in India are Indo-Aryan (a branch of Indo-European) and Dravidian. In India's northeast, people speaking Sino-Tibetan group of languages such as Manipuri (Meitei-lon) recognized by the Indian constitution and Austroasiatic languages are commonly found. India (officially) follows a three-language policy. Hindi (spoken in the form of Hindustani) is the official federal language, English has the federal status of associate/subsidiary official language and each state has its own state official language (in the Hindi sprachraum, this reduces to bilingualism). The Republic of India's state boundaries are largely drawn based on linguistic groups; this decision led to the preservation and continuation of local ethno-linguistic sub-cultures, except for the Hindi sprachraum which is itself divided into many states. Thus, most states differ from one another in language, culture, cuisine, clothing, literary style, architecture, music and festivities. See Culture of India for more information.
Occasionally, however, India has encountered religiously motivated violence, such as the Moplah Riots, the Bombay riots, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots,the 2002 Gujarat riots, and most recently the 2012 Assam violence. This has resulted from, traditionally disadvantaged communities in public employment (e.g.: policing of the same locality), apprehension of owners in giving properties for sell or rent and of society in accepting inter-marriages. On the other hand, perennial suspicion by communal and linguistic minorities of their constitutional guarantees (e.g.: minority institutions and personal law) being tinkered with, doesn't help matters either.
There are more than 700 living languages spoken in Indonesia and although predominantly Muslim the country also has large Christian and Hindu populations. Indonesia's national motto, "Bhinneka tunggal ika" ("Unity in Diversity" lit. "many, yet one"), articulates the diversity that shapes the country. Due to migration within Indonesia (as part of government transmigration programs or otherwise), there are significant populations of ethnic groups who reside outside of their traditional regions. Soon after the fourth Indonesian President, Abdurrahman Wahid came into power in 1999, he quickly abolished some of the discriminatory laws in efforts to improve race relationships.
Japanese society, with its ideology of homogeneity, has traditionally rejected any need to recognize ethnic differences in Japan, even as such claims have been rejected by such ethnic minorities as the Ainu and Ryukyuan people. Former Japanese Minister Taro Aso has called Japan a “one race” nation. However, there are "International Society" NPOs funded by local governments throughout Japan.
According to Harvard University professor Theodore Bestor, Japan does look very homogeneous from a distant perspective, but in fact there are a number of very significant minority groups — ethnically different minority groups — in Japan today.
Malaysia is a multiethnic country, with Malays making up the majority, close to 52% of the population. About 24.6% of the population are Malaysians of Chinese descent. Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 7% of the population. The remaining 10% comprises:
The Malaysian New Economic Policy or NEP serves as a form of affirmative action (see Bumiputera). It promotes structural changes in various aspects of life from education to economic to social integration. Established after the May 13 racial riots of 1969, it sought to address the significant imbalance in the economic sphere where the minority Chinese population had substantial control over commercial activity in the country.
The Malay Peninsula has a long history of international trade contacts, influencing its ethnic and religious composition. Predominantly Malays before the 18th century, the ethnic composition changed dramatically when the British introduced new industries, and imported Chinese and Indian labor. Several regions in the then British Malaya such as Penang, Malacca and Singapore became Chinese dominated. Until the riots 1969, co-existence between the three ethnicities (and other minor groups) was largely peaceful, although the three main racial groups for the most part lived in separate communities - the Malays in the villages, the Chinese in the urban areas, and the Indians in the towns and plantation. More Malays however have moved into the cities since the 1970s, and the proportion of the non-Malays have been decreasing continually, especially the Chinese, due in large part to lower birth-rate and emigration as a result of institutionalized discrimination.
Preceding independence of the Federation of Malaya, a social contract was negotiated as the basis of a new society. The contract as reflected in the 1957 Malayan Constitution and the 1963 Malaysian Constitution states that the immigrant groups are granted citizenship, and Malays' special rights are guaranteed. This is often referred to the Bumiputra policy.
These pluralist policies have come under pressure from racialist Malay parties, who oppose perceived subversion of Malay rights. The issue is sometimes related to the controversial status of religious freedom in Malaysia.
Multiculturalism has been a characteristic feature of the island of Mauritius. Mauritian society includes people from many different ethnic and religious groups: Hindu, Muslim and Indo-Mauritians, Mauritian Creoles (of African and Malagasy descent), Buddhist and Roman Catholic Sino-Mauritians and Franco-Mauritians (descendants of the original French colonists).
Mexico has historically always been a multicultural country, with people of ethnic groups including those of indigenous background, various European backgrounds, Africans, and a small Asian community. Mexico City has recently been integrating rapidly, doing much better than many cities in a sample conducted by the Intercultural Cities Index (being the only non-European city, alongside Montreal, on the index).
In contrast to the artificial or induced multiculturalism in the west, which grew through immigration, the Philippines (Along with India) are rare cases of natural multiculturalism, wherein, foreign settlements were anchored in actual historical events (such as invasions and occupations rather than merely induced immigration). The Chinese, Indians, Malays, and Arabs having established Sinified Huangdoms, Indianized Rajahnates, Malayo-Polynesian Datudoms and Islamic Sultanates on Philippine soil prior to Hispanic settlement and then after that point, the Latinos (which is already a whole range of racial types) and Spanish colonizers arrived in Philippine soil during the Hispanic era. Afterwards, there has been a small minority of Americans that arrived during the American colonial period. This caused the Philippines to be among the top if not the top-most multiethnic nations in the world.
The authenticity is due to the historicity of these diverse foreign groups in the Philippines. In addition, the nation also possesses a high degree of endemic native diversity among its several ethnic groups. The Philippines has 10 major distinct groups mainly the Bicolano, Ibanag, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Moro, Pangasinan, Sambal, Tagalog,Visayan and hundreds of others. The Philippines also has several aboriginal stocks such as the Badjao, Igorot, Lumad, Mangyan and Negrito. In addition to this, the country also has considerable communities of American, Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Latino and Hispanic descent as well as other ethnicities from other countries. Consequently, the Philippine government has various programs supporting and preserving the nation's ethnic diversity.
On the other hand, there have been many threats to the maintenance of interethnic solidarity in the country. Aside from economic and political dissatisfaction touting the capital as imperialist mostly among Visayans and Mindanaoans of the south, there have been longstanding concerns regarding the promulgation of the national language, Filipino. Amidst Filipino being heralded as the national language of the Philippines according to the 1987 National Constitution, many groups specifically from Cebuano-speaking regions resisted. This is due to the fact that the said Filipino is no different from Tagalog although being justified by the regulating institution, Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, as a different language that unites all peoples of the Philippines because of the significant difference in lexicon from its Tagalog base. Such enforcement of a national language based solely upon one language being spoken by one of the many ethnic groups in the country was seen as a form of ethnic marginalization and bias toward the Tagalog who have long enjoyed residence and proximity within the political and economic center, Manila. This was also seen as an injustice since a larger portion of the population speaks Visayan languages more than Tagalog during the time the national language was decided. Because of such disparities, there have been issues regarding discrimination particularly toward Visayans whose languages and cultures were seen as inferior if not unsophisticated. One recent example was the Filipino movie entitled Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo whereby one scene openly denigrates the use of Visayan as it was seen as "un-Filipino." Some Filipino politicians have aired their criticism toward this act of intolerance; however, there had been no concrete actions done to resolve the issue.
Although there had been no ethnic-based incidents of aggression between many Christian and animist groups, religion still plays a role in further fractionating Philippine society. The enduring war in Mindanao is one of the most prominent examples of religious conflicts pestering the economically frail southern Philippines. Since the 1899 Moro Rebellion, Muslim groups across Mindanao have bolstered armed offensives against foreign colonizers due to aspirations of self-determination. However, these efforts have failed resulting to the annexation of Islamic regions particularly the Sultanate of Sulu to the Philippines.
Besides English, Singapore recognizes three other languages, namely, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil and Malay as its official languages, with English being the national language. Besides being a multilingual country, Singapore also acknowledges festivals celebrated by these three ethnic communities.
During the British colonial rule, there are areas which are enclaves containing a large population of certain ethnic groups exist in areas such as Chinatown, Geylang and Little India in Singapore. Presently (2010), remnants of the colonial ethnic concentration still exists but housing in Singapore is governed by the Ethnic Integration Policy. The current Indian/Others ethnic limits are 10% and 13%, the limits for Malays are 22% and 25%, the limits for Chinese are 84% and 87% for the maximum ethnic limits for a neighborhood and a block respectively.
However, the word "multiculturalism" is increasingly heard in South Korea. In 2007, Han Geon-Soo, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kangwon National University, published an article entitled "Multicultural Korea: Celebration or Challenge of Multiethnic Shift in Contemporary Korea?", noting: "As the increase of foreign migrants in Korea transforms a single-ethnic homogeneous Korean society into multiethnic and multicultural one, Korean government and the civil society pay close attention to multiculturalism as an alternative value to their policy and social movement." He argued, however, that "the current discourses and concerns on multiculturalism in Korea" lacked "the constructive and analytical concepts for transforming a society".
The same year, Stephen Castles of the International Migration Institute argued:
The Korea Times suggested in 2009 that South Korea was likely to become a multicultural society. In 2010, JoongAng Daily reported: "Media in Korea is abuzz with the new era of multiculturalism. With more than one million foreigners in Korea, 2 percent of the population comes from other cultures." It added:
Although many debates still take place as to whether Korea really is a multicultural society or not, it is generally agreed[by whom?] that Korea has probably entered a stage of multiculturalism and has moved away from its homogeneous identity. Around 35~40% of Korean men in the rural area outside Seoul are engaged with wives from different countries. According to the Dongponews, an online media that connects migrants and immigrants of Korea, the number of foreigners residing in Korea reached 1.43 million by 2012, and is likely to increase more and more, reaching to the scale that cannot be undermined. More than that, Korea is going through a serious stage of low birthrate, leading to an aging society in shortage of labor forces. Another big changing factor is that Korea already has multi-ethnic, multi-cultural families appearing in great numbers, as one in every ten marriage is between a Korean and a foreigner, and in the rural side this portion is greater. As such change takes place in such short period of time, it can be understood that many conflicts arise among different groups of people; the immigrants, government, and the rest of Korean society. Recently[when?] a lot of media attention is given to these people; documentaries on the lives of wives and their children are often shown, as well as talk shows that portray struggles and conflicts these people go through such as Love in Asia; a talk show hosting foreign wives, sharing their experience of marriage and family life, broadcast by the national broadcasting channel, KBS. Many Koreans nowadays do recognize the change that the society is going through due to these media attention. Government policies have also changed very recently; a lot of welfare programs and extracurricular activities are launched under the name of "multicultural policy." The policy is quite recent phenomenon.
Although Arabic is the official language of the country, English, Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, Bengali, Bahasa Indonesia, Persian and many other languages are widely spoken and understood, particularly in the main cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The UAE hosts expatriate workers from 200 countries, with a majority coming from the Indian subcontinent. Despite being an Islamic state, the UAE has widely accepted all other religions, granting them permission to have their temples or churches. Foreigners make up about 85% of the population. However, the UAE does not have an open immigration policy and Emirati citizens form a largely homogeneous Arab society; all foreigners reside in the country as temporary workers.
Multicultural policies were adopted by local administrations from the 1970s and 1980s onwards. In 1997 the New Labour government committed to a multiculturalist approach at a national level, but after 2001 there was something of a backlash, led by centre-left commentators such as David Goodhart and Trevor Phillips. The government then embraced a policy of community cohesion instead. In 2011 Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron said in a speech that "state multiculturalism has failed".
In the United States, multiculturalism is not clearly established in policy at the federal level, but ethnic diversity is common in both rural and urban areas; see Race and ethnicity in the United States.
Continuous mass immigration was a feature of the United States economy and society since the first half of the 19th century. The absorption of the stream of immigrants became, in itself, a prominent feature of America's national myth. The idea of the Melting pot is a metaphor that implies that all the immigrant cultures are mixed and amalgamated without state intervention. The Melting Pot implied that each individual immigrant, and each group of immigrants, assimilated into American society at their own pace which, as defined above, is not multiculturalism as this is opposed to assimilation and integration. An Americanized (and often stereotypical) version of the original nation's cuisine, and its holidays, survived. The Melting Pot tradition co-exists with a belief in national unity, dating from the American founding fathers:
"Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs... This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties."
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. It was partly in response to a new wave of European imperialism in sub-Saharan Africa and the massive immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans to the United States and Latin America. Philosophers, psychologists and historians and early sociologists such as Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, George Santayana, Horace Kallen, John Dewey, W. E. B. Du Bois and Alain Locke developed concepts of cultural pluralism, from which emerged what we understand today as multiculturalism. In Pluralistic Universe (1909), William James espoused the idea of a "plural society." James saw pluralism as "crucial to the formation of philosophical and social humanism to help build a better, more egalitarian society.
The educational approach to multiculturalism has since spread to the grade school system, as school systems try to rework their curricula to introduce students to diversity earlier—often on the grounds that it is important for minority students to see themselves represented in the classroom. Studies estimated 46.3 million Americans ages 14 to 24 to be the most diverse generation in American society. In 2009 and 2010, controversy erupted in Texas as the state's curriculum committee made several changes to the state's requirements, often at the expense of minorities. They chose to juxtapose Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address with that of Confederate president Jefferson Davis; they debated removing Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and labor-leader César Chávez and rejected calls to include more Hispanic figures, in spite of the high Hispanic population in the state.
Multiculturalism is seen by its supporters as a fairer system that allows people to truly express who they are within a society, that is more tolerant and that adapts better to social issues. They argue that culture is not one definable thing based on one race or religion, but rather the result of multiple factors that change as the world changes.
Historically, support for modern multiculturalism stems from the changes in Western societies after World War II, in what Susanne Wessendorf calls the "human rights revolution", in which the horrors of institutionalized racism and ethnic cleansing became almost impossible to ignore in the wake of the Holocaust; with the collapse of the European colonial system, as colonized nations in Africa and Asia successfully fought for their independence and pointed out the discriminatory underpinnings of the colonial system; and, in the United States in particular, with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, which criticized ideals of assimilation that often led to prejudices against those who did not act according to Anglo-American standards and which led to the development of academic ethnic studies programs as a way to counteract the neglect of contributions by racial minorities in classrooms. As this history shows, multiculturalism in Western countries was seen as a useful set of strategies to combat racism, to protect minority communities of all types, and to undo policies that had prevented minorities from having full access to the opportunities for freedom and equality promised by the liberalism that has been the hallmark of Western societies since the Age of Enlightenment. The contact hypothesis in sociology is a well documented phenomenon in which cooperative interactions with those from a different group than one's own reduce prejudice and inter-group hostility.
C. James Trotman argues that multiculturalism is valuable because it "uses several disciplines to highlight neglected aspects of our social history, particularly the histories of women and minorities [...and] promotes respect for the dignity of the lives and voices of the forgotten. By closing gaps, by raising consciousness about the past, multiculturalism tries to restore a sense of wholeness in a postmodern era that fragments human life and thought."
Tariq Modood argues that in the early years of the 21st Century, multiculturalism "is most timely and necessary, and [...] we need more not less", since it is "the form of integration" that (1) best fits the ideal of egalitarianism, (2) has "the best chance of succeeding" in the "post-9/11, post 7/7" world, and (3) has remained "moderate [and] pragmatic".
Bhikhu Parekh counters what he sees as the tendencies to equate multiculturalism with racial minorities "demanding special rights" and to see it as promoting a "thinly veiled racis[m]". Instead, he argues that multiculturalism is in fact "not about minorities" but "is about the proper terms of relationship between different cultural communities", which means that the standards by which the communities resolve their differences, e.g., "the principles of justice" must not come from only one of the cultures but must come "through an open and equal dialogue between them."
Critics of multiculturalism often debate whether the multicultural ideal of benignly co-existing cultures that interrelate and influence one another, and yet remain distinct, is sustainable, paradoxical, or even desirable. It is argued that Nation states, who would previously have been synonymous with a distinctive cultural identity of their own, lose out to enforced multiculturalism and that this ultimately erodes the host nations' distinct culture.
Harvard professor of political science Robert D. Putnam conducted a nearly decade long study how multiculturalism affects social trust. He surveyed 26,200 people in 40 American communities, finding that when the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, the more racially diverse a community is, the greater the loss of trust. People in diverse communities "don’t trust the local mayor, they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and they don’t trust institutions," writes Putnam. In the presence of such ethnic diversity, Putnam maintains that
[W]e hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us.
Ethologist Frank Salter writes:
Relatively homogeneous societies invest more in public goods, indicating a higher level of public altruism. For example, the degree of ethnic homogeneity correlates with the government's share of gross domestic product as well as the average wealth of citizens. Case studies of the United States, Africa and South-East Asia find that multi-ethnic societies are less charitable and less able to cooperate to develop public infrastructure. Moscow beggars receive more gifts from fellow ethnics than from other ethnies [sic]. A recent multi-city study of municipal spending on public goods in the United States found that ethnically or racially diverse cities spend a smaller portion of their budgets and less per capita on public services than do the more homogeneous cities.
In New Zealand (Aotearoa), which is officially bi-cultural, multiculturalism has been seen as a threat to the Maori, and possibly an attempt by the New Zealand Government to undermine Maori demands for self determination.
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