Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The success of Canadian multiculturalism...

Michael Adams has a new book on what he calls the success of Canadian multiculturalism. In a news story on TV a few days ago (I was unable to find the exact reference), he explained his ideas as to why this type of multiculturalism is successful. Will Kymlicka, another big name when it comes to promoting the success of the Canadian multicultural model, praised Adams in a Globe and Mail article:

...Adams sees Canada as a model for the world, particularly in contrast to our American neighbour, where cultural conservatism and racial antagonism have created a society that is both more conformist and less solidaristic.

I feel quite ambivalent about Adams arguments, out of many reasons.

First of all, I find this whole discussion about the 'Canadian multicultural' model quite nationalistic in itself. The idea that Canadians
are tolerant and welcome diversity (although everybody pretends there's nothing out there that makes someone truly Canadian) is very self-satisfying in a world of political correctness - and in particular in relation to Canada's Big Brother (and I am not trying to reinforce other stereotypes here about the relation between the two countries).

But while people might say they are tolerant when asked, looking at their practices might tell a different story. There is a China Town, an Italian Town, a Greek street etc. in almost all big Canadian cities. There is the odd survey showing we do not want people of a different ethnic background as our neighbors. And of course, there is the daily reality of immigrants trying to get work which is quite different from the picture portrayed by Adams.

There is one point on which I agree with Adams though: multiculturalism is a reality in Canada - but also allover urban spaces. It is an URBAN reality for those cities which are doing well. And it is also a politically correct discourse to which there is a certain WILL in Canada - as well as in other countries. But this will is fragile, and all it takes is an extremist leader to play upon the feelings of frustration arising from living a multicultural world with a xenophobic and nationalist mindset.
It is not the multiculturalism legal framework that makes the 'Canadian model' - after all, legal frameworks talking about diversity and multiculturalism exist in other places, for instance the Council of Europe.

And then again, another disagreement with Adams... In the news story mentioned above, Adams made the argument that we want immigrants to come to Canada, not to reconstruct their countries here. Aware of the trap, he was quick to add that this doesn't mean that we reject other values, but that we reject values incompatible with liberal democracies (such as patriarchy). But to what extent can we incorporate other values? And to what extent the vision of Canada which pre-exists immigrants requires them to conform to the 'Canadian values'? People may say there are no such things as a corpus of Canadian values. But then any immigrant looking for a job will probably disagree. One of the main thing immigrants are required to do is to learn the Canadian lifestyle, to learn how to exhibit it in public spaces and how to mimic it in order to be seen as eligible workforce.

Truth be said, I do not disagree with many of these values myself. And I have learned through my own multicultural experiences that it is really hard to accept other lifestyles on an equal footing with yours (whatever that may be). Living diversity in a harmonious way requires a change inside us, which would imply the gradual destruction and reconstruction of hierarchies of values and categorization systems. It requires a will, but also a change in our bodies (I still cannot cope with hot foods...). But where does the will come from? And how stable is this will? I have many doubts.

Photo credits: Michael Adams website


Anonymous said...

i've just discovered your blog. thank you for this entry and for pointing to that book. these (what michael adams is speaking about) are things that i ponder a lot since i moved here. 'the canadian values'. multiculturalism.

thinking about difference said...

thanks for the visit. i guess i like the idea of multiculturalism, but i find reality quite a long way from the idea itself. but i guess thinking about and discussing those issues is what makes an open space.

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