Re-Conceptualizing Multiculturalism in Terms of Diversity and Individual Identity

In a blog in January, I (Clive) argued against teaching multiculturalism in a way that leads to Ishrad Manjistereotyping, thus undermining students’ individual identity and well-being. In interviews this weekend after giving the 2014 Bluma Lecture, author and NYU professor Irshad Manji spoke eloquently of the dangers of a misguided approach to “multiculturalism,” expressing preference for terms such as “diversity,” “global citizenship,” and “individual identity.” In the Toronto Star she said:

Multiculturalism is about preserving a group mindset, which amounts to labelling. Diversity, on the other hand, is about…different points of view…. If you listen seriously to a new generation of Torontonians, multiculturalism’s time is done. Enough of hyphenated identities. The next stage in our city’s evolution is this: global citizenship.

Manji would like to see more emphasis on individual identity. In the Globe and Mail she commented:

[Mr. Trudeau] basically said national unity must be founded in one’s own confidence in one’s individual identity and from that we can begin to engage with others…. We don’t have that kind of multiculturalism today, in my view. What we have is more a fear of engaging based very much on feeling intimidated that I’m going to say something wrong or that somebody is going to be offended.

She is especially concerned about the impact of prevailing approaches to multiculturalism on vulnerable community members, notably women and children. In the Star she stated that “the vast majority of the world’s known cultures are patriarchal,” and in the Globe she said:

By giving rights to cultures, not just to individuals, what we wind up doing…is giving more power to those who are already powerful within certain communities. We give them more power to dictate what customs are to be respected and which customs are untouchable. The next time you’re told you must respect such and such a custom, ask yourself, “What does my respect for this custom do for the most vulnerable in that community?” And the most vulnerable tend to be women and children.

Whether or not the term “multiculturalism” has outlived its usefulness is something we should ponder; and if we’re too afraid to say it has, we prove Manji’s point. But whatever words we use, we can support Manji’s approach in teaching and teacher education by stressing the diversity and power differences within cultural communities, the commonalities across communities, and the importance of individual identity and well-being.

2 thoughts on “Re-Conceptualizing Multiculturalism in Terms of Diversity and Individual Identity

  1. As a female, a Muslim and a lesbian, Irshad Manji’s lived experience gives voice to the stereotyped representations that people encounter every day. A close reading of this article is particularly important to us as educators, as it provides food for thought on our own beliefs about diversity versus multiculturalism. We must understand and reflect upon the complexity of identity, and how representation of such identity is also complex, regardless of the cultural group(s) to which one might belong (or unwittingly be assigned).

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