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Saturday, April 06, 2002

Melting Pot or Stew? Some good thoughts on multiculturalism going down over at Samizdata. Britain’s now got more of a multicultural problem that the US, as immigrants from the Caribbean and South Asia are causing the British to have cultural indigestion. Brian Micklethwait has this thought
Multiculturalism. Now there's a word. Does it mean people from different cultures? Or does it mean people remaining in separate cultures? If from, then I'm all for it, in the sense of multicultural people coming to live and work in Britain. If remaining in, then I'm flat against it. I want the British melting pot to melt us all into a new culture – but just the one new culture please - where we can all get along contentedly, which won't happen if we all stay stuck in ghettoes
After getting hosed for being ethnocentric, he modified his thoughts.
Just to be clear about what I want, although I favour a "monocultural" and "British" (in the sense of all this taking place in Britain) outcome, I don't expect or want this monoculture to be white British folks plus lots of other folks behaving exactly like white British folks. I favour a genuine melting pot with the resulting combined culture containing influences and ingredients from all the new arrivals from the many different feeder cultures. In my original posting I used the phrase "melting pot", and this is a much better phrase for what I believe in than "monoculturalism". "Melting pot" communicates both the extreme diversity of the cultural ingredients I want us and expect us to welcome in, and the unified nature of the combined outcome that I likewise want and expect.
I've always found the metaphor of a stew better than one of a melting pot. In the melting pot analogy, the various inputs are combined into a uniform mix. In a stew, the parts keep their individuality yet lend their flavors to one another. This can be seen in American cuisine, where various immigrant influences have been incorporated into our culture. I remember laughing with my Cameroonian friends at Kent State when they talked about their discovery of their favorite "American" food -spaghetti. Italian cuisine has long been part of the American pantry. Mexican food has achieved that status in the last quarter century with Chinese and other Asian influences are seeping in as well. The multiculturalism that will be stable will allow people to be part of a larger culture yet still keep family and community traditions. The Irish (and practically everyone else) do St. Patty's day, while the Italians will do their thing on Columbus Day. I don't see Cinco de Mayo or Chinese New Year celebrations as any more alarming as long as they are given the opportunity and skills to get out of the ghetto and into the larger community. They may choose to stay in the old neighborhoods, but will gradually move into the larger culture as the decades go by. The key will be giving these immigrant groups and their descendants the skills, including language skills, to make their way outside their enclaves. The mainstream culture will take some adjusting as well, seeing strange fruits and veggies in the produce section, seeing old churches converted into mosques and Buddhist temples and hearing foreign languages spoken in the stores and playgrounds. There will always be activists that will stress uniqueness and seperateness, but these people make their living being professional ethnic. Assimilation is bad for their business. Thankfully, it is a standard process that people will gradually fit into the larger culture. The kids will fit in better than the immigrant parents, and the grandkids will be all-but Americanized in most cases. Back in the pre-Civil War era, the nativist Know-Nothings railed against Irish immigration, fearing that the Catholic Irish would alter the Protestant culture. The Irish fit in all too well; now the ideological descendents of the Know-Nothings are personified by an Irish Catholic named Buchanan. At this rate, in 2075 some nativist named Steve Nguyen will be ranting against the next wave of immigrants.

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