Monday, 10 June 2013

The Spectre of "Multiculturalism" - 'The Crisis of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age' reviewed

by Molly Klein

"Multiculturalism" has inspired reams of anguished writing across Europe over the past decade and a half.  Politicians, pundits and academics have competed to produce the most lurid tales of a "failed experiment" conducted by misguided elites, a botched socio-cultural surgery causing grievous harm to the social body requiring an urgent therapeutic process of "integration".  Without being described with any specificity, both the implementation and the malfunction of multiculturalism are widely indicted for having inflicted injury on things of presumed incontestable value, among them value itself, "our" values, Western Civilization, liberalism, democracy, individualism, secularism, national pride, community cohesion, feminism, masculinity, working class struggle, and more.  As is traditional, the castigation of this mysterious enemy offers an occasion for the ritual assertion of "European" claims to everything worthwhile and admirable humanity has ever produced, with the possible exceptions of ideographs, woks and Jazz.


But as Lentin and Titley show in their book The Crisis of Multiculturalism -- a staggeringly detailed and thorough dissection of the current stream of supremacist, imperial-apologist, racist discourses -- it is precisely a legendary and not a concrete menace that is required and fashioned by the denouncers.  The real target of the attacks on "multiculturalism" is, as they put it, "lived multiculture", and the real content of the condemnations is the production of race and racism, an overt engagement with which is taboo and for which the discourse of "failed multiculturalism" provides a euphemistic lexicon.  An actually existing multiculturalism (as perhaps might encompass a range of policy in education, media development, arts funding, urban planning, or perhaps designate an attitude or tendency in various grassroots social, aesthetic, hermeneutic, or organizational practises) could never live up to the monstrous figment's evil reputation or justify the level of terror required to solidify a portion of the public's allegiance to the status quo.  The irreversible illegitimacy of racialist ideas or biologistic racism and the dogma of the contemporary era as "post-race" seal the difficulty and awkwardness of advancing Euro-supremacist interpretations of reality and ideological elements of white supremacist praxis in any way other than in disguised and yet codified and legible form such as the "multiculturalism debate" offers.  This explains why the wreckage of this misbegotten multicultural Thing's rampage is visible all across new and old media, but the beast itself is glimpsed only obliquely, as in the most effective horror entertainments.  Addressees of these warnings about the ubiquitous and protean enemy are intended to infer the contours and features of multiculturalism from the shapes of the wounds it has dealt to a parade of evocative abstractions. [Click here to read the full article]

Available from Zed Books

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