‘Multikulti is dead!’ ‘Long live multiculturalism’

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Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean are trying to develop cultural and multicultural policies on mandates handed down to by the developed world where such policies are themselves failing … so in whose images are we trying to develop them?

‘Multikulti is dead! Long live multiculturalism’

Can T&T bring sanity to the global multicultural hype?

While we reel at the emphatic denouncement of multiculturalism directions in Germany owing to the German’s Chancellors’ pronouncement this weekend that ‘Multikulti is dead’ in Germany, the local Ministry of Multiculturalism hosted a conference ‘Towards A Multiculturalism Policy for Trinidad and Tobago’. Its keynote lead speakers were foreign academics and technocrats from the developed world, Canada and the United Kingdom, who admitted that they had no answers for us on our efforts towards a multiculturalism policy.
It is time we take charge and bring some sanity to this debate that is largely reactionary, surrounded by hype, misconceptions, and preconceived notions. Our losing our heads, ignoring our vast experiences – some of them excruciatingly painful, yes – in building our multicultural environment, by trying to borrow and bow to pressures from societies whose realities are far removed from us, can only be to detrimental effect.
Apart from the few, unresourced and sporadic voices of civil society from the Caribbean and those of us in the culture sector involved in multiculturalism and cultural policy research and actions, trying to represent what this region can bring to the debate and actions, Caribbean Governments and States have been largely inaudible, invisible and relatively inactive in the international discussions.
Compared to our societies, which are already multicultural, the multicultural conversation in the international arena of ‘Northern’/developed societies has largely been in reaction to ‘globalisation’ and directed at immigrants, who are seen to be potentially disruptive of the ‘mainstream’ social and cultural existence, and hence those policies are attempts to ‘integrate’ them into ‘mainstream’ (Canadian/British/French/German) societies in efforts at what they call social cohesion. In the case of Canada, it has also been motivated by the State’s larger politically sensitive relationships with Quebec.
Beyond that, the developed world’s outlook assumes that its one size fits all – a warning that has also been sounded by Mario Vargas Llanos, the recently crested 2010 Nobel Laureate for literature; assumptions that ‘policy’ and even ‘systems’ as they are defined by the West/Developed/Northern countries whose societies have evolved systems of law, education, politics very different from our multicultural amalgam, and very different from our attitudes and practice of policy – will work for us.
The international processes also place primary responsibility for multiculturalism in the hands of the State. This creates a dangerous situation of institutionalising political partisanship in ‘managing’ cultural diversity, when from all available evidence such involvements by States in culture have resulted in heightened tensions between and among groups. Germany is but one example. Chancellor Merkel has been one of the leaders in the multicultural conversation at international negotiating tables – that Germany’s attempt to forge a multicultural society has failed, as she denounced elements of the society’s migrants and pronounced that immigrants must adopt German and Christian values. We have seen in recent times, similar soundings and measures by the French and Australian Governments. These are the outlooks that have also been shaping the directions and defining the international instruments, as the UNESCO Conventions, that we have just signed as well, and unless we understand what we are getting into and the implications for our societies, our cultures and our culture sectors, we are likely to be sounding the same bugle – ‘Multikulti is dead’ – as Germany et al pretty soon.
One need not be a prophetess to see, or a rocket scientist to forecast, what those policy directions are doing/likely to do to their societies. Even in the cases in T&T where attempts by the State have actually been to the detriment of the culture sector.
There is a danger that we are on the road to disrupt the delicate socio cultural balances we have succeeded in building. Are we following blindly the shortsightedness of the international trends that are yet to clearly define the differences and the relationship between culture, cultural products and multiculturalism and diversity, and often use them interchangeably and see them as one and the same thing?
It is clear that much of what is driving the international directions are from the experiences of the metropoles of the developed world and very little of that applies to Trinidad and Tobago, in particular, or the Caribbean, in general. We have largely evolved a unique brand of multiculturalism from many migration streams – an asset that we often overlook in pursuing our general tendencies to force-feed the experiences of alien societies and their systems on ourselves. For this, we run the danger of replicating the severe shortcomings and social disruptions they are experiencing and have experienced in theirs.
That can only be detrimental to the social balance we have evolved – not painlessly – here; one that we take for granted but one that we must recognise as fragile and can be easily be shattered if we allow ourselves to be absorbed into the international hysteria about multiculturalism. Instead, what are we doing to try to enlighten that conversation with the experiences, knowledge and practices that we have evolved, and leverage that international environment to the benefit of our populations?
Confidence in our assets, especially cultural ones, has not been one of our strong points, and we continue to drift in a sea of defining ourselves in images handed down by those claiming to be better developed. That is the bridge that must be crossed before we take the precarious step ‘Towards a Multicultural Policy for Trinidad and Tobago.’
The answers may not be as elusive to us as it is to those in the developed world who are now coming to grips with the challenges of multiculturalism. We may just have to tap into our own knowledge-base to switch on the light to our experiences and strengths to determine if and how we can reshape and or impact the international conversation and directions mapped out by the instruments; whether we can make them more relevant to apply to us.
It means that we must reassess our approach hitherto in this conversation, reposition ourselves to take charge of it and impact on it in ways that can be meaningful not just to the region but to the world.
If we look closer home, in the region, there is ready evidence – in how Jamaica is already reeling from having jumped to the international drum without looking inward first, and Grenada is quickly following suit. We have seen what has happened in the EPA-CARIFORUM negotiations which leaves the culture sector no wiser or richer in regard to trade issues.
It is time for more enlightened leadership on the global debate on multiculturalism, and that can only come from the Caribbean. So which of our leaders are going to step up to the challenge?

Dr Kris Rampersad is a media cultural and literary consultant, author and researcher on comparative global trends policies and actions on multiculturalism. See connectcp.org/KrisRampersad

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