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Ethnic Diversity Vs Multiculturalism

Raja Ratnam is a Webdiarist who worked, at the level of Director, for about 9 years, in the Department of Immigration in the 1980s, on policy on ethnic affairs, citizenship, refugee and humanitarian entry. Under the name Arasa, he is the author of Destiny Will Out, a personal narrative based on his own work and settlement experience, The Karma of Culture‚ which deals with the issues arising from attempts by new settlers to retain ancestral cultures (Trafford Publishing, Canada) and Hidden Footprints of Unity, which targets the undesirable consequences of multiculturalism policy (Sidharta Publishers, Melbourne). His previous piece for Webdiary was Successful migrant settlement.

by Raja Ratnam

Australia joined most of the world during the last quarter of the last century by becoming ethnically diverse in its population base. Is this a good thing for those who had to experience such a vast change?

Not everyone will agree that this ethnic diversity has advantaged Australia, or improved the quality of life in the country. Those who have descended from the sun, or fallen from the moon, or arrived by space ship, or feel that history has shown them to be a superior species of humanity will surely seek to remain ethnically (ie tribally) pure within their national borders. After all, the original concept of nation reflected one people, with common origins, history, language, traditions, and beliefs; and normally sharing a geographical space. As national borders were re-drawn over recent centuries, for all manner of reasons, minority peoples or tribes became incorporated within some of these revised national borders. This may not have resulted in a unified people as before.

Since tribal delineations engender a ‘them vs. us’ perspective, minority peoples within the new borders might not receive equal opportunity in all spheres of life. Indeed, there is enough evidence of these diversity-with-inequalities all over the world.

In Australia, a white man’s home-away-from-home was initially sought, spoilt only by a minority white tribe with a divergent religion. It has taken more than two centuries for mutual tolerance to be practiced widely, and for equal opportunity to be applied bilaterally. Yet, the Australian indigenes remain marginalized economically and societally, whilst their skin colour is being lightened generation by generation.

Further, it is only since the mid-1970s that official policy permitted coloured immigrants, allegedly in a non-discriminatory manner. Yet, as the Census data show, until the end of the last century, the majority of Asian immigrants came from eastern Asia. That is, they were the lighter-coloured former ‘yellow hordes’; the majority were Christians! It was only in recent times, that south Asian (the darker people) have been allowed to enter in goodly numbers. That is, it would seem that official policy was mindful that the new arrivals should not trigger in the populace those racist attitudes previously displayed toward the Aborigines. A (presumably) shared Caucasian heritage from past millennia might explain why many modern Aborigines might easily be mistaken as ‘Indians,’ or vice versa.

In spite of this caring official policy, many of the older Anglo-Aussies (to be found in bulk in ‘sea-change’ townships) are not happy that so much change has occurred in the population mix in so short a period. How much change can one be expected to accept within the one lifetime? Whilst ethnic diversity suits those from ethnically diverse countries, or who were born in Australia within the last thirty years, or whose perspectives are influenced by ethnic cuisines and eating places, the older Anglo-Aussies are clearly wary. For, whilst it is good for business to have a growing population, it is the people at street level who have to cope with foreign looks, language, and behaviours.

When some of the new entrants flaunt their cultural differences through attire, asserted divergences (and some superiority) in religious and cultural values, and expect Australia and Australians to change to suit them (rather than the reverse), the older Anglo-Aussies re discomfited. They are reminded of that Roman Catholic/Protestant divide which was until relatively recently upheld with great determination by some of the clergy. And it was the emancipation and education of women, and the good work by teachers in public schools, which contributed substantially to the breakdown of this religious divide involving an allegedly ethnic minority.

Thus, time, habituation (ie. on-going close contact with people who are different for one reason or another), and education can lead to mutual tolerance. How about equal opportunity to occupy the sacred sites, the seats of power? If the new arrival and his descendants continue to present themselves as different, can they reasonably expect equal access to power, even if they are not denied (and cannot be denied) equal treatment everywhere else? Given the national identity and national pride which have evolved over time in the host nation, do not the new arrivals have to demonstrate that, not only do they pay their taxes and behave as good citizens, but they wish to become an integral part of the pre-existing whole?

In the early post war years, whilst British immigrants naturally treated Australia as their own backyard, the non-British Europeans did seek to integrate into the ethos of the mainstream population. However, as the Department of Immigration had mistakenly referred to this process as ‘assimilation’, there subsequently arose a claim from some of the Europeans that this process denied them the right to practice their cultural values. Yet, none of the claimants would be able to show that they were being denied the right to pray as they wished, to dress as they wished, to eat the foods they wished, to celebrate their festivals as they wished, and to speak their mother tongue whenever and wherever they wished. Was the encouragement to speak English in public (with obvious benefits) and to be good citizens by respecting Australia’s Constitution and institutional arrangements and practices a denial of ethnic cultures?

However, governments suddenly discovered the ethnic vote. Parallel delivery structures for migrant settlement services; support for the creation and operation of over-arching state and national structures encompassing local ethnic community organisations; the creation of ethnic advisory councils; the reduction of the qualifying period for citizenship; and the introduction of multiculturalism policy followed. These led to a degree of enhancement of the value of ethnic difference; a substantial taxpayer cost; a futile claim by a few of the ethnic spokesmen that English is not Australia’s national language; and an effort to have migrant communities (not the whole populace) determine immigration policies. The asserted ethnic ambition and its adverse consequences finally led governments to stress unity (through citizenship) rather than diversity (through multiculturalism policy encouraging the retention of public displays of difference).

 Yet, multiculturalism policy was benign in its original intent. The Anglo-Celts were invited to move over in their political and career sandpits, ie to offer equal opportunity to seats of power to the non-Anglos. The policy also encouraged each ethnic culture to be respectful of all other cultures. Would that offer equal opportunity in ethnic business enterprises and community organizations to those of other cultures? The bottom line here is that people, especially those not attuned to, or familiar with, a tolerant liberal society, are not likely to give jobs in their own businesses and community organisations to those they regard as foreigners. It is also questionable whether people respond to exhortations by government to change their behaviour. There are also those who do not want governments in their beds, wallets, or their minds, ie they do not want officialdom to tell them how to behave.

Because multiculturalism policy effectively encouraged the perpetuation of cultural (and therefore tribal) differences, to the detriment of an eventually integrated Australian people, it was recently discarded. Multiculturalism, as policy, is dead – as it should be.

Ethnic diversity is, however, here to stay. As no ethnic culture can claim to be superior to all others, a unity of the Australian people can be expected to naturally evolve in time – as long as tribal leaders (viz. politicians and priests) can be prevented from seeking ethnic separation with superiority. Time, habituation and education will then bring us together as one people. What can be wrong with that objective and hope? 

It will be desirable to get rid of a word that few people understand, and that is difficult to say or to write – multiculturalism. It is also out of date, as it refers to a now defunct policy – which is also not needed. Ethnic diversity = a multicultural society. It is here to stay. It is not a policy. It is a reality – of living.
 

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Alberto Gonzales and multiculturalism

Would Alberto Gonzales have become attorney general of the US if there had been multiculturalism in the USA when he was growing up? These days, a young AG might well attend a Chicano or Spanish speaking school in California, and English would be his second language. Disadvantaged? I think so.

So many people quoting the advantages of multiculturalism use as their examples people who grew up long before multiculturalism.

Jenny Hume, hundreds of thousands of children are given a religious education by their parents while attending state schools, and it almost verges on the offensive to suggest otherwise.

If parents want a "more" religious education, they only have a right to it if they can pay for it, as I'm sure you know quite well. There's no right to a religious education if you can't pay the fees.

It's nothing to do with democracy. It's the market.

The Wyndham system, with its demands for hands-on science etc, dumped a huge cost on private schools: hence, the catholic schools forcing the issue by closing, as you relate. Previously, private schools had been self-supporting.

I also was happy at school. This is a fortunate circumstance, in my experience not confined to private school pupils.

Tribal instincts and the nation state

I agree with Ian MacDougal – how is Raja’s ‘ethnic diversity’ any different from ‘multiculturalism’? The essay seems to echo John Howard’s new political correctness by shrinking from a term that is associated with previous Labor governments.

As Ian points out, you can’t suppress ‘public displays of difference’, nor should you in a liberal democratic country. Personally, I like that there is a vibrant little Chinese community in Canberra, for example, to help break up the monotony of suited white public servants. None of them try to ram their culture down my throats; why should it be acceptable for us Anglos to ram our culture down their’s? I’m not talking about notions of justice and democracy here – just ‘cultural differences’ like the clothes they wear, the festivals they celebrate, and the language they speak to each other.

And folks, look around – it’s still a very white country. I think a lot of people need to take a deep breath and relax. Pauline Hanson’s predictions that the country would soon be 150% (sic) Asian are just a little wide of the mark. Muslims are still, what, about 2% of the population?  We’re hardly about to be overrun by ‘foreigners’.

Multiculturalism, it seem to me, doesn’t so much encourage ‘the perpetuation of cultural (and therefore tribal) differences’ as just acknowledge them.

What interests me is the origins of this reaction to multiculturalism.  It’s often said that the nation state is an ‘imagined community’; we can only meet a tiny fraction of the people in Australia. In a mass society in which people increasingly live lives isolated from their neighbours and those in their geographical community, much of our conception of who we are come from the media and politicians.  Hence the importance, I think, of the culture wars being fought ferociously by Howard, which is really a fight to assert a new conception of what Australians are.

Howard was reassured, I suspect, by the popularity of Pauline Hanson’s xenophobia, because he harboured similar views, and since assuming office he’s assiduously asserted a new cultural identity that largely ignores Australia’s mixed ethnic character and emphasises instead an identity that seems to hark back to Crocodile Dundee (he all but beatified Steve Irwin!). I’m all for acknowledging the role of the ANZACs and farmers in shaping Australia, and the central place of cricket in many people’s lives, but isn’t there a whole lot more to this country now?

One thing I think Raja is right about is the strength of tribal instincts, and I really think us humans have trouble dealing with the increasingly diverse community the whole world is becoming.  What is the Australian tribe?  Can we only feel loyalty to a mono-cultural Australia?

I know what Angela means about being comfortable with the people we live with (I found travelling in India very challenging because I was often the only white person around) but are we really so discomforted by a minority of people who look and talk a bit different to us? It’s sometimes useful to imagine how difficult it is for those of ethnic minorities to live in this country, particularly at a time when the assimilationist policies of white Australia are coming back into vogue.

Ethnically diverse multicultural logic

“If the new arrival and his descendants continue to present themselves as different, can they reasonably expect equal access to power, even if they are not denied (and cannot be denied) equal treatment everywhere else?”


The new arrival is perfectly free to stand for parliament in the forthcoming election in NSW (he has about 2 weeks left to nominate) and then persuade a sufficient proportion of the electorate as to why he should be elected. The parliaments of Australia are getting more and more multicultural all the time. So where is the problem, Raja?

“The policy also encouraged each ethnic culture to be respectful of all other cultures.. .. It is also questionable whether people respond to exhortations by government to change their behaviour. There are also those who do not want governments in their beds, wallets, or their minds, ie they do not want officialdom to tell them how to behave.”

Every wave of immigrants to Australia faces the difficult question: how, as a member of a minority, to deal with the mainstream? They commonly want their children and grandchildren to marry within their own community, and a ghetto mentality starts to rise. But at the same time, the succeeding generations blend in more with the mainstream – witness the federal MP Bob Katter, descended from 19th Century Afghan immigrants. With each generation the ancestral language is spoken less and less fluently, and finally not at all in many cases.

“Because multiculturalism policy effectively encouraged the perpetuation of cultural (and therefore tribal) differences, to the detriment of an eventually integrated Australian people, it was recently discarded. Multiculturalism, as policy, is dead – as it should be….
 It will be desirable to get rid of a word that few people understand, and that is difficult to say or to write – multiculturalism. It is also out of date, as it refers to a now defunct policy – which is also not needed. Ethnic diversity = a multicultural society. It is here to stay. It is not a policy. It is a reality – of living.”

 A liberal society which accepts immigrants (and its politicians) has no alternative but to accept multiculturalism, and allow people to be as they want to be, linguistically, culturally and whatever. There is only one proviso, and that is that ‘respect for cultural difference’ can never be allowed to over-ride the law. This has caused difficulties for a few Lebanese rapists in recent years, as well as for the odd imam.

 
We have had the odd dispute on Webdiary over the perceived cultural validity of genital mutilation of infant girls, as widely practiced amongst Muslims in Africa, and possibly here too, although it is illegal. Such practices lend weight to the argument that while all humans should have equal rights, all cultures should not be regarded as equal at all.

 I for one can see no difference between ‘multiculturalism’ and the euphemism Raja prefers here: ‘ethnic diversity’. Like all euphemisms, that one too will become politically incorrect in due course, and be replaced by something else. X = Y = Z, but only Z is good. Ethnic diversity = a multicultural society. But ethnic diversity is good, while multiculturalism is bad. Get used to it.

as children maybe we set the comfort zone

HI Ian , good points but..  "  There is only one proviso, and that is that ‘respect for cultural difference’ can never be allowed to over-ride the law."

In a democratic society the law makers are elected by the majority. Once demographics change, so can laws. Rights won can be upturned, new directions , new values,new dogma. 

For some countries like Israel this is reality with a projected Palestinian Israeli majority if nothing is done. That may be an example of a different national direction in many ways should it ever happen. Fiji similarly before the coup.

 

A nation can change it's values from changes within ,such as the rising tendency to Christian schooling or from selective immigration. If we had not had the White Australia policy and now had a very different ethnic/cultural root forthe majority voting population perhaps there may indeed be different laws regarding women ,religion, etc.

 Having lived as a minority group elsewhere and then come back home I can appreciate the differences there are and am not at all keen for much to change. Home is where one relaxes.It is nice being in the majority group and knowing most of my values are shared by the majority of voters.I understand the Jewish Israelis fear of losing the only place they are in majority as a country state.It is relaxing to be among "like". 

Then again ...perhaps the longer one is among nonlike the more one notices the like there and relaxes. And does it depend upon the degree of  nonlike is the divide?I suspect it is what happens as children as to what we are comfortable easily with as adults.

 



Hypothetical for Angela:

Does that mean you would eventually come to "like" laws that mandate the death penalty for homosexuality, premarital sex and blasphemy, if the nation changes its values and laws due to an increase in the proportion of those who hold such values? Would you be so quick to see our hard-won freedoms taken away? I wouldn't. (Of course, given current trends in immigration and demographics this is not likely to happen in my lifetime here in Oz, and I'm not suggesting it would; it's just a thought question.) 

Mike miscontrues again, poor chappy, be tolerant.

Hi Mike, why repeatedly misconstrue what I write? What I am saying is I am in the dominant group at present ,I like the current laws and values (although they are not being practiced fully ) and I fear just such a change as you describe were there to be a change in ethnic demographics and hence voting poewr and hence legislation, as bringing in the death penalty and harmand vilification of homosexuals and other minority groups.

That is why I decry the radicalisation of our youth through right wing Christian school indoctrination. And as for the Faisal school that Howard himself opened, I think that is an example of why no school should operate as religious schools here in our nation. One cannot ban it without condemning all schools which segregate our community into different ethnic groups and religions from childhood. Recipe for disaster in the future and more bigots.

Hang on there Angela

Angela"I think that is an example of why no school should operate as religious schools here in our nation."

Hang on there Angela. That would seem to me to be a suggestion that religion should be banned. Hundreds of thousands of children in Australia each year attend schools run by religious institutions, sent there by parental choice. Are you saying they should be closed and all those children enrolled in the public education system in order that they are not exposed to religious instruction? If so I am not sure where that leaves the democratic right of freedom of religion in this country.

I recall back in the '60s that did happen in Goulburn once. The Catholic Church closed all its schools and sent all the kids to enrol at the public schools. It did not last of course, the public system simply could not cope. So if you want all the church schools to close then the State Governments would need to smarten up their acts in regard to funding of public schools for a start.

It is not going to happen, nor should it. While some may disagree we still live in a democratic society. If parents want their children to have religious instruction, then that is their right. And as a Christian who attended a church run school I must say it gave me some of the happiest days of my rather chaotic childhood. I, nor any of my classmates have ever regretted attending that church run school, where every day started with morning prayers. Cheers me dear.

Does multiculturalism already work against the local born?

It is an interesting concept. To me it is more a matter of tribes within tribes,clubswithin clubs, whether defined by religion or sex or profession or ethicity or skin colour or common traumatic experience. The important thing is to define what really are common values , lines that are not to be crossed even if that club prefers to cross that line (like say female circumcision or bigamy or honour killing etc), and then as the writer says, one gets the more invisible lines of preference:

 

"Would that offer equal opportunity in ethnic business enterprises and community organizations to those of other cultures? The bottom line here is that people, especially those not attuned to, or familiar with, a tolerant liberal society, are not likely to give jobs in their own businesses and community organisations to those they regard as foreigners."

 

We certainly have come a long way down the multicultural path when the hugely competitive interview process of NSW University Medical school results in a panel made up of exclusively two second language english  Chinese ethnic interviewers. One might think one is applying for  Beijing University. But no, UNI NSW is in Sydney Australia and the interview is a highly important short duration assessment of the candidates' suitability for medicine after having passed the very competitive UMAT exams . One might well wonder what the stats of such a panel are for different interview ethnicity groups as compared to other panels.  Is this an example of multiculturalism in our elite medical school and do the principles then come into play as described above?

 

I suspect the reason difference is feared is that one day it may  have have power to promote itself over yourself. It is essential that the described multiculturalism in that quote is contained to remove any justification for this fear, just as any preference against an ethnic group is already contained by law.

I think such laws against discrimination must be carefully groomed for each situation and be non selective.It is through manipulating the fear of a threat by the new rising group that groups like Pauline Hanson's gain such easy fodder. Our laws should enshrine our fair and just dealings and treatments for all times .

 

Cheers


Justice

Indeed "Ethnic diversity" is a reality and not a policy and that is why the term is of little practical use. Iraq has a measure of "ethnic diversity". It is a purely descriptive term.

A party like Australia First objects to ethnic immigration, as did One Nation and Australians Against Further Immigration. The problem is not so casual as the piece puts it, what we are dealing with here is hostile, organised resistance, as well as spontaneous outbursts of violence. It is not just older people who are not climatised to other cultures, we also have to deal with the Patriotic Youth League. There are also Neo-Nazi groups, here and there.

It is far more brutal than the piece suggests. Reaction to multiculturalism saw Australia condone an inhumane mandatory detention regime and engage in military aggression overseas. I don't separate these issues, I see in them the same single issue that, many Australians vehemently dislike foreigners, for both rational and irrational reasons. They want White Australia, not ethnic diversity.

I am reminded of David Oldfield's ghoulishly simple assertion in Margo's first book:"Australians are racist". I don't agree, of course, and there are many Australians who are not racist at all. By world standards I think we measure fairly well. I remember struggling to explain to an Argentinian girl in Paris that to me there was a distinction between an "Ilegal immigrant" and a "refugee". She assured me that there is a large problem of illegal immigration in Spain and that, around the world, "Nobody likes immigrants". This is hardly a uniquely Australian problem - the dominant culture will naturally seek to preserve itself, lest, as in Australia, a catalyst like economic necessity steps in to the ring.

To me the only alternative to "Multiculturalism" is "Monoculturalism" which I find far more disturbing. I am an individualist and wish that every individual be able to express themselves, to the extent that it does not infringe on the rights of others. I am not to fond of "culture" generally, which can produce a kind of sameness, a communitarian drudgery, when contrasted with individual people, who are unique and interesting. If integration means conformity then I want no part of it.

An alternative word to "Multiculturalism" is necessary, I suspect, because the kind of groups that object to it have turned it in to a red-rag. I have sought for another word, something like love, acceptance, tolerance or harmony. And yet I don't want any of those things. I think what is common amongst all people is the desire for justice. It will be easier for traditional Australia to accept change so long as the standards of justice that we apply to ourselves are applied with equal force to others.

And it will be easier for radical ethnic and religious minorities to make peace with the West, if we conduct our foreign policy in a just and measured fashion, punishing the guilty, but not engaging in brute revenge or excess.

Well......

my only concern here is that if people who do not accept values such as gender equality, gay rights, religious freedom, and freedom of speech eventually come to comprise a significant proportion of the population, gaining political power as a result, many of our precious and hard-fought freedoms will be gradually eroded one by one. That would be a great shame. I am not only referring to the obvious here - conservative Muslims - but also to Christian fundamentalists as well, who share many of their far-right values.

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