Making multiculturalism an asset and not just a problem

Sam Smith – Drastically missing from our talk about ethnic relationships is discussion about positive ethnic relations. We treat the matter as a huge problem to be solved by things like changes in law, improved policing, social guilt and pressure. In fact, good relations exist because they work for all those involved.

You can’t define this in legislation because each experience is different. But what we can do is to look at ways various ethnic groups can work and play together better.

It begins with children. We don’t typically introduce the young to the ethnic variety of the world which they will grow into. They learn about other ethnicities from older children or from adults many of whom have strong biases. Combating this with positive education about the variety of humans out there and how to get along with them would be greatly useful.

Helping teenage values – The teen years are when childhood habits start to turn into more permanent adult values. It’s an excellent time for high school courses in the multiculturalism of society and how to be part of it, as well teaching the history of various ethnic cultures, including not just grim stories like slavery, but the tales of those who beat the system in the past.

Providing experiences – such as theater and music – where students work together to accomplish is something can change their perceptions of others.

Another useful idea: having the young describe positive experiences they’ve had with others of another ethnic background. This can also be done by adults in story telling sessions at their church or elsewhere.

Celebrate a locally diverse culture – There are all sorts of ways to do this. For example, an art show with the work of diverse local artists or a music festival. You can even have a parade as they have in Singapore. As Wikipedia notes:

[A] largely Chinese parade became a multi-cultural one from 1977 when Malay and Indian groups started joining in the performances, which was to mark a major precedent in the overall flavor of the parade into one which has become largely multi-cultural in character… The 2018 Chingay involved 2,000 parade volunteers and 6,500 parade performers, and also featured many examples of smart technology, including dancing robots and driverless cars.

Blacks and latinos should see themselves as among leaders of a new America. The problem with defining yourself only as a victim is that it’s a hard concept to change. But there are ways that blacks and latinos can lead. For example, there are more poor whites than there are blacks in total. Blacks and latinos could make organizing the working class – whatever its ethnicity – a high priority. I saw this work in the early days of the modern civil rights movement when in DC, a young activist named Marion Barry helped make a name for himself by organizing opposition to a rise in DC Transit fares. Similarly blacks and whites came together to fight (in large part successfully) a planned freeway expansion in the city. One problem with being in a minority is the numbers. Organize by issues rather than by identity and the numbers can improve significantly.   

Include a course in multiculturalism in journalism schools – One of the reasons we don’t see the positive side of multiculturalism is because our journalists treat it overwhelmingly as a crisis. Included in their coverage should be stories about examples of how ethnicities can get along. TV series could also help in this.

Stop ignoring mixed ethnicity – Some 17% of new marriages are now of mixed ethnicity, but following the media and other discussions you might imagine it doesn’t exist.  For example, the public and the media consistently referred to Barack Obama as black, when in fact he spent more time at Harvard Law School than he did with a black parent. And there’s a high probability that Frederick Douglass’ father was white.

Ironically, this habit of ignoring mixed ethnicity has some of its roots in an anti-black concept known as the one drop rule. Says Wikipedia:

The one-drop rule is a social and legal principle of racial classification that was historically prominent in the United States in the 20th century. It asserted that any person with even one ancestor of black ancestry (“one drop” of black blood) is considered black. . This concept became codified into the law of some states in the early 20th century. It was associated with the principle of “invisible blackness” that developed after the long history of racial interaction in the South, which had included the hardening of slavery as a racial caste and later segregation.

One reason to bring mixed ethnicity into the discussion is that the more complex people see our relations, the less likely they will use cruel cliches to describe it.

.Face the truth about race: Historically, the concept can be fairly described as a racist one. And it goes back a long way. Carolus Linnaeus declared in 1758 that there were four races: white, red, dark and black. Others made up their own races, applying the term to religions (Jewish), language groups (Aryan) or nationalities (Irish).

Modern science tells us something different. For example, writing in Harvard’s Science in the News, Vivian Chou explained:

In the biological and social sciences, the consensus is clear: race is a social construct, not a biological attribute . . .  The popular classifications of race are based chiefly on skin color, with other relevant features including height, eyes, and hair. Though these physical differences may appear, on a superficial level, to be very dramatic, they are determined by only a minute portion of the genome: we as a species have been estimated to share 99.9% of our DNA with each other. The few differences that do exist reflect differences in environments and external factors, not core biology.

Which is why I use the term ethnicity instead of race, the former a description of culture rather than biology or genetics.  

One thought on “Making multiculturalism an asset and not just a problem

  1. Hi Sam, I am trying to remember: we met in Jackson, MS at US Civil Rights Commision hearings. Question: why were you there?

    On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 4:49 PM Sam Smith’s Essays wrote:

    > prorevwp posted: ” Sam Smith – Drastically missing from our talk about > ethnic relationships is discussion about positive ethnic relations. We > treat the matter as a huge problem to be solved by things like changes in > law, improved policing, social guilt and pressure. In fac” >

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