Multiculturalism – Positives and Negatives

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Researching this article, I’ve found that most people write about their own society as the “most multicultural one”. Does that mean we live in a completely multicultural world? That there are no pure cultures anymore? Is every culture becoming a mixture of other cultures? Influenced by others?

First of all, what is multiculturalism? We all hear this word used so often, but can we give one definition the meaning? Hardly, and I say so because the meanings of multiculturalism are numerous. It could mean appreciation, acceptance and promotion of multiple cultures; having respect for diversity; extending equitable status to distinct ethnic and religious groups without promoting the specific ethnic, religious or cultural community values of any culture as central; and my personal favorite: a “cultural mosaic” often contrasted with the concepts of assimilationism and social integration that can be described like a “salad bowl” rather than a “melting pot”.

Multiculturalism gives members of the cultures that are brought together a taste of what others have to offer. As people come together, different ideas are shared and others can learn things from cultures, things they would not have known about at all if there have not been more than one culture in their society. Some of us don’t realize it but many foods they eat, or clothes they wear or even games they play can belong to another culture.

As with most things in life, there are positives and negatives to multiculturalism. Social, ethnic and religious tensions, racism, ethnocentrism, assimilationism are among the most prominent negatives. But they are in no case the only ones.

Spend some time in a multicultural society and you will soon be aware that multiculturalism, along with its vibrant colors and tasty foods, brings also the barrier of language. The barrier of language leads to low self-confidence in newcomers to a society, driving them to find members that belong to their culture and to confine themselves to the comfort zone of their own culture group, a tendency known as segregation. Some, for many and varied reasons, may find it hard to integrate properly into the new society which can often cause unemployment. The struggle to survive may see such people turning to petty crime and other criminal activities such as drug-dealing, illegal prostitution, the selling of counterfeit or pirated goods and a lot of other organized crime as well.

While such aspects of multiculturalism may be becoming a problem, to a certain extent, for many, the positives by far outweigh the negatives. The positives of embracing multiculturalism are many – and are not limited to the introduction of mousaka or chow mien, and of sarma or bourek. Embracing multiculturalism means that a newcomer to a society and his or her culture become real and vivid in the eyes of the people with whom they hope to integrate. It means opening dialogues so that, one understands a little better the struggles of other people from a different culture. The never-ending array of food and language which we can enjoy, the ability to connect with other cultures and learn other customs, as well as the doors being opened to present opportunities for those wishing to grasp them scream in favor of multiculturalism.

As for problems, we can only hope that tolerance and compassion will prevail. But with so many different viewpoints on multiculturalism, will this be a likely possibility?

Nevena Smilevska, Macedonia

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