Multiculturalism was an effective riposte to the anti-immigration policies that began in the late 1960s. The aim of the multicultural movement was to create a harmonious and democratic society by ‘celebrating difference'. In the 1980s there were intense debates between multiculturalists and anti-racists. The anti-racist approach was - and still is - to tackle structural racism, requiring a dismantling of institutional practices of racism, whether in education, employment or social welfare. Multiculturalists were historically criticised for failing to challenge racism.
In 1999 the concept of institutional racism came into common usage with the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (Macpherson Report). In its response to the Report, the government passed the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000), imposing an obligation on all public bodies (including schools and local authorities) actively to promote race equality. In 2000, the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain was established (chaired by Bhikhu Parekh) and published its report. One of the main recommendations was that a diverse curriculum was an essential pre-requisite for understanding contemporary British society.
In recent years, multiculturalism has come under renewed attack, particularly in the media where some commentators have concluded that it has failed. In 2004 CRE chairman Trevor Phillips called for its abandonment, in order to create a more integrated British society. He argued that a sense of ‘Britishness' should be instilled in Britain's black and minority communities in order to create an ‘integrated society in which people are equal under the law, where there are some common values'. (The Observer April 4 2004). A focus on ‘Britishness' emerged from the Labour government in the period after the London bombings in 2005. Gordon Brown has since called for a better balance between diversity and integration - and for greater prominence to be given to British history:
‘We should not recoil from our national history - rather we should make it more central to our education [...] not just dates, places and names [...]. but a narrative that encompasses our history'
(Speech: Fabian New Year Conference London, March 2006)
Criticisms of multiculturalism have resulted in a call for a policy review and for more emphasis to be placed on integration. Modood (2005) has argued that integration was in fact already on the agenda, as a consequence of the race riots in some northern English cities in the summer of 2001. (http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-terrorism/multiculturalism_2879.jsp)
The focus of government policy is now to promote community cohesion and integration, notably with the publication of Guidance on the Duty to Promote Community Cohesion (DCSF 2007). The Education and Inspections Act (2006), which imposed on all maintained schools in England the duty of promoting community cohesion, came into effect from September 1 2007. There are some misgivings about this move towards integration: cohesion and integration are obviously important, but only when they are achieved through a commitment to social justice and participation by all.
Diversity and Citizenship: Curriculum Review (DfES 2006) headed by Sir Keith Ajegbo, reviewed how schools in England were delivering the new compulsory citizenship lessons. The report's main proposal was that the secondary curriculum for Citizenship Education should encourage societal and community cohesion through an understanding of shared values. The curriculum, therefore, should include a new element entitled 'Identity and Diversity: Living Together in the UK', covering multinational state of the UK, immigration, the Commonwealth and legacy of Empire, the European Union, the legacy of slavery, universal suffrage and equal opportunity legislation. The report also argued for the promotion of understanding of "Britishness" among white pupils. Some teachers were found to be reluctant to deal with issues of diversity in the classroom and schools did not always recognise the clear link between the promotion of education for diversity and the raising of educational standards.
In order to counter the emphasis on Britishness and the growing dangers of ethnocentrism, writers in the field are now re-emphasising the importance of multiculturalism, arguing that we need more not less of it, albeit recognising that it is a more complex concept than it seemed in the past. For example, Modood (op cit) states:
I continue to think that multiculturalism is [a]...worthwhile political project [...] What it does mean is that integration should take a multicultural rather than an assimilative form. At the same time, we in Britain do probably need to work harder to develop a national identity, and forms of belonging to each other, that can win the imaginations and hearts of minorities and majorities alike.
Advancing Multiculturalism, Post7/7 (Eade et al 2007) is a recent publication contributing to the debate on multiculturalism. Here the authors argue ‘that a multicultural perspective is as relevant and important, both socially and politically in a post 7/7 world.'
To continue the debate Multiverse is compiling a collection of articles, representing a variety of points of view on multiculturalism. Two articles are available below (Click on links below to view full article).
Multiculturalism: The Pluralist Dilemma - John Hammond (2007)
This article links multiculturalism with issues of human rights and social justice. It focuses on the tension arising between the demands of the modern state and the aspirations of minorities to preserve their ethnic, religious and linguistic difference, which has been described as "the pluralist dilemma". The dilemma is how to reconcile the need for national integration and cohesion, on one hand, with the demand for the affirmation of minority culture on the other.
- Understanding the Multicultural Malaise - Heidi Safia Mirza (2007)
This is a version of a chapter published in Tackling the Roots of Racism (Bhavnani, Mirza and Meetoo 2005). The article outlines the debates on anti-racism and multiculturalism and explores notions of identity and Britishness. It brings the debate up to date by questioning multiculturalism as the cause and explanation for British terrorism. The article calls for a different language and terminology in order to ‘shake the foundations of the debates on multiculturalism'.
- Diversity and achievement: Key Issues in Education (2008)
Below are extracts from a Multiverse National Conference held in May 2008 where the programme included a debate on 'Diversity and Achievement: Key Issues in Education'. In her presentation Heidi Safia Mirza argued that in order to assist student teachers/trainees to address minority ethnic attainment it is necessary to move the debate on and unpack further the nature of diversity as structured by ‘avenues of power' - sexism, racism, colonialism. Critiques of multiculturalism was the subject of Bhikhu Parekh's talk. He argued that the lesson for the present is not that Multiculturalism should be discarded but further reshaped to help foster a common sense of civic and national identity that will at the same time celebrate the diversity of the British culture.
Patricia East and Sui-Mee Chan (2008)