Friday, 22 November 2019

Opposing cultural diversity is not racist

‘Racist’, ‘bigot’, ‘xenophobe’, ‘fascist’, ‘far-right’ – these terms have been overused to such an extent, they have almost been drained of their historical significance and weight. Indeed, one of the biggest casualties of Brexit has been perspective.

In terms of younger people in the United Kingdom (UK), one of the sharpest points of difference between ‘Remainers’ and ‘Leavers’ is their perspective of the cultural diversity that has come to characterise modern-day Britain. While 6.4% of young Remainers held a negative view of cultural diversity, this figure rose to 46.7% for their pro-Leave peers – a difference of over 40 percentage points.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after publicising the key findings of the report, a good number immediately latched onto the central finding over cultural diversity. Arguments put forward were along the lines that this finding was strong evidence of the ‘rampant racism’ which exists among Britain’s young eurosceptics; that it offered support for their deeply questionable assertion that the Leave result delivered back in June 2016 was largely driven by racially-motivated bigotry. After all, crudely simplistic narratives of the ‘white, angry, racist, frustrated Brexiteer’ continue to prevail among many in the Remain bubble.

What this sort of reaction illustrates that despite tending to be more ‘formally educated’, much of the pro-Remain camp fail to demonstrate a basic level of critical thinking, and are often unable to present their arguments in a coherent and convincing manner.  This is perhaps a consequence of keeping themselves in their ‘comfort zone’ and ‘safe spaces’, which includes ideologically-homogenous echo chambers in the social media realm. Supposed champions of diversity, both their real-life and cyber-space networks comprise of individuals who ultimately sing from the same hymn sheet.

It is perfectly plausible for an individual to be both comfortable with racial diversity and sceptical of cultural diversity. Acceptance of racial diversity and rejection of cultural diversity is by no means a contradictory standpoint. To label someone racist, purely on the grounds that they hold a negative view of cultural diversity in the UK, is in itself an act of narrow-minded thoughtlessness. Indeed, a further demonstration of the extent to which some are itching to whip out the term ‘racist’ whenever someone expresses a view which remotely challenges their cosmopolitan worldview.

The laissez-faire approach to multiculturalism in the British context has been utterly destructive from the perspective of social cohesion. The metropolitan political classes who adopt a celebratory attitude towards cultural diversity appear to be either unaware or unbothered by its drawbacks. Championing difference over cohesion, state-sponsored multiculturalism has ‘balkanised’ British society, facilitating the construction of the very ‘parallel societies’ that Professor Ted Cantle, the Director of the Institute for Community Cohesion, mentioned in the aftermath of the 2001 race riots in post-industrial Lancastrian towns such as Burnley and Oldham. This was supported by the more recent 2016 report authored by Dame Louise Casey, who stressed the broader community risks related to social separation between culturally-disparate groups.

There is a craving for a new ‘cultural alignment’ in this country. A civic model of patriotism which is inclusive, community-spirited, and family-oriented, would be the best solution.

But this is also where arguments for ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’ begin to somewhat unravel. There are certain socio-cultural practices which have no place in the UK – including primitive practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced intra-family marriages. Public authorities must be robust in rooting out such practices, and make clear that such ‘traditions’ and ‘customs’ are unacceptable in British society. But there are ‘mainstream cultural features’ – the UK’s ‘world leader status’ regarding family breakdown, high rates of binge-drinking which lead to packed hospitals on Saturday nights, and an unhealthy obsession with ‘celebrity icons’ – which hardly act as ‘pull factors’ when encouraging integration or social absorption. Indeed, it gives rise to the all-important question – what culture are we actually asking people to integrate into?

Equally, ‘family-orientedness’ – prioritising family bonds through thick and thin – is something much of the British mainstream could learn from a great number of families who trace their origins back to parts of the world such as the Indian subcontinent and West Africa. The degree of loneliness among the elderly is not only a social scourge, but also a national embarrassment. Due to feeble family structures, elderly folk are all too often viewed as a burden by their own children – who are more than happy to bung them into a home.  A good number who are still able to live independently in their own property can expect visits from family which are only few and far between.

What is abundantly clear, is that a negative view of cultural diversity in modern Britain may be held for a variety of perfectly legitimate reasons. Indeed, scepticism of cultural diversity may well be rooted in the desire for a shared moral-cultural standard to be established in a country which has lacked thoughtful political leadership on issues such as social cohesion for some time. Yes, a negative view of cultural diversity may be motivated by racism. But it can also be on the grounds of acknowledging the socially divisive effects of multiculturalism. Indeed, scepticism of cultural diversity may go hand-in-hand with the civic-minded politics of belonging and home.

There is a craving for a new ‘cultural alignment’ in this country. A civic model of patriotism which is inclusive, community-spirited, and family-oriented, would be the best solution. One which understands the human desire for neighbourliness and connectedness; celebrates hard work and encourages social responsibility; and recognises the importance of intergroup contact in building the bonds of trust and mutual regard required to sustain ambitious collectivist projects. This is the politics of reciprocity and mutuality – one that rejects ethno-centric understandings of nationhood, and brings together people of different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds under a framework of shared British values and common objectives.

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