A Critique of Multiculturalism

Monday, September 11, 2017, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Central Library (Directions)
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What are the negative or unintended consequences of multiculturalism as a political agenda? How should we respond?

Join us for a panel discussion and community conversation exploring the negative (or perhaps unintended?) consequences of multiculturalism as a political agenda.

The Panelists

Raghad El Niwairi is the London Youth Advisory Council’s Ward 12 councillor and is a passionate activist committed to eliminating oppression in all its aggressive forms. She is currently a leader in a community organization named the InterAction Collective that works to obliterate racism in London high schools and was awarded the 2017 London Community Foundation’s J. Allyn Taylor Community Service Award for similar work. When she is not dedicating her time to grassroots organizations, she enjoys reading a fantastic book and eating mangos.

Marie Fiedler is a research enthusiast, community organizer, policy fanatic, and in her spare time, a full-time student. She’s spent the better part of last year entrenched in research projects ranging from exploring the deaths of fictional LGBTQ2+ characters on television to the use of illness narratives as a therapeutic tool for individuals who are terminally ill. Currently, she helps organize The InterAction Collective – a community group committed to dismantling racism in London’s high schools.

Leroy Hibbert is the Multicultural Outreach Coordinator at LUSO Community Services and his responsibilities include facilitating workshops, presentations and training on race relations, cultural diversity and awareness to youth, parents, professionals and community groups in the non-profit and profit sectors. Leroy is also a member of the Thames Valley District School and London District and Catholic School Board’s Safe Schools committee, London Black History Coordinating Committee, Coaching Boys into Men Committee, and the Pledge Committee to End Bullying.

Jasmine Jasani’s (@_jasminejasani) critiques and distaste for power go beyond scholarly understandings of the many -isms. Her experiences in being harmed by as well as perpetuating injustices leaves her no stranger to the ways in which power structures are constantly reinforced through our very existence. To this end, Jasmine works hard to heal herself and others, empower different ways of being, apologize, and remain painfully aware of the realities of the lives of the majority of people in this world.

Tanaz Javan (@JTanaz) recently received a MSc in neuroscience (researching trauma specific therapies for PTSD patients) and is currently a PhD candidate in the Health Information Science program at Western. She is studying interventions to enhance service accessibility in the health care system for people who experience trauma and violence in their life. She is also a meditation instructor and life coach.

Heenal Rajani is a newcomer to Canada who has lived and worked on four continents and has visited over 60 countries. After graduating with a MA (Hons) from Oxford University, Heenal spent his early career working in local government and then served as a union organizer, before founding an international non-profit focusing on green building and environmental education. A new father, a poet and a co-tenant of Innovation Works, Heenal is passionate about collaboration and the power of community to effect social change.

Discussion Notes

Making a distinction between the value of diversity and multiculturalism as a political agenda, we’ll discuss some potential dangers of Canada’s approach to ‘legislating’ multiculturalism:

  • Multiculturalism as legislative policy that (inadvertently?) excuses/denies lived experiences of racism. For example: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear someone said/did that to you. But don’t worry, they’re just one ‘bad apple’: Canada’s not racist, we’re a multicultural society!” Does the act of ‘legislating tolerance’ encourage us take it for granted? Does declaring ourselves to be multicultural incentivize us to shrug off racism?
  • Multiculturalism as directing a performative role/function in society. Both in the anecdotal sense that “Where are you from?” becomes a standard line of exchange when conversing with a “visible minority” (i.e. positioning ethnicity and origin as primary social markers for non-predominate group members) and also in the sense that multiculturalism defines “normative” cultural functions. Does multiculturalism define “visible minorities” as a political identity and assign this identity with specific cultural roles? If so, then whose agenda does multiculturalism serve?
  • Multiculturalism as a pathway to Amartya Sen’s idea of ‘plural monoculturalism. In this sense, does multiculturalism reify the concept/myth that society is made up of a series of distinct, homogeneous cultures that dance around each other? We want to consider the tendency of multiculturalism to “essentialize” certain cultures or cultural traits and subsequently “tokenize” them or their representation. Does multiculturalism play a subversively isolating and ‘siloing’ role on society?
  • Multiculturalism as a political construct with minimal bearing in reality? For example, professor Anton Allahar’s argues that “Canada is not a multicultural country, it is a multi-ethnic country that is monocultural.” Who defines the parameters of ‘culture’ in multiculturalism when it is the law of the land?
  • Multiculturalism as relegation. Does multiculturalism ultimately devolve into a political framework defining “diversity” in such a way as to ultimately juxtapose “Western, Judeo-Christian, white culture” versus a conceptual hybrid/amalgamation of all other cultures? And in doing so, does this construct subsequently retrench the privilege of white identity? “So ‘diversity’ becomes a way to reassure whites of their place”,  as Sisonke Msimang describes?

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