What does multicultural citizenship mean?

Edward Said (1994) reminds us that in today’s globalized world, “no one […] is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are no more than starting points” (as cited in May, 2001, p. 108).

I thought this quote was a good place to start the discussion on multicultural citizenship. To me, multicultural does not only refer to the community, but also the individual. When we talk about multicultural, therefore, it is not only about diversity within cities and nation-states: it is about diversity within persons.

 New identities emerge in the intersection between global and local

It is about not stopping at one label, but rather accepting each individual as a myriad of identities (such as a gay Swedish Buddhist, or a Muslim Chinese woman, or a black French Jew…if that exists yet.) Interestingly, I find that multiculturalism is closely linked to the individual. One might think that with globalization we would see a homogenization of cultures and identities, but I think that we actually will see the opposite.

New identities emerge in the intersection between global and local. For example, in Norway fifty years ago we saw a very clear majority of white, Christian heterosexuals. Today – while there definitely has been a diffusion of the traditional Norwegian culture as a result of global influences – we see a myriad of version of “Norwegian”, including various religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and so on.

Multicultural citizenship means embracing all identities that exists inside each person. It is NOT the same as having separate pockets of “pure” cultures living in harmony within a community. While this is not a bad thing, I do not see this as true multiculturalism. Culture is not a static concept. Culture changes and transforms constantly – that is what makes it culture.

Multicultural citizenship means embracing all identities that exists inside each person. It is NOT the same as having separate pockets of “pure” cultures living in harmony within a community.

Global citizenship to me refers to the ability to interact with people from all over the world. It includes the ability to adapt to different cultures; to be curious and open-minded toward new concepts; to appreciate the limitations of ones own cultural lens and framework.

References:

May, S. (2001). Language and Minority Rights: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and the Politics of Language. NY: Pearson Education.

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