Will the Real ‘Multiculturalism’ Please Stand Up?

by Lee Mun Wah

Too often, multiculturalism has come to be defined as “getting to know another culture.” And yet, in its present form, are we truly ‘multicultural’? If not, then what is still needed?

For many minorities, the term “multiculturalism” has come to mean:

a. That, once again, the dominant culture gets to decide what multicultural programs will look like, taste like and sound like. They will get to decide if something is too intense, too personal, too political, or too ethnic. 

b. That, quite often, its definition is limited to the celebration of foods, dances, costumes and music. 

c. That, by simply studying about Martin Luther King, Jr. or Cesar Chavez or Bruce Lee, we have learned all that we need to know about a certain ethnic group. 

What does being truly multicultural really mean?

a. Multiculturalism means having a relationship based on a willingness to not only stay in the room when a conflict occurs, but to hear and value what is not working and to see that as an opportunity and not a threat.  

b. Making use of our differences and unique perspectives. In other words, integrating different cultural practices into the way we manage others, create policy, develop and train leaders.

c. Taking responsibility for our part in the problem, instead of blaming someone else or attacking the messenger. In other words, making the workplace safe by valuing different perspectives and practices. Noticing who is missing in the room or needed for an honest and open discussion.

d. Truly wanting multiculturalism means to stop assessing and collecting more and more data, but to start instigating real changes, not five years from now, but today. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Wait means never.” 

e. Asking minorities what they need by inviting them to be on the decision-making and planning committees, instead of making up countless programs that aren’t necessary or useful in addressing their problems.



~ by Brendan Kober on June 14, 2012.

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