Multiculturalism

Sherry Listgarten sherry@timesten.com
Fri, 19 Oct 2001 11:08:27 -0700


> This may be a strain of thought limited to the Eastern intelligentsia,
> but out here multiculturalism is a brand of essentialism, where the
> world is divided into a series of -nesses, Cubaness, Tibeteness, and
> so on, and membership in these cultural categories is hereditary. In
> order to preserve culture, the individual is to serve the group.
> 
> In this view, culture is sanctified by respect and defiled by
> inauthenticity. A white man writing a novel about geisha is suspect, a
> Puerto Rican bagel maker is suspect, and the thought that some stone
> age tribe in the Brazilian rainforest might not mind having stainless
> steel knives and a couple of Bic lighters lying around occaisions
> sleepless nights and a determination to protect the sacred indian
> culture from outside influences.
> 
> It's like a midwestern dinner: here's the meat, here's the vegetable,
> here's the starch. Don't mix them.

Nah, not like mixing dinner, since for dinner the next day you can always go
back and get a big steak if you're in a meat mood, or some nice peas and
potatoes if you're in a veggie mood.

What if each time you mixed your peas into your potatoes, your next meal's
potatoes tasted kind of like peas, and the peas like potatoes? You might
start keeping them apart. Or, hey, what would be the point of Thanksgiving?
There'd be no yin-yang of brussels sprouts and stuffing.

I think that's the point the multiculturalists are making. Culture can get
diluted to the point where it's no longer a culture, or at least no longer
the culture it was. It may be that American culture doesn't get diluted this
way -- it's *defined* as a mixing pot. But others will.

If you buy that, then the question is whether we care. Is a single
melting-pot culture "better" than lots of individual cultures? Is a single
melting-pot even possible, or will there be natural pockets? Are those
pockets as "good" as cultures protected by some kind of natural or
artificial isolationism?

Another west-coast analogy, for you east-coasters: The parks around here are
big into native plants. They pick out and remove anything foreign, in case
it'll take over and remove the native flora. Now *what* is the point of
that?

-- Sherry.