BTW, Speaking about justice…

Multiculturalism: A, B, or X?

Posted on: June 18, 2010

As the World Cup intensifies, the conversation I had with my kitchen mate on multiculturalism seems fitting.

A bit of a background, my friend is Russian but moved to Canada when he was about 12. He holds two passports, Canadian and Russian. He claims himself as Canadian by citizenship, Russian by blood. And yes, he’s now in the UK pursuing his Masters, and will stay on for his PhD. (So, English by advanced education). If war breaks, he would serve for the Russian military.

I on the other hand, am Chinese by genealogy, Indonesian by citizenship, and everything else by nurture and education (Java, Sunda, Aceh, Padang, Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, USA, UK), therefore I argue that I am local and international a.k.a “I create my own identity, people only put brands on me”. If war breaks, I would most likely  join the UN’s peace keeping mission or Star Trek Enterprise 😀

For some reason, I felt that our debate is a speck of the long debate between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. LOL.


My friend’s argument:

Multiculturalism doesn’t exist because at the end of the day a person has to choose his/her affiliation; and usually the choice goes to affiliating oneself with the minority for leverage/perks. (Forgive my/his lack of political correctness in referring to any of the groups, no harm intended) A Black American would affiliate with the Black community rather than the white, even when there’s nothing black about that person save for the colour of his/her skin. For example: President Obama and Mariah Carey.

My argument:

One doesn’t have to choose between one or the other. One always has the choice to create one’s own identity. One only has to choose A or B when it is a closed question: “Are you A or B?”. But one can always create a C, D, or E.

He counter-argues:

No. It doesn’t work that way because one wouldn’t be creating a new identity. He/She would choose what’s already in society. Black or White? Asian or American? Russian or Canadian?

Very deterministic of him, I say.

We ended the debate with my statement that perhaps we see things different because he comes from a background where choices are between A or B, in or out. Whereas I’m used to being in a country where “diversity” is our identity, even though we often forget about this fact. We have different ways of seeing things and not one is more correct than the other (very un-positivistic of me!).

But then I started thinking, perhaps multiculturalism is what it means when someone says “I am Indonesian”. It means that he/she represents a unity of all different cultures beyond genealogy. A concept that not many people understand unless they experience it. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, many, but one. Unity in diversity. Sometimes we say “I’m Javanese”, “I’m Sundanese”, “I’m Papuan”, etc… but generally when we say “I’m Indonesian”, it’s probably similar to “I’m British, but I’m also Welsh/Scottish”. It is a brand but not an identity in itself.

What’s the point of my blogging this?

I’m not sure. I’m still trying to get my head around social inclusion/exclusion in preparation for my interview at the end of this month. The discussion about identity strikes me as a puzzle when it comes to understanding exclusion. To exclude/include someone implies a “container” where one group is in it and the other is not. But what happens when there is more than one container? To be excluded from one, is to be included in another, or not in any (just float, or change places every 5 seconds).

When one is not rich, it doesn’t automatically mean one is poor. Development is a spectrum, an ongoing process where the end is infinite. There’s nothing wrong with running around topless, chasing wild boars with bamboo sticks for dinner.  Just as there’s nothing wrong with wearing black tie and suit, chained to a desk, frantically clicking on a Blackberry for McDonald’s delivery either.

Perhaps the problem is when society denies a person of equal respect for a range of different capabilities. By thinking that one has to be A or B or X, we are creating the concept of exclusion/inclusion. Therefore to tackle exclusion, is to not have that definition at all. Or work with another framework: Promoting Social Cohesion?

Thoughts, anyone?


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Lishia Erza

Searching for answers about life, these are the ones I have found.

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