Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It takes two

To Europeans wary of "multiculturalism," I'd like to ask the following question: What would you do if your daughter brought home a guy of Moroccan origin, but multigeneration whichever country you're in. Maybe he's not a practicing Muslim, but maybe some of his relatives are. Do you say, 'Fantastic, they do want to assimilate'? Do you think, eh, you get what you get, but such a shame the grandchildren probably won't be blond? Or do you freak, because he's clearly about to abduct your daughter and take her back to his "home" Morocco, where she will be kept sequestered with all his other wives?

In case this needs spelling out, I ask because so much of the discussion, especially on the right, is about the willingness of ethnic non-Europeans themselves to assimilate, so little about the on-the-ground levels of deep acceptance. I'm not talking about civil equality or access to social services, but the extent to which "foreign" is used to describe those whose parents, even, were born nearby, "Muslim" those who weren't even blond as kids.


Micha said...

Multiculturalism is really a useless term. it seems to have dozens of different meanings.

It can mean having a pizza place and a kebab shop on the same street. It can mean being open, respectful and polite (and maybe a little more knowledgeable) about other cultures. It can mean a statement of fact, that society has become more multicultural as a result of immigration. It can be an empty PC term to gloss over the problems surrounding immigration. It can mean a melting pot, or the rejection of the melting pot. It can mean a certain position on immigration. It can mean having bilingual services for immigrants or the dissolution of the classic nation-state. It can be used as a feel good phrase or as a way to scare people and rally them around a variety of concerns, some legitimate, some not.

in short, it's not a very useful term. It only makes it more difficult to deal with a lot of different issues, none of which is that clear cut.

Phoebe said...


I fully agree, and what I was getting at in this post is the extent to which one of the meanings it currently has is, it's a term Western Europeans can use to euphemistically note that they don't like foreigners.

PG said...

But with regard to civil equality, I'd add the question, "Do you want the in-your-country-born children of legal immigrants to have the rights of full citizenship, or do you want them to be permanently stamped as foreigners?"

I'm not sure one can underestimate the U.S.'s unusual 14th Amendment policy of citizenship based on birth in the U.S. -- regardless of parents' nationality, race, religion, etc. -- in the ethic of integration here.

Also, I'd note that minority groups are fully capable of worrying that their kid's spouse from the majority group will suddenly "turn" hyper-conservative. My dad was very concerned that my then-boyfriend's family not be the sort of Christians who'd convince him eventually that I'd need to convert and that any trace of Hinduism in our lives was tantamount to devil-worship.

Phoebe said...


Re: your first point, yes, good point.

Re: your second (third para): I tend to distinguish between opposition to intermarriage on the part of members of minority groups and that which comes from the majority. Some Jewish families worry that out-marriage is asking for anti-Semitic in-laws, Christianity for future offspring, the works. (And it's totally not! I mean, maybe in some cases.) It's one thing to feel threatened by a majority culture that's also the dominant culture, another altogether to be xenophobic (or worried that 'the blonds will die out'). In any case, it's well-known that various ethnic minorities in the West (Indian and Jewish especially!) tend to be especially wary of intermarriage, but it's often overlooked that even when fully open to intermarriage, individuals from certain groups in certain eras/places (our theoretical Moroccan-who's-not-Moroccan) simply wouldn't find un-hyphenated families to marry into, because - alas - xenophobia in the mainstream society is the main factor preventing these unions. (In which I segue into my dissertation...)

Micha said...

I hesitate concerns about immigration and assimilation simply as not liking foreigners. I don't know enough.

What I don't like is how first the problems inherent in immigration were glossed over with the label multiculturalism and a rather smug attitude, and then afterwards multiculturalism became the label for the problem combined with a fearful, hysterical and not very constructive attitude.

Immigration is a complex phenomenon. Instead of using these emotional labels, the problem needs to be broken down, figure out what people are concerned about and what's the sensible way to deal with these concerns if they are legitimate.

The experiences of the US are a good source of comparison, because the US has been doing the immigration thing for some time. But we should keep in mind that the way the US did it includes pretty much accepting the problems (racism, crime, poverty, cultural enclaves etc.) as part of the price of doing business. The Europeans can learn from these experiences, but they are not obligated to copy them. They don't have to be immigrations states like the US. But if they are opening the doors to immigration they should understand how it works.

Phoebe said...


This post isn't about attitudes towards future immigration. It's about ones towards ethnic minorities already long-present in various European countries, who whatever their paperwork says (some are citizens, some aren't) are looked at, at least in France, as "immigrants."