Thoughts on multiculturalism

Vron Ware
30 May 2008

Vron Ware (London, author): It has become fashionable now to deride multiculturalism as 'over', disastrous, etc, but I still think it is important to try to write a more complex and faithful history of how things have developed in this country, with all the mistakes, successes, and other consequences. I don't see how we can have a constructive, political discussion about where we want to go in the future without this - and that applies to all the component parts of the UK, not just England.

For those paying attention throughout the 70s 80s and 90s, it was clear that that successive governments were avoiding taking a principled position on questions of racism and exclusion, whether in relation to housing, education, equal opportunities, national identity and so on. What has happened since the 2001 riots in mill towns, and particularly since the London bombings, is that 'multiculturalism' appears, with hindsight, to have been a coherent ideology sowing the seeds for the conflicts and crises we have now. This both obscures the rich ways that people have muddled along together in particular places, and gives the adjective 'multicultural' a bad name (although it still functions as a default for 'mixed', diverse, etc). It also masks the endemic racism that allowed certain places to practice segregation either by default or by bad planning.

A great change has happened over the last fifty years that has created a country that will never again be homogenous in the way it once was. Maybe it's better to stop talking about 'multiculturalism' altogether and find some different ways (and words) to make that recent and contested past useful in our current debates.

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