Multiculturalism Critical Essays

Introduction

Multiculturalism

Late-twentieth-century literary, pedagogic, and social movement.

A literary and social ideology that presupposes that all cultural value systems are equally worthy of study, multiculturalism has permeated numerous aspects of American life since the 1960s. Growing out of the civil rights and feminist movements and reflecting America's increasingly pluralistic, multiethnic society, multiculturalist ideals have influenced literature, art, popular culture, media, education, and legal and social policy. In response to greater globalization, and due to the questioning of the entire concept of assimilation, the social model for American society has shifted away from the image of the “melting pot”—according to which minorities gave up their individual identity to integrate fully with general society—and moved towards a model where unique ethnic identities remain intact and contribute to the greater good.

While educational curricula have adjusted to mirror a less Eurocentric worldview and to compensate for the lack of attention paid to non-Western cultures over the past century, critics have begun debating the problems inherent with institutionalizing multiculturalism. For example, some have argued that the pendulum has swung too far, resulting in the unwarranted dismissal or ignoring of scholarship from Caucasian academics as well as multiculturalist-driven syllabi that routinely attack aspects of Western civilization. Other commentators have suggested that the categories of multicultural study have become too rigid and deterministic, defining groups of writers too narrowly and without taking into account individual talent and independence of mind. The very notion of defining population groups primarily by ethnicity continues to be argued, with pundits noting the wealth of inconsistencies and discrepancies inherent in such forms of classification. Certain scholars have additionally observed the repression, or even suppression, of academic dialogue on certain topics—for example, racism and the cultural role of Jews—that have been deemed too inflammatory or problematic within a multicultural context.

Critical discussion of multiculturalism has been augmented by the increased need for international communication and mutual understanding in the modern world. Several of the more extreme varieties of multiculturalism have been softened through academic practice and experience—many literary critics have called for a return to the evaluation of works of literature solely as works of art, rather than as reflections of a particular culture. Others have continued to voice their dissatisfaction with the slow progress of multiculturalism, emphasizing that the changes instituted in education, art, and society remain superficial at best.