My digital life: Chris Lynn

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Multicultural practice

first_imgThere are widespread claims of discriminatory treatment by some groups in Guyana, not only in the economic realm, but in the expression of their cultural practices. Guyana must begin to insist on “multicultural” practices.A multicultural practice means that there will be fair and equitable treatment of others by individuals, groups, institutions and the state. Instead of racism and discrimination, there will be respectful and equal treatment of individuals and groups from any ethnic, racial, or immigrant background.The cavalier treatment of the Ethnic Relations Commission raises doubts about the Administration’s commitment to multicultural practices.While we will have to accept the diversity we find ourselves with, we will also have to hone some kind of unity so that we may achieve what most modern states are expected to deliver to their citizens – at a minimum, civil peace. The question of “national culture” has occupied centre stage in the political arena. It has been the site of the contestation of power in civil society as well as the state. It has therefore been a wider struggle. This is what a multiculturalism addresses.The notion that some groups must reject or discard their cultural heritage to participate in the polity must be rejected. It arises from a barbaric past, when nations were forced to ‘assimilate’ by force.  Even in those circumstances, ethnic bonds were never completely annihilated. Witness Scottish nationalism almost four hundred years after their conquest. Modern international norms of ‘equality’ and ‘self-determinations’ of peoples militate cultural hegemony being accepted by even subordinate groups. Rather than the ‘melting pot’ ideal of integration, the ‘salad bowl’ model should be encouraged.  Let each group discover their roots and shape their cultural practices to suit “modernity”.It is a fact about the world that there are many multicultural societies. Each member of such societies is also a member of a particular cultural group. And each member of a cultural group will have different experiences from another belonging to a different cultural group. This is because our culture shapes and gives meaning to our life-plans, and the mere participation of each member helps to change the culture itself. Out of this relationship between people and their cultures arises a sense of identity and belonging.The question as to whether “unity” or “diversity” should be privileged is partially a semantic one, caused by the conflation of “state” and “nation”. But, at the bottom, the dispute has to do with power, as it almost always does.Political unity and culturally diversity do not have to be mutually exclusive. Each society has to find the right balance between the demands of the two concepts that is appropriate for its own circumstances, so as to have a political system that is cohesive and stable, while facilitating the cultural aspirations of all the peoples. We need political unity to guide the state, but that is not contradictory to “diversity” in terms of the “nation” – of diverse cultural expressions by the people of a given society.We need to address the type of cultural integration that may be best for Guyana in view of our evident cultural diversity. While the definitions of culture are legion, for our purposes, we may see culture as, in the words of Ronald Dworkin, “a shared vocabulary of tradition and convention” by a group of people. Their culture gives them a shared understanding of life – how to live it and how to organise it. Since each “shared understanding” may entail a different conception of the good life, there are obvious implications for the political viability of a culturally plural society.Having one’s social institutions embody one’s culture means that they will be immediately comprehensible to us, and therefore easier to use. The mutual intelligibility will promote relationships of solidarity and trust. Too many leaders work against this, and implicitly insist some groups jettison their cultural practices when displaying their own cultural strand during public appearances. They should rather insist on the widest expression of our national multi-cultural tapestry.last_img read more