The paradox of multiculturalism

It’s common for people to consider themselves multiculturalists in the sense that they positively enjoy different cultures, favour ethnic diversity, and sneer at right-wing populists mobilizing against immigrants. There is, however, a paradox in liberal multiculturalism. On the one hand, respect for differences and other cultures is proclaimed. On the other hand, it values highly (even idealizes) the ability to go beyond one’s culture and value the diversity of cultures that exists. Put differently, if we want to be proper multiculturalists, we need others to be monoculturalists, the more ‘authentic’ the better.

What we’re looking at here is folkloric multiculturalism. Cultures are reduced to symbols, but also to ‘authentic’ settings (Italian pizza served by an Italian waiter, not German pizza served by a Polish waiter…). The paradox stems from the fact that if too many individuals transcend cultures, there is nobody left for the ‘authentic’ cultures we seek and respect. Yet, don’t multiculturalists look down on the ‘simple’ or ‘authentic’ people in their own culture because they are unable or unwilling to move beyond their own culture?

Baggini, J. 2010. “The Poppadom Paradox.” In The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, 199–201. London: Granta Books.

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