Muliticulturalism is defined as the existence of different minority groups maintaining their identities. The way of expressing the growing cultural diversity of Western societies is to talk the language of ‘multi-culturism’ – neatly dividing up societies into homogenous traditions of communities. However this approach has serious limitations, not least because it shares many of the assumptions of new racism about fixed, immutable differences between ethnicities. “Culture is conceived along ethnically absolute lines, not as something intrinsically fluid, changing and unstable, and dynamic, but as a fixed property of social groups rather than a relational field in which they encounter one another and live out social, historical relationships.” (Gilroy, 1993, pp.24)
Issues surrounding ethnic minorities have been at the forefront of British politics as long as parliamentary democracy, whilst racist attitudes towards ‘aliens’, ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’ have ensued for just as long. Yet, whilst racism is no recent development, the approaches taken by the state to deal with it have significantly changed in the last half-century. Previous efforts to deal with non-white immigrants were primarily concerned with reducing the numbers of ‘ethnic’ minorities entering the country and to a lesser extent integrate them into society and indeed a sense of ‘Britishness’.
For example, Back (2002) ponders on the way “successive Conservative governments from 1979 to 1997 reified the ‘British way of life’ as a national treasure to be defended from ‘enemies within'”. (Back, 2002, pp.445) However recent political developments have rightly made it popular to recognise certain differences in minority groups. More specifically, acknowledging societal and economic inequalities suffered by first generation immigrants and ancestors of previous immigrants alike have meant the establishment is much more understanding and accommodating over issues such as education, housing, and welfare needs, to name but a few. This has become known as mainstreaming, for this implies the similar aim of gradual integration yet departs from previous thinking in that society must accept and change to a certain extent round minority interests, rather than the opposite.
Seaford (2001) asserts that “an inclusive and democratic society” should function in an open, fair and just manner, “so that everyone has a stake in the decisions which affect them”. (Seaford, 2001 pp.107) Furthermore, she poses the question; “What makes people feel that it is their country? Partly having equal civil and political rights, partly being able to join in the national culture and share aspirations for the future, but also a feeling that their own personal story and that of their family is entwined with the national story.” (Seaford, 2001 pp.107) Obviously, these can only be achieved by surpassing certain problems that prevent the full implementation of mainstreaming.
Many people would argue that Britain is not only clearly a multicultural society, but also a multiethnic and multifaith society, to display this they point to a number of factors clearly displayed in British culture. The change in British landscape – Religious symbols such as temples, mosques, synagogues are apparent all over Britain and promote a “multifaith” society. This idea of a multifaith society is also apparent in the acceptance and allowances made for religious clothing, such as turbans and headscarves, to be allowed in the workplace, schools and other public places. The development of food outlets, including Chinese and Indian restaurants and the ‘obvious’ acceptance of different cultures due to Britain’s favourite dish being Chicken Tikka Masala, is another factor of British culture which could be used to argue that Britain is a multicultural society.
British popular culture including films and music also help to promote multiculturism. Films such as “Bend it like Beckham” and “Bride and Prejudice” which are dominated by actors from ethnic minorities, often hit the big screens and are very popular in cinemas, which helps to promote ethnic identity and educate people about different ethnic cultures. Another form of British popular culture, which helps to promote multiculturism, is music. The introduction of black music from the Caribbean in the 1970’s, such as the music of Bob Marley began to introduce British people to music from different cultures.
This continued throughout the 1980’s with British black people beginning to introduce themselves into the popular music scene, creating a new type of popular music, which still had the basic elements of their cultural influence behind it. Furthermore, the development of music such as the bhangra infusion of sounds – Punjabi songs added to a ‘western beat’, displayed by famous artists such as Cornershop, Asian Kool and Punjabi MC, helped bring the culture and music of ethnic minority groups into the West. Many of the tracks were recorded especially for English music channels such as The Box and MTV, and keeping the ‘western beat’ made it even more appealing to young British people, while still introducing them to and educating them about different cultures.
Most importantly though, is probably the role of TV to show the change in the last 40years and the development of multiculturism. In the 1960s and 70s programmes such as “love thy neighbour” and “mind your own language”, ridiculed and mocked the cultures of ethnic minorities, which can be established simply from the titles of the programmes. However more recently programmes such as “Goodness Gracious Me”, “The Kumars” and “The Real McCoy”, produced by Asian dominated casts, has reserved this mockery and turned the jokes on a head, having a go at English for being racist, whilst showing that they really are just like ‘the rest of us’ even though they may have a stronger culture than most ‘white British’ people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In short it is claimed that people in Britain are now allowed to attain their ethnicity and religion and are allowed to talk / eat / live where and what they want, which ultimately promotes multiculturalism. However, many other people claim that these developments over the last 40years have not promoted multiculturism but have infact increased segregation. They claim that since the 1960’s people from ethnic minorities have been ‘clumped together’, for example in Bradford and Birmingham, where there is a very large Asian community. This forced segregation and ‘clumping together’ of ethnic minorities is in itself not only a form or racism but also stimulation for it.