Multiculturalism (was bourgeois feminism)

duy nguyen jislober at
Thu Aug 8 23:11:07 MDT 2002

[ quoted text snipped. ]

I'm a afraid I have to disagree with you on nearly every point.
I appreciate all the things you praise about multiculturalism as well, but
do I think that if we look at the latter's overall social and cultural
effects over the past few years, and not just its stated aims and
objectives, a very different picture appears.  In terms of its relations to
history, for instance, I definately agree that multiculturalism has replaced
older ethnocentric, nationalistic conceptions of history with different,
multiple perspectives.  Now of course this has in many ways been a positive
development, empowering to many groups.  I've begun to notice an increasing
and very interesting generation gap; there is drastic difference between
people under and over the age of 25 in regards to their attitudes toward
other cultures, towards issues of citizen, immigration and so forth.  Many
of the young people in this country have been taught to resist viewing
"otherness" along traditional lines, and have a deeper sense of way in which
other groups and people have their own communities, grounded in their own
multiple histories.  But in the wake of sept. 11th, I've always begun to see
some very negative aspects of this multiculturalism.  The sense of history
which multiculturalism in education seems to teach is a history of
fragments, multiple histories means multiple communities and identities
which have created unprecendented difficulties to political mobilization on
the left at time when, in my opinion, it is more important that ever.
Secondly, its important to remember that multiculturalism, like feminism in
its more traditional forms, is a first world phenomenum -- it has to be
understood that its politics came into existence not mererly through a
sudden realization about the deplorable condition of women within modern
society and thoroughout history: it was enabled and conditioned by very
particular socio-economic circumstances.  And as many recent feminist
scholars have pointed out, the rise of feminism coincides the rise of
capital and urbanization itself, the reduction of individuals into
wage-workers, in which one's ability to create value becomes the overriding
criteria, above sex, social status, and so forth.  What this means is that
when feminism and multiculturalism are taken outside of this context,
outside of the particular social, cultural and economic condition out of
which they arose, they come be seen very clearly ideological in the bad
sense.  Indeed they become contemporary substitutes for the very uni-linear
conceptions of history -- theories of social evolution which legitimated the
colonial project -- which they were supposedly invented to counter.  And
this is not simply thereotical, but plays out in many practical ways in the
form of, among other things, funding for research and government projects in
the third world.  Institutions like the UNDP and the Ford foundation have an
agenda which is very much multiculturalist, and feminist.  The projects
which get the funding are projects which involve the economic advancement of
women and ethnic minorities groups.  These are of course worthy, worthy
causes, but what these institutions and their ideologies overlook is the
specific conditions in which these projects are carried out, and their
particular social effects within these context.
For instance, what the gender equality means in a third world culture in
which patriarchal family structures are still predominant is essentially the
dissolution of the culture as such.  It is not possible to merely extricate
the patriarchal part of the culture from the core itself, leaving the latter
unchanged.  The effect of making women in the third world more indepedent
along the lines of their counterparts in the first world is the dissolution
of social relations, and an increase the reserve army of unemployment.  We
saw the exact same thing happen in this country throughout the sixties and
afterward.  I am not saying the feminism was not a progressive force in this
country, definately not.  What I am saying is that its effect went beyond
merely liberating women and, in the case of multiculturalism, opening a
space for the marginalized minorities.

In my assessment, there have been two main sociio-economic effects of the
success of these political movement in this country.  1) one the dissolution
of familial relations which created a situation in which corporations could
fill in and play the role of familial financial support.  Think, for
instance, of how being in credit card debt has become a virtual right of
passage in this country.  In the past, in was family institutions which
helped many young people in the middle and upper classes to get through
their intermediary years between adolescence and adulthood, setting up a
stable job and home situation.  Now the money is acquired on credit.  2)
Real wages for the vast majority of Americans have actually stood still for
the past 20 years or more.  This has been compensated by the increase in the
labor pool which feminism and multiculturalism helped to create.  The
avergae person is making less, but family incomes are about the same because
both parents are working.  That is, there is more labor to extract value
My point here is that when feminism and multiculturalism are transplanted to
the third world, they begin to reproduce not only the worthy political aims
of these movements, but the very social realities which condition them.

A final note of the feminism and multiculturalism.  One of the preludes to
the war on Afghanistan was the incident involving the descruction of ancient
buddhist statues.  This received uniform denuciation throughout the first
world.  This was clear example of those aspects of 1st world feminism and
multiculturalism which is in my opinion decidedly "bourgeois."  What the
latter has always meant to me is the inability in the think historically and
in terms of broader social realities, and this precisely what the latter
example demonstrates in my opinion.  No one here knew anything about the
situation on the ground, about the years of war, the total destruction of
the country's infrastructure, the warlords, the threat of starvation, but it
was easy to merely rely on our multiculturalist impulses and condemn the
descruction of the statues, the treatment of women.  I remember listening to
NPR and hearing white, American "buddhists"(read: brain-washed hippies) call
into "Talk of the nation" and tell the Taliban's roaming ambassador that
what he and his party had done was an afront to buddhist everywhere.  What
this condemnation exemplified was precisely the universalistic character of
multiculturalism and feminism.  Despite the former's explicit respect for
otherness and multiplicity, it essentially did what all the imperialist
ideologies that came before it did: condemn on the basis of values and
standards which belong to the imperialist states.

As to the question of class.  I consider myself a Marxist, and I believe
class to most important social category to consider, but I have to ask the
question: where is the working class in this country.  Are the millions that
work in service industry to be consider the working class.  It seems to me
like the factories have been all exported the third world.  The unions have
sold out, longshoremen and many variety of blue collar work now pay more
than white collar work.  The underclass in this country today completely
fail resemble to proletariat of marxist time.  If traditional marxism
considerd the workers the vangard class because of the crucial role they
played in capitalist prodection, what can we say of waiters, fast food
workers, sex workers, and so on.  It is instructive to consider the
difference between bush;s speeched following sept. 11th, and the speeches
that followed pearl harbor.  After pearl harbor there were appeals to
self-sacrifice, to give up your time and labor to help create the war
machine and hold up the economy that eventually defeated hitler.  After
9-11, bushed asked us essentially to return to the malls, to be defiant
against the terrorist by not being afraid to shop.

Sorry, gotta get back to work.  Sorry also about how long the email was.

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