“Keep your language. Love its sounds, its modulation, its rhythm. But try to march together with men of different languages, remote from your own, who wish like you for a more just and human world.”
~ Hélder Câmara
I want to talk about multiculturalism.
It’s been in the news a lot lately, what with the refugee crisis, and the wars, and the terrorism.
And I keep seeing and hearing this phrase that really pisses me off – ‘the multicultural experiment’.
Now, I’m British. My mother is from England, my father from Switzerland, and the man who offered to stand in for my father since he wasn’t up to being one was Jamaican.
My boyfriend is also British, his parents are from Bangladesh.
I grew up speaking Farsi because I spent more time in the home of the Iranian family who lived next door than I did my own.
My oldest female friends are three British muslim women whose parents were born in Pakistan and India, all of whom are now married – two to white men of different faiths, one of whom recently delivered the world’s most beautiful baby – and a Jewish woman from Yorkshire.
My closest friends from my course at university were; Angel, the sweetest girl who ever lived, her mother is Vietnamese and her father Hong Kongese; Pia, who hailed from Slovakia; and Kay, a Jewish girl from London.
Most of the people I lived with then, and have done since, were from British Asian families. I know as many couples in interfaith and/or interracial relationships as otherwise. And by far the largest number of religious people I know follow Judaism.
Many of these people now have young children.
I know a disproportionate number of women from Mauritius, all of whom, I think, are in relationships with European men named Martin.
And I’d estimate that around fifty percent of the people I work with are muslim British Asians, I know of two Czech women, an Arab American, around twenty people – black and white – from African countries, with the rest being white British.
I mention all this to illustrate the frustrating ridiculousness of the notion that a plural society is an experiment; something we simply decided to try out for a while and should be able to scrap if enough people shout up loudly enough to say that they don’t like the way it’s turned out.
I, my family, the people I love, the people I’ve lived with, the people I work with, my friends and acquaintances. None of us signed up to take part in any pilot studies.
These are our real, non-provisional lives that we have organised this way
more or less on purpose.
We record our memories, our relationships, and the things that happen to us in text messages, emails, letters, cards, scrap books, gifts, photographs, and social media for ourselves. Because they matter, independently, because these are lives not a collection of data sets to be turned over for study by social scientists to examine how successful we are at, well, living.
You see, for an ever-increasing number of people there is no ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ anymore. Not in the way that right-wing politicians would have it anyway. By ‘Us’ we don’t mean all the people who share one individual facet of our identity with ‘Them’ being everyone who doesn’t.
Our ‘Us’ is the people we interact with on a daily basis, the people who make up our lives.
‘Us’ is the people on our team at work, the workers behind the tills of the shops we frequent, our neighbours, the people we meet and befriend and fall in love with from our schools, and our clubs, and our activism, the friends of our children, those friends’ parents.
‘Us’ is the people who draw up a timetable to come and check that you aren’t dead and are well enough stocked with supplies when you’ve hurt your back and can’t get around very well. It’s the people who take a week off work to help you when you need to sue your employer. It’s the people who rock up unasked with their cars to help you move all of your furniture into storage so that you can move abroad.
It’s the people you party all night with, the people you lose track of time talking to until you realise it’s four in the morning with, and the people when you think of your future you can’t imagine no longer being with.
It’s the people who cover for you when your boss asks why you aren’t where they expect you be, the taxi driver who lets you off your fair on the way back from the hospital so you don’t have to struggle with a cash machine, and the woman you’ve never spoken to who gets on your train every day and wakes you up to make sure you don’t miss your stop.
And whether any of these people look or sound like you, whether they pray to the same god or gods as you, or whether their families share the same culture as your own is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Except to ‘Them’.
‘Them’ is the people who quite literally want to ruin our lives.
The people who want to break up our relationships, separate our families, paralyse our businesses, and tear us away from our friends and neighbours because they have arrogantly decided that none of it is working out for them and so society must be reset back to some mythical cultural day zero where everyone lived in exactly the same way.
Yes, there are frictions, and fears, and even fights that come along with integrating a host of different cultures and traditions into a single diverse society. But there have been frictions, fears, and fighting within every society that has ever existed. Human beings have been struggling to live together harmoniously since long before we started wandering around and discovering that other tribes of us existed. Tearing it all up in the misguided belief that this could do anything other than make things much, much worse is not the answer.
This is real life, not an experiment. Learn to deal with it.