Created by: Suchita Chadha
Diversity, we know, is a great thing. In the last decade, in theory, it has been thing to strive for among learning institutions and workplaces across North America, as well as in other parts of the world where immigration and the resulting multiculturalism is on a rise. However, the truth of the matter is that “in the last decade, we have seen a major retrenchment of the principles of multiculturalism, in both education and wider public policy… a rapidly growing standards and testing movement has replaced earlier attention to racial and ethnic diversity” (May and Sleeter). While we strive for multiculturalism in our environments, it has come to be solely about the numbers: how many people of every race, gender, etc. are represented in the statistics of a company or school, used as a marketing feature, nothing more. True diversity, or what May and Sleeter refer to as “critical multiculturalism,” is more reaching a common ground between cultures of all kinds at all levels, without discounting the struggles and hardships faced by the other.
To define culture is as difficult a task as describing one’s self because “dimensions of [a person’s] cultural identity is retracted through multiple communal experiences, such as social class, religion, and ethnicity.” There are so many factors that shape the we explain culture, especially our own, that even two people from the place, having lived there all their lives, would still have different perspective on culture, depending on the way they were raised, their financial stability, and even their personality. Essentially, “examining culture should begin with peeling back the layers of identity, practice, and existence of inhabitants” (May and Sleeter).
The important thing to note here is that culture is not definitive of place: we are influenced by what we are exposed to, and moving onto a new experience doesn’t mean we let go of prior ones. Instead, what this means is that we are all a culmination of several cultures, thus creating our own cultural identity- a mosaic of pieces that fill our minds with colours taken from the world around us.
As the possibility for exposure has grown exponentially in the last decade, so has our definition of diversity. “In sociolinguistics… terms such as languaging and polylanguaging, transidiomatic practices, super-vernaculars, metrolingualism, translanguaging and so forth… all represent such attempts” at a more accurate description of diversity that takes into account for the way mobility has grown and the impact its had on people. Everyday communication has also evolved to reflect this progress, and “such terms were coined in order to be able to analyze new forms of communication emerging in typically superdiverse environments such as contemporary inner-city schools… new forms of diaspora experiences emerging on the ground and being spread through the web… as well as online environments” (Wang et al).
Multicultural Education in North America
According to May and Sleeter, multicultural education today revolves around the “multicultural problem” which means “the focus is on getting along better, primarily via a greater recognition of, and respect for, ethnic, cultural, and/or linguistic differences, while the approach adopted is a problem-solving one.” The issue here is the idea of the “problem-solving” approach, which, by nature, wants to look more towards the positive aspects of the differences. Social or economic problems faced by other cultures are not given the same, if any, level of importance, and this idea, to quote “Geertz (1995)” is that “they have a culture out there and your job is to come back and tell us what it is.” But making culture into a “thing” that has to be taught “ends up constructing imagined cultures that romanticize difference and create fiction, a process that can happen even when narrators are members of the ethnic group they are describing” (May and Sleeter).
In speaking of diversity and people in his talk about non violence, Arun Gandhi spoke about a need for respect between cultures, and therefore people, rather than tolerance, which enforces the idea of needing a greater understanding among people. He believes we should exchange cultures in order to broaden our perspectives, and that this should be part of the education process itself. With so many groups on campus, there should be a greater emphasis on spreading knowledge about their views to everyone, and not be a semi-exclusive group for like-minded people. All this does is create divides.
“We have so many labels on people that we’ve forgotten the human being.” -Arun Gandhi
A crucial aspect in this exchange of cultures is what is encompassed in “Critical Multiculturalism.” Not only do we need to learn of the wonderful things that make us different from each other, we also need to “learn to embrace struggles against oppression that others of us face… and our own individual and collective histories, critically and reflectively in these wider discourses, and their associated power relations” (May and Sleeter, 2010).
It’s All About Perspective
Diversity, in an education setting, should be about the perspectives we bring to the table, as well as the perspectives we take away. Shedding the numbers and statistics behind, it should be about the individual. Diversity should be more about the varying experiences we, as student, come to the college with, and then how much more diverse we (our minds) become as we leave four years later. Exposing students to different cultures and ideologies should be more important that having a student of every race. Being of a “foreign” race or background doesn’t guarantee that they are any more diverse than someone who identifies as American, or white, because there are many more factors to it than that. The things we’ve seen, done, and even the kind of community we grew up in, along with the kinds of friends we had: these are the things that have the biggest impact on our lives, not the colour of our skin, or the country we were born in. We each have a different perspective and can teach each other if we’re given the appropriate means to do so.
An Indian artist, Raghava KK, who works with all kinds of mediums, strives for this idea of different points of view in his own artwork, and even thought of a project where he would create a children’s book on Indian Independence, that also included the perspective of Bangladesh, the British, and Pakistan, among other, in order to present as many views as possible, and provide a well-rounded glimpse into the historic event.
“I can’t promise my child a life without bias — we’re all biased — but I promise to bias my child with multiple perspectives” -Raghava KK
Back to the Beginning
In the first semester for this translingual writing class, sometime in October, we spoke about borders: the way in which they created divides, the way in which they separate people and communities in a way that is wrought with unnecessary violence and hatred, and the way in which we could cross and eventually destroy them.
It seems only fitting then, to end with a short verse written by an Indian poet, Gulzar, who has a slightly different take on those borders we encounter so often: the lines have been made, so let’s leave them be and play a game around it instead.