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What Europe can learn from the US, #1: Cultural diversity

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 01:00 pm
The Obama campaign and specifically, the Wright affair, has once again put the spotlight on the deeply troubled legacies of race in the United States. And I think it's safe to say that race plays a role that is divisive and loaded to an extent that is not parallelled anywhere in Europe.

But Europe has its own ghosts, contemporary and historic. While race as such is not as inflammable a matter in Western Europe as in the US, immigration is. It may lack the historic track record of conflict and oppression that race has in America, but its current appearance is comparable in many ways: the public controversy, the mutual resentment, the underlying fear and loathing.

And while Eastern Europe hasnt got much history on the matters of either race (bar the Roma issue) and immigration, it has its own legacies to battle, with nationalism, religious intolerance and ethnic conflict always looming.

So perhaps it's not surprising that the United States, despite everything, still constitutes a relatively enlightened example to follow when it comes to a country's acceptance of cultural diversity - Tom Tancredo and his ilk notwithstanding. Not surprising, but still striking when you see it graphically plotted out on the basis of some basic perameters - courtesy of the politicological blog The Monkey Cage.


Quote:
The Imagined Community in Europe and the United StatesJack Citrin and I have a recently published paper in which we examine attitudes toward immigrants and immigration in the United States and 20 European countries, drawing on the European Social Survey and the Citizenship, Involvement, Democracy Survey.

Our results suggest that Americans do not stand apart from Europeans in terms of the perceived consequences of immigration, the desired qualities of immigrants, and the preferred level of immigration. There is, however, one difference: attitudes toward cultural diversity more generally.

The two survey items that speak to diversity asked respondents whether they agreed or disagree with these statements:

    It is better for a country if almost everyone shares the same customs and traditions. It is better for a country if there are a variety of religions among its people.
http://www.themonkeycage.org/sharevalue-thumb.png


http://www.themonkeycage.org/diffrelig-thumb.pnghttp://www.themonkeycage.org/immigscatter.PNG


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Foofie
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 07:07 pm
You needed a post to educate who? Not Americans. This is what we learn from kindergarten on, with a classroom full of children from different backgrounds.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 07:15 pm
Foofie wrote:
You needed a post to educate who? Not Americans.

Well, good thing it's not just Americans here, then.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 07:19 pm
The great exceptions to any comments about immigration and race in Europe are going to be France, and to a lesser extent, England. After Vienna, 1815, France and England became the beacon nations of "liberalism" in Europe, at a time in which Austria, Prussian and Russia were putting the screws to the rest of Europe with their "Holy Alliance," and Spain was convulsed in two generations of civil war between conservative and reformist forces.

France had by far the most welcoming attitude toward immigrants, and in many respects, this grew out of their attitude toward their overseas empire and their own society, especially after 1871. Marcel Pagnol, in the opening pages of La Gloire de mon pére, gives a brief, succinct and elegant expression of the sense of mission which public school instructors had in France in the 19th century, especially in the latter part of the century. That same attitude was writ large in the overseas empire they constructed, with the concept of la mission civilizatrice, by which they held that all citizens of the empire should have exactly the same education as was provided in the metropole, and the same social and employment opportunities. When Poles fled their homelands after failed uprisings, they found a home in France, as White Russians were to find after the Bolshevik Revolution. And the people of their overseas empire had and took advantage of educational opportunities in France--Ho Chi Minh joined the communist party while living in France. In the Great War, French colonial troops, including the blackest of black Africans, fought in the trenches right along with the French troops. When black American troops, proud professionals of the regular army, came close to mutiny because they were expected to be laborers to unload ships, the French gladly took these infantry regiments, put them in the trenches, and praised their courage and resourcefulness in that greatest of warfare' nightmares.

Of all the nations of Europe, i suspect that France will be best able to deal with these issues. I don't claim there is not racism in France, just as it would be stupid to claim there is none in the United States. I do suggest that France has a history which gives them the same lessons and opportunities to adapt as is the case with the United States.
0 Replies
 
Foofie
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 07:19 pm
nimh wrote:
Foofie wrote:
You needed a post to educate who? Not Americans.

Well, good thing it's not just Americans here, then.


Yes, spread the word. Be an antidote to all the anti-Americanism in the world.
0 Replies
 
Foofie
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 07:24 pm
Setanta wrote:
The great exceptions to any comments about immigration and race in Europe are going to be France, and to a lesser extent, England. After Vienna, 1815, France and England became the beacon nations of "liberalism" in Europe, at a time in which Austria, Prussian and Russia were putting the screws to the rest of Europe with their "Holy Alliance," and Spain was convulsed in two generations of civil war between conservative and reformist forces.

France had by far the most welcoming attitude toward immigrants, and in many respects, this grew out of their attitude toward their overseas empire and their own society, especially after 1871. Marcel Pagnol, in the opening pages of La Gloire de mon pére, gives a brief, succinct and elegant expression of the sense of mission which public school instructors had in France in the 19th century, especially in the latter part of the century. That same attitude was writ large in the overseas empire they constructed, with the concept of la mission civilizatrice, by which they held that all citizens of the empire should have exactly the same education as was provided in the metropole, and the same social and employment opportunities. When Poles fled their homelands after failed uprisings, they found a home in France, as White Russians were to find after the Bolshevik Revolution. And the people of their overseas empire had and took advantage of educational opportunities in France--Ho Chi Minh joined the communist party while living in France. In the Great War, French colonial troops, including the blackest of black Africans, fought in the trenches right along with the French troops. When black American troops, proud professionals of the regular army, came close to mutiny because they were expected to be laborers to unload ships, the French gladly took these infantry regiments, put them in the trenches, and praised their courage and resourcefulness in that greatest of warfare' nightmares.

Of all the nations of Europe, i suspect that France will be best able to deal with these issues. I don't claim there is not racism in France, just as it would be stupid to claim there is none in the United States. I do suggest that France has a history which gives them the same lessons and opportunities to adapt as is the case with the United States.


Would it be correct to think of your post as pro-French? Did you forget to praise Lafayette?
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 07:26 pm
Thanks, nimh.. I found the chart info new..

Somehow I expect that it depends on whom you interview in the US re openness to diversity, but I was fairly heartened by seeing that.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 08:52 pm
Setanta wrote:
The great exceptions to any comments about immigration and race in Europe are going to be France, and to a lesser extent, England.


It is interesting though, in this context, that the results of the survey questions used here did not show them differing much from other West-European countries.

The French do score low on insisting on a shared religion, and that is as expected, considering the essential role the notion of laicite plays in their concepts of national identity and citizenship. It is not a surprise that they show the lowest insistence on a shared religion of all Europeans, and are on a par with the Americans on that count.

But the difference is one of a minor shade. The Irish, Dutch, English and Hungarians show a barely higher value.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the insistence on shared customs and traditions, the French are actually among the less tolerant, so to say. More than half the French wants "almost everyone" to share those -- a stark contrast with the Americans and fellow-Europeans like the Swiss and Swedes, who more readily accept a diversity of customs and traditions in their country.

This makes sense, in a way. With their long-standing tradition of being a "political nation", rather than an ethnic one, and with their longstanding embrace of every man born on French soil as a fellow French citizen, they modeled the "melting pot" concept of national identity long before the Americans discovered it. And there's a certain quid pro quo involved here, which was never abandoned in France, the way it was at least partially let go in America when the "melting pot" concept was replaced by the "salad bowl" metaphor.

In America, the old, at least rhetorical insistence that everyone leave all their cultural "baggage" behind upon entering the country, in exchange for the equanimous welcome everyone received, has been much relativated over the past couple of decades. There's been at least a partial recognition of the downside of such collective cultural amnesia, and at least on elite levels the notion of America as a peaceful coexistence of a wealth of different cultural influences and traditions has caught hold.

In France, this has barely happened. Maybe because ethnic and racial minorities have not achieved anything like the kind of emancipation that blacks and hispanics, but also Italians, Irish etc have experienced in the US. In France, the only way to obtain a voice in the political, academic or business establishment is still very much to assimilate, point blank.

Part of the reason why is maybe how in America, ethnic and racial minority groups aiming to have their own, hyphenated identity recognized and empowered have had the support of at least the liberal side of the political landscape. In France, on the other hand, the leftwing parties have been among the most strident defenders of the concepts of universalism. It's probably no coincidence that it took a conservative President (Sarkozy) to appoint a Muslim to a cabinet post (and even then only one who has a long track record of critiquing the religion).

A belief in the universality of values implies equal rights for everyone, but also implies that there is to be no cultural relativism of any kind. Above all, in France, this means fealty to the secularism of the state. Hence the furor over Muslim women wearing headscarves, and the joint resistance of the political left and right to allowing any kind of public servant, whether teacher, local government employee or policewoman, such a marker of religious identity. (Crucifixes are equally taboo, if with much less emotional intensity.)

All of this makes France have a much harder time, currently, with dealing with a continuing influx of immigrants than the UK. The British are pragmatic when it comes to issues of identity; as long as you dont actively proclaim yourself in opposition to the British state, you can express your cultural Otherness in any way you want; and thus, you see Sikh bobbies with a turban under their helmet, and uniforms redesigned to allow for combining them with a headscarf. In France, on the other hand, fealty to the secular, universalist, and therefore culturally non-specific identity of the state is a prerequisite for acceptance. I mean, this is a country where even registering ethnic backgrounds has been a governmental taboo which only Sarkozy now is breaking.

All this is awfully broad-brush, of course, and there's a great many generalisations in the above. I'm sure a French poster will soon call me to task. But it is at the root of the volatile troubles now playing out in France with the sizable Maghrebien, Muslim immigrants and their descendents, which simply have not emerged to anything like the same extent in Britain.

Basically, France's rigid ideology of non-ethnic universalism and its insistence on an official secularism that bans all expression of religious identity from the public domain have made it unable to integrate its Muslim and Maghrebien immigrants, many of whom experience these values as a deliberate and oppressive attempt to deny them their identity. Hell, it can be as basic as integration policies being misdrafted or not drafted at all simply because it's not done to count how many people of a certain ethnic or cultural group there are in the first place.

All of this to say that I disagree with Setanta's conclusion that France has a history that particularly favours its chances of succesfully adapting to an era of unprecedentedly diverse populations. Within Europe, the UK seems like a much more successful example to follow. When it comes to the policies that prepare a country for greater cultural diversity and facilitate the emancipation and integration of immigrant communities, it's Britain, like America, that's lightyears ahead of continental Europe.

The reason why is that Brits have understood that in modern times, emancipation is at the heart of successful integration. Browbeating old and new minorities into a collective, neutral mold of identity worked back when the state actually could get away with a fair degree of violence to make it so -- the building of the unitary French nation-state has been a story of blood and violence, just ask the historians of Brittany or the Southeast. But it doesnt work anymore now.

The nominal imposition of a neutral mold of societal identity on minorities, refusing any accounting for their cultural difference, when there is no more possibility to force it through with violence if necessary, doesnt lead to assimilation. It merely becomes an excuse for exclusion and neglect. They can play by our rules and assimilate and get access to our middle classes, or they can stick to their cultural difference and rot away in the banlieues.

Problem is, if you're dealing with new minorities whose loyalty to their cultural difference outweighs, in different ways, their ambition for social climbing, that's exactly what this recipe ends you up with: resentful, unintegrated, forgotten and excluded minorities, rotting away in the banlieues - and eventually rebelling in nihilistic violence.

If you want to avoid that, you have to offer those new minorities in your country who simply wont fit your universalist, 19th century mould, a way to succeed in society with maintenance of their cultural specificities. You have to afford them the chance to emancipate. Because an emancipated, upwardly mobile community will still be culturally other, but not prone to the Pied Pipers of extremism who feed on feelings of resentment and disenfranchisement. It's paradoxical but true: sometimes you have to embrace cultural diversity in order to avoid it taking on toxic manifestations.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 08:56 pm
Damn, now there's an essay... Laughing

All of the above, of course, is just opinion - mine.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 09:03 pm
Good post.
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 09:58 pm
It'd be really interesting to look at Canada and Australia on the same parameters.........and also South America, given the similarities and differences in the colonial and post-colonial histories of these countries to the US.
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 10:05 pm
If people are going to live together peaceably and work together they need to share something. If not shared experience then what will it be? Americans used to share the desire to make money and allegiance to the spirit of democracy and freedom, but that is certainly not the case often today. If there is not a single and strong binding agent running through all tribes, cultural diversity is a fatal flaw. Ra-RA diversity.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 10:15 pm
Desire to make make money? Never a prime goal. Survive, sure.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 31 Mar, 2008 07:50 am
nimh wrote:
Meanwhile, when it comes to the insistence on shared customs and traditions, the French are actually among the less tolerant, so to say. More than half the French wants "almost everyone" to share those -- a stark contrast with the Americans and fellow-Europeans like the Swiss and Swedes, who more readily accept a diversity of customs and traditions in their country.


Of course, i can't speak to this issue in Switzerland or Sweden--both countries, however, i suspect, would score very badly on a tolerance of dirt scale (Il a sali mon tapis!).

Seriously, you (the creators of the survey) haven't got a clue about the United States if you (they) are seriously trying to suggest that Americans are in general tolerant of differing customs and traditions. A great many of the proprietors of convenience stores, when not Koreans, are south Asians or southwest Asians (Indians and Arabs). People routinely get angry and speak out when the proprietors of such stores speak their native languages in front of the customers. Americans routinely will shout at them to "Speak English, damn it, this is America." There has been for several decades now a movement to require instructors in colleges and universities to pass an English oral competence test before they are allowed to instruct students. I really have to wonder about the validity of a survey which suggests that Americans don't insist much on shared customs and traditions. Not the United States i know.

Them Swiss and them Swedes, they are just far too obsessed with cleanliness.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 31 Mar, 2008 07:52 am
Americans like cultural diversity in restaurants . . .






. . . otherwise . . . Speak English, damn it, this is America ! ! !
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2008 06:54 pm
dlowan wrote:
It'd be really interesting to look at Canada and Australia on the same parameters.........and also South America, given the similarities and differences in the colonial and post-colonial histories of these countries to the US.

I dropped a comment asking, and in response Geoff Robinson, a political historian at Deakin University in Australia, pointed to this short blog post of his. In short, I guess, it seems there is no equivalent data.

0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2008 07:10 pm
I dunno Set. I had a physics T.A. who was russian and a histology/biophysics professor who was swedish. I was an idiot in physics lab anyway, having never heard of it all before (none in high school), that was the russian guy, and I understood nothing he said (I should have dropped the class and taken a city college beginning class, given my double incomprehension). In histology/biophysics, I took notes phonetically, typed them up at home in some kind of guess/translation effort, and came out with the highest grade, thus proving myself able, if motivated by fascination with the subject matter.
So I can see problems - but wouldn't want to preclude either of those people from teaching.
0 Replies
 
 

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