Adios Multiculturalism

I have been reading, thinking, researching the notion of nationalism and its use in today’s global reality.

Multiculturalism is a movement born out of the identity politics and counterculture movements of the 1960s and 70s. Black Nationalism, feminism, Chicano solidarity movements, and the gay rights movement are just some of the groups that have contributed to the idea of transnational communities in America. These contibutions to multiculturalism were of great importance in affirming respect and acknowledgement of different communities of people that were not the dominent white male definition of citizenry.

The problem with this ideology is that I think it has played itself out. Multiculturalism had its moment of importance, but a new ideology is needed to account for the problems we face now and in the future. All of these groups or ‘cultures’ do deserve recognition, representation and the right to hold on to their ethnic and linguistic heritage. And now, in the 2009 reality where there can be a black president, there is much talk of how race is not important anymore. We as a nation have overcome the colorline that W.B. DuBois stated as the problem of the century.

I am not entirely sure that is the right way of looking at Barack Obama’s election. I also don’t believe that it is useful to constantly reaffirm how one ‘group’ differs from others. David Hollinger, a professor at UC Berkeley wrote a book in the mid 90s called Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. In it, Hollinger calls for a new line of thinking somewhere between multiculturalism and pluralism. Hollinger proposes that a postethnic look at America will move Americans together and allow the freedom of choice in cultural identification. If one wants to identify with a transnational group such as Mexican-Americans, or Vietnamese Americans, or African-Americans they can. But if one wants to leave the identity issue alone, and just try to be an American, then they should have at it. You don’t have to vote according to racial, ethnic, or gender lines. Hollinger readdresses this idea in an article that he wrote about a year ago when Obama was still just a candidate in the primaries.

Hollinger writes in his article Obama, Blackness, and Postethnic America:  “A postethnic social order would encourage individuals to devote as much — or as little — of their energies as they wished to their community of descent. Hence to be postethnic is not to be anti-ethnic, but to reject the idea that descent is destiny.”

I personally would like to see the idea of post-ethnic used more in intellectual and popular discourse. It is a much better term than post-racial, because it includes divisions beyond race. Races, ethnicities, and gender have defined many experiences as they relate to identity politics in American history. However, I do like the idea of people coming together as opposed to defining themselves on their differences.

My ethnic identity is ‘mexican’ and ‘jewish.’ While I always held this to be a funny combination, I have always felt more female than either mexican or jewish. Really I am just an American born, california girl. But further than that, what I strive to be is a socially conscious global citizen. The problem with multi-culturalism is that it catogorizes people who do not want to be catagorized. If you want to define yourself by your blackness, more power to you. If you want to be defined by your jewish identity and go on a birthright trip to Israel, more power to you. But the problem comes when others define your identiy without your consent. Historically this has been devastating in the separate but equal Jim Crow Era, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, the deportation and extermination of Jews and other minorities during WWII, and the racial profiling of the police and anti-terrorist intellegensia. Multi-culturalism implies that everyone has to have a culture to identify with beyond being a member of the human race.

Postethnic America (and the world) might provide an agency by which we can transcend the limitations of identity politics, prejudice, racism, and cultural divides in which the focus is on the different and not the shared.

The other day I heard a young Jewish-American (haha idenity politics displayed) say that without Israel the Jewish identity would be lost. This struck me as a sad statement and set of mind on multiple levels.  Jewish identity can be whatever you want it to be, but the problem with nationalism and even transnationalism is that it clings to old ideas of culture and not new ideas of peace and unity which (in my opinion) is what this world needs.

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