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The Limitations of Multiculturalism - Part II

By Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 16, 2011

Part I - Part II - Part III

Some of us, including yours truly, have been speaking about a national cultural policy long before Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar announced her preference for a multicultural approach to the issue. In 1962 Dr. Eric Williams set the ball rolling with his "Mother Trinidad and Tobago Speech" which could be interpreted as a response to Lord Harris's 1848 declaration that "a race has been freed, but a society has not been formed."

In 1983, I added my voice to the national conversation when I spoke about the role a national cultural policy should play in our development. In that lecture, "Cultural Policy and Social Development" (still on flie at NALIS) I differentiated between our official and unofficial cultures; traced the historical development of our people's cultural activities; then suggested how such a policy may conduce toward the development of national identity. I asked: "Should we promulgate a policy that fosters the maintenance of a multicultural society, or should we strive toward the creation of homogeneous Trinidad and Tobago culture." The PP opted for the first possibility.

The Oxford Dictionary of Politics asserts that multiculturalism emerged in the sixties in Anglophone countries "in relation to the cultural needs of non-European migrants. It now means the political accommodation by the state and/or a dominant group of all minority cultures defined first and foremost by reference to race or ethnicity; and more controversially, by reference to nationality, aboriginality, or religion." Post 1960s this policy was adopted by other countries.

This consensus has now broken down. The European countries (Anglophone, French and Germanic people) feel that they are making too many concessions to the non-European minority hence their universal condemnation of multiculturalism. In the latest manifestation, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, declared that multiculturalism had damaged national identities. He declared: "The truth is that in all our democracies we have been too preoccupied with the identity of those who arrived and not enough with the identity of the country that welcomed them." Like David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, Sarkozy feels that allowing diverse communities to live together in their countries was "a failure." (Financial Times, February 10, 2011).

The multiculturalism that Sat Maharaj and the PP endorse is taken from the Canadian model which has been described as "the instigator of multicultural ideology because of its public emphasis on the social importance of immigration." At its conference in October 2010 at UWI, the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism brought down someone to speak about the UK model. At the GOPIO conference Surujrattan Rambachan, our Foreign Minister, spoke on the Australian model as giving inspiration to the PP's policy of multiculturalism.

Apart from its desire to accommodate immigrants, Canada's multicultural policy was driven by the desire of the French-speaking group in Quebec who claimed the right to form a "distinct" society. They wanted "to safeguard the integrity of its own form of life against the Anglo-Saxon majority culture by means, among other things, of regulations that forbid immigrants and French-speaking population to send their children to English-language schools, that established French as the language in which more than fifty employees will operate, and in general prescribe French as the language of business" (Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism, 1994.)

The Canadian multicultural policy is meant to assuage its own racism and exclusionary politics. It is noteworthy that the Durham Report that led to the Canada Act of 1867 that conferred independence on Canada spoke of the homogenous and racist nature of Canada. It read: "We have in our country a stable society. Our economy is healthy, as good as any for a country of our size. In many respects, we are very much better off than many sovereign states. And our potentials are large. Our people are homogeneous nor are we plagued with religious and tribal problems."

While Canada was congratulating itself about its homogeneity and patting itself on the back about its not having religious or tribal problems, Trinidad was proving a laboratory experiment of what a multicultural society was. In 1866, W. H. Gamble, a Trinidadian who had studied at Oxford University, described Trinidad's multicultural mix. "Many distinct people go to make up the population of Trinidad. There are men from all quarters of the globe, and with but little exaggeration, it may be said that, in Trinidad, all the languages of the earth are spoken" (Gamble, Trinidad, 1866). In his work Gamble provides a comprehensive description of the Africans and Indians who lived in Trinidad; the many languages that were spoken; and the diverse cultures that were practiced.

Australia's multicultural policy came into being in the later part of the twentieth century in response to the exclusion of non-European immigrants and its deplorable treatment of its indigenous population. Fact Sheet 6, "The Evolution of Australia's Multicultural Policy, " acknowledges that it was only in 1966 that Liberal-Country Party Government began to dismantle "the White Australian policy of permitting the immigration of distinguished non-European." It is only in the 1970s that Australia removed the last vestiges of his "White Australia policy."

It must be asked why does the PP government cite the multicultural approaches taken by Canada and Australia, two European-based countries, as models? Why does the PP take its inspiration from two white governments who brutalized and alienated their non-white populations? Should we not look to South Africa and Ghana, two African countries for inspiration? South Africa suffered from the apartness of the races (apartheid) whereas Ghana, a former colonial society, suffered from the policies of a colonial master that did everything to set different ethnic groups against one another. Their cultural policies seek to bind their people together as one common entity.

Might it not be helpful for T&T to seek inspiration in the cultural policies of nonwhite nations who have been faced with divisiveness in their societies rather than those who belatedly tried to accommodate those citizens whom they left out and discriminated against initially?

Trinidad is a homogeneous society in which all persons have been accepted; where we have worked and lived together although there may have been forces, from time to time, within and without the society that have sought to separate some groups from the larger society.

Multiculturalism separates us from one another. It is not the solution to national cohesion. A national cultural policy that speaks to national cohesion is more appropriate at this point in our society's development.

Part 111, the final part of this essay, will be published next week.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

Part I - Part II - Part III

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