FEAR OF LOSING INHERITED CULTURE

Charles Taylor, in his essay Interculturalism or Multiculturalism? highlights the underlying 'fear' present in ethnic nations becoming more diverse, such as his native Quebec or European societies — fear that ‘somehow what was considered essential features of our identity will be lost' & that they 'may change ‘us’.


The fear, he notes, includes not only the 'loss' of the inherited language but also, the 'values of the liberal society' (such as human rights, equality, non-discrimination) as well as the 'folkways' that are unique to the particular culture (customs, common enthusiasms, common reference points, modes of humor) — which are often articulated by the natives as 'fear of compromising liberal principles' since it is ‘more acceptable to invoke universal principles rather than more parochial modes of cultural unease.’


I thought it was important to acknowledge this fear, percolating under the surface of public consciousness, as fear repressed — for the fear that one might be labeled 'xenophobic' or 'racist' — would find other convoluted ways of being articulated. The rise of the right wing movement in European nations was undoubtedly being fueled by the fear of losing culture and identity of the nation with a growing influx of people from other cultures.


The picture of a ‘melting pot’ — the national culture becoming a 'hybrid culture' to the point that it may become no longer recognizable — seemed to trigger a great anxiety in the Europeans. The anxiety seemed to be even greater, when the influx was dominated by one group, namely 'Muslims,' and the fear of Muslim culture 'taking over' European culture.


Taylor observes while 'dethroning' the majority culture to declare that there was no ‘official culture’ was an option for immigrant nations such as Canada, it is not an option for ethnic nations such as his native Quebec: 'The idea that one could simply dethrone the ancestral identity and declare that Quebec had no official culture, could never hold in this province.' It is not an option for the French speaking Quebec, he points out, because; 1) 70% of the population descended from the original francophone settlers; 2) their language & culture has been under powerful threat of assimilation by larger English-speaking Canada. He observes this would be the case for European nations as well, since; 1) many countries have a long-standing historic identity still shared by great majority of the citizens; 2) the identity frequently centers around a language not spoken elsewhere.


He, therefore, proposes an alternative model of embracing diversity for ethnic nations that is different from immigrant nations — of keeping the majority culture in the center while extending equality for all: ’We invite those who come from outside to join us in this project of surviving as a francophone society and flourishing as a democratic society based on equality and human rights as full members — with a say like all the others, whose views and contributions count as much as those of native born.' He clarifies: 'Multi' story decenters the traditional ethno-historical identity & refuses to put any other in its place. All such identities coexist in the society, but none is officialized. The 'inter' story starts from the reigning historical identity, but sees it evolving in a process in which all citizens, of whatever identity, have a voice, and no one's input has a privileged status.' The refusal to 'dethrone their traditional identity,’ he points out, may appear as a 'refusal to recognize diversity’ but it is a ‘different way of opening to difference.’


I could see the paradoxical challenge of keeping the majority culture in the center while extending equality for all. Would it be possible to truly dismantle the hierarchy between the majority and the minorities, when what was considered the ‘national culture’ clearly belonged to the majority who took ownership of the culture and the nation?


I couldn't imagine if I had immigrated to Quebec, no matter how equal I was treated, I would not feel marginalized in a society where what was considered the national culture clearly belonged to the Québécois who could claim ownership of the culture and who could say they were really 'from here.' As a non-Québécois, how would I be convinced of joining their project of preserving the Québécois culture and ‘surviving as a Francophone society’? Would being extended equality be enough?


The only way that I would be eager to participate in the 'cultural project of surviving as a francophone society' would be if the ownership of the Québécois culture was extended to me as a non-Québécois. This meant that I could become culturally Québécois, and determine in what sense I felt Québécois and how I chose to express my relationship between the Québécois culture and my own heritage. And the choice to determine how I felt about myself and how I chose to express how I felt about myself was not left up to the Québécois, but to myself. In this sense, the ethnic membership of being born Québécois by blood would be ‘de-ethnicized’ to become the cultural membership of anyone, regardless of origin, being able to become culturally Québécois.


Embracing diversity in ethnic nations didn't mean that now it had to 'decenter' the majority culture to make all cultures the center, as it was done in immigrant nations — the canopy of the majority culture contracting to exist alongside of other cultures, so that no culture took up the dominant position. Decentering the power of the majority so that there was no hierarchy between the majority and the minorities didn’t mean having to decenter the culture of the majority.


Nor keeping the majority culture in the center and ‘recognizing’ minority cultures on the margins for the fear that mixing them might dilute the majority culture would work. This maintained a center-margin relationship between the majority and the minorities, and still kept the minorities outside of the majority culture. Besides, recognition of ‘minority cultures’ homogenized an entire ethnicity or race into the sameness of one group and locked people into groups, and the society was bound to be fragmented by group division.


Rather, it meant keeping the majority culture in the center, but extending the canopy of the majority culture to include all, under which each individual, regardless of one's origin, had a choice to determine one’s own cultural identity — how one felt about oneself and how one chose to express how one felt about oneself. But given this choice, rather than clinging to one of the prescribed group identities or self-segregate oneself based on race or ethnicity, everyone — whether the majority or the minority, the natives or the newcomers — would consciously seek out a dynamic interaction and connection with other individuals across racial and ethnic boundaries and take in layers of influences from different cultures to be comfortably collected in oneself to make up who one is as an individual unit, for no one else’s benefit but enrichment of one’s own.


Culture, in this sense, would still remain the source of unity for the nation, no longer tied to a singular ethnicity who claimed ownership of the culture, but as a cultural institution that people from different backgrounds could embrace as one’s own. And a spectrum cultural expressions — how each individual chose to integrate different cultures in one body — didn’t threaten the culture and identity of the nation, but rather, strengthened and enriched it.


I set out thinking that the vision of how an ethnic nation could embrace diversity without losing their culture and identity of the nation had to be different from that of an immigrant nation. In an immigrant nation, embracing diversity meant decentering the majority culture to make all cultures the center so that no culture took up a dominant position. In an ethnic nation, embracing diversity meant keeping the majority culture in the center, but extending the canopy of majority culture, under which everyone had a choice to determine one’s own cultural identity.


But whether an immigrant nation or an ethnic nation, it was extending the canopy of who was considered the circle of 'we' as 'one of us’ — which included extending the ownership of the culture and the nation, which, in turn, would foster a sense of belonging and emotional identification with the nation — that allowed a society to be able to embrace diversity without losing culture, identity and solidarity of the nation. Of course, opening up the boundary of ‘we’ in an immigrant nation was an easier task, which was never based on an ethnic membership to begin with but ‘who got there first’ than an ethnic nation, where there was clearly an ethnic group attached to the nation who claimed ownership of the nation.