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Goons and coconuts round on multiculti - click opera
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Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 04:29 pm
Goons and coconuts round on multiculti

Here's Josephine Baker singing her biggest hit, J'ai Deux Amours (1931). "My savanna is beautiful," runs the lyric, "but why deny / Paris has me under its spell / To see it one day is my pretty dream / I have two loves, my country and Paris".



Now, what's exciting about this song is a certain promiscuity -- to have two cultural loves is clearly slightly naughty, just as it is to have two loves in a sexual sense. Monocultural superpatriots with their hands on their hearts and their eyes on the flag would be confused to have to put their hands on two hearts and gaze at two flags. After all, if you can love two, why not three or four? Where does it end?

The answer is that it ends in multiculturalism. "J'ai Deux Amours" might well be the national anthem of multiculti, the idea that we should support things like multiple citizenship, multiple national and cultural loyalties, linguistic pluralism or, conversely, the right not to have to speak in one set language, the official celebration of lots of different festivals belonging to different ethnic and religious groups, a certain freedom of dress codes, subsidy for minority artforms, and so on.

That's all multiculti at the level of government policy. But if we're making Josephine Baker the ambassadrice of multiculti, and saying there's a sexy sort of miscegenating promiscuity built into the idea, what might that mean on a personal level? Well, it would mean that I might well have a lover of a different race, a lover who carried a different passport, with whom I might eventually have multiculti children, children who'd be encouraged to see their parents' two cultures (more if the parents are themselves multiculti) as equally important. It might mean that I would choose to live in a country other than the one I was born in, and feel that I had the right to retain my foreignness rather than be socialized into some kind of sameness. Above all it might be a certain idea about difference being a positive, a thing to be celebrated rather than suppressed, sought out rather than avoided, preserved rather than eroded.

This is where multiculti becomes slightly more complex. To become multiculti, I jump out of the monoculture I was born into, but I don't jump so far that I lose contact with my "savanna" altogether. Because if I lose touch with my roots, my origins, and just melt in the melting pot, difference itself is destroyed. We return to the idea of oneness, the monolithic, and the lack of respect for difference. There can, after all, be no foreignness without acknowledgment of difference, and the right to stay different. If there's a right wing threat to multiculti in the form of ethnic cleansing, patriotism and so on, there's a left wing threat to it in the idea of the melting pot; the idea that racial or cultural or national differences should become meaningless, or be deliberately ignored. An ignored difference is not a happy one.

I'm personally pretty invested in the idea of multiculti -- it's how I live. Super Collider, for instance, described life in Berlin's Japanese bubble, a place in which multiple national cultures produce cultural hybrids without losing sight of their original specificity. It would be absurd to say that the Japanese in Berlin should be forced to speak only German, or make oaths of allegiance to the German state, or be made to answer quiz questions about the history of German culture before being allowed to settle here. The point of a bubble is that it's an exotic little ecosystem within a wider one. It has walls which protect it from the prevailing environment, frail though they may be.

The idea of multiculti has been under attack since the 90s, and particularly since the November 2001 Bush speech about being either with us or against us. "Recently," says Wikipedia, "right-of-center governments in several European states—notably the Netherlands and Denmark— have reversed the national policy and returned to an official monoculturalism. A similar reversal is the subject of debate in the United Kingdom and Germany, among others, due to evidence of incipient segregation and anxieties over 'home-grown' terrorism." Just the other day Michael Chertoff, head of the American Department of Homeland Security, said that Europe now poses the biggest threat to US security. The logic seemed to be a Eurabian one; that Europe has increasingly large numbers of increasingly non-assimilated Muslims who may wish to do the US harm. Even if you guys don't consider that a threat, Chertoff seemed to be saying, we do.

Multiculti is also being attacked from within a certain sector of the immigrant communities in Western countries -- the Coconut-Banana Sector, we could call it. Here's Saira Khan (of Pakistani origin, married to a white British businessman) speaking on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions last Friday:

"I believe that multiculturalism has completely failed in this country and I think previous governments have had a big part to play in that. And I think the thought - the way forward is integration and making people feel and understand what British values are, what it means to be British and actually embrace that. I'm not saying we don't welcome other cultures, I'm saying we must feel part of a common cause and respect common values living in Britain. [CLAPPING]".

Eric Liu published a book in which he calls himself (and other successful, integrated American-Asians) The Accidental Asian. "He is a fervent advocate of success in the mainstream," says the New York Times, "and he's not prepared to jeopardize his future by clinging to an ethnic past that was never really his own. As a result, he tends to be regarded by whites as an ''honorary white'' and by Asians as a ''banana'' (yellow on the outside, white on the inside)."

''Unlike blacks,'' Liu writes, ''Asians do not have a cultural idiom that arose from centuries of thinking of themselves as a race; unlike Jews, Asians haven't a unifying spiritual and historical legacy; unlike Latinos, another recently invented community, Asians don't have a linguistic basis for their continued apartness.'' As an avowed ''identity libertarian,'' he believes that efforts to forge a separatist, monolithic community -- in a country where most Asian-Americans under 34 are married to non-Asians -- go against the grain of logic and demography."

Now, I have the same problem with "identity libertarians" that I have with libertarianism in general; it tends to return power patterns to something rather Darwinian. Take away the walls of the bubble, the support of the community, and you're left to fend for yourself in the dominant culture. That's fine if you're an achiever like Liu.

It's interesting that people who think this way usually do well in business, and have mainstream, smiling photographs. They tend to be people who distinguish themselves from rather than in their communities of origin, and find themselves more popular with the indigenous majority than with minority communities they're seen as having betrayed. It's also worrying from the point of view of the erosion of difference, and for the fact that it basically puts immigrants on the same team as the mildly anti-immigrant rightwingers who want them to jump through ever-more-undignified loyalty hoops -- to "think and live like us". Liu clearly already does -- in his case there's not much to lose. His ethnicity is "accidental" and immaterial. He clearly feels he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by ditching his difference. Unlike sexy Josephine Baker, he has one love, not two.

I find it rather telling that the New York Times is now lauding Eric Liu's "I have basically just one love" approach. In 1936 the paper, reviewing one of Josephine Baker's few US shows, called her a "Negro wench". These days, of course, you wouldn't say that -- you'd leave the racial slurs to the immigrant community themselves (they call Liu a "banana"). But the basic message is the same. Preserving your difference, sharing your love equally between two cultures, won't do. You're either with us or against us. As the clip above points out, even Josephine Baker had to choose in the end. After her unfriendly reception in the US in the mid-30s, she started singing "my country is Paris" instead of "my country and Paris". Loving two is just too hard.

57CommentReplyShare

electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 03:44 pm (UTC)

Meh, I can´t post I Like It Both Ways AGAIN.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Fri, Jan. 18th, 2008 09:14 am (UTC)


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obliterati
obliterati
Night of the Living Dave
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)

My ex was in fact cheating on me with an entire country. No, I'm not bitter! I'm a patriot!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
So relative. My land is my bed.

I check your journal time to time. My english is not so rich so I can't understand the deepest speach you manage. But your post's suggestions and the point of view is contemporary and serius which is a good combination. Most of the blogs I find it like the 21sth century soap operas format but this is more like a journal with personality. i saw this today and I thoughtt you might be interest on it. yuly-

http://gizmodo.com/343641/1960s-braun-products-hold-the-secrets-to-apples-fu


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)

You're missing out the context of that Baker song though - her "country" in that song is not America but French West Africa, and the song came from a show called Paris qui remue, written to coincide with the Exposition Coloniale, a celebration of France's paternalistic empire. She was actually made the Reine de l'Exposition Coloniale. It all makes for rather dubious racial politics - she's the 'dark continent' that France must penetrate in order to dominate...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)

The origins of multiculti are almost inevitably dark and dubious -- slavery in the US, colonialism in Europe. That doesn't mean that multiculti should be abandoned, though. There are worse things than colonial exoticism's angel-whore complex (whore-whore complex, for instance).


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC)

I recently discoverd - the genome project thing - that I'm about six per cent South East Asian, which was a nice little surprise. Actually, it really was a surprise, since no one knows where that fits in the family tree - a sailor in a foreign port, no doubt. Anyway, I'm looking forward to writing 'British Asian' on my next job application under the ethnicity bit.

I think children of mixed parents are the people most likely to have an inherent understanding of how ridiculous racism is, and to see it coming from both sides. It is very sad to have people forcing you to take sides, to choose.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is appalling.


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fireflesh
fireflesh
fireflesh
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)

Unassimilated dual identities are, by definition, sexier? People of color who smile in photographs are sterile traitors? I'm so confused.

May I suggest that it is a titlation beyond that of interlocking binaries? Perhaps it is purely the embodiment of contradiction(s) that gets you hot.

For example, the heavily repressed Eastern European émigré pathos peering through the sharp, preppily assimilated veneer of my own partner is far more sexually appealing than if he were to posture as a Gogol-Bordello-stylized Multikulti moper. Yum yum.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)

The model I'm drawing up there isn't a binary, though. It sees difference threatened at both ends of a continuum which starts at racially monolithic populations and ends at the melting pot. Multiculti is half way along that continuum.

As for people who smile being traitors, that's also something I'd advocate a halfway continuum position on. Don't glower like a rap star, but don't grin like a realtor either.


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loveishappiness
loveishappiness
O.H.
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)

The most frustrating part of the Saira Khan quote was the word "clapping".


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 07:45 pm (UTC)

She wasn't clapping herself, of course. But yes, that was annoying -- the way it went down so well in the hall. Multiculturalism is dead -- APPLAUSE.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC)

you are an angel, sent from above~~~


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
IMac 24

Momus, I am wondering if your Imac 24 hums when you dim the display using F14? I got mine because you and others raved about it, and it is really great, apart from this one flaw..


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)

Which in the particular case of Mr Liu and others like him, of course, would mean that they could largely align themselves, live their lives, and find their tastes largely as they please

I don't see it quite that way. Power abhors a vacuum. If I relinquish the power my community and my family have over me, I allow the next-greatest power to rush in, which in most cases is the power of the market. There is no such thing as living free from someone else's power over you, there's only the choice between a set number of powers.

Mr Liu, who is a very able and bright man, was able to do well in the market. Not everybody does well in this system -- in fact, it's a real winners and losers sort of system (Darwinian) and we tend to hear, in the media, only about the people in ethnic minorities who are winners in that system. The meritocratic minority of survivors in a system which, incidentally, gets less and less meritocratic, and sets the bar dividing winners from losers ever-higher.

Actually, if you check his podcast Eric Liu is very even-handed about what he's gained and what he's lost by becoming merely-accidentally Asian. He regrets very much the loss of his Chinese language skills, and other aspects of Chineseness. He sees his father (1st gen Chinese) being much better grounded than he himself is.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand




(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 17th, 2008 11:11 pm (UTC)

The NYT might laud Eric Liu's 'one love' approach, but it seems OK for it to have two loves - Israel and the US, maybe in that order.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Fri, Jan. 18th, 2008 12:59 am (UTC)

And maybe let the trolls (like the texas tosser) start commenting again as a gesture to multiculti and tolerance. Not that I agree with them, but as you said once, every king needs his fool.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Fri, Jan. 18th, 2008 01:04 am (UTC)

Most arab countries obviously don't want "multiculturalism". I say leave them to their monoculture, and the ones who have relocated to other nations, be they western or asian, if they're inherantly hostile to the cultures of their new lands, well then they can keep their monoculturalism and get the fuck out of trying to run the countries that have become far too tolerant of intolerance.


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turkishb
turkishb
L'dent-de-lion
Fri, Jan. 18th, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)

i just want to say, first of all, i appreciate the space you create on your journal more and more. i hope i can contribute to it in a worthwhile way.

"I'm saying we must feel part of a common cause and respect common values living in Britain."

here it's a question of direction to me. do we say, well, the past dictates that britain is THIS, so you must become THIS. or do we say, well, what is britain? what is its history, and what do you feel you'd like to bring to britain which benefits the whole, not only your community?

am i being very naive to say, well, let's create a britain or america or france, etc., which works towards this goal, rather than from this tradition?


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standard_grey
standard_grey
standard_grey
Fri, Jan. 18th, 2008 12:30 pm (UTC)

"there's a left wing threat to it in the idea of the melting pot; the idea that racial or cultural or national differences should become meaningless, or be deliberately ignored."

Interesting point, but It depends on how the culture you live in perceives multiculturalism. For most Canadians like myself, the "melting pot" is an essentailly American thing, whereas we grew up on the concept of the "mosaic" as an ethic when it comes to respecting other cultures, and to distinguish ourselves from our rowdy neighbours downstairs. The mosiac is about honoring and respecting all of the different and contingent parts that make up a whole (or at least that's what I was brought up on)while the "melting pot" is tied into a uniquely American metanarrative.

Wow, I just used "metanarrative". Neat. All of this artsy book-learning I'm doing is paying off!


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Fri, Jan. 18th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)

I think before we get too high and mighty on ourselves we should consider that although Canada is officially a multicultural country, it is in practice really only working in 3 cities ( Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver). We're also going through a backlash against multiculturalism in Quebec, which ironically wants its minority rights respected in the rest of the country but doesn't want to respect the rights of minorities within the province.
That being said, I feel very lucky to be living in Toronto at the moment. The imagined multiculti family in the post essentially describes my own.
My Children are able to step in and out of their Japanese cultural "bubble"
while at the same time enjoying the richness of their classmates doing the same.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 21st, 2008 02:33 pm (UTC)
a response from a French-Greek person, who grew up in London

http://www.dodeckahedron.blogspot.com


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 21st, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)
Re: a response from a French-Greek person, who grew up in London

more specifically:

http://dodeckahedron.blogspot.com/2008/01/jai-trois-amours.html


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