Why the Concept of Multiculturalism Has Failed

by Christina Saenz

Two weeks ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that “multiculturalism has failed.” She was referring to the Turks who live in segregated neighborhoods separate from (native) white Germans, have unskilled and low-paying jobs, and generally do not learn German language. I agree with the Chancellor: multiculturalism has failed. However, it did not fail because of minorities’ behavior to resist integration in order to stay Turkish. German multiculturalism failed, because Germany never welcomed Turks as full citizens—only as temporary laborers. It failed, because the concept of multiculturalism distracts us from talking about class inequality and minority legal marginalization. We can only see how the German case of Turkish immigration correlates with the US case of Latinos.

The Western World forgoes conversations of racial marginalization and inequality for cultural recognition. For example, Hispanic Heritage Month emerged as a way to celebrate Latino culture and history but its creation was also a reaction to American history books, white mainstream culture, and legal codes who have edited us out. Instead of actually creating American history books to include the history of our ancestors within the larger American historical narrative, our congress gave us a month. We have 30 days out of 365 days to celebrate Latinidad in the name of so-called multiculturalism, but the other 335 days will continue to ignore, vilify, and see us as nonAmericans. White and we Hispanic Americans will celebrate by dancing salsa, eating tacos, and getting drunk off of pisco for a month, but we will not talk about how many of us drop out of high school due to poverty, how many of us are paid substandard wages due to our immigration and ethnic status, and how many of us were told that our deficient culture is the reason for our failures.

Latino pundit Ruben Naverrette said in his recent article “Multiculturalism is no failure” on CNN.com, “Multiculturalism is mostly about symbolism and helping liberals feel morally superior to the rest of us. It’s certainly not a cure-all for centuries of discrimination, exclusion and mistreatment of minorities by the majority.” I would even go to say that multiculturalism covers up ideas of inequality and discrimination and is not even a partial remedy. “Cultural recognition” is more appeasing and less politically loaded for whites and Latinos than discrimination, because discrimination demands whites to change their attitudes and their behaviors towards economic, educational, and political opportunities for Latinos and other people of color. It’s one thing to demand to serve flans instead of apple pies, but it’s another for Latinos to demand their fair share of those pies and flans.


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One Response to “Why the Concept of Multiculturalism Has Failed”

  1. This article hits the topic right on the nose. Multiculturalism is a fine idea, but like most concepts, it’s spoiled by our human failings.

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