Thinking Outside the Box

Malik, Kenan
Date Written:  2007-01-01
Year Published:  2007
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX7918

Ignoring racism on the grounds that all citizens are equal and hence that racial or cultural differences are immaterial is clearly unacceptable. But so is labelling individuals by race, culture or faith and creating conflicts by institutionalising such differences in public policy.

Kenan Malik writes:

This belief that any kind of racial or ethnic disproportionality is de facto evidence of racism is deeply rooted in our political culture. Although British political leaders have largely shied away from imposing quotas and affirmative action policies, they have encouraged the idea that combating racism entails ensuring the right percentage of minorities in every aspect of social life.

Two assumptions underlie the disproportionality principle: first, that race, ethnicity and culture (and these are often seen as interchangeable) are the most important labels we can place on people; and second that there is a causal relationship between membership of such a group and disproportionalities between groups. Neither assumption is valid. Minority groups are not homogenous entities but are as divided by issues of class, gender, age, geographical location, and so on, as the rest of the population. These factors often shape individuals' lives far more than do race, ethnicity or culture.


we need to separate the idea of diversity as lived experience from that of multiculturalism as a political process. The experience of living in a society made diverse by mass immigration is to be welcomed. The political project of institutionalising such diversity through the public recognition of cultural differences should be resisted. As lived experience, diversity is an argument for open borders and open minds. The consequences of multiculturalism as a political project is, however, to seal people into ethnic boxes and to police the boundaries.

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