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1.First, define multiculturalism in three sentences.Second, based on the readings explain how Kymlicka’s ideal about multiculturalism as a democratic citizenship grounded in human rights can be challenged in the context of the debate on de-naturalizing immigrants, as discussed in this New York Times article. ( 8 sentences)

2. Police face crisis situations nearly every day. How well prepared are they? This week identify a likely “crisis” and present a plan on how to deal with the various issues. Crisis range from things like allegations by Serpico (or later allegations of corruption), a natural disaster (e.g. hurricane or pandemic), man made disaster (e.g. blackout) or something like a terrorist attack. Identify stake holders and audiences. Use the steps provided to specifically address specific issues. Write 400 words.

3. This is an hour-long documentary on the French composer Joseph Boulogne  Chevalier de St. Georges.   In three paragraphs, please describe aspects of his life and career that struck you. 

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Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
First published Fri Sep 24, 2010

Multiculturalism is a body of thought in political philosophy about the proper way to respond to cultural and
religious diversity. Mere toleration of group differences is said to fall short of treating members of minority
groups as equal citizens; recognition and positive accommodation of group differences are required through
“group-differentiated rights,” a term coined by Will Kymlicka (1995). Some group-differentiated rights are
held by individual members of minority groups, as in the case of individuals who are granted exemptions
from generally applicable laws in virtue of their religious beliefs or individuals who seek language
accommodations in schools or in voting. Other group-differentiated rights are held by the group qua group
rather by its members severally; such rights are properly called group rights, as in the case of indigenous
groups and minority nations, who claim the right of self-determination. In the latter respect, multiculturalism
is closely allied with nationalism.

While multiculturalism has been used as an umbrella term to characterize the moral and political claims of a
wide range of disadvantaged groups, including African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, and the
disabled, most theorists of multiculturalism tend to focus their arguments on immigrants who are ethnic and
religious minorities (e.g. Latinos in the U.S., Muslims in Western Europe), minority nations (e.g. Catalans,
Basque, Welsh, Québécois), and indigenous peoples (e.g. Native peoples in North America, Maori in New

1. The claims of multiculturalism
2. Justifications for multiculturalism

2.1 Communitarian
2.2 Liberal egalitarian
2.3 Postcolonial

3. Critique of multiculturalism
3.1 Cosmopolitan view of culture
3.2 Toleration requires indifference, not accommodation
3.3 Diversion from a “politics of redistribution”
3.4 Egalitarian objection
3.5 Problem of vulnerable “internal minorities”

4. Political backlash against multiculturalism
Related Entries
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1. The claims of multiculturalism

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Multiculturalism is closely associated with “identity politics,” “the politics of difference,” and “the politics of
recognition,” all of which share a commitment to revaluing disrespected identities and changing dominant
patterns of representation and communication that marginalize certain groups (Young 1990, Taylor 1992,
Gutmann 2003). Multiculturalism is also a matter of economic interests and political power; it demands
remedies to economic and political disadvantages that people suffer as a result of their minority status.

Multiculturalists take for granted that it is “culture” and “cultural groups” that are to be recognized and
accommodated. Yet multicultural claims include a wide range of claims involving religion, language,
ethnicity, nationality, and race. Culture is a notoriously overbroad concept, and all of these categories have
been subsumed by or equated with the concept of culture (Song 2008). Language and religion are at the heart
of many claims for cultural accommodation by immigrants. The key claim made by minority nations is for
self-government rights. Race has a more limited role in multicultural discourse. Antiracism and
multiculturalism are distinct but related ideas: the former highlights “victimization and resistance” whereas
the latter highlights “cultural life, cultural expression, achievements, and the like” (Blum 1992, 14). Claims
for recognition in the context of multicultural education are demands not just for recognition of aspects of a
group’s actual culture (e.g. African American art and literature) but also for the history of group subordination
and its concomitant experience (Gooding-Williams 1998).

Examples of cultural accommodations or “group-differentiated rights” include exemptions from generally
applicable law (e.g. religious exemptions), assistance to do things that the majority can do unassisted (e.g.
multilingual ballots, funding for minority language schools and ethnic associations, affirmative action),
representation of minorities in government bodies (e.g. ethnic quotas for party lists or legislative seats,
minority-majority Congressional districts), recognition of traditional legal codes by the dominant legal
system (e.g. granting jurisdiction over family law to religious courts), or limited self-government rights (e.g.
qualified recognition of tribal sovereignty and federal arrangements recognizing the political autonomy of
Quebec) (for a helpful classification of cultural rights, see Levy 1997).

Typically, a group-differentiated right is a right of a minority group (or a member of such a group) to act or
not act in a certain way in accordance with their religious obligations and/or cultural commitments. In some
cases, it is a right that directly restricts the freedom of non-members in order to protect the minority group’s
culture, as in the case of restrictions on the use of the English language in Quebec. When the right-holder is
the group, the right may protect group rules that restrict the freedom of individual members, as in the case of
the Pueblo membership rule that excludes the children of women who marry outside the group.

2. Justifications for multiculturalism

2.1 Communitarian

One justification for multiculturalism arises out of the communitarian critique of liberalism. Liberals are
ethical individualists; they insist that individuals should be free to choose and pursue their own conceptions
of the good life. They give primacy to individual rights and liberties over community life and collective
goods. Some liberals are also individualists when it comes to social ontology (what some call methodological
individualism or atomism). Atomists believe that you can and should account for social actions and social
goods in terms of properties of the constituent individuals and individual goods. The target of the
communitarian critique of liberalism is not so much liberal ethics as liberal social ontology. Communitarians
reject the idea that the individual is prior to the community, and that the value of social goods can be reduced

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to their contribution to individual well-being. They instead embrace ontological holism, which views social
goods as “irreducibly social” (Taylor 1995). This holist view of collective identities and cultures underlies
Charles Taylor’s normative case for a multicultural “politics of recognition” (1992). Diverse cultural
identities and languages are irreducibly social goods, which should be presumed to be of equal worth. The
recognition of the equal worth of diverse cultures requires replacing the traditional liberal regime of identical
liberties and opportunities for all citizens with a scheme of special rights for minority cultural groups.

2.2 Liberal egalitarian

A second justification for multiculturalism comes from within liberalism. Will Kymlicka has developed the
most influential theory of multiculturalism based on the liberal values of autonomy and equality (Kymlicka
1989, 1995, 2001). Culture is said to be instrumentally valuable to individuals, for two reasons. First, it
enables individual autonomy. One important condition of autonomy is having an adequate range of options
from which to choose. Cultures provide contexts of choice, which provide and make meaningful the social
scripts and narratives from which people fashion their lives (cf. Appiah 2005). Second, culture is
instrumentally valuable for individual self-respect. Drawing on theorists of communitarianism and
nationalism, Kymlicka argues that there is a deep and general connection between a person’s self-respect and
the respect accorded to the cultural group of which she is a part. It is not simply membership in any culture
but one’s own culture that must be secured because of the great difficulty of giving it up.

Kymlicka moves from these premises about the instrumental value of cultural membership to the egalitarian
claim that because members of minority groups are disadvantaged in terms of access to their own cultures (in
contrast to members of the majority culture), they are entitled to special protections. It is worth noting that
Kymlicka’s liberal egalitarian argument for cultural accommodations reflects a central idea of a broader body
of what critics of the view have identified as “luck egalitarianism” (Anderson 1999, Scheffler 2003). Luck
egalitarians argue that individuals should be held responsible for inequalities resulting from their own
choices, but not for inequalities deriving from unchosen circumstances. The latter inequalities are the
collective responsibility of citizens to redress. Kymlicka suggests that the inequality stemming from
membership in a minority culture is unchosen (just as the inequality stemming from one’s native talents and
social starting position in life are unchosen). Insofar as inequality in access to cultural membership stems
from luck and not from one’s own choices, members of minority groups can reasonably demand that
members of the majority culture share in bearing the costs of accommodation. Minority group rights are
justified, as Kymlicka argues, “within a liberal egalitarian theory…which emphasizes the importance of
rectifying unchosen inequalities” (Kymlicka 1995, 109).

One might question whether cultural minority groups really are “disadvantaged” or suffer a serious
inequality. Why not just enforce antidiscrimination laws, stopping short of any positive accommodations for
minority groups? Kymlicka and other liberal theorists of multiculturalism contend that antidiscrimination
laws fall short of treating members of minority groups as equals; this is because states cannot be neutral with
respect to culture. In culturally diverse societies, we can easily find patterns of state support for some cultural
groups over others. While states may prohibit racial discrimination and avoid official establishment of
religion, they cannot avoid establishing one language for public schooling and other state services (language
being a paradigmatic marker of culture) (Kymlicka 1995, 111; Carens 2000, 77–78; Patten 2001, 693).
Cultural or linguistic advantage can translate into economic and political advantage since members of the
dominant cultural community have a leg up in schools, the workplace, and politics. Cultural advantage also
takes a symbolic form. When state action extends symbolic affirmation to some groups and not others in
establishing the state language and public symbols ad holidays, it has a normalizing effect, suggesting that

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one group’s language and customs are more valued than those of other groups.

In addition to state support of certain cultures over others, state laws may place constraints on some cultural
groups over others. Consider the case of dress code regulations in public schools or the workplace. A ban on
religious dress burdens religious individuals, as in the case of Simcha Goldman, a U.S. Air Force officer, who
was also an ordained rabbi and wished to wear a yarmulke out of respect to an omnipresent God (Goldman v.
Weinberger, 475 US 503 (1986)). The case of the French state’s ban on religious dress in public schools,
which burdens Muslim girls who wish to wear headscarves to school, is another example (Bowen 2007,
Laborde 2008). Religion may command that believers dress in a certain way (what Peter Jones calls an
“intrinsic burden”), not that believers refrain from attending school or going to work (Jones 1994). Yet,
burdens on believers do not stem from the dictates of religion alone; they also arise from the intersection of
the demands of religion and the demands of the state (“extrinsic burden”). While intrinsic burdens are not of
collective concern (bearing the burdens of the dictates of one’s faith—prayer, worship, fasting—is an
obligation of faith), when it comes to extrinsic burdens, liberal multiculturalists argue that assisting cultural
minorities through exemptions and accommodations is what egalitarian justice requires.

While offered as a general normative argument for minority cultural groups, liberal multiculturalists
distinguish among different types of groups. For instance, Kymlicka’s theory of liberal multiculturalism
offers the strongest form of group-differentiated rights—self-government rights—to indigenous peoples and
national minorities because their minority status is unchosen; they were coercively incorporated into the
larger state. In contrast, immigrants are viewed as voluntary economic migrants who chose to relinquish
access to their native culture by migrating. Immigrant multiculturalism (what Kymlicka calls “polyethnic
rights”) is understood as a demand for fairer terms of integration through mostly temporary measures (e.g.
exemptions, bilingual education) and not a rejection of integration (Kymlicka 1995, 113–115).

2.3 Postcolonial

Lastly, some philosophers have looked beyond liberalism in arguing for multiculturalism. This is especially
true of theorists writing from a postcolonial perspective. The case for tribal sovereignty rests not simply on
premises about the value of tribal culture and membership, but also on what is owed to Native peoples for the
historical injustices perpetrated against them. Reckoning with history is crucial. Proponents of indigenous
sovereignty emphasize the importance of understanding indigenous claims against the historical background
of the denial of equal sovereign status of indigenous groups, the dispossession of their lands, and the
destruction of their cultural practices (Ivison 2006, Ivison et al. 2000, Moore 2005, Simpson 2000). This
background calls into question the legitimacy of the state’s authority over aboriginal peoples and provides a
prima facie case for special rights and protections for indigenous groups, including the right of self-

A postcolonial perspective also seeks to develop models of constitutional and political dialogue that
recognize culturally distinct ways of speaking and acting. Multicultural societies consist of diverse religious
and moral outlooks, and if liberal societies are to take such diversity seriously, they must recognize that
liberalism is just one of many substantive outlooks based on a specific view of man and society. Liberalism is
not free of culture but expresses a distinctive culture of its own. This observation applies not only across
territorial boundaries between liberal and nonliberal states, but also within liberal states and its relations with
nonliberal minorities. As Bhikhu Parekh argues, liberal theory cannot provide an impartial framework
governing relations between different cultural communities (2000). He argues instead for a more open model
of intercultural dialogue in which a liberal society’s constitutional and legal values serve as the initial starting

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point for cross-cultural dialogue while also being open to contestation. James Tully surveys the language of
historical and contemporary constitutionalism with a focus on Western state’s relations with Native peoples to
uncover more inclusive bases for intercultural dialogue (1995).

3. Critique of multiculturalism

3.1 Cosmopolitan view of culture

Some critics contend that the multicultural argument for the preservation of cultures is premised on a
problematic view of culture and of the individual’s relationship to culture. Cultures are not distinct, self-
contained wholes; they have long interacted and influenced one another through war, imperialism, trade, and
migration. People in many parts of the world live within cultures that are already cosmopolitan, characterized
by cultural hybridity. As Jeremy Waldron (1995, 100) argues, “We live in a world formed by technology and
trade; by economic, religious, and political imperialism and their offspring; by mass migration and the
dispersion of cultural influences. In this context, to immerse oneself in the traditional practices of, say, an
aboriginal culture might be a fascinating anthropological experiment, but it involves an artificial dislocation
from what actually is going on in the world.” To aim at preserving or protecting a culture runs the risk of
privileging one allegedly pure version of that culture, thereby crippling its ability to adapt to changes in
circumstances (Waldron 1995, 110; see also Benhabib 2002 and Scheffler 2007). Waldron also rejects the
premise that the options available to an individual must come from a particular culture; meaningful options
may come from a variety of cultural sources. What people need are cultural materials, not access to a
particular cultural structure.

In response, multicultural theorists agree that cultures are overlapping and interactive, but still maintain that
individuals belong to distinct societal cultures and wish to preserve these cultures (Kymlicka 1995, 103). The
justifications for special protections for minority cultural groups discussed above still hold, even in the face
of a more cosmopolitan view of cultures, for the aim of group-differentiated rights is to empower members of
minority groups to continue their distinctive practices if they wish to.

3.2 Toleration requires indifference, not accommodation

A second major criticism of multiculturalism is based on the ideas of liberal toleration and freedom of
association and conscience. If we take these ideas seriously and accept both ontological and ethical
individualism as discussed above, then we are led to defend the individual’s right to form and leave
associations and not any special protections for groups. As Chandran Kukathas (1995, 2003) argues, there are
no group rights, only individual rights. By granting cultural groups special protections and rights, the state
oversteps its role, which is to secure civility, and risks undermining individual rights of association. States
should not pursue “cultural integration” or “cultural engineering” but rather a “politics of indifference”
toward minority groups (2003, 15). The major limitation of this laissez-faire approach is that groups that do
not themselves value toleration and freedom of association (including the right to dissociate or exit a group)
may practice internal discrimination against group members, and the state would have little authority to
interfere in such associations. This benign neglect approach would permit the abuse of vulnerable members
of groups (the problem of internal minorities discussed below), tolerating “communities which bring up
children unschooled and illiterate; which enforce arranged marriages; which deny conventional medical care
to their members (including children); and which inflict cruel and ‘ununsual’ punishment” (Kukathas 2003,

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3.3 Diversion from a “politics of redistribution”

A third line of critique contends that multiculturalism is a “politics of recognition” that diverts attention from
a “politics of redistribution” (Barry 2001, Fraser and Honneth 2003). We can distinguish analytically between
these modes of politics: a politics of recognition challenges status inequality and the remedy it seeks is
cultural and symbolic change, whereas a politics of redistribution challenges economic inequality and
exploitation and the remedy it seeks is economic restructuring. Working class mobilization tilts toward the
redistribution end of the spectrum, and the LGBT movement toward the recognition end. Critics worry that
multiculturalism’s focus on culture and identity diverts attention from or even actively undermines the
struggle for economic justice, partly because identity-based politics may undermine potential multiracial,
multiethnic class solidarity and partly because some multiculturalists tend to focus on cultural injustice
without much attention to economic injustice.

In response, multiculturalists emphasize that both redistribution and recognition are important dimensions in
the pursuit of equality for minority groups. In practice, both modes of politics—addressing material
disadvantages and marginalized identities and statuses—are required to achieve greater equality across lines
of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexuality, and class, not least because many individuals stand at the
intersection of these different categories and suffer multiple forms of marginalization. Most egalitarians are
focused on redistribution, but recognition is also important not only on account of its effects on
socioeconomic status and political participation but also for fostering the symbolic inclusion of marginalized

3.4 Egalitarian objection

A fourth objection takes issue with liberal multiculturalist’s understanding of what equality requires. Brian
Barry argues that religious and cultural minorities should be held responsible for bearing the consequences of
their own beliefs and practices. He contrasts religious and cultural affiliations with physical disabilities and
argues that the former do not constrain people in the way that physical disabilities do. A physical disability
supports a strong prima facie claim to compensation because it limits a person’s opportunities to engage in
activities that others are able to engage in. In contrast, religion and culture may shape one’s willingness to
seize an opportunity, but they do not affect whether one has an opportunity. Barry argues that justice is only
concerned with ensuring a reasonable range of equal opportunities and not with ensuring equal access to any
particular choices or outcomes (2001, 37). When it comes to cultural and religious affiliations, they do not
limit the range of opportunities one enjoys but rather the choices one can make within the set of opportunities
available to all.

In reply, one might argue that opportunities are not objective in the strong physicalist sense suggested by
Barry. The opportunity to do X is not just having the possibility to do X without facing physical
encumbrances; it is also the possibility of doing X without incurring excessive costs or the risk of such costs
(Miller 2002, 51). State law and cultural commitments can conflict in ways such that the costs for cultural
minorities of taking advantage of the opportunity are prohibitively high. In contrast to Barry, liberal
multiculturalists argue that many cases where a law or policy disparately impacts a religious or cultural
practice constitute injustice. For instance, Kymlicka points to the Goldman case discussed above and other
religion cases, as well as to claims for language rights, as examples in which group-differentiated rights are
required in light of the differential impact of state action (1995, 108–115). The argument here is that since the
state cannot achieve complete disestablishment of culture or be neutral with respect to culture, it must
somehow make it up to citizens who are bearers of minority religious beliefs and native speakers of other

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languages. Where complete state disestablishment is not possible, one way to ensure fair background
conditions is to provide roughly comparable forms of assistance or recognition to each of the various
languages and religions of citizens. To do nothing would be to permit injustice.

3.5 Problem of vulnerable “internal minorities”

A final objection (and one that has received the most attention in recent scholarly debates about
multiculturalism) argues that extending protections to minority groups may come at the price of reinforcing
oppression of vulnerable members of those groups—what some have called the problem of “internal
minorities” or “minorities within minorities” (Green 1994, Eisenberg and Spinner-Halev 2005). Multicultural
theorists have focused on inequalities between groups in arguing for special protections for minority groups,
but group-based protections can exacerbate inequalities within minority groups. This is because some ways of
protecting minority groups from oppression by the majority may make it more likely that more powerful
members of those groups are able to undermine the basic liberties and opportunities of vulnerable members.
Vulnerable subgroups within minority groups include religious dissenters, sexual minorities, women, and
children. A group’s leaders may exaggerate the degree of consensus and solidarity within their group to
present a united front to the wider society and strengthen their case for accommodation.

Some of the most oppressive group norms and practices revolve around issues of gender and sexuality, and
many feminist critics have highlighted the tensions between multiculturalism and feminism (Okin 1999,
Shachar 2000). This is a genuine dilemma if one accepts both that group-differentiated rights for minority
cultural groups are justifiable, as multicultural theorists do, and that gender equality is an important value, as
feminists have emphasized. Extending special protections and accommodations to patriarchal cultural
communities may help reinforce gender inequality within these communities. Examples include conflicts
over polygamy, arranged marriage, the ban on headscarves in France, “cultural defenses” in criminal law,
accommodating religious law or customary law within the dominant legal system, and self-government rights
for indigenous communities that deny equality to women in certain respects (Deveaux 2006, Phillips 2007,
Shachar 2001, Song 2007).

The “internal minorities” objection is especially troublesome for liberal egalitarian defenders of
multiculturalism who aim to promote inter-group equality while also challenging intra-group inequality,
including gender inequality. In response, Kymlicka (1999) emphasizes that multiculturalism, like feminism,
aims at a more inclusive conception of justice; both challenge the traditional liberal assumption that equality
requires identical treatment. To address the concern about internal minorities, Kymlicka distinguishes
between two kinds of group rights: “external protections” are rights that a minority group claims against non-
members in order to reduce its vulnerability to the economic and political power of the larger society,
whereas “internal restrictions” are rights that a minority group claims against its own members. He argues
that a liberal theory of minority group rights cannot accept the latter (1995, 35–44; 1999, 31).

But granting “external protections” to minority groups may sometimes come at the price of “internal
restrictions,” as is the case when the right of self-government is accorded to a group that violates the rights of
its members by limiting freedom of conscience or upholding sexually discriminatory membership rules.
Whether multiculturalism and feminism can be reconciled within liberal theory depends in part on the
empirical premise that cultural groups that seek group-differentiated rights do not support patriarchal norms
and practices. If they do, liberal multiculturalists would in principle have to argue against extending the group
right or extending it with certain qualifications, such as conditioning the extension of self-government rights
to indigenous groups on the acceptance of a constitutional bill of rights.

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An alternative response to the problem of internal minorities is a democratic rather than a liberal one. Liberal
theorists tend to start from the question of whether and how minority cultural practices should be tolerated or
accommodated in accordance with liberal principles, whereas democratic theorists foreground the role of
democratic deliberation and ask how affected parties understand the contested practice. By drawing on the
voices of affected parties and giving special weight to the voice of women at the center of gendered cultural
conflicts, deliberation can clarify the interests at stake and enhance the legitimacy of responses to cultural
conflicts (Benhabib 2002, Deveaux 2006). Deliberation also provides opportunities for minority group
members to expose instances of cross-cultural hypocrisy and consider whether and how the norms and
institutions of the larger society, whose own struggles for gender equality are incomplete and ongoing, may
reinforce rather than challenge sexist practices within minority groups (Song 2007). What constitutes gender
subordination and how best to address it is not straightforwardly clear, and intervention into minority cultural
groups without drawing on the voices of minority women themselves may not best serve their interests.

4. Political backlash against multiculturalism
The greatest challenge to multiculturalism may not be philosophical but political. At the start of the twenty-
first century, there is talk of a retreat from multiculturalism as a normative ideal and as a set of policies in the
West. There is little retreat from recognizing the rights of minority nations and indigenous peoples; the retreat
is restricted to immigrant multiculturalism. Part of the backlash against immigrant multiculturalism is based
on fear and anxiety about foreign “others” and nostalgia for an imagined past when everyone shared thick
bonds of identity and solidarity. Nativism is as old as migration itself, but societies are especially vulnerable
to it when economic conditions are especially bad or security is seen to be threatened. In the U.S. the cultural
“others” are Latino immigrants, especially unauthorized migrants. Since September 11, Muslim minorities
have also come under new scrutiny in the U.S., and concerns over security and terrorism have been invoked
to justify tougher border control. The number of Muslim immigrants in North America remains relatively
small in comparison to Western Europe, where Muslims have become central to scholarly and popular
debates about multiculturalism. The concern is not only over security but also the failures of multiculturalism
policies to integrate and offer real economic opportunities to foreigners and their descendants.

The political backlash against multiculturalism raises new challenges for defenders of multiculturalism. What
is the relationship between multiculturalism and the integration of immigrants? Is liberal multiculturalism the
most desirable framework for the integration of immigrants? Is integration governed by an ideal of
multicultural citizenship the proper goal of liberal democratic states? Why not a common citizenship based
on the same set of rights and opportunities for all individuals? Why not transnationalism, which
acknowledges people’s multiple attachments, or a genuinely global moral cosmopolitanism, which aims to
transcend group attachments?

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Library of Congress Catalog Data: ISSN 1095-5054

The rise and fall of multiculturalism?
New debates on inclusion and
accommodation in diverse societies

Will Kymlicka

Ideas about the legal and political accommoda-
tion of ethnic diversity have been in a state
of flux for the past 40 years around the world.
A familiar way of describing these changes is in
terms of the rise and fall of multiculturalism.
Indeed, this has become a kind of master
narrative, widely invoked by scholars, journal-
ists and policy-makers alike to explain the
evolution of contemporary debates about diver-
sity. Although people disagree about what
comes after multiculturalism,
there is a surprising consen-
sus that we are indeed in a
post-multicultural era.

My goal in this article
will be to explore and critique
this master narrative and to
suggest an alternative frame-
work for thinking about the
choices we face. In order to
make progress, I suggest, we
need to dig below the surface
of the master narrative. Both
the rise and fall of multi-
culturalism have been very uneven processes,
depending on the nature of the issue and the
country involved, and we need to understand
these variations if we are to identify a more
sustainable model for accommodating diversity.

In its simplest form, the master narrative
goes like this (for influential academic state-
ments of this rise and fall narrative, claiming
that it applies across the western democracies,
see Brubaker 2001; Joppke 2004; cf. Baubock
2002. There are also many accounts of the
decline, retreat, or crisis of multiculturalism in
particular countries, such as The Netherlands

(Entzinger 2003; Koopmans 2006; Prins and
Slijper 2002), the UK (Back et al. 2002; Hansen
2007; Vertovec 2005), Australia (Ang and
Stratton 2001) and Canada (Wong et al. 2005):

� From the 1970s to mid-1990s there was a clear
trend across western democracies towards the
increased recognition and accommodation of
diversity through a range of multiculturalism
policies and minority rights. These policies

were endorsed both at
the domestic level in
various states and by
international organisa-
tions, and involved a
rejection of earlier ideas
of unitary and homo-
genous nationhood.

� Since the mid-1990s,
however, we have seen
a backlash and retreat
from multiculturalism,
and a re-assertion of
ideas of nation build-

ing, common values and identity, and uni-
tary citizenship – even a return of

� This retreat is partly driven by fears amongst
the majority group that the accommodation
of diversity has gone too far and is threaten-
ing their way of life. This fear often expresses
itself in the rise of nativist and populist right-
wing political movements, such as the
Danish People’s Party, defending old ideas
of ‘‘Denmark for the Danish’’.

� But the retreat also reflects a belief amongst
the centre-left that multiculturalism has

Will Kymlicka holds the Canada Research
Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen’s
University in Canada, and is a visiting
professor in the nationalism studies pro-
gramme at the Central European Univer-
sity in Budapest. He is the author of
several books on issues of multicultural-
ism and minority rights, including Multi-
cultural citizenship (1995), and most
recently Multicultural odysseys: navigating
the new international politics of diversity
Email: [email protected]

ISSJ 199 r UNESCO 2010. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DK, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

failed to help the intended beneficiaries –
namely, minorities themselves – because it
has failed to address the underlying sources
of their social, economic and political exclu-
sion, and may indeed have unintentionally
contributed to their social isolation. As a
result, even the centre-left political move-
ments that had initially championed multi-
culturalism, such as the social democratic
parties in Europe, have backed away from it
and shifted to a discourse that emphasizes
ideas of integration, social cohesion, com-
mon values, and shared citizenship (For an
overview of the attitudes of European social
democratic parties to these issues, see
Cuperus et al. 2003. There are also political
perspectives on multiculturalism beyond the
populist right and the social-democratic left.
For example, the radical left has tradition-
ally viewed multiculturalism as a state-led
reformist project that seeks to contain the
transformative potential of subaltern politi-
cal movements and thereby forecloses the
possibility of a more radical critique of the
capitalist nation-state (Day 2000; %ižek
1997). The French republican tradition, in
both its right and left strands, has also
generally opposed multiculturalism as an
obstacle to its vision of equality and emanci-
pation (Laborde 2009). However, since the
radical left and the republicans were never in
favour of multiculturalism their opposition
does not explain the rise and fall narrative.
This narrative presupposes that former
supporters of multiculturalism have now lost
faith in it, and I believe that it is predomi-
nantly amongst the social democrats that
one can see this sort of rise and fall).

� The social-democratic discourse of national
integration differs from the radical right
discourse in emphasising the need to develop
a more inclusive national identity and to
fight racism and discrimination, but none-
theless distances itself from the rhetoric and
policies of multiculturalism. The term ‘‘post-
multiculturalism’’ has often been invoked to
signal this new approach, which seeks to
overcome the perceived limits of a naive or
misguided multiculturalism while avoiding
the oppressive reassertion of homogenising
nationalist ideologies. For references to post-
multiculturalism by progressive intellectuals

and academics, who distinguish it from the
radical right’s anti-multiculturalism, see
Alibhai-Brown (2000, 2003, 2004) re the
UK, Ley (2005), Jupp (2007) re Australia,
and King (2004) and Hollinger (2006) re the

This, in brief, is the master narrative of the rise
and fall of multiculturalism. It helpfully captures
important features of our current debates. Yet in
some respects it is misleading and may obscure
the real challenges and opportunities we face.

In the rest of this article, I will argue that the
master narrative (a) mischaracterises the nature
of the experiments in multiculturalism that have
been undertaken over the past 40 years, (b)
exaggerates the extent to which they have been
abandoned and (c) misidentifies the genuine
difficulties and limitations they have encoun-
tered. I then discuss the implications of this
debate for the actions of international organisa-
tions like UNESCO.

What is multiculturalism?

In much of the post-multiculturalism literature,
multiculturalism is characterised as a feel-good
celebration of ethno-cultural diversity, encoura-
ging citizens to acknowledge and embrace the
panoply of customs, traditions, music and
cuisine that exist in a multi-ethnic society.
Alibhai-Brown calls this the 3S model of multi-
culturalism in Britain – samosas, steel drums
and saris (Alibhai-Brown 2000). Multicultural-
ism takes these familiar cultural markers of
ethnic groups – cuisine, music and clothing –
and treats them as authentic cultural practices to
be preserved by their members and safely
consumed as cultural spectacles by others. So
they are taught in multicultural school curricula,
performed in multicultural festivals, displayed in
multicultural media and museums, and so on.

This 3S picture of multiculturalism has been
subject to many powerful critiques:

� It entirely ignores issues of economic and
political inequality. Even if all Britons come
to enjoy Jamaican steel drum music or
Indian samosas, this by itself would do
nothing to address the real problems facing
Caribbean and South-Asian communities in
Britain – problems of unemployment, poor

98 Will Kymlicka

r UNESCO 2010.

educational outcomes, residential segrega-
tion, poor English language skills and
political marginalisation. These economic
and political issues cannot be solved simply
by celebrating cultural difference.

� Even with respect to the (legitimate) goal of
promoting greater understanding of cultural
difference, the focus on celebrating discrete
authentic cultural practices that are unique
to each group is potentially dangerous and
misleading. Firstly, not all customs that may
be traditionally practiced in a particular
group are worthy of being celebrated or even
of being legally tolerated, such as forced
marriage. To avoid this risk, there is a
tendency to choose safely inoffensive prac-
tices as the focus of multicultural celebra-
tions – such as cuisine or music – practices
that can be enjoyably consumed by members
of the larger society. But this runs the
opposite risk of the trivialisation or Dis-
neyfying of cultural difference (Bissoondath
1994), ignoring the real challenges that
differences in cultural values and religious
doctrine can raise.

� Secondly, the 3S model of multiculturalism
can encourage a conception of groups as
hermetically sealed and static, each reprodu-
cing its own distinct authentic practices.
Multiculturalism may be intended to encou-
rage people to share their distinctive cus-
toms, but the very assumption that each
group has its own distinctive customs ignores
processes of cultural adaptation, mixing and
mélange, and renders invisible emerging
cultural commonalities, thereby potentially
reinforcing perceptions of minorities as
eternally ‘‘Other’’.

� Thirdly, this model can end up reinforcing
power inequalities and cultural restrictions
within minority groups. In deciding which
traditions are authentic and how to interpret
and display them, the state generally consults
the traditional elites within the group –
typically older men – while ignoring the
way these traditional practices (and tradi-
tional elites) are often challenged by internal
reformers, who have different views about
how, say, a good Muslim should act. It can
therefore imprison people in cultural scripts
that they are not allowed to question or

According to post-multiculturalists, it is the
gradual recognition of these flaws that explains
the retreat from multiculturalism and the search
for new post-multicultural models of citizenship
that emphasise the priority of political participa-
tion and economic opportunities over the sym-
bolic politics of cultural recognition, the priority
of human rights and individual freedom over
respect for cultural traditions, the priority of
building inclusive common national identities
over the recognition of ancestral cultural iden-
tities, and the priority of cultural change and
cultural mixing over the reification of static
cultural differences.

Is this post-multiculturalist critique accu-
rate and justified? If multiculturalism was
fundamentally about celebrating cultural differ-
ence in the form of discrete folk practices, then
the critique would indeed be justified. However,
I will argue that the 3S account is a caricature of
the reality of multiculturalism as it has devel-
oped over the past 40 years in western democ-
racies, at least as multiculturalism is affirmed
and embodied in public policy. To be sure, the
3S picture does accurately describe a certain sort
of ethos or sensibility that exists in certain circles
in modern societies. Within these circles, being
able to enjoy a wide range of cuisines and
cultural products from around the world is seen
as a sign of sophistication and open-mindedness.
But multiculturalism as a set of public policies
has never been exclusively, or even primarily,
about inculcating such an ethos of cultural
consumption. If we focus on multiculturalism
as a set of public policies rather than as a
particular cultural sensibility, I believe that we
will find a very different story from that
presented in the post-multiculturalist critique.

In the rest of this article, therefore, I will be
focusing on the rise and fall of multiculturalism
policies – that is, on multiculturalism as a
political project that attempts to redefine the
relationship between ethno-cultural minorities
and the state through the adoption of new laws,
policies or institutions. (Thus, unless otherwise
indicated, references to multiculturalism should
be understood as references to multiculturalism
policies). My focus is on why multiculturalism in
this sense arose, what forms it has taken, what
effects it has had and what obstacles it faces.

I cannot rehearse the full history of multi-
culturalism here, but I think it is important to

The rise and fall of multiculturalism 99

r UNESCO 2010.

situate it in its historical context. In one sense,
multiculturalism is as old as humanity – different
cultures have always found ways of co-existing
and respect for diversity was a familiar feature of
many empires throughout history, such as the
Ottoman Empire. But the sort of multicultural-
ism that is said to have had a rise and fall is a
much more specific historical phenomenon,
emerging first in the western democracies in
the late 1960s. This timing is important, for it
helps us situate multiculturalism in relation to
the larger social transformations of the post-
war era.

More specifically, multiculturalism can be
seen as part of a larger human rights revolution
in relation to ethnic and racial diversity (for a
more detailed discussion of the linkage between
multiculturalism and the human rights revolu-
tion, from which these three paragraphs are
taken, see Kymlicka 2007). Prior to the Second
World War, ethno-cultural and religious diver-
sity in the west was characterised by a range of
illiberal and undemocratic relations – including
the relations of conqueror and conquered,
coloniser and colonised, master and slave, settler
and indigenous, racialised and unmarked, nor-
malised and deviant, orthodox and heretic,
civilised and primitive, ally and enemy. These
hierarchical relationships were justified by racia-
list ideologies that explicitly propounded the
superiority of some peoples and cultures, and
their right to rule over others. These ideologies
were widely accepted throughout the western
world, and underpinned both domestic laws (for
example, racially biased immigration and citi-
zenship policies) and foreign policies (for exam-
ple, in relation to overseas colonies).

After the Second World War, however, the
world recoiled against Hitler’s fanatical and
murderous use of such ideologies and the UN
decisively repudiated them in favour of a new
ideology of racial and ethnic equality. And this
new assumption of human equality has gener-
ated a series of political movements designed to
contest the lingering presence or enduring effects
of older hierarchies. We can distinguish three
waves of such movements: (a) the struggle for
decolonisation, concentrated in the period 1948
to 1965; (b) the struggle against racial segrega-
tion and discrimination, initiated and exempli-
fied by the African–American civil rights
movement from 1955 to 1965 and (c) the struggle

for multiculturalism and minority rights that
emerged from the late 1960s.

Each of these movements draws upon the
human rights revolution and its foundational
ideology of the equality of races and peoples, to
challenge the legacies of earlier ethnic and racial
hierarchies. Indeed, the human rights revolution
plays a double role here: not just as the
inspiration for struggle but also as a constraint
on the permissible goals and means of that
struggle. In so far as historically excluded or
stigmatised groups struggle against earlier hier-
archies in the name of equality, they too have to
renounce their own traditions of exclusion or
oppression in the treatment of, say, women,
gays, people of mixed race, religious dissenters,
and so on. The framework of human rights, and
of liberal-democratic constitutionalism more
generally, provides the overarching framework
within which these struggles are debated and

Each of these movements, therefore, can be
seen as contributing to a process of democratic
‘‘citizenisation’’ – that is, turning the earlier
catalogue of hierarchical relations into relation-
ships of liberal-democratic citizenship, both in
terms of the vertical relationship between the
members of minorities and the state and the
horizontal relationships amongst the members
of different groups. In the past it was often
assumed that the only way to engage in this
process of citizenisation was to impose a single
undifferentiated model of citizenship on all
individuals. But the ideas and policies of multi-
culturalism that emerged from the 1960s start
from the assumption that this complex history
inevitably and appropriately generates group-
differentiated ethno-political claims. The key to
citizenisation is not to suppress these differential
claims but to filter and frame them through the
language of human rights, civil liberties and
democratic accountability. This is what multi-
culturalist movements have aimed to do.

The precise character of the resulting multi-
cultural reforms varies from group to group, as
befits the distinctive history that each has faced.
They all start from the anti-discrimination
principle that underpinned the second wave
but go beyond it to challenge other forms of
exclusion or stigmatisation. In most western
countries explicit state-sponsored discrimina-
tion against ethnic, racial or religious minorities

100 Will Kymlicka

r UNESCO 2010.

had largely ceased by the 1960s and 1970s, under
the influence of the second wave of human rights
struggles. Yet evidence of ethnic and racial
hierarchies remained and continues to be clearly
visible in many societies, whether measured in
terms of economic inequalities, political under-
representation, social stigmatisation or cultural
invisibility. Various forms of multiculturalism
have been developed to help overcome these
lingering inequalities.

We can broadly distinguish three patterns
of multiculturalism that have emerged in the
western democracies. Firstly, we see new forms
of empowerment of indigenous peoples such as
the Maori in New Zealand; Aboriginals in
Canada and Australia; American Indians; Sami
in Scandinavia or Inuit of Greenland. These new
models of multicultural citizenship for indigen-
ous peoples often include some combination of
the following nine policies. (This and the
following lists of multicultural policies are taken
from the index of multicultural policies devel-
oped in Banting and Kymlicka 2006):

� recognition of land rights and title
� recognition of self-government rights
� upholding historic treaties and/or signing

new treaties
� recognition of cultural rights (language;

hunting and fishing, sacred sites)
� recognition of customary law
� guarantees of representation and consulta-

tion in the central government
� constitutional or legislative affirmation of

the distinct status of indigenous peoples
� support and ratification for international

instruments on indigenous rights
� affirmative action

Secondly, we see new forms of autonomy and
power-sharing for sub-state national groups,
such as the Basques and Catalans in Spain, the
Flemish and Walloons in Belgium, the Scots
and Welsh in Britain, Quebecois in Canada,
Germans in South Tyrol, Swedish in Finland
and so on. These new forms of multicultural
citizenship for national minorities typically
include some combination of the following six

� federal or quasi-federal territorial autonomy
� official language status, either in the region

or nationally

� guarantees of representation in the central
government or on constitutional courts

� public funding of minority language univer-
sities, schools and the media

� constitutional or parliamentary affirmation
of multinationalism

� accorded an international personality (for
example, allowing the sub-state region to sit
on international bodies, or sign treaties, or
have their own Olympic team)

Finally, we see new forms of multicultural
citizenship for immigrant groups, which may
include a combination of the following eight

� constitutional, legislative or parliamentary
affirmation of multiculturalism at central,
regional and municipal levels;

� the adoption of multiculturalism in school

� the inclusion of ethnic representation and
sensitivity in the mandate of public media or
media licensing;

� exemptions from dress codes, Sunday-
closing legislation and so on (either by
statute or by court cases)

� allowed dual citizenship
� the funding of ethnic group organisations to

support cultural activities
� the funding of bilingual education or

mother-tongue instruction
� affirmative action for disadvantaged immi-

grant groups

While there are important differences between
these three modes of multiculturalism, each of
them has been defended as a means to overcome
the legacies of earlier hierarchies and to help
build fairer and more inclusive democratic

In my view, therefore, multiculturalism is
first and foremost about developing new models
of democratic citizenship, grounded in human
rights ideals, to replace earlier uncivil and
undemocratic relations of hierarchy and exclu-
sion. Needless to say, this account of multi-
culturalism as citizenisation differs dramatically
from the 3S account of multiculturalism as the
celebration of static cultural differences. The
citizenisation account says that multiculturalism
is precisely about constructing new civic and
political relations to overcome the deeply

The rise and fall of multiculturalism 101

r UNESCO 2010.

entrenched inequalities that have persisted after
the abolition of formal discrimination.

It is obviously important to determine
which of these accounts provides a more
accurate description of the western experience
with multiculturalism. Before we can decide
whether to celebrate or lament the fall of
multiculturalism or to replace it with post-
multiculturalism, we need first to make sure we
know what multiculturalism has in fact been. I
have elsewhere tried to give a fuller defence of
my account (Kymlicka 2007, pp. 63–167), so let
me here just note three ways in which the 3S
account is misleading.

Firstly, the claim that multiculturalism is
solely or primarily about symbolic cultural
politics depends on a complete misreading of
the actual policies. If we look at the three lists of
policies above, it is immediately apparent that
they combine economic, political, social and
cultural dimensions. Take the case of land claims
for indigenous peoples. While regaining control
of their traditional territories certainly has
cultural and religious significance for many
indigenous peoples, it also has profound eco-
nomic and political significance. Land is the
material basis for both economic opportunities
and political self-government. Or consider lan-
guage rights for national minorities. According
official language status to a minority’s language
is partly valued as a form of symbolic recogni-
tion of a historically stigmatised language. But it
is also a form of economic and political
empowerment: the more a minority’s language
is used in public institutions, the more its
speakers have access to employment opportu-
nities and decision-making procedures. Indeed,
the political and economic dimensions of the
multiculturalist struggles of indigenous peoples
and national minorities are obvious: they are
precisely about restructuring state institutions,
including redistributing political control over
important public and natural resources.

The view that multiculturalism is about the
apolitical celebration of ethnic folk customs,
therefore, has plausibility only in relation to
immigrant groups. And indeed, representations
of cuisine, dress and music are often the most
visible manifestations of multiculturalism in the
schools and the media. It is not surprising,
therefore, that when post-multiculturalists dis-
cuss multiculturalism they almost invariably

ignore the issue of indigenous peoples and
national minorities and focus only on the case
of immigrant groups, where the 3S account has
more initial plausibility.

But even in this context, if we look back at
the list of eight multiculturalism policies
adopted in relation to immigrant groups, we
quickly see that they too involve a complex
mixture of economic, political and cultural
elements. While immigrants are (rightly) con-
cerned to contest the historical stigmatisation of
their cultures, immigrant multiculturalism also
includes policies that are centrally concerned
with access to political power and to economic
opportunities – for example, policies of affirma-
tive action, mechanisms of political consulta-
tion, funding for ethnic self-organisation or
facilitated access to citizenship.

All three familiar patterns of multicultural-
ism, therefore – for indigenous peoples, national
minorities and immigrant groups – combine
cultural recognition, economic redistribution
and political participation. In this respect, the
post-multiculturalist critique that multicultural-
ism ignores economic and political inequality is
simply off the mark. (Nevertheless, the fact that
multiculturalism policies were designed with an
awareness of these inequalities and sought to
address them does not show that they have been
effective in redressing inequalities. Multicultur-
alism policies, like all public policies, can have
perverse and unintended effects and it is possible
that multiculturalism has unintentionally
obscured or exacerbated inequalities or wea-
kened the welfare state. However, a major cross-
national study of the impact of multiculturalism
on the welfare state shows no evidence of such
unintended effects (Banting and Kymlicka

Secondly, the post-multiculturalists’ claim
that multiculturalism ignores the importance of
universal human rights is equally misplaced. On
the contrary, as we’ve seen, multiculturalism is
itself a human rights-based movement, inspired
and constrained by principles of universal
human rights and liberal-democratic constitu-
tionalism. Its goal is to challenge the sorts of
traditional ethnic and racial hierarchies that
have been discredited by the post-war human
rights revolution. Understood in this way,
multiculturalism as citizenisation offers no sup-
port for protecting or accommodating the sorts

102 Will Kymlicka

r UNESCO 2010.

of illiberal cultural practices in minority groups
that have also been discredited by this human
rights revolution. The same human rights-based
reasons we have for endorsing multiculturalism
as citizenisation are the same reasons we have
for rejecting cultural practices that violate
human rights. And indeed, this is what we see
throughout the western democracies. Wherever
multiculturalist public policies have been
adopted they have been tied conceptually and
institutionally to larger human rights norms
and have been subject to the overarching
principles of the liberal-democratic constitu-
tional order. No western democracy has
exempted immigrant groups from constitutional
norms of human rights in order to maintain
practices of, say, forced marriage, the crimina-
lisation of apostasy or cliterodectomy. Here
again, the post-multiculturalist claim that
human rights should take precedence over the
recognition of cultural traditions simply reas-
serts what has been integral to the theory and
practice of multiculturalism.

This in turn points out the flaws in the post-
multiculturalists’ claim that multiculturalism
ignores or denies the reality of cultural change.
On the contrary, multiculturalism as citizenisa-
tion is a deeply (and intentionally) transforma-
tive project, both for minorities and majorities.
It demands that both dominant and historically
subordinated groups engage in new practices,
enter new relationships and embrace new con-
cepts and discourses, all of which profoundly
transform people’s identities and practices.

This is perhaps most obvious in the case of
the historically dominant majority nation in
each country which is required to renounce
fantasies of racial superiority, to relinquish
claims to exclusive ownership of the state and
to abandon attempts to fashion public institu-
tions solely in its own national image. In fact,
much of multiculturalism’s long march through
the institutions consists precisely in identifying
and attacking those deeply rooted traditions,
customs and symbols that have historically
excluded or stigmatised minorities. Much has
been written about the transformations in
majority identities and practices this has
required and the backlash it can create.

But multiculturalism is equally transforma-
tive of the identities and practices of minority
groups. Many of these groups have their own

histories of ethnic and racial prejudice, of anti-
Semitism, of caste and gender exclusion, of
religious triumphalism and of political author-
itarianism, all of which are delegitimised by the
norms of liberal-democratic multiculturalism
and minority rights. Moreover, even where the
traditional practices of a minority group are free
of illiberal or undemocratic elements they may
involve a level of cultural closure that becomes
unattractive and unsustainable under multi-
culturalism. These practices may have initially
emerged as a response to earlier experiences of
discrimination, stigmatisation, or exclusion at
the hands of the majority and may lose their
attractiveness as that motivating experience
fades in people’s memories. For example, some
minority groups have developed distinctive
norms of self-help, endogamy and internal
conflict resolution because they have been
excluded from or discriminated against in the
institutions of the larger society. Those norms
may lose their rationale as ethnic and racial
hierarchies break down and as group members
feel more comfortable interacting with members
of other groups and participating in state
institutions. Far from guaranteeing the protec-
tion of the traditional ways of life of either the
majority or minorities, multiculturalism poses
multiple challenges to them. Here again, the
post-multiculturalists’ claim about recognising
the necessity of cultural change simply reasserts
a long-standing part of the multicultural agenda.

In short, I believe that the post-multi-
culturalist critique is largely off target, primarily
because it misidentifies the nature and goals of
the multiculturalism policies and programmes
that have emerged over the past 40 years during
the rise of multiculturalism.

The retreat from

But this then raises a puzzle. If post-multi-
culturalist claims about the flaws of multi-
culturalism are largely misguided, then what
explains the fall of multiculturalism? If, as I
claim, multiculturalism is inspired by human
rights norms and seeks to deepen relations of
democratic citizenship, why has there been such
a retreat from it?

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Part of the answer is that reports of
multiculturalism’s death are very much exagger-
ated. Here again, we need to keep in mind
the different forms that multiculturalism takes,
only some of which have faced a serious back-
lash. For example, there has been no retreat
from the commitment to new models of multi-
cultural citizenship for indigenous peoples.
On the contrary, the trend towards enhanced
land rights, self-government powers and cus-
tomary law for indigenous peoples remains fully
in place across the western democracy and was
recently reaffirmed by the UN’s General Assem-
bly through the adoption of the Declaration of
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
Similarly, there has been no retreat from the
commitment to new models of multicultural
citizenship for national minorities. On the
contrary, the trend towards enhanced language
rights and regional autonomy for sub-state
national groups remains fully in place in the
western democracies (although there has been a
retreat from attempts to formulate the rights of
national minorities at the level of international
law: see Kymlicka 2007, pp. 173–246). Indeed,
these two trends are increasingly firmly
entrenched in law and public opinion, backed
by growing evidence that the adoption of multi-
cultural reforms for indigenous peoples and
national minorities has in fact contributed to
building relations of democratic freedom and
equality (I survey the evidence in Kymlicka
2007, pp. 135–167). Few people today, for
example, would deny that regional autonomy
for Catalonia has contributed to the democratic
consolidation of Spain or that indigenous rights
are helping to deepen democratic citizenship in
Latin America.

So it is only with respect to immigrant
groups that we see any serious retreat. Here,
without question, there has been a backlash
against multiculturalism policies relating to
post-war migrants in several western democra-
cies. And there is also greater scholarly
dispute about the impact of these policies. For
example, while studies have shown that immi-
grant multiculturalism policies in Canada have
had strongly beneficial effects in relation to
citizenisation (Bloemraad 2006), other studies
suggest that immigrant multiculturalism in
The Netherlands has had deleterious effects
(Koopmans et al. 2005; Sniderman and

Hagendoorn 2007) (I discuss these Dutch studies
in Kymlicka 2008).

It is an important question why immigrant
multiculturalism in particular has been so
controversial, and I will return to this below.
But we can begin by dismissing one popular
explanation. Various commentators have sug-
gested that the retreat from immigrant multi-
culturalism reflects a return to the traditional
liberal and republican belief that ethnicity
belongs in the private sphere, and that citizen-
ship should be unitary and undifferentiated. On
this view, the retreat from immigrant multi-
culturalism reflects a rejection of the whole idea
of multiculturalism as citizenisation (for exam-
ple, Brubaker 2001; Joppke 2004).

But this cannot be the explanation. If
western democracies were rejecting the very idea
of multicultural citizenship, they would have
rejected the claims of sub-state national groups
and indigenous peoples as well as immigrants.
After all, the claims of national groups and
indigenous peoples typically involve a much
more dramatic insertion of ethno-cultural diver-
sity into the public sphere, and a more dramatic
degree of differentiated citizenship than is
demanded by immigrant groups. Whereas
immigrants typically seek modest variations or
exemptions in the operation of mainstream
institutions, historically national minorities
and indigenous peoples typically seek a much
wider level of recognition and accommodation,
including such things as land claims, self-
government powers, language rights, separate
educational systems and even separate legal
systems. These claims involve a much more
serious challenge to ideas of undifferentiated
citizenship and the privatisation of ethnicity
than is involved in accommodating immigrant
groups. Yet western democracies have not
retreated at all from their commitment to
accommodating these historic minorities.

Most western democracies are, in fact,
increasingly comfortable with claims to differ-
entiated citizenship and the public recognition of
difference, when these claims are advanced by
historic minorities. So it is not the very idea of
multicultural citizenship per se that has come
under attack. Commentators who argue that
western democracies are rejecting multicultural
citizenship per se typically simply ignore the
obvious counter-examples of national minorities

104 Will Kymlicka

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and indigenous peoples – see, for example
Joppke (2004) and Barry (2001). The problem,
rather, is specific to immigration. What we need
to sort out, therefore, is why multiculturalism
has proved to be so much more controversial in
relation to this particular form of ethno-cultural

But even that way of phrasing the question
is too general. The retreat from immigrant
multiculturalism is not universal F it has
affected some countries more than others. Public
support for immigrant multiculturalism in
Canada, for example, remains at an all-time
high. And even in countries that are considered
the paradigm cases of a retreat from immigrant
multiculturalism, such as The Netherlands or
Australia the story is more complicated. The
Dutch military, for example, which in the 1990s
had resisted ideas of accommodating diversity,
has recently embraced the idea of multicultural-
ism, even as other public institutions are now
shying away from it. And in Australia, while the
former conservative federal government backed
away from multiculturalism, the state govern-
ments (governed by the Labor party) have
moved in to adopt their own new multicultur-
alism policies. What we see, in short, is a lot of
uneven advances and retreats in relation to
immigrant multiculturalism, both within and
across countries.

So the post-multiculturalists’ narrative of a
retreat from multiculturalism is overstated and
misdiagnosed. Many new forms of multicultural
citizenship have taken root and not faced
any significant backlash or retreat. This is true
of the main reforms relating to both national
minorities and indigenous peoples, backed
by evidence of their beneficial effects. Even
with respect to immigrant multiculturalism,
claims of policy failure and retreat are over-
stated, obscuring a much more variable
record in terms of policy outcomes and public

I now turn to some possible explanations
for the distinctive fate of immigrant multi-
culturalism. But notice that we cannot start to
identify these factors until we set aside the post-
multiculturalists’ assumption that what is being
rejected is multiculturalism as such. What is
happening here is not a general or principled
rejection of the public recognition of ethno-
cultural diversity. On the contrary, many of the

countries that are retreating from immigrant
multiculturalism are actually strengthening the
institutional recognition of their old minorities.
For example, while The Netherlands is retreat-
ing from immigrant multiculturalism it is
strengthening the rights of its Frisian minority;
while France retreated from its brief flirtation
with immigrant multiculturalism in education
(see Bleich 1998), it is strengthening recognition
of its longstanding regional minority languages;
while Germany is retreating from immigrant
multiculturalism, it is celebrating the 50


anniversary of the special status of its historic
Danish minority; while Britain is retreating from
immigrant multiculturalism, it has accorded new
self-government powers to its historic nations in
Scotland and Wales; and so on. None of this
makes any sense if we explain the retreat from
immigrant multiculturalism as somehow a
return of orthodox liberal or republican ideas
of undifferentiated citizenship and the privatisa-
tion of ethnicity.

In short, contrary to the post-multicultur-
alists’ narrative, the ideal of multiculturalism as
citizenisation is alive and well, and remains a
salient option in the toolkit of democracies, in
part because we now have 40 years of experience
to show that it can indeed contribute to
citizenisation. However, particular uses of this
approach, in relation to particular forms of
diversity in particular countries, have run into
serious obstacles. Not all attempts to adopt new
models of multicultural citizenship have taken
root or succeeded in achieving their intended
effects of promoting citizenisation.

The crucial question, therefore, is why
multicultural citizenship works in some times
and places and not others. This is aimed not only
at explanations for the variable fate of multi-
cultural citizenship in the west but also at
exploring its potential role as a model for
thinking about diversity in post-colonial and
post-communist societies. Unfortunately, the
post-multiculturalist debate is largely unhelpful
in answering this question. Since post-multi-
culturalists ignore the extent to which multi-
culturalism ever aspired to citizenisation and
also over-generalise the retreat from multicul-
turalism, they do not shed light on the central
question of why multicultural citizenisation has
flourished in some times and places and failed

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The preconditions of
multicultural citizenship

In my view, we do not yet have a systematic
account of the preconditions for successful
multicultural citizenship, and so a certain degree
of caution is required when making judgements
and recommendations in this area. However, if
we explore the varying fate of multiculturalism
across different types of groups and different
countries we can gain some preliminary indica-
tions about the preconditions for a sustainable
model of democratic multiculturalism.

The theory and practice of multiculturalism
suggests that multiculturalism can contribute to
citizenisation but the historical record suggests
that certain conditions must be in place for it to
have its intended effects. Multicultural citizen-
ship cannot be built (or imposed) out of thin air:
certain sources and preconditions must be
present. In a recent book (Kymlicka 2007, pp.
87–134) I discuss a number of these conditions,
but let me focus here on two: the desecuritisation
of state–minority relations; and the existence of
a human rights consensus.

Desecuritisation. Where states feel insecure
in geopolitical terms and fearful of neighbouring
enemies they are unlikely to treat their own
minorities fairly. More specifically, states are
unlikely to accord powers and resources to
minorities that they view as potential collabora-
tors with neighbouring enemies.

In the past this has been an issue in the west.
For example, prior to the Second World War,
Italy, Denmark and Belgium feared that their
German-speaking minorities were more loyal to
Germany than to their own country and that
they would support attempts by Germany to
invade and annex areas of ethnic German
concentration. These countries were anxious
that Germany might invade in the name of
liberating their co-ethnic Germans and that the
German minority would collaborate with such
an invasion.

Today, this is a non-issue throughout the
established western democracies with respect to
historic national minorities and indigenous
peoples, although it remains an issue with
respect to certain immigrant groups, particularly
Arab and Muslim groups after 9/11. It is difficult
to think of a single western democracy where the
state fears that a national minority would

collaborate with a neighbouring enemy and
potential aggressor. This is partly because
western states do not have neighbouring enemies
who might invade them. NATO has removed the
possibility of a western country invading its
neighbours. As a result, the question of whether
national minorities and indigenous peoples
would be loyal in the event of invasion by a
neighbouring state is moot.

Of course, western democracies do have
long-distance potential enemies – such as Soviet
Communism in the past, Islamic jihadism today
and perhaps China in some future scenario. But
in relation to these long-distance threats,
national minorities and indigenous peoples are
on the same side as the state. If Quebec gains
increased powers or even independence, no one
in the rest of Canada worries that Quebec will
start collaborating with Al-Qaeda or China to
overthrow the Canadian state. An autonomous
or independent Quebec would be an ally of
Canada, not an enemy.

In most parts of the world, however,
minority groups are still seen as fifth columns
collaborating with neighbouring enemies. This is
particularly true where the minority is related to
a neighbouring state by ethnicity or religion or
where a minority is found on both sides of an
international border, so that the neighbouring
state claims the right to protect ‘‘its’’ minority.
Consider the ethnic Serbs in Bosnia, or Kash-
miris in India. If we move outside western
Europe, Cyprus and Israel are consolidated
democracies that still exhibit this dynamic of
viewing their historic Turkish and Arab mino-
rities as potential collaborators with external
enemies and, not coincidentally, have been
unable to agree on minority autonomy.

Under these conditions, ethnic relations
become securitised. Relations between states
and minorities are seen, not as a matter of
normal democratic debate and negotiation, but
as a matter of state security, in which the state
has to limit the democratic process to protect
itself. Under conditions of securitisation, min-
ority political mobilisation may be banned and
even if minority demands can be voiced, they will
be rejected by the larger society and the state.
After all, how can groups that are disloyal have
legitimate claims against the state? So the
securitisation of ethnic relations erodes both
the democratic space to voice minority demands

106 Will Kymlicka

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and the likelihood that those demands will be

In most western countries, however, ethnic
politics have been de-securitised. Ethnic politics
is just that – normal, day-to-day politics.
Relations between the state and minority groups
have been taken out of the security box, and put
in the democratic politics box. This is one
essential precondition for multicultural citizen-
ship to emerge and take root.

Human rights protection. A second precon-
dition concerns the security, not of the state, but
of individuals who would be subject to self-
governing minority institutions. States are unli-
kely to accept minority self-government if they
fear it will lead to islands of local tyranny in a
broader democratic state.

This, too, has been a worry in the past in the
west, where some long-standing minorities were
seen as carriers of illiberal political cultures. And
this fear persists in relation to some recent
immigrant groups. But at least in relation to
national minorities, it is now widely assumed
that there is a deep consensus across ethnic lines
on basic values of liberal democracy and human
rights. As a result, it is assumed that any self-
government powers granted to national mino-
rities will be exercised in accordance with the
shared standards of democracy and human
rights. Everyone accepts that minority self-
government will operate within the constraints
of liberal-democratic constitutionalism, which
firmly upholds individual rights. Where mino-
rities have gained autonomy in the west, their
self-governing institutions are subject to the
same constitutional constraints as the central
government, and so have no legal capacity to
restrict individual freedoms in the name of
cultural authenticity, religious orthodoxy or
racial purity. Not only is it legally impossible
for national minorities in the west to establish
illiberal regimes but they have no wish to do so.
On the contrary, all of the evidence suggests that
members of national minorities are at least as
strongly committed to liberal-democratic values
as members of dominant groups, if not more so.
(For discussions of how self-government for
national minorities in the west fits within
broader liberal-democratic constitutional norms
and constraints, see Keating 2001).

The situation with respect to some indigen-
ous groups is more complicated, since they are

sometimes perceived as falling outside the
liberal-democratic consensus. But since indigen-
ous self-government rarely involves the exercise
of power over non-members, unlike the regional
autonomy accorded to national minorities, there
is less concern that indigenous self-government
may harm the rights of non-members. More-
over, the evidence suggests that indigenous
peoples are increasingly accepting broader
liberal-democratic principles (Schouls 2003).

This removes one of the central fears that
dominant groups have about minority autono-
my. In many parts of the world there is the fear
that once national minorities or indigenous
peoples acquire self-governing power they will
use it to persecute, dispossess, expel or kill
anyone who does not belong to the minority
group. In western democracies this is a non-
issue. Where there is a strong consensus on
liberal-democratic values, people feel confident
that however issues of multiculturalism are
settled, their own civil and political rights will
be respected. No matter how the claims of
ethno-national and indigenous groups are
resolved – no matter what language rights, self-
government rights, land rights or multicultural-
ism policies are adopted – people can rest
assured that they will not be stripped of their
citizenship, fired from their jobs, subjected to
ethnic cleansing, jailed without a fair trial or
denied their rights to free speech, association
and worship. Put simply, the consensus on
liberal-democratic values ensures that debates
over accommodating diversity are not a matter
of life and death. As a result, dominant groups
will not fight to the death to resist minority
claims. This, too, is a precondition for the
successful adoption of multicultural citizenship.

There are other factors that underpin the
rise of multiculturalism in the west, including
demographic changes, but desecuritisation and
human rights are pivotal.

Where these two conditions are absent,
multiculturalism is unlikely to emerge, except
perhaps as the outcome of violent struggle or
external imposition. This raises the paradox that
if these preconditions are in place, then the most
serious problems of potential violence and
conflict are in a sense already solved, and
we do not need multiculturalism to solve them.
Jan Nederveen Pieterse suggests as much
when he says, ‘‘The core problem of liberal

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multiculturalism is that it provides a solution for
which there is no problem and a remedy for
which there is no ailment’’ (Pieterse 2005,
p.1271). In his view, multiculturalism cannot
work if the harsh circumstances preclude people
from viewing their identities as multiple and
complementary and, if those circumstances
change sufficiently to allow for multiple and
complementary identities, then violence and
instability are highly unlikely whether or not
we adopt multiculturalism. I think Pieterse is
right that multiculturalism is not an effective
means for ending violence since it is either
unworkable (in difficult circumstances) or unne-
cessary in preventing violence (in fortunate
circumstances). What he ignores, however, is
that multiculturalism may be necessary for other
purposes – in particular, for democratic citize-
nisation. For that goal, I believe that multi-
culturalism is often necessary.

These two factors not only help explain the
rise of multiculturalism, but also help explain the
partial retreat from multiculturalism in some
countries in relation to recent Muslim immi-
grants, who are often seen as both disloyal and
illiberal. There are other factors at play as well in
the backlash against immigrant multicultural-
ism, including concerns about illegal immigra-
tion and about the economic burden of
supporting unemployed immigrants, as well as
old-fashioned racial prejudice. (For a more de-
tailed discussion of these factors, see Kymlicka
2004). For many people prejudice is the key
factor. But prejudice is found in all countries –
indeed, its existence is part of the justification for
adopting multiculturalism – and so cannot
explain the variation across countries (or over
time) in support for multiculturalism. And if we
try to understand why this latent prejudice and
xenophobia sometimes coalesces into powerful
political movements against multiculturalism
the answer, I believe, lies in perceptions of
threats to geopolitical security, human rights
and economic security. Where such perceptions
are lacking, as they are in relation to most
immigrant groups in North America, then
support for multiculturalism can remain quite

If this analysis is correct, it has important
implications for the future of multiculturalism in
the west. On the one hand, despite all the talk
about the retreat from multiculturalism, it

suggests that multiculturalism in general has a
bright future. There are powerful forces at work
in modern western societies pushing in the
direction of the public recognition and accom-
modation of ethno-cultural diversity. Public
values and constitutional norms of tolerance,
equality and individual freedom, underpinned
by the human rights revolution, all push in the
direction of multiculturalism, particularly when
viewed against the backdrop of a history of
ethnic and racial hierarchies.

These factors explain the ongoing trend
towards the recognition of the rights of sub-state
national groups and indigenous peoples. Older
ideas of undifferentiated citizenship and neutral
public spheres have collapsed in the face
of these trends, and no one today seriously
proposes that these forms of minority rights and
differentiated citizenship for historic minorities
could be abandoned or reversed. Even such a
fierce critic of multiculturalism as Brian Barry
(2001) makes no attempt to apply his ideas to
the case of sub-state national groups and
indigenous peoples. That minority rights, liberal
democracy and human rights can comfortably
co-exist is now a fixed point in both domestic
constitutions and international law. There is no
credible alternative to multiculturalism in these

The situation with respect to immigrant
groups is more complex. The same factors that
push for multiculturalism in relation to historic
minorities have also generated a willingness to
contemplate multiculturalism for immigrant
groups and, indeed, such policies seem to have
worked well under low-risk conditions. How-
ever, immigrant multiculturalism has run into
difficulties where it is perceived as carrying
particularly high risks. Where immigrant groups
are seen as predominantly illegal, as potential
carriers of illiberal practices or movements or as
net burdens on the welfare state, then multi-
culturalism poses perceived risks to both pru-
dential self-interest and moral principles and this
perception can override the forces that support

On the other hand, one could also argue
that these very same factors also make the
rejection of immigrant multiculturalism a high-
risk move. It is precisely when immigrants are
perceived as illegitimate, illiberal and burden-
some that multiculturalism may be most needed.

108 Will Kymlicka

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Without some proactive policies to promote
mutual understanding and respect and to make
immigrants feel comfortable in mainstream
institutions, these factors could quickly lead to
a situation of a racialised underclass, standing in
permanent opposition to the larger society.
Indeed, I would argue that, in the long-term,
the only viable response to the presence of large
numbers of immigrants is some form of liberal
multiculturalism, regardless of how these immi-
grants arrived or from where.

But we need to accept that the path to
immigrant multiculturalism in many countries
will not be smooth or linear. Moreover, we need
to focus more on how to manage the risks
involved. In the past, defenders of immigrant
multiculturalism have typically focused on the
perceived benefits of cultural diversity and inter-
cultural understanding and on condemning
racism and xenophobia. Those arguments are
sound, I believe, but they need to be supple-
mented with a fuller acknowledgement of the
prudential and moral risks involved and with
some account of how those risks will be

The implications for
international organisations

If this analysis is correct, it has a number of
implications for how IOs like UNESCO
approach the issue of multiculturalism. On the
one hand, the fact that multiculturalism is
rooted in the broader human rights revolution
provides a clear justification for IOs to promote
ideas of multiculturalism. Indeed, given their
mandate, one could say that IOs have a
responsibility to do so.

Yet the analysis also suggests obvious
difficulties in diffusing multicultural citizenship,
since the two factors of regional security and
human rights protections are absent in much of
the world. Indeed, it suggests that international
efforts to promote multiculturalism will not only
be difficult but perhaps even counter-produc-
tive. Where minorities are potential pawns in
unstable regional geopolitics or where human
rights guarantees are weak or absent, attempts
to transplant western models of multicultural-

ism may exacerbate pre-existing relations of
enmity and exclusion rather than contribute to
citizenisation. Multiculturalism might give
greater power and resources to domestic or
external political actors who are committed to
undermining relations of democratic citizenship.

So caution is called for in this area. If we still
have only a sketchy understanding of the
preconditions of multicultural citizenship in the
west, making generalisations difficult, then this is
even truer in relation to the post-communist or
post-colonial world. Given the lack of reliable
evidence in the area, any provisions and recom-
mendations should be cautious and provisional.

This does not mean that IOs should
abandon the promotion of multiculturalism or
defer it to some utopian future where all the
world’s countries have become consolidated
liberal democracies united in common geopoli-
tical security arrangements. On the contrary, it is
precisely in conditions of regional insecurity and
political tyranny that minorities are most
vulnerable and most in need of international

It does suggest, however, two important
changes in how IOs approach the issue of
multiculturalism. Firstly, it suggests the limits
of the best practices strategy for promoting
multiculturalism. Too often, the main way in
which IOs promote multiculturalism is to
compile lists of best practices, identifying cases
where multiculturalist policies have worked well
to promote peace, improve educational or
economic outcomes for minorities or enhance
political participation. Such lists can help to
counter criticism that multiculturalism inher-
ently or inevitably has pernicious effects and can
help inspire actors and policy-makers to think
more creatively and innovatively. However,
such lists typically ignore the crucial question
of preconditions.

For example, many IOs approvingly cite
Italy’s policy towards South Tyrol, with its
package of territorial autonomy and language
rights for the German-speaking minority, as a
best practice for the accommodation of sub-state
national groups. And indeed it has been a
demonstrable success. But they rarely discuss
the preconditions that made this possible. The
agreement to establish autonomy in South Tyrol
only became possible under the larger rubric of
the EU and NATO, which desecuritised the

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issue. As long as Austria was seen by Italy as a
neighbouring enemy and the German minority in
South Tyrol was seen as a potential collaborator
with it, Italy refused to consider autonomy. But
once Austria became a geopolitical ally under the
EU and NATO, the German minority’s linguistic
and ethnic ties to Austria became non-threatening
and, indeed, a potential benefit in an increasingly
integrated Europe, and there is now a democratic
consensus in favour of autonomy.

This is a success story, but it is misleading to
say that it is a model for how other states, in
rougher neighbourhoods of the world, should
deal with their national minorities. For all we
know, perhaps Italy was right to refuse to adopt
autonomy for South Tyrol before Austria had
become an ally in larger regional security
arrangements. We do not know whether adopt-
ing autonomy for South Tyrol at a time when
Italy and Austria were still potential enemies
would have contributed to citizenisation. To
invoke the South Tyrol example as the basis for
defending autonomy for ethnic Serbs in Croatia,
therefore, as the European Commission did in
the early 1990s, is at best premature.

Similarly, several IOs have approvingly
cited Canada’s multiculturalism policy as a best
practice for integrating immigrants. And indeed
the evidence is overwhelming that the policy has
had beneficial effects and has wide public
support (Adams 2007). But they rarely discuss
the unique set of circumstances that allowed
Canada to adopt this policy. The reality is that
Canada simply does not face many of the
challenges confronting other immigrant coun-
tries. Because of its geographical location there
is virtually no illegal immigration and hence no
fear of losing control over the border. Because of
its points system for selecting immigrants,
immigrants to Canada tend to be more educated
and skilled than immigrants to other countries
and so are not perceived as an economic burden.
And because of its historic French–English
divide, immigrants to Canada are often seen as
helping to unify the country and, indeed, are
more committed to maintaining the country
intact than the fractious historical founding
nations (that is, the Aboriginals, British and
French). For example, had immigrants not
voted overwhelmingly against secession in the
1995 Quebec referendum, the secessionists
would have won.

This is truly an exceptional set of circum-
stances that is not found in any other immigrant
country. (For a more detailed discussion of the
uniquely propitious circumstances of Canadian
multiculturalism and why we should be cautious
about viewing it as a model for others, see
Kymlicka 2004). And so, while Canada’s multi-
culturalism policy has indeed been a success, it
would be misleading to say that it provides a
model for how to deal with the challenges facing
many other countries where immigration is often
illegal or at any rate unselected and is composed
mainly of low-skilled immigrants who are then
disproportionately unemployed and on welfare.
We simply do not know whether the Canadian
model works in these very different circum-

So the first implication for IOs is that we
need to move beyond lists of best practices to
look more carefully at the preconditions that
enabled these practices to be successful. If we
do this we are likely to discover that these
preconditions are not present in many countries,
including the countries in which we are most
concerned to promote multiculturalism. Multi-
cultural citizenisation is often most needed
precisely in those countries where the precondi-
tions are most absent.

And this in turn raises a second implication
for IOs – namely, the need to distinguish
between what is feasible in the short term from
what is desirable in the long term. At present
many IOs waver between a naive idealism and a
harsh pragmatism. They sometimes naively
promote western models of multiculturalism
without attending to the underlying precondi-
tions, and sometimes abandon minorities to
their fate on the grounds that multiculturalism
is too risky under the difficult circumstances
of many non-western states (I trace this waver-
ing, particularly in relation to the claims of
national minorities in post-communist Europe,
in Kymlicka 2007, pp. 173–246).

If the international promotion of multi-
culturalism is to be effective we need to rethink
how different forms of multiculturalism fit into
larger sequences of political reform. We need to
distinguish the minimal standards that can
reasonably be expected of all countries, even
under difficult circumstances, from the higher
standards appropriate to countries in propitious
circumstances. In this respect, we might draw

110 Will Kymlicka

r UNESCO 2010.

upon ideas of progressive implementation devel-
oped in the broader human rights field. It is
widely recognised that some of the social rights
listed in the International Covenant on Eco-
nomic, Social and Cultural Rights cannot
immediately be implemented by some of the
poorer countries (for example, access to free
post-secondary education). So it is common to
distinguish between those social rights that
should be immediately and universally applied
and those that we seek to achieve over time as
the facilitating conditions are put in place. We
need a comparable theory of the progressive
implementation of multiculturalism, with differ-
ent minority rights kicking in as the underlying
conditions are established.

IOs have sometimes acknowledged the need
for such an account, but issues of sequencing
remain poorly understood at the international
level. Without a plausible account of conditions
and sequencing, international efforts at diffusing
multiculturalism are doomed to futility.

The task for IOs like UNESCO, therefore,
is not only to identify attractive models or best
practices of multiculturalism but also to identify
the conditions under which those models are
viable and to see what can be done to put those
conditions in place. Unfortunately, much of
what is currently being done by international
organisations in this field, whether in relation to

diffusing models of multiculturalism or codify-
ing international standards of minority rights,
neglects this issue.

Nor is it easy to remedy this problem, since
it requires drawing upon and integrating a range
of expertise that is rarely available in individual
IOs. It requires linking debates over cultural
rights to debates about geopolitical security,
debates about economic development and
debates over democratisation, all of which are
typically handled by different IOs. It is not even
clear which IOs have the resources (or the
mandate) to engage in the sorts of complex
investigations needed to build a systematic
theory of the conditions and sequencing of

The key point, however, is that while earlier
efforts at promoting multiculturalism were often
naive, the problem is not solved by shifting to
new models of post-multiculturalism. As we’ve
seen, the post-multiculturalist critique is largely
off target. The problem is not with the models
and best practices of multicultural citizenship,
of which there are indeed many successful
examples, but with the lack of attention to
the conditions that enable those models to be
successfully implemented – a lack that is found
as much in the new work on post-multi-
culturalism as in the original work on multi-


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Race and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a professor of law at the University of Iowa College of Law, is the author of “According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the
Multiracial Family.”

Updated June 17, 2015, 1:40 PM

Race is not biological. It is a social construct. There is no gene or cluster of genes common to all blacks or all whites. Were race “real” in the genetic sense, racial classifications
for individuals would remain constant across boundaries. Yet, a person who could be categorized as black in the United States might be considered white in Brazil or colored in
South Africa.

Unlike race and racial identity, the social, political and economic meanings of race, or rather belonging to particular racial groups, have not been fluid.

Like race, racial identity can be fluid. How one perceives her racial identity can shift with experience and time, and not simply for those who are multiracial. These shifts in
racial identity can end in categories that our society, which insists on the rigidity of race, has not even yet defined.

As I explain in my book “According to Our Hearts,” whites in interracial black-white marriages or relationships frequently experience a shift in how they personally understand
their individual racial identity. In a society where being white (regardless of one’s socioeconomic class background or other disadvantages) means living a life with white skin
privileges — such as being presumed safe, competent and noncriminal — whites who begin to experience discrimination because of their intimate connection with someone of
another race, or who regularly see their loved ones fall prey to racial discrimination, may begin to no longer feel white. After all, their lived reality does not align with the social
meaning of their whiteness.

That all said, unlike race and racial identity, the social, political and economic meanings of race, or rather belonging to particular racial groups, have not been fluid. Racial
meanings for non-European groups have remained stagnant. For no group has this reality been truer than African-Americans. What many view as the promising results of the
Pew Research Center’s data on multiracial Americans, with details of a growing multiracial population and an increasing number of interracial marriages, does not foreshadow
as promising a future for individuals of African descent as it does for other groups of color.

Unlike their multiracial peers of Asian and Native American ancestry who tend to view themselves as having more in common with monoracial whites than with Asians or
Native Americans, respectively, multiracial adults with a black background — 69 percent of whom say most people would view them as black — experience prejudice and
interactions in ways that are much more closely aligned with members of the black community. In fact, the consequences of the social, political and economic meanings of race
are so deep that my co-author Mario Barnes and I have argued that whites who find themselves discriminated against based on racial proxies such as name (for example, Lakisha
or Jamal), should have actionable race discrimination claims based on such conduct. In sum, the fact that race is a social construct, defined by markers such as skin color, hair
texture, eye shape, ancestry, identity performance and even name, does not mean that racial classifications are free of consequence or tangible effects.

More than 50 years ago, Congress enacted the most comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation in history, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Half a century later in 2015, the same
gaps in racial inequality remain or have grown deeper. Today, the unemployment rate for African-Americans remains more than double that for whites, public schools are more

2/28/16 8:52 PMRace and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs – NYTimes.com

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segregated now than they were in the 1950s and young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than their white male peers. Even a white fourth-
grade teacher in Texas, Karen Fitzgibbons, openly advocated for the racial segregation of the 1950s and 1960s on her Facebook page.

Where will we be 50 years from now? Need I answer that question? It definitely won’t be in a post-racial society.

Join Opinion on Facebook and follow updates on twitter.com/roomfordebate.

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Readers’ Picks 29



Canada 27 days ago

I’m black and honestly could not believe what I read. The statements in this article made me cringe. The author basically states that what Rachel Dolezal did (and anyone else
who has ever done or will do the same)was perfectly fine. She implies that right at the beginning where she gives the example of a white person who experiences interracial
relationship with a black person. The experience makes them less white because suddenly their privilege is lessened or potentially gone. Like, really?

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Caite Morris

Los Angeles 14 December 2015

okay i am 15 years old i am a white/asain high school sophomore and while you may be exponentially more intelligent than i could ever hope to be the last paragraph of your
article was blatantly wrong you stated that “public schools are now more segregated than they were in the 1950s” that is mind numbingly idiotic for a women of your status. as a
country we have made significant strides swards racial equality, now in the eyes of the law every man woman are equal. it is the way that a person is raised that that can
segregate a certain race or gender. brown vs the board of education was in 1954 meaning before that a person with any african decent could not have attended any school in the
US. you could not have gotten the education needed for you to become a law professor not only would you be a second class citizen because of your race your gender would
also have held you back. as one final example before i return to my hw which is the only reason i have to read this article in the first place, i liked a black boy over the summer,
now lets say i liked him in the 1950s his life would be in danger if i looked at him, now i can explore having a relationship with any race i chose and so can he, so you cannot
actually believe that the public school system is more segregated today than it was 60 years ago.

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Rachel Booker

Connecticut 7 January 2016

Ok, I can see your point that we’ve made a lot of progress in being less racist since the 1950’s, but that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Racism is definately still there,
and it still poses problems for modern-day minorities. If I were you, I would trust the woman who actually reaserched this and can back up her claims.

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Larry Lundgren

Linköping, Sweden 25 June 2015

Please, Room for Debate Editors, read the long series of heated exchanges between Josh Hill and others in the comment section for this statement. Then do the following:
Discuss future Room for Debate forums with a basic title something like:

American conceptions of race as held by distinctly different groups of researchers.

This would clearly require more than one Room for Debate forum.

One group of researchers would be those like Svante Pääabo, another might be American medical researchers contrasted with, for example, a set of European medical

These forums would keep my Connecticut friend, Josh Hill, fully occupied and I would have a ball reading the comments.


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New York 23 June 2015

There is a simple way to eliminate racism and a lot of other ills including patriarchy. Why not make having a baby the natural way illegal? To have a baby women donate an egg
to the government egg bank. Have the government randomize fertilization and if a woman wants a baby she gets a “government egg” implanted. It might be chinese, korean or
black. In nine months there would be no more racism. Right now less than half of the children in school in the US are white. In a decade everyone would be essentially mixed.
Then racism would have to vanish. There would be no white skins and no very dark ones either. Everyone’s skin would be the same. Why do we need races? Does race help
anything? It just causes pain and trouble. Let us get rid of them.

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New York, NY 20 June 2015

“Race is not biological. It is a social construct…. Were race ‘real’ in the genetic sense, racial classifications for individuals would remain constant across boundaries. Yet, a
person who could be categorized as black in the United States might be considered white in Brazil or colored in South Africa.”

I don’t understand that argument. Somebody regarded as short in the NBA might not be viewed that way someplace else, but that doesn’t mean that height “isn’t biological.”

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Philly 24 June 2015

You make many good points. What I’m trying to say – I admit it gets confusing, especially when the comments don’t stay in order … is that race is not a biological category. The
things that constitute what we think of as race, are for the most part biological. It’s just that they don’t sum into a category called “race,” because there isn’t one. So again, height,
skin color, eye color, hair texture – all biological. But NOT all determined by some sort of pre-set, almost Platonic category called “race.” It’s just a category that doesn’t exist,
biologically. That is not to say people don’t have biological characteristics and it’s not to say that we don’t – in our minds – group people with similar biological characteristics
together into a category we call “race.” But it is SUCH a leaky, permeable category, that the more you try to pin down what a particular race is, the more it just dissolves on you.

(The height of inanimate objects just seems irrelevant to me. The height a HUMAN attains is a biological characteristic of that person.)


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Larry Lundgren

Linköping, Sweden 25 June 2015

@ Mark-maybe I can help you understand since I work at the Red Cross here in Linköping with refugees, many of them from Sub-Saharan Africa and none of those who would
be assigned to a race in America are even familiar with the two end-member concepts of race, biological and socially constructed.

My Somali and Eritrean friends and acquaintances define themselves entirely in terms of their ethnicities and their roots in particular cultures in the Horn of Africa. They are
well aware of the range of skin colors in the Sub-Saharan African population. Some Somalis use the term black to refer to individuals from, for example, the Congo, but do not
see themselves as black.

The American race categories have their origin in the Constitution, and the slaves were distinguished from whites in the 1790 Census. With the passage of time various
scientifically minded people created a fatal invention, the concept of race, and those founding fathers clearly saw each group as biologically distinct from the others. Sweden
was one of the countries where some biologists thought in this manner. Then genome science came along and we now have Swedish born Svante Pääbo, perhaps a future Nobel
Prize nominee, making very clear that the American racial classification, seen in biological terms, is absurd.

In the face of that, American sociologists, many of them, embraced social construction so they could continue to do research on groups that they still call black and white.

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Cullen 19 June 2015

Saying race is a social construct doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean people won’t notice you are black. It doesn’t mean Rachel Dolezal can be black. A white woman saying
she is black should not make Black people question what it means to be black.

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New York 18 June 2015

It is not so much race but it is money. Interracial marriage is extremely common when the economic environment is equalized. One sees that, for example, in the US Army. One
sees that with high earning blacks in every area. One reason a guaranteed annual income for all Americans would be helpful. How can a poor black woman hold down two fast
food jobs and raise five kids properly?

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David Chowes

New York City 18 June 2015


Unfortunately most people see the concept of race as biological. It is in fact just a social construct but most people don’t understand this or in fact don’t know what a “social
construct” is. We have used the color or shade of one’s skin to create different races and this has awful effects.

There is just one race: the human race.

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Trey Lough

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Lake Oswego, Oregon 21 August 2015

Thank goodness someone on this message board gets it 😀

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Philadelphia 17 June 2015

I think that it is poverty and educational issues that lead to the disparities mentioned in the penultimate paragraph.

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Washington, DC 17 June 2015

“Where will we be in 50 years?” I submit, at the same place we have been for nearly the last 400—fighting racism.

Sure, the Human Genome Experiment confirmed that race is not biological, but rather a social construction, America, as we all know, was not constructed on the basis of the
Human Genome Experiment, but on the lie of white superiority/black inferiority.

As Jerrold M. Packard points out in his book, “American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow,” “The creation of color-based caste was accomplished in lucid steps by groups
more powerful than their prey, for reason both social and economic. Its survival has been nurtured over numberless generations by, among others, Christian and Muslim clerics
and slavers, by historians and the learned of science, and by ordinary people whose purses have grown through its perpetuation.”

Sure, engaging in high-brow conversations about race being socially constructed is good and useful on some level, however, it does nothing to remedy centuries of harm and
brutality that undergirds America to this day, and will for decades or perhaps centuries to come.

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Texas 17 June 2015

Race is a social construct. OK, now, what exactly is a “social construct?”

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Josh Hill

is a trusted commenter New London, Conn. 17 June 2015

“Race is not biological. It is a social construct.” Will people just stop it? I mean, stop it! This is the most ridiculous claim I’ve ever read this side of the existence of God. Worse.
You can’t see God, so maybe he’s hiding somewhere. But anyone walking down the street can see evidence of race.

Look, if race were not biological, it wouldn’t be detectable in a DNA test. And yet my DNA test tells me that I’m part Caucasian, part Sub-Saharan African, and, perhaps, part
Siberian/Amerindian. It even tells me something about where my ancestors hailed from within those groups.

So stop the absurd lies! Race *can* be a social construct, to be sure — why else would someone who is 1/16 black be considered black? But it’s absurd — beyond absurd — to
pretend that it doesn’t exist. And when you make that claim, you appeal to the ideological, but the people you want to reach — the rational people who may have misinformation
about race — are going to roll their eyes. Surely, there are enough honest things to say about race that we don’t have to perpetrate a lie?

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Philly 21 June 2015

“Of course my DNA tells me where my ancestors hailed from! And of course they’re genetically related!”

But that doesn’t make them a “race.” That’s the point you miss. Of course you’re “genetically related” to your brother or sister, and to your ancestors. But it is also true that if you
could identify all your genes you would prove to have just as many, if not by quirk of statistics even more, genes in common with other people up and down your block or in
your office building, and there would prove to be no direct link to the features that you think make you or your neighbor or friend or co-worker a particular “race.” Of course
there are many commonalities between you and people you perceive as being of your race, but they are 1) quite likely to vanish when you try to actually locate a particular set of
genes that might cluster together to produce that impression and 2) nearly as well a product of your own and other people’s perceptions.

Any one single feature that you possess that you think makes you a particular “race,” lots of people from other “races” have it too. It becomes simple logic then – “race” isn’t a
biological category. It’s the way we group things in our mind. Grouping together things it perceives as similar is a thing the human brain does.

There isn’t “race”: there are groupings, regroupings, and ungroupings of people. That’s all there has ever been. The things we perceive as most often clustering together, usually
originated as geographic clusterings.

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Larry Lundgren

Linköping, Sweden 25 June 2015

@ Josh – Josh, I have written to you directly and have filed comments stating that the New York Times comment section just does not work as a place to engage in the
discussion you want to have.

I have asked various Times Editors including Room for Debate Editors to engage a set of experts in genome research to discuss this subject. I am not going to take that point
further here but I am going to suggest to you that your “race” comments might be presented a bit more calmly.

My first contact with you was at the NYT Lens Blog where you called not only me but all scientists who do not believe in your concepts of “race” “Intellectually Dishonest”.
Since my views are based in part on the research and statements of Svante Pääbo, a giant in the world of genome-based research, I could not then and still do not understand why
you write as you do then and now.

Here are your phrases. “Stop it!” “This is the most ridiculous claim I have ever read…” “So stop the absurd.”

Since you and I communicate directly I know that you are a man of reason and in discussing other subjects you present calm and reasoned statements. But not here.

I will be writing to you of course.

I will chance this suggestion. Avoid using “race” and instead write about differences among haplotype groups. Who knows, maybe the potential number of such groups is
infinite. Then tell us how you want to use these.


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NYC 17 June 2015

I just started reading an engaging, interesting book by History Professor, Yuval Noah Harari, entitled “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” He presents a number of
intriguing theories on the species and race. It’s worth a read.

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Nashville, TN 17 June 2015

2/28/16 8:52 PMRace and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs – NYTimes.com

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I completely agree with the comment that it is not correct to refer to “whites” as a monolithic group – people are people and have rich, varied, and dynamic experiences. My
white brother and his wife went to jail for 2 years (misdemeanor environmental neglect – 1 count for each child) for being too poor to have a home with enough bedrooms for
their 7 children (he had just lost his job and they had to live in a small 2 bedroom apartment) – white people also face social and economic injustice that can destroy their
families. This is important because we must all unite around injustice to truly eradicate it. As a white woman married to a black man and with 2 beautiful biracial daughters – I
have had to bail my husband out of jail after he was harassed by TSA for acting like “an angry black man” and not following their commands fast enough. In our early 20s, we
had both been accepted to teach English in Japan but I was fired for being pregnant while he was allowed to go. Life is hard, we all suffer from injustice – can we not unite on
the fact that discrimination in any form is abhorrent?

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Hanford, CA 17 June 2015

So; now that we ALL can become Black- ( it sounds like the reverse premise of the wonderful book “Black No More”): Rather than having White Privilege, we can receive the
Burden of suspicion, proving one’s self-worth, economic, legal, judicial injustice etc. How many are willing to sign up?

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Charlotte, NC 17 June 2015

I appreciate the author’s definition of race (as a social construct) and her ability to delineate the stakes of racial affiliation for light and dark skinned Americans. However, what I
would like to hear her discuss a bit more are strategic ways to modify the black and white (or ‘white’ and ‘non-white’) binary that continues to drive racial ideology in the
United States. This requires us to discuss the potential role of Asian Americans and Hispanics in adjusting these terms, as well as redefining what race means today.

In the past, the ‘melting pot’ was offered as an ideological means of creating a common culture that was capable of binding a nation of immigrants. (This ideology is partially
reflected in the optimistic ways people interpret current trends in intermarriage.) However, this generally only offered material benefits to those who could visually approximate
some degree of whiteness. And while the Dolezal case could have compelled white Americans to realize their potential affiliations with black Americans, and thus garner more
sympathy between these two camps, most people (including her parents) just wanted to stabilize older categories: ‘Dolezal is white. End of story’.

In my mind, the best lesson the Dolezal case offers us is an increased awareness of our desperate need to transcend the white and black binary we continue to use in this country.
(Yes, we need to discuss race, but using the old labels merely reifies their discriminatory function.)

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Carl Jensen

USA 17 June 2015

I found her premise of no genetic markers to be faulty, there are a number, including the neanderthal gene, but I’d agree that it is meaningless and what we face is a sort of
collision of cultures and world views. The Melting Pot ideology is very much a part of my character as I am a number of national ancestries, many of whom warred before
integrating into the US. I feel no conflict, I identify my culture as being US, and I identify all citizens as being as equal as they care to be. What is commonly called “white
privilege”, however, I disagree with. From the perspective of humanity as a whole, the situation of a majority enjoying natural benefit from being a majority can be found in
almost every nation. As a white man, I’d be a second class citizen in Japan or Zimbabwe as whites simply are not as represented in their societies. Ideally, we will mature past
that at some point in our societal evolution, but we have not yet. This is simply an observation, I have no supporting thesis, but it seems evident to me.
Now, transcending the black and white binary. I absolutely agree that old labels and terms have become laden with emotional charge, such that dialogue often runs afoul of
accidental insult and indignity. I have come to blame both sides of the racial narrative for wanting to talk but not wanting to listen. I wait for emotions to settle, but it may get
worse before it gets better.

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Larry Lundgren

Linköping, Sweden 25 June 2015

A footnote on white. The US Census Bureau classifies Kurds, Iranians, various kinds of Iraqis as belonging to the USCB white race. I can assure anyone that a hijab bearing
women from any of these ethnicities does not have all that much white privilige here in Sweden and probably in the USA.

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Boston suburb 17 June 2015

For years, it’s been known that – among humans, there is only one race: human.
For years, I’ve been speaking this scientific fact to those who use race incorrectly – and commenting in NYT and other places.
One’s background may be African, Asian, Caucasian, etc., or a mix of many biological origins.
Print and online newspapers and other media content must use language that reflects this truth.
Sad but silly blurbs headline photos online that say: 10, 20 stars you don’t know are black. Photo is always a light skinned, Caucasian featured human. ((Guess it’s still
considered an embarrassment by some that another human is hiding a “drop of black blood.” – as people used to say.)
So, why denigrate the woman who calls herself black. She seems to have done much for justice for African American (black, add your own positive term) groups.
Through the years. She also seems troubled by anger and sad family circumstances.
Language is important. Suggestion: Mark/write”human” or “other” when asked on forms to denote your race.
Official forms must change. Suggestion: “biological background.” Better suggestions, anyone?
(The listed options might include: unknown, uncertain, several, primary. Researchers do use human biological background stats in their work)

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Larry Lundgren

Linköping, Sweden 25 June 2015

@ Mary – Hi Mary, you and I and blackmamba just below your comment have been writing your first sentence for years, to little or no avail. What has come to fascinate me
from looking at my home country from a distance is how fiercely my fellow Americans want to preserve classification by race. Josh Hill is the best example of this. Josh and I
communicate calmly and directly about various matters but as you can see by his many comments when it comes to “race”, look out.

Interestingly, he and blackmamba both have explained in some detail that they have family trees with many different roots and they both say they are “black”. But if I have
understood them correctly, Josh wants to declare that he belongs to a black “race” but blackmamba” simply wants to say, IMWHOIM and part of that is being black.

Would like to see them discuss this with each other – calmly – but blackmamba retains his anonymity so I cannot communicate with him directly as I do with Josh.

Kenneth Prewitt of course has a whole chapter in What Is Your Race devoted to changes that he hopes will be made in the US Census form. Language(s) and country of birth of
parents are two useful ones. When somebody new turns up at the Red Cross I ask them “Vilka språk kan du?” and of course every single one starts in contrast with the former
president of Harvard names at a minimum two and often 4 or more.
Keep trying.
Logan in August, I hope!

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IL 17 June 2015

Race is biological as in East African origin evolutionary DNA human.

Color is a social construct with a defining and confining colored American historical reality.

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2/28/16 8:52 PMRace and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs – NYTimes.com

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Larry Lundgren

Linköping, Sweden 25 June 2015

@ Welcome here blackmamba. I admire your ability to say “it” simply. I would agree with you that “color” as used by Americans is used to support social construction.
However, I want to note that Spencer Piston, a political scientist who is experimenting a bit with the relationship between “self-described” skin color and voting behavior seems
to be moving into territory where he would have to use scientifically measured skin color.

As you know from reading my comments, I have learned from some of my Somali born friends that they use color to distinguish Somalis from Africans where for them African
is a person who is “black”. Anyone who opens Tony Morrison’s book and starts to read the first chapter “Sweetness” will learn a few things about the use of color to classify.

We learn a lot about what lurks in the minds and hearts of (American) men (and women) from reading comments – take a look at Josh Hill’s for example.

Those comments teach me how far we have to go.


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Amherst, MA 17 June 2015

It goes too far to say that race is a social construct. But the significance of race as an identifier is. When I grew in NYC, one knew easily who was Irish, Italian or Jewish. One
even spoke of the “Irish race”, “Jewish race,” and so forth. A marriage across those lines, and also across Protestant-Catholic lines was a “mixed” marriage and cause for remark.
Black too, obviously, and the barriers to crossing that line was stronger on both sides. Those old distinctions have largely lost their significance, even though we still recognize
the same national and religious differences.

So, who makes skin color “significant” today? For one thing, the people in positions of established power are largely non-colored, and power groups always try to preserve their
power by claiming some distinguishing feature as a virtue and ground for entitlement. Time always erodes those claims, as Jews, Irish, and catholics, all once socially
unacceptable in one way or another, have largely found their way into the mainstream.

We make racial difference significant and a tool for bigots simply by trying to keep track, starting with census questionnaires. Why should a mixed heritage person have to
decide if he or she is white or black, (caucasian [from the Caucasus, hah!] or African [another hah!], Asian [pity the bi-continental Turks, and do Syrians really look Asiatic?] or
European, and how far back to go? Let the government set an example, and stop asking people to identify by race.

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Charlotte, NC 17 June 2015

I appreciate your comments and can agree with many of them. However, the following sentiment is not true for all racial groups:

“Time always erodes those claims, as Jews, Irish, and catholics, all once socially unacceptable in one way or another, have largely found their way into the mainstream.”

This phenomenon was historically true for European immigrants because the mainstream definition of American citizenship was based on whiteness. Thus, Jewish, Irish, and
Catholic ‘races’ began to reap the benefits of shared racial affiliation by being considered co-ethnics and co-religionists.

For obvious reasons, this version of the melting pot ideology primarily works today for Hispanics willing to assimilate as fellow white ethnics. The path toward mainstream
assimilation for Asian Americans–whose ethnicities are incredibly diverse, with some having dark skin and most having phenotypical traits that depart from Europeans–will
likely be more difficult.

African Americans, while legally accepted as citizens, were (and are still) viewed as ‘culturally’ incapable of assimilating to white ideals like ‘the Protestant work ethic’. Their
skin color remains a visual emblem of this stereotype, which targets them for economic neglect and disproportionate policing–making their lack of assimilation a self-fulfilling

We need more than ethnicity and the melting pot to bring all social groups together.

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2/28/16 8:52 PMRace and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs – NYTimes.com

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Larry Lundgren

Linköping, Sweden 17 June 2015

I have contact with two different worlds as concerns “race thinking”, one the world of American social scientists and medical researchers, the other the world of refugees from
Sub-Saharan Africa whom I get to know at the Red Cross, Swedish medical researchers, and Swedish sociologists.

In that second world – inside Sweden – we live by Professor Ounwuachi-Willig’s first paragraph, a world of endless ethnic variation but no races. (The exception is that the
Swedish nazi-based SD party has representatives who believe in races only one of which can be superior.

In the first world, the world I left in 1996 even researchers who can state a truth as concisely as Ounwuachi-Willig does in the first paragraph cannot let go of race thinking.
Look at the use of race in the rest of this statement.

Neither the USA nor any other country will ever become post-racism but they can become post racial by ending the practice of assigning people to races. Once a person has
stated as O-W does that:”There is no gene or cluster of genes common to all blacks or all whites. Were race “real” in the genetic sense, racial classifications for individuals
would remain constant across boundaries.” then calling African-Americans a “race” is absurd. Ethnicity, fine.


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California 17 June 2015

But did you read the rest of Professor Ounwuachi-Willig’s essay? For me, this statement stands out:

“In sum, the fact that race is a social construct, defined by markers such as skin color, hair texture, eye shape, ancestry, identity performance and even name, does not mean that
racial classifications are free of consequence or tangible effects.”

Race may not be real in the genetic sense, but it is quite real in its effects, particularly for those classified (whether as a matter of race or ethnicity) as African-American. Social
constructs have power, and wishing them away is less useful than confronting them head on.

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Larry Lundgren

Linköping, Sweden 25 June 2015

@ Nonplussed – Yes indeed, I read the entire statement three times. You reply as if I wrote that I believe that the American practice of assigning people to “races” does not have
power but I did not write a word about that.

However, I must suggest that perhaps you are really writing about “racism”. I often write in comments that racism is forever since people will continue to discriminate against
people that differ from them and will do so for many reasons.

You write that “”race” is “quite real in its effects”. I beg to differ. It is the use of race by racists that results in effects.

If you would like to discuss further my Gmail is at Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com

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Our Road to Hatred

U.S.A. 17 June 2015

In fifty years things don’t have to be even close to where we are now with racial disparity. That’s because although those in the know about race being a social construct are
relatively few. Spend the next fifty years educating our children early on about the discoveries of the Human Genome Project, The Genographic Project, and more; and over

2/28/16 8:52 PMRace and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs – NYTimes.com

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time the dinosaurs of bigoted ideas will give way to the scientific information about human equality.

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TX 17 June 2015

We’ve known for a long time that the biological classifications of race are not valid. However, the current instantiations of affirmative action are based on an implicit biological
definition. We see with the current uproar that a self-proclaimed social construction of ‘race’ was used to manipulate various policies. How will a social construct interact with
such policies?

Asians are currently claiming a negative policy based on their race? Is that a biological categorization?

There are unintended consequences to using social or biological factors in determining identity for policy decisions. Are they thought out?

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William Case

Texas 17 June 2015

Social scientists long held that race is a social construct that has no biological basis, but this orthodoxy has been destroyed by the recent decoding of the human genome.
Humans share the set of genes, but they come packaged in alleles. The frequency in which specific alleles are distributed among ancestral groups produce the differences in
human appearance that we classified as race. Whether these biological differences affect the behavior of human population groups is undetermined. Today, social scientists
reluctant to admit that race is biological, refer to ancestry groups rather than racial groups, but they mean the same thing.

As the author asserts, racial identity can be fluid. The biological characteristics that make up race developed as human population groups evolved in relative isolation from one
another. Now that population groups are no longer isolated, racial distinctions may gradually disappear.

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William Case

Texas 18 June 2015

So far, we only know that genetic factors produce differences in physical appearance between races. It is apparent that people of the same race behave differently. So
stereotyping individuals by their racial characteristics is obviously unsound. The controversy is over whether genetics impact group behavior in a way that creates cultural

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William Case

Texas 18 June 2015

President Obama has said many times that he identifies himself as black because people perceive him as black, despite his mixed-race heritage. People regard him as black
because he looks black. The physical characteristics, including skin color, that make the president look black are biological, not sociological, traits. The United States has racial
sub-divisions similar to South Africa, but we no longer use them because they are considered derogatory. For example, we refer to President Obama as black or mixed race
rather than mulatto, because words like mulatto or quadroon smack of the plantation.

The “one-drop” rule was a social convention. Race is fluid. A white person with a far-distance black ancestor may have inherited none of the alleles that produce physical
characteristics we identify as black. The same is true of a black person with a far distant white ancestor. Racial genetic differences appeared as human population groups evolved
in continental isolation. Now that population group are no longer isolated, racial differences may gradually disappear,

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casual observer

2/28/16 8:52 PMRace and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs – NYTimes.com

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Los angeles 17 June 2015

Angela Onwuachi-Willig presents the most cogent and sound description of race and what it represents that I have yet read. The irony is that if we would all appreciate the same
things that she describes we would understand that we could rid this country of racism in one generation. Race was an old theory about how the species could be categorized that
has been proven inaccurate in so far as biology is concerned but the social conventions about race have been profoundly determinant of how people are stereotyped and treated
by others according to those stereotypes. Because of how it affects people it has become part of their sense of identity in a social context, solely because it is a determinant of
what they experience living in this country. Yet, by simply appreciating that it is a custom which could and should be rejected it could easily be something that nobody in the
future need worry about.

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Hanford, CA 17 June 2015

With all due respect to esteemed Professor; Hogwash! This examination of the lying, fantastical tales of Rachel- now reduced to esoteric academic debates, refuses to address
that which must be: Rachel indeed has a mixed “racial” heritage- all European. Yes, “race” is a construct, but based on distinct commonalities in groups.No one for instance
confuses someone with two Asian parents of being Italian/African America or European. I can no more choose to “become” Asian no matter how proficient I am at using Chop-
sticks or co-opt any particular custom or dress of someone with two Korean parents. Rachel did not have Black (descendents of Africa) parents. As the case with millions of
people who are descents of African Slaves- I have a mixed heritage- predominately African American; the Native American, French and Irish- is buried somewhere and came
out in my skin color- but there is no mistake my “majority” is African. I have relatives with siblings ranging from shoe-shine black skin to near Albino.- but the features are
recognizably black. Rachel, concocted a fan-tabulous lie about what she was and her life: South Africa? Hunting for food with bows and arrows? Living in a hut? The
stereotypes are as insulting as her hairdo. She seems to have tried her best to morph herself into Eldridge Cleaver’s wife Kathleen Cleaver (look at their photos). In some cultures
the one drop rule is reversed; one drop white make one white. Rachel doesn’t even have that much “black blood”.

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Philly 17 June 2015

“Rachel indeed has a mixed “racial” heritage- all European.”

Hm, so Native Americans are now European.

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Read More

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The chatter over Rachel Dolezal’s identity highlights America’s growing racial ambiguity. Read More »


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2/28/16 8:52 PMRace and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs – NYTimes.com

Page 15 of 16http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/06/16/how-fluid-is-racial-identity/race-and-racial-identity-are-social-constructs

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, University of Iowa College of Law

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