Multiculturalism: A Primer

Whether it’s bringing new skills to a job, new ideas and thoughts to a classroom, or new food to a neighbourhood, multiculturalism brings together talented people and innovative and interesting ideas and skills to a country, thus allowing it to thrive! When multiculturalism is adapted in a country, the potential of that country is outstanding, simply because it has a diverse and wide range of people.

by Channon Oyeniran

“Multiculturalism is more than giving children the opportunity to learn Ukrainian or Yiddish or Finnish or Vietnamese. It means to make them into secure citizens, knowing that the traditions of everyone, including their own, are to be respected and cherished; that Canada is a nation that accords dignity to everyone, rather than suppressing people’s identities and thereby detracting from their full sense of humanity.”

– Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut

“As we encounter each other, we see our diversity – of background, race, ethnicity, belief – and how we handle that diversity will have much to say about whether we will in the end be able to rise successfully to the great challenges we face today.”

– Dan Smith, The State of the World Atlas

For someone who lives in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, Toronto, Canada, and has for as long as I can remember, I have always had the privilege of meeting people from all over the world. From elementary school to high school to university, I have met people who were not born in Canada, but they and their families made Toronto their home. It was at the University of Toronto where I really learned more about multiculturalism and that my city is often referred to as “the most multicultural city in the world.” The current trend of global migration creates pockets of different diasporas in many countries, thus making it mandatory for ongoing discussions about what it means to live in a multicultural society. This introductory post will define some concepts of multiculturalism and look at the benefits of multiculturalism in those countries where multiculturalism is often a hotly debated topic.

Defining Multiculturalism

define-the-word-multiculturalism-2-638Multiculturalism is a concept that has been adapted in various degrees by different countries around the world. One definition of multiculturalism states that “multiculturalism is the peaceful coexistence of a culturally diverse or multiethnic populations in a country.” A definition of multiculturalism in Canada specifically states that the “value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation” (Canada’s Multiculturalism Policy). Multiculturalism is a concept, introduced as a policy in 1971, by then Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau. This formalized policy states that it will “protect and promote diversity, recognize the rights of Aboriginal peoples, and support the use of Canada’s two official languages.”

Due to the fact that there are policies and an act surrounding multiculturalism in Canada, it has been shown that it really works and has allowed people from all over the world to come and live in Canada, bringing with them their various cultures and traditions. Please see an excerpt here from my essay, Former Black Slaves in Canada – The Making of the Mosaic, to learn more about multiculturalism in Canada. Now that we have defined what the concept of multiculturalism is, let’s take a look at what the positive and negative arguments for and against multiculturalism are.

Benefits of Multiculturalism

“Cities are a sum of its people. Multiculturalism strengthens the sum.”

– James Morris Robinson, The Sixth Extinction: Genesis: A New World Order

There are many benefits and positive arguments about multiculturalism. Multiculturalism allows different cultures to experience one another’s native foods, music, clothing, stories, among other things. Learning from and simply being exposed to people of different cultures can broaden the minds of the citizens of multicultural-wordlemulticultural societies. Multiculturalism can also improve the intellect of the society as a whole because its citizens are open-minded and have learned from people of different cultural backgrounds. Multicultural societies allow for that country to be tolerant and accepting of people from other cultures. Multicultural societies also lead to an increase in diversity of people, ideas, customs, traditions, food, etc. The benefits of multiculturalism are many and we can see how its benefits work in countries like Canada; however, there are some arguments that do not support multiculturalism. In 2010 at a meeting of young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel said, “This multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and live happily with each other has failed. Utterly failed.” (Express, “Merkel: Multiculturalism has failed”)

Some arguments against multiculturalism include: the loss of identity for the person who is migrating to a new country, discord, disconnect and lack of understanding between cultures, language barriers for the person migrating, the feeling of isolation for the person migrating as well as discrimination, racism and inequality towards the individual or group that has migrated. These are just some arguments against multiculturalism; however, through different case studies, it has been shown that multiculturalism does work if there are policies and laws that support it.

Multiculturalism in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom:

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Canada, Australia and the UK have adopted official policies on multiculturalism which have opened the doors for many people who want to migrate to these countries to do so. As mentioned above, multiculturalism was implemented through policy in Canada in 1971 and successfully affected all aspects of the country. One example of this is the 1991 Broadcasting act, that states that Canadian broadcasting should be diverse and reflect the different cultures in the country.  Australia was the second country after Canada in 1972, to adopt into law the concept of multiculturalism. One example of how Australia successfully implemented this was through the creation of the Special Broadcasting Service, in which its mandate states it will “provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society.” (SBS FAQs

Multiculturalism was introduced and made into law in the UK in the 1970 and 1980s. One example of how the UK opportunely inserted multiculturalism is that in 1997 the New Labour government committed to doing things on a national level, that used a multiculturalist approach. Though policies and attitudes in certain nations are gradually changing towards multiculturalism, in part due to the current refugee crisis’ and unrest in various countries which force their citizens to leave. Countries like Britain are re-evaluating their stance on multiculturalism. Current global trends in migration, and most notably the terrorist crisis, are forcing most countries with multiculturalism to rethink their policies about the concept.

In Conclusion:

Although it’s a difficult concept to introduce and implement, and it’s not always an easy fix for countries’ issues, multiculturalism is worth working towards. The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages that multiculturalism may present. Multiculturalism allows countries to be more diverse in every aspect of society. Whether it’s bringing new skills to a job, new ideas and thoughts to a classroom, or new food to a neighbourhood, multiculturalism brings together talented people and innovative and interesting ideas and skills to a country, thus allowing it to thrive! When multiculturalism is adapted in a country, the potential of that country is outstanding, simply because it has a diverse and wide range of people.


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