Four meanings of multiculturalism

According to a recent publication by the Parliamentary Research Branch, Canadian multiculturalism has four meanings: as a sociological fact, as ideology, as policy, and as a process of group interaction (Dewing and Leman, 2006, p. 1).

These distinctions can help to pull apart the conflations that are often made in the uses of the word multiculturalism. Specifically, it helps to articulate how multiculturalism as a policy assumes that there is a problem, but does not necessarily articulate what problem it is trying to solve. Is it trying to solve the unequal distribution of wealth and resources along racial lines (i.e. racism)? Or differentiate Canadian policy from US policy?

Has multiculturalism come to be mobilized to create a ‘good’ white identity for Canadians, in contrast to the ‘bad’ assimilating Americans? While it may be true that Canada is dealing with diversity ‘better’ than the US, it is also dangerous to use this story of ‘better’ to avoid critique of the ways in which the approach of the Canadian government and Canadian culture are racist and continue to reproduce colonialism.

Its interesting that after defining these four meanings of multiculturalism, the paper goes on to talk only about multiculturalism as a sociological fact and as public policy.

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