Friday, August 13, 2010

GUEST POST: Steampunks Around the World, Unite: Multiculturalism in Steampunk, Part 3

What does steampunk and multiculturalism have in common? A lot more than you think. Ay-leen the Peacemaker, proprietress of Beyond Victoriana, explains the connection between what we learn in school to how we engage with steampunk in a theory that might change everything you thought you knew about steampunk subculture. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This essay will be posted in its entirety in the upcoming first issue of Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders, and will be reproduced at the website of Steampunk Magazine. Thank you to Ay-leen for allowing me to post the separate parts here first.

Part 3 Stirring up the Melting Pot: From Assimilation to Multiculturalism

In the case of the US and Canada, the issue of mass education in a society inhabited by multiple immigrant groups came to the forefront, and like their European powers, they stressed the theory of assimilation into the dominant culture. In the United States in particular, that idea was conceptualized as the "melting pot"--the idea that all cultures and peoples could be rendered into one harmonious stew of American nationality. The term was first coined in 1915 in a popular play of the same title by Israel Zangwill, where the protagonist David, a Russian Jew, declares:

"America is God's Crucible, the great Melting Pot where all the race of Europe are melting and reforming! Here you stand good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won't be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you've come to--there are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchman, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians--into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American!"

The reality of the "melting pot" of course, has been proven to be severely flawed and resulted in the emphasis on the Anglo-European upon North American society as opposed to all groups showing their own contributions. This idea has also been shown as flawed in light of the fact that during the heralding of the "melting pot" during the same time, many quotas against the immigration of certain ethnic groups (like the Chinese) or the use of this idea to advocate Anglo-superiority (like the "English Only" movement). Even in the original text, emphasis is placed upon the formation of a stronger, American identity from Judeo-Christian European types, making no mention of other people of color or faiths.

In a book addressing multicultural educational policy, Critical Multiculturalism: Rethinking Multicultural and Antiracist Education, educational theorists Mary Kalantis and Bill Cope point out in their article "Multicultural Education: Transforming the Mainstream," that assimilation policy overall was ineffective partly because of racism: "The name of the game, at least in part, was a structural racism designed to keep difference the way it was, rather than that more honest project of socio-economic assimilation that would have attempted to provide equitable access for all immigrants, and, in the New World, for indigenous peoples as well."

The idea of multicultural education was the first step in a new way of rethinking diversity in education. Started in the 1960s as part of the civil rights movement in the US, the policy of multiculturalism was based on the ideal of expanding education beyond its Western Eurocentric focus (and here is a brief history for the curious). Versions of multicultural educational reform have also sprung up in other Western nations. In Canada, the government enacted an official government policy of multiculturalism; it is the only Western nation to possess one.

The results of the multiculturalism educational policy in the West, however, have been mixed. In terms of application, the policy has faced flaws in its implementation; Kalantis and Cope explain how many acts to implement multicultural initiatives in the mid-1960s and 1970s, were often underfunded or deemed as separate, supplementary educational initiatives that became the first to be cut during budget squeezes. They mention that many multicultural initiatives are often programs were ones made for communities of color with little resources or guidance, and not integrated into the general curriculum that would be beneficial for all students to know, especially the white majority. As a result, Kalantis and Cope explain that previous standards of Western-European hegemony in education remained unquestioned:

"[Multiculturalism] does not mean that educational authorities have to rethink they way mainstream public institutions or school curricula operate. It can construct the 'ethnic' or traditional 'other' as exotic in order to marginalize it, or, returning to the Greek roots of the word exotic as connecting the outside, in order to keep that other out."

Only in the late 1980s has multicultural educational theory shifted again, to emphasize multicultural education that both solidified students' ethnic identities while also helping out the community socially. Multiculturalism projects became community-based with a focus on how cultures intersect with daily life. This combination of grass roots social justice and education is far from being implemented as of today's educational standards.
In terms of multicultural education in Western nations, however, the best sum-up has been made by Britologywatch in a discussion about multiculturalism in reference to Britain: "This involves saying that people of non-indigenous cultures are free to continue expressing their original cultural identities but must subordinate the beliefs, values and behaviours characteristic of these cultures to an overarching acceptance of, and submission to, 'British values' and British norms." Multicultural policy in many Western nations has also faced scrutiny, and there have been recently flare-ups about its relevance to education, or fears that a multicultural education would mean the destruction of a cohesive national identity.

With so many hurdles multicultural initiatives had to go through in order to be implemented, how effective has it been since the ideas had been first advocated fifty years ago?  As the anti-racist blog Restructure points out, multicultural policy as it is today has been used to treat communities of color in a paternalistic manner where they are only confined to talk political issues in terms of cultural initiatives. Discussion about other issues that are connected to systematic racism--such as poverty, job discrimination, criminal profiling, unaddressed concerns about violence against women and children of color, and hate crimes -- and not encouraged in any other political sphere, because "multiculturalism masks them, it glosses them over, and it has become a policy of governing and managing communities of colour, so that those politics only get articulated in the name of culture, and culture is defined in highly patriarchal terms."

Thus, multiculturalism has been identified as a progressive stance, but the results of implementing such a stance can be very different when it is not fully embraced.

MONDAY: Part 4 Steampunk Subculture & Modern Education: Teaching Yesterday's History Today

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