The Diversity Dictionary (Part I)

There is no shortage of discussion in the media and academia today about multiculturalism and diversity, including the many topics related to these terms (e.g. ethnic minorities and their rights, international students, languages, racism).

Google both words, or better still, chuck them into Google Scholar’s search engine and you’ll see what I mean.

When we read about multiculturalism and diversity, certain sets of words and phrases pertaining to these topics often repeatedly spring up.

Words/phrases relating to the subject of multiculturalism can be have complex, multiple meanings. It's just like how every Chinese character has various connotations. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Words/phrases relating to the subject of multiculturalism can be have complex, multiple meanings. It’s akin to every Chinese character having various connotations. It’s also akin to how each and every person has varied personalities, traits and reactions. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Most of the time, these words appear easy enough to grasp and understand at first glance. However, many of them are in fact complex and vague conceptions – they are ambiguous terms with multiple undertones that one can easily misunderstand.

How hideously horrifying.

As such, I’ve put together a list of some of these words that we constantly see when we skim through or meticulously pour our eyes over texts discussing multiculturalism. With the help of external sources, I’ve attempted to explain what they mean in the everyday person’s vernacular – or in layman’s terms.

Culture

Culture is a specific form of behaviour exhibited. A straightforward, basic definition of the term can be as follows:

“Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.”

Going into more detail, from a sociological and cultural studies perspective, culture is a way of life. It is deemed as the total systems of customs, beliefs and knowledge that construct social and personal behavior and influences interpersonal relations.

Sociologist Stuart Hall believes the term is a complicated one and has referred to culture as the “relationships between elements in a whole way of life”. For Hall, culture is associated with the “production and exchange in meanings” between members of society who use these meanings to make sense of the world around them.

More simply, culture is a set of beliefs and customs we choose to abide by and the meaningful interactions (with people and objects) that are influenced by the values we believe in.

Multiculturalism

There is no one set definition for “multiculturalism”. Comprising of the words “multi” and “culture” (or cultural), it naturally conveys the idea of “many cultures”.

According to the South Australia Government, multiculturalism transpires when everyone, no matter their background, can “live and work together harmoniously”, “fully and effectively participate” in the community and “maintain and give expression to (all) distinctive cultural heritages”.

In short, multiculturalism advocates for equality and free expression for all in all facets of society regardless of one’s heritage or race.

Multiculturalism is acknowledging and accepting the plurality of cultures and people of different cultural descent in existence within communities, respecting everyone’s backgrounds and voices.

Multiculturalism is also a word comprising many different layers. As I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, multiculturalism manifests in the smallest of ways within our everyday lives.

Diversity

This word bears very similar connotations with the word “multiculturalism”. Like multiculturalism, “diversity” indicates the recognition of plurality.

Both words have their differences. Multiculturalism in a sense is used exclusively with reference to race and ethnicity. Diversity, on the other hand, is a term that is a bit more broad. When we speak of a diverse society, it is not uncommon to think of a society where there are people of different ethnicities – and people of different ages, gender, religion, disability, etc..

Racism

Racism is another one of those terms that has a rather broad definition. To put it simply, racism is discriminating against and excluding individuals in specific contexts because of their race/ethnicity.

The Australian Human Rights Commission states in general, racism is “a set of beliefs…that asserts the natural superiority of one group over another, and which is often used to justify differential treatment and social positions”.

As outlined in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 1), racism, and racial discrimination, is also referred to as exclusion, restriction and preference based on race, colour or ethnic origin which has the purpose of nullifying the recognition and enjoyment on an equal footing of human rights.

Racism exists in different forms. On one hand, “racism against another race” points to discriminatory behaviour against someone of a different race and this topic is constantly debated quite a bit in the public. On the other, as I’ve discussed in this blog, “racism against your own race” is not as frequently talked about but is also a relatively frequent phenomenon.

Home

“Home” is both a physical and non-physical entity. Traditionally, “home” is regarded as a house. Up until today, it harbours the ideas of belonging, security and acceptance.

In a world where many people are on the move and reside in several places, “home” at times no longer simply comprises a physical place or country for some individuals. According to French anthropologist Marc Augé, a person is at “home” when he/she is at ease “in the rhetoric of the people with whom he shares life”.

More simply, home constitutes a moment – a moment where we are at physically, interacting with our surroundings and/or with the people around us – where we can feel comfortable and be ourselves.

Melting Pot

This phrase arises from the idea of melting different metals in a pot in order to form new compounds that are much stronger and useful.

“Melting pot” is constantly used in the context of migrants. Referring to a community as a “melting pot” implies the mixing of locals and migrants where the latter assimilates to the former’s cultures/livelihoods. It can also imply that these two groups blend together, forming and adhering to a new culture.

Ethnic Stew / Salad Bowl

Like “melting pot”, both these phrases are frequently used in regards to migrants or people of ethnic background.

As educational sociologist Laura Laubeová explains, the phrases refer to the notion that different groups in society “keep their differences, while maintaining relations among each other”.

Both phrases fundamentally are used to describe a pro-multicultural space or situation where cultural differences are valued and maintained.

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3 thoughts on “The Diversity Dictionary (Part I)

  1. Love that picture Mabel! Multiculturalism is interpreted differently by everyone so I guess that’s why there’s no uniformed definition. There’s been a lot of debates surrounding multiculturalism and diversity. Because of this, I notice there’s this recurring issue: some cultures can’t tolerate another culture’s customs although they co-exist peacefully and in a multicultural society. For example most people from the mainstream society doesn’t tolerate the Burqa. So there’s this issue of to what extent do people really accept multiculturalism.

    Hope this makes sense…I’m really exhausted from work 😦

    Like

    • Thank you very much for the support Hsin-Yi! You always comment so beautifully 🙂

      I think you raised a very important topic here of how some cultures can’t tolerate another culture’s customs though they ‘co-exist peacefully’ on the surface in a ‘multicultural’ society. At the end of the day, there will always be whispers by some people about another group’s culture behind the latter’s back, and so maybe there really is no world/society/community that is wholly multicultural.

      This is definitely a subject worthy of more discussion perhaps sometime in a later blog post 🙂

      Like

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