I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the notion of multiculturalism. In the best case scenario, the term denotes well-functioning and balanced intercultural coexistence. But it may also signify some form of “tolerant segregation”, a practice according to which different cultures in a given society are neatly segregated side-by-side, without effective intermingling taking place. The latter is usually the case, especially in societies where multiculturalism is accepted and promoted by official institutions (the state and municipal authorities, for example) but a similar spirit is nowhere to be found in everyday life.
Perhaps my distrust concerning the use of the concept of multiculturalism in political praxis stems from my own experience as an immigrant in Finland. Back in 2012, when I moved to this country, I didn’t have much to complain about the treatment I received from public authorities. Being an EU citizen (a “privileged” category of immigrant, as non-EU nationals in Finland surely understand), the move was relatively smooth, except for the difficulty of finding a first job which would permit me to register officially as a Finnish resident. At the non-institutional level, however, things were quite different. Already back then, one could feel a latent sentiment of hostility towards immigrants, although still shy and surreptitious. This xenophobic feeling exploded out of proportion last year, in the wake of the refugee crisis. Since then, open racism emerged from the shadows and practically became a mainstream current of opinion.
Institutional action in favour of multicultural practices doesn’t offer positive results unless tensions at the core of society are solved. While there is mass unemployment, neoliberalism, cuts in public spending, poverty, etc., there will be fertile ground for racism. While the parties that have been in power continue in power, there will be nutritive soil for the dissemination of racism. Policies of public investment, creation of jobs, education, access to high-quality social services, and so on, are indispensable to undermine racism and xenophobia at their very roots.
Besides these policies, the one truly effective remedy against ethnic prejudice and hatred is intercultural mixing. It is hard to hate the Other, if the Other is part of the Self. The mixing of cultures, together with economic prosperity and social justice, pull the rug under racism’s feet. It deprives racism of its objective conditions. It is not enough to simply live side-by-side if we remain segregated at some level. We must live together, have children, mix our cultures, learn each other’s languages, etc. The Other and the Self must merge, so the logic of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ disappears for good.