With the final nails being beaten into the coffin of multiculturalism and politicians seemingly unable to grapple with its complexities, will we see the private sector taking ownership?
I think most people would agree that 2016 was full-on in terms of major events that are shaping our world. Some shook the world and will continue to do so in the coming years.
Although there is much to be concerned about in the future, whether it’s the environment or the economy, one area that particularly worries me is the rise in xenophobia, the subtle racism that has bled into our media outlets and politics and the backlash against multiculturalism.
The voices grow louder and more confident daily…begging the question, who is doing what to counter this? Some elements of the media seem unfettered in the blatant divisiveness.
At present, I can’t see much happening other than small initiatives mainly driven by people with passion such as the Stop Funding Hate campaign (asking companies not to advertise in certain newspapers), Black Lives Matter (a protest group albeit), British Values (a magazine about immigrants and identity in the UK) and similar. All are comendable but none will send out a message to the masses that will aid conversation and aid integration.
There is no funding for social cohesion projects, there is no big government support or initiative (other than the hashtag #BetterThanThat).
The third sector struggles with simple issues of poverty the challenges of education and health. It has no resources for this, and politicians are bereft of any ideas, too busy consumed by voters.
Simply put, there is absolutely no “big thinking” around the idea of diversity and social cohesion. There is one massive vaccum being created around identity, place, nation, race and rights at the moment.
Say ‘Bye’ to Multiculturalism
In its present form, with the growing voices against it and politicians seemingly happy to pass the buck with no alternative vision – yes it’s dead. The Casey Review was yet another useless piece of research adding nothing new to the debate, with few solutions. Politically alone, multiculturalism it is now a poisoned chalice as anyone openly coming out in favour of it will be down in polls.
With the death of multiculturalism what are we left with? An enforced “mono-culturalism” or a poorly conceived "omnicultuarilsm"?
This is the best it seems the Casey Review could also come up with - somehow enforcing a shared value system which would somehow inextricably unite people, i.e. "British Values" to which allegiances would be made.
This brings into question whose culture and whose values? In the UK who could decide what British culture and values are? Someone will try but it will be a load of politicalized nonsense, not the reality of a complex, ancient culture with constantly shifting values, morals and viewpoints. Many British point out how thoroughly un-British it is to have a definition of British values!
Whether it is the UK, the US, France or Germany, these countries already have multicultural societies – trying to reverse this process, even culturally, would be like a waste of time.
Politicians Want Power and Less Head-Ache
The politics of the West has without doubt lurched Right….and a little more to the Right. The growing support of the alt-right movement is just one terrifying example. Seeing these opinions watered down by the likes of Trump and the Brexiteers in their campaigns even more so. We now watch as this sentiment grows across Europe.
People are struggling with immigration, difference, jobs, wealth and identity. That’s clear. However, politicians it seems have not decided to try and counter this with policy or progressive thinking but rather embraced the anger to turn it into votes…and power.
The government and politicians alike see managing diversity as nothing but head-ache. It’s a constant thorn in their sides which they don’t know how to remove.
We only need to look back into modern history to see what politicians typically do with the parts of society they can’t manage – privatization.
The rail system, public amenities and services, telecoms, housing and many other areas that politicians thought best left out of politics and handed over to the free market to deal with, some would argue, not so successfully.
How Brands and Business will fill the Vacuum
Business, I predict, will be handed the responsibility of managing social cohesion through their workforces, training, branding, marketing and sales.
In fact, in the vacuum that has been created, it is brands who have perhaps been most creative in embracing diversity of late. Perhaps they are already picking up on something? Just look at the recent Amazon Xmas TV ad or the Aussie Lamb ad for proof that business is trying to full that gap. Look at Hyatt's new marketing campaign. Others, like me, see the clear coming commoditization of diversity.
Not only will politicians love to delegate the problem, but businesses, especially the corporates, will lap up the responsibility. Why? Money.
Can We Trust Business to Build Cultural Bridges?
Some people may see this as a positive move; personally, I don’t.
Firstly, as a Brit I have a natural tendency to whimper when I hear about anything being privatized. It never really works that well. If we can’t run trains on time, how can we get communities to smash down barriers and engage?
Secondly, if businesses oversee “diversity” then they will approach it as a tick-box exercise, a part of “business”, something that can be managed by a rationalised process including statistics, tick-box exercises and best practice. This will not lead to anything inspiring, visionary or effective.
Thirdly, who creates diversity policies within a business? They do. So, they will be creating policy with their own biases, hang-ups, aims and objectives in mind – not out of an altruistic desire to create social cohesion.
Lastly, do we seriously want to be taught about respecting diversity from organisations who much of the time do not reflect the cultural, gender or any other diversity of a nation? Go look at the Board of Directors of most major brands and you'll see for yourself. You have to practice what you preach first.
The Future of Diversity, Difference and Inclusive Economies
The private sector will eventually come to teach us about being good citizens - about social cohesion, shared identities and common purpose; however, it is out of its depth. It can do social good, but only in certain conditions, and certainly not on its own.
It simply cannot deal with such a multifaceted challenge objectively - humanity, community, culture, (geo)politics, the global economy and so many other factors impact diversity that the business world is unable to deal with in a comprehensive manner.
So where does this leave diversity? Well, it’s not very clear. What is clear is that it’s going to gain major importance as well as be a potentially messy process which even further undermines cohesion and the inclusive economy.
My hope is that an alternative vision of our future will come from the grassroots among the next-generation.
"Gobbling up the Commons". Cartoon by Ahmed Abdallah / 3arabawy.