Int’l Roundtable on Multiculturalism

In Sign and Sight, an abreviated transcript of the April 28th International roundtable on multiculturalism, featuring Kwame Anthony Appiah (moderator), the Turkish German sociologist Necla Kelek, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner, and the Mexican-American essayist Richard Rodriguez.

Richard Rodriguez: My impression is that multiculturalism comes into the United States from the north – and is therefore suspect – illegally across the Canadian border. It was invented by Pierre Elliot Trudeau. So to speak of it as I do tonight is already to acknowledge that I am a child of Trudeau. It is honourable, as a Canadian idea. All Canadian ideas are honourable. It is however not very erotic. Canadians are not famous for their eroticism. It posits the dignity and the specialness of individuals and individual communities. By comparison, there is another philosophy, another way of understanding civic life that is pushing up from the south. In the 16th century, the Indian and the Spanish conquistador met in Mexico. His name was Antonio Banderas. her name was Marina la Malinche. The nature of their eroticism is not clear to this day. The male version has it that he raped her. But there is a sizeable opinion among feminists in Mexico that in fact she had designs on him. And that rather like Pocahontas here in the United States, she begins a sexual drama that the male history is unable to compete with…

Kwame Anthony Appiah: One thing that’s struck me so far is that we can focus on two different kinds of questions. One has to do with the response of majorities to the fact of pluralism. The other, especially in Necla’s and Pascal’s bits, was the question of – either explicitly or implicitly – what it is that makes minorities close themselves off. I mean, what Necla Kelek was talking about in Germany is in part a problem created – for whatever reason – by a sense that some of these Turkish German communities are closing themselves off to the wider Germany. And clearly there’s a sense of self-enclosure in some of the French banlieus. I’m wondering whether from the point of view of the minority, the story is: well we closed ourselves off because you didn’t open to us. And now you tell us – because it’s causing you problems – that we should be open. But if you’d been open when we first arrived, we wouldn’t be closed now. Now I think there’s a real challenge of how to answer Pascal’s question, which is: how do we maintain this openness?

An audio of the talk can be found here. A summary article is also available.