Tag Archives: Sara Ahmed

Using The Term ‘Multiculturalism’

By Guest Contributor Jaymee Goh, cross-posted from Silver Goggles

I’m currently re-reading Angela Davis’ Abolition Democracy, and her interviewer, Eduardo Mendieta, in response to her reiteration that “we need a new age–with a new agenda–that directly addresses the structural racism” (30) about multiculturalism: “very smart strategies are being used, ones that displace attention from issues of racial justice by speaking in terms of multiculturalism” (31).

Over the last year or so, I’ve become incredibly disillusioned with how the term “multiculturalism” is used in various spaces, including steampunk.

I’ve always loved the term, and multiracialism as well. In Malaysia, we are openly a multi-racial society; you see food stalls with Chinese lettering and Indian mamak shops. Wherever you go, there are clear signs that any given space caters to the needs of specific races, and it’s only hyper-consumerist spaces that cater to as many people as possible, that are, ahem, “race-less”. (Neocolonialism, you see, strips a country of its cultures, and replaces it with a singular culture of buying and selling and marathon window-shopping.)

We’re super-imperfect, and there are a ton of things I do not know about the different races and cultures within Malaysia alone. Partly because it’s simply not part of regular interracial interaction and thus it never comes up in conversation. Partly also because sometimes these practices are deeply private and specific to certain groups, and we kind of don’t see why we HAVE to tell others about it. But at functions, we are fairly happy to see each other dress appropriately, and in the cultural clothes associated with the race of the host.

Contrary to the politics of Malaysia, I really do think that the Malaysian people get it right sometimes, or at least, it did. Recently I’ve come to believe that our taciturn attitude towards talking about our cultures has become a wall and now we stand around awkwardly and don’t really know how to talk to each other about our cultures anymore.

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