The M-Word Revisited

The post-mortems on multiculturalism that appeared May 10 are not only premature but also indicative of a misunderstanding of the term and its promise ("The Fate of the M-Word," by Max Benavidez).

Tomas Benitez, liberally quoted in Benavidez's commentary, seems to suggest that multiculturalism is divorced from issues of class, struggle and political empowerment. Furthermore, Benitez states bluntly: "Multiculturalism is out. The next buzzword will be multiple cultures or cultural pluralism ." Apparently meaning that the cross-cultural, cooperative coalitions offered in multiculturalism are "out" or doomed to failure.

It is always helpful to specify one's personal use of a term, particularly one used as loosely as multiculturalism . I agree with Christine E. Sleeter, who asserts: "Multicultural education is an imperative dimension to empowerment, and empowerment is a fundamental goal of multicultural education." The fact is that multiculturalism "originated within a context of social activism and has always drawn its main energy and inspiration from struggles against oppression."

As for cultural pluralism being the next buzzword, that term dates to the 1930s, and when used today, I fear, it only encourages segregation of ethnic groups from each other and fosters an unhelpful "us and them" mentality.

No, multiculturalism is not passe. Our use of the term at Cal State Long Beach refers to the respecting and supporting of cultural, ethnic and racial diversity. We believe in creative cooperation, tolerance and the interdependence of all peoples.

We proclaim the emancipatory promise of plurality. We seek to reclaim a discourse of difference and solidarity. We are here to forge new forms of community, to develop our diversity as a dynamic human force that enriches everyone. We are all responsible to provide a politics of healing, and we must dare to reveal ourselves with authentic feeling.


Acting Director; Multicultural Center, Cal State Long Beach

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