Multiculturalism – what do we mean? [session from Multicultural Urban Solutions, in Poland]

[Steve] – This week, Laura Kidd and I are in Poland, doing social media support/documentation and facilitiation at a Multicultural Urban Solutions Training Course – we have a Tumblr at

The first full session was on “Multiculturalism – what do we mean?” Here’s Laura’s live summary blog of the session, lead by Marcuz:



What is multiculturalism? Multiple cultures / double cultures. Cultural diversity.

What is culture? Easiest definition is that it’s some kind of a flow – like a river, which can come up to another river and create a new river.

The “normal” culture we have plus 1. Plus 1 can be anything depending on how you choose to translate it within your context.

We always have assumptions that this extra culture has a meaning. If I say “yeah I’m Swedish plus I have an African father” – boom! then you know how to dance. Plus 1 extra plus.

This term is being applied differently in the context of media – if multi-cultural media plays alternative music this is the opposite of the majority, so everything that is minority becomes the alternative, or becomes multi-cultural. It becomes different. The minority exists only in relation to the majority. Multi-cultural media is minority vs majority – the minority can never become the majority.

Not many people are aware that what is majority culture now was minority culture in the past, but the American culture is a result of different flows coming together. In the same way our own cultures flow forward. If you would ask anyone about typical Swedish food they would say pasta bolognaise. For the younger generation kebab is as Swedish as it gets. Some things are always acceptable, and some things we will always reject.

“Just because I bring in the kitchen doesn’t mean I have to bring in the cook.”

When we get influences from outside we have to protect what is ours – some people say if there are too many immigrants, Norway will no longer be Norweigan. Who will take it over? The foreigners, the refugees, the immigrants, they say. People often forget they were immigrants themselves.

If multiculturalism becomes normal, it becomes the majority.

We are saying that in some societies we do like it to be extra, more multiculturalist. For me it makes sense to be Swedish and Christian, that goes hand in hand, but to others it doesn’t, Swedish is one thing and Christian is another thing. There is a Jewish / Norweigan identity, but some people would deny this.

“We are a very tolerant society, but if you don’t behave like us, you can go back where you bloody came from”

Same sex partners showing love and affection is still considered a problem in many countries – it’s big! Indigenous peoples in countries – there’s an idea that fine, they can exist, as long as I don’t have to see them.

People with disabilities – why are we building lifts everywhere? It’s not my fault they are how they are.

Multi-culturalism is usually connected to ethnicity in Sweden, but in other countries it’s connected to other issues that are not “normal”. Disabilities, gender etc.

Migration is perfectly normal – we have always done it. There are borders but it has always been normal. In nature, things migrate.

We still have dreams – all these things we want, and some of us will pay a lot for that. We are always growing – from being North Europeans we become Europeans. Everybody’s closing up together, we are becoming Europeans. It makes it important for us to show our borders. We have to build up these walls to protect ourselves. We used to keep our Finnish culture Finnish. Now we keep our Europe European.

Are you aware of the term Fortress Europe? Slowly slowly slowly but please take your time, because the fewer people who enter the better.

Multiculturalism leads to other things – there is a strength to being different, you can still achieve things. I’m different in my society but when I travel out I find the other different people and we can join together.

The European multiculturalist identity exists for some people, and for some it doesn’t. Some say it’s a utopia but it will never exist because we will always be Germans, Swedes, English…

You go to Germany and there are a group who are not considered German. They will always remain second class citizens. Religion plays a huge role for some people, as well, some religions are acceptable and some are not.

The European heteronorm is that you’re supposed to be straight, white and Christian, and everything else becomes a problem. “You should also be a man, that’s the best“. For that person most doors in to society will always be open. [Steve – this is a slightly expanded definition of heteronormativity, which is specifically a gender issue, but is strongly connected to

There are some particular problems associated with being Muslim, but as a Christian do I have a particular view of them due to my beliefs?

If you think of all the movies you saw as a kid, the enemies don’t fit the heteronorm. 50 years ago they were a Jew, then they were Eastern Bloc, then dark skinned with brown hair. When I was a kid we always played cowboys and indians, of course we were always the cowboys.

[Q from the group] – was there a similar study done in black cultures? Would a black child choose a black doll?

[marcuz’ answer] – back then there was no black culture, if you found a doll in Africa it was probably white. We would not have considered them to have their own culture.


Shared a story about a kindergarten in Poland where the people in charge wouldn’t accept black dolls for the children to play with – they said they weren’t dolls.

Have you noticed, especially talking on a political level, it’s very out of date to talk about multiculturalism, it’s inter-culture. In academic, media and political areas it’s politically correct and useful to use inter-culture.

Multiculturalism implies a separation – you do your stuff, I do my stuff, as long as we don’t fight with each I can live like that. Some people say cross-culture, we have a relationship but we judge each other, we don’t want to learn from each other. Then inter-culture is when you interact with each other, you learn, you question why you do things and compare, possibly changing what you do. People are relations, they can unite, they have connections.

What happens is the more you think about it, the more superficial it gets. It’s just a term.

On the European level and on the National level sometimes, the politicians blame certain issues (riots, etc) on multiculturalism, saying these things happen because we invited immigrants in to the country. Some say yes, we have certain problems because we have ended up with a multi-cultural society, but we are aiming for an inter-cultural society where we will co-exist and have interactions. Some politicians just switch one term for another but they have distinct meanings.


Eurovision – “We Are One” tagline – they are seeking an inter-culturalist society but watching it becomes a very multi-cultural activity because you want your own country to do well. It’s a Nationalist experience. We still vote for the countries that were close to us. When Norway gave the Swedish song 12 this year it was so obvious they were voting on a cultural basis. Some people watch with cultural glasses, some vote for the performance.

In many countries they like Balkan music but aren’t interested in Balkan society. Some people really want to go to Thailand but it’s just for the weather, they’re not interested in the Thai people or their culture.

If we feel something is threatening our country, we have to defend ourselves. Nationalist groups exist all over Europe and there are different kinds. I can have a patriotic sort of Nationalism or an ethnic Nationalism. Defending the economy, defending the ethnicity. In the areas around Fortress Europe ethnicity becomes even more important.

In times like these when we’re also mixing cultures these groups proliferate. When things are changing fast, people look at the past and think it was so much better back then. The good old Europe / fashions / cultures. The Nationalist groups are defending their ethnicity but also their cultures.

Other blocs defending something themselves – freedom of speech. You’re a defender but you’re also a reactor. Eg US out of Iraq Now group.

There is martial law in the suburbs of Northern Stockholm right now. The other week people were celebrating winning the hockey, but 20 minutes on the train and you’d have been in the middle of the riots. People almost didn’t care as long as it wasn’t in their own back yard. Let them kill each other, they said.

Yes, multi-culturalism means different things in different societies. People with disabilities, Roma people, women who are not allowed to work because they have to take care of children and they don’t have a choice…when someone is marginalised you can usually apply these ideas – but this training course is about suburban areas and we want you, because many of you work in these suburban areas where there is marginalisation, to apply these to what you’re doing.

We usually link all this to people who are poor, people who don’t know the language / culture, people who are from somewhere else – we put them together in the one group even though in this group there are often people who work twice as hard as everyone else. We talked earlier about people who will never fit in anyway because of their name, the way they look. They will still not get the job. Can you blame them for burning up a car at the end of the day?

All of you are experts in your own reality – so who am I to tell you what you’re doing is right or wrong? You’re stuck in it – but when we get together we can discuss it all and try to learn from each other. Let the ceiling be high and hopefully we can get somewhere. The things you understand – take it! The things that pass you by, that’s ok too.