The Failure of Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism has failed, and it’s time for those immigrants who want to stay to learn to fit in. So says Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. See her say it here.

I spent four days in Germany once, which is to say that I don’t know very much about being German or living in Germany. I think, however, I can safely say that Germany and the United States have rather different experiences dealing with race and religion, so I don’t want to make assumptions about their multiculturalism that apply better to the US than to Germany, but this situation seems problematic to me.

The argument seems to be that Turkish/Muslim/Arab immigrants are welcome as workers, as long as they are willing to become German-speaking Christians. Because being different makes people uncomfortable. The country needs manual labor, and skilled labor from abroad, as long as the immigrants don’t take the jobs that real Germans fill. Race, religion, and class are combining here in dangerous ways.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that what Merkel is saying is true, that Germany has absolutely tried to welcome immigrants since the 60’s and multiculturalism just isn’t working. Is the answer to that really assimilation? Will a culturally homogenous country really solve Germany’s problems? Has Germany ever really been a culturally homogenous country? I would guess that even if Muslim immigrants convert to Christianity and the German language, class, skin color, and political differences will become the indicators of difference. Same story, different indicators.

If Asian American experience can be useful here, let it be. It doesn’t matter how much we assimilate, how many hotdogs we eat and how Christian we become. Has that ever shielded us from being treated like foreigners? No. The stigma of being an immigrant clings, even to those of us born in America, with parents born in America. That there is a stigma attached to immigration at all is antithetical to our idealized national identity. And it seems like Germany is following suite with their own version of the perpetual foreigner. An Afghan-German film maker, Burhan Qurbani, is being shown at the Berlin International Film Festival, and is feeling like an international director, instead of a German one.


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