Multicultural Transition and the New South — by Dr. Kay Andrews

According the Human Development Report 2013, published by the United Nations, the Asian middle class will grow from 500 million today to 1.75 billion, or three times its current size, by the year 2020. The report notes that all across the southern hemisphere countries have increased economic productivity and raised human development indicators that show improved quality of life. This “Rise of the South” has precipitated a global transition in economic, political, and cultural relations.

A good illustration for the emergence of the South is the election of Pope Francis I who is the first Latin American Pope. In modern history the Catholic Church has been administered by Western European popes. That is mostly because adherents to the faith have lived in the West and, perhaps more importantly, adherents who provided financial support for the Church lived in the West. Today the majority of Catholics live in the South, and their representation is imperative for the survival of the institution of Catholicism.

In his book, The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the logic of one world (DGT BNCOM, 2013), Kishore Mahbabani welcomes the transition, but also raises concerns about the fact that Western cultures have not put in place policies to help political institutions merge functionally in the geopolitical nexus. In other words, we in the West have not been able to see beyond our dominance of global interaction and have not engaged in creating a mechanism for sharing power within a global context.

In making the transition from what Wallerstein identifies as core societies to semi-periphery status, it will be too late for the downwardly mobile Western states to significantly influence the direction of global politics. Developing societies, as they become more economically independent, will no longer find themselves needing the West for monetary aide, political legitimization, or military protection. Similarly, Western societies will no longer be able to depend upon easy access to natural resources and labor from societies in the South.

I think it is important that those of us who live in the West start to think critically about what multiculturalism means for the 21st century. Very soon we will find ourselves in an environment that is not predicated on Western values and norms, but a society which is multicultural in a way that is genuinely inclusive. The question is whether we are prepared to live in a truly multicultural world.

Not only are Americans facing a decline in power because of external forces in the global context, but we are also looking at internal factors that have brought us into structural and functional decline.

Friedman and Mandelbaum in That Used To Be US: how America fell behind in the world it invented and how we can come back (FSG, 2011) argue that the United States has become a society that accepts decline in infrastructure, education, economic health, political effectiveness, etc. What they are identifying is a loss of American values that underpin American society and those values include acceptance of multiculturalism as a phenomenon that strengthens society by bringing bright new ideas to the middle class and hope for the working class.

We in the United States have lost our identity as expressed on the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.“ — Emma Lazarus

Multiculturalism has been lost to us in our American identity and values set. Multiculturalism is something we deny by our refusal to accept changes in the global South. We need to stop thinking of multiculturalism as a sort of willingness to accept those who are ethnically different from us within a context that allows us to determine the dominant culture. Multiculturalism now means sharing the bigger sandbox. We are on a new horizon in relations with the New South.

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