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Pedagogy 2.1 (2001) 143-150
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An Allegorical Reading of Multiculturalism
Diane DuBose Brunner, Gina Cervetti, and Tumie Thiba
Revolutionary Multiculturalism: Pedagogies of Dissent for the New Millennium. By Peter McLaren. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1997.
El colonialismo visible te mutila sin disimulo: te prohíbe decir, te prohíbe hacer, te prohíbe ser. El colonialismo invisible, en cambio, te convence de que la servidumbre es tu destino y la impotencia tu naturaleza: te convence de que no se puede decir, no se puede hacer, no se puede ser [Blatant colonialism mutilates you without pretense; it forbids you to speak, it forbids you to act, it forbids you to exist. Invisible colonialism, however, convinces you that serfdom is your destiny and impotence is your nature; it convinces you that it's not possible to speak, not possible to act, not possible to exist].
--Eduardo Galeano (1989)
Because narratives are both story (the recounting of events) and discourse (speech patterns and philosophical assumptions about the way the world works), they have fictionality (Cohn 1990). Not only is memory an interpretation of an event that gives its telling fictionality, but discourse is bound up by politics, culture, education, ideology, and other influences that are perspective-driven. Discourse perhaps more than memory makes the narrative of multiculturalism a fiction, and how stories open onto or frame discourses is what makes narratives interesting as points of study, especially for theorizing their importance to society. Our purpose here is to study the narrative that [End Page 143] Peter McLaren proposes in Revolutionary Multiculturalism, as well as its antecedent, multiculturalism as it is now practiced in the academy.
As a pedagogical articulation of "liberal pluralism" (294), multiculturalism today is a grand narrative. That is, it is first a story about unity, then about celebration and tolerance. As a narrative of the "blissful unification of society," it asks that we suspend our disbelief about social divisions and injustices (Debord 1994: 45). Moreover, it is based on a late-capitalist mode of hyperrationality that nourishes exploitation and repression.
McLaren writes that a pluralist democracy, which "requires consensual agreement . . . evokes a society resembling a frozen space . . . [a] sedimented silence" (297). That is, based on an imperialist logic that "sanitize[s]" and "neutralize[s]," multiculturalism in its pluralistic form "attempts to challenge and refute monism, totalitarianism, dogmatism, and absolutism" (295). As Debord suggests, it secures the modern absolute, the single anthropomorphic perspective that makes unfreedom concrete. Furthermore, "absolute autonomy transforms itself within global capitalism into a self-referential intolerance and even hatred of otherness" (296).
Like many other narratives and the discourses they open up, the discourse on globalism that is part of the narrative of multiculturalism produces a form of knowledge that is an effect of desire--primarily a desire to contain--and, as such, it deludes us. While multiculturalism produces the illusion of an enlightened perspective, it also polices us. It asks members of different cultures to tame their desires and adjust to "social reality" (Culler 1997: 93); as Galeano suggests, it enslaves us in the attempt to acquire the desired.
McLaren calls teachers to see themselves as "critics and intellectuals" of this narrative (19). But this is a huge challenge for teachers shaped by a particular form of discourse intended to perpetuate the given political order. McLaren directs Revolutionary Multiculturalism to the end of disrupting their passivity in order to create critical venues in a radical democracy. "A democracy of consensus," he writes, "is a democracy of neutrality in which undemocratic practices at the level of daily life go depressingly unquestioned." But a radical democracy "is noisy, requiring disputations within (at least tentatively) agreed-upon frameworks" (296).
Sometimes the narrative of multiculturalism (like the best stories) resists while highlighting relationships. Allegorically, it shows connections while showing its irrevocable negations. It bends back reflexively not only to reveal its underside but to undermine its ideological underpinnings. The narrative of multiculturalism, in all of its versions, reveals itself as rhetoric that distorts in its attempt to persuade, but it can simultaneously expose the [End Page 144] predicaments of its...