On multiculturalism, briefly

French media, which are not very ethnically diverse, must “better reflect the reality of France today,” Chirac said.

“We will not build anything enduring without fighting this poison for society which is discrimination.”

Speaking with a French tricolor and EU flag behind him, Chirac said that discrimination – seen as a factor behind the violence – should be combatted. But he appeared to rule out U.S.-style affirmative action.

“There is no question of entering into the logic of quotas,” the French leader said. And he defended the French model of integration which seeks to meld people of all origins into a single mold – and which many officials and experts now say has failed.

The above is from an article in the San Diego Union Tribune from an A.P. report. Similar reports were on BBC and ABC.

Culturebot is thinking a lot these days about issues of Internationalism, Multiculturalism and the Arts. This is probably not the most appropriate forum for extended analysis of a very complicated topic more suited to a print publication or a journal. But in light of the growing trend towards a renewed commitment to internationalism in the American arts, it may be an appropriate time to ask ourselves what is “American” work and how shall it be represented abroad?

Culturebot has heard repeatedly- at Prelude 05, in Edinburgh and from European presenters and artists themselves – that most of Europe is at best indifferent to and, at worst, dismissive of American work. With few exceptions American work doesn’t even register. The work that plays well on the Continent generally conforms to the European model. The work that travels to the EU is already conceptually familiar to culturally homogenous EU audiences. At the very least it speaks to a conventional European idea of “American” – work created by people of European descent in America.

Yet an argument can be made that multiculturalism and diversity are at the heart of the American identity. While American society has many failings, the past 50 years of affirmative action, civil rights struggles, diversity and multicultural initiatives have demonstrated an irrefutable cultural commitment -however flawed – to creating a just society with equal access to all. The American idea of E Pluribus Unum, “From Many, One” can be seen as naive. Americans themselves can come off as hopelessly earnest. But our attempts to create a society in which immigrants can retain their own cultural identity while becoming a part of the national culture are laudable. And we must look seriously at the art that has been created out of America’s attempts to create a culture of inclusion.

From solo performers such as Anna Deveare Smith and Tim Miller to countless plays like the recent revival of Raisin In The Sun with P. Diddy on Broadway – America has struggled with its polyglot identity and shortcomings on the stage. Our willingness to engage in the messy business of public introspection, while appearing unseemly and indulgent to other parts of the world, is central to who we are. And it is valuable.

The art of identity-politics that was born in the 80’s and 90’s – the monologues and performance poetry, the various forms of street dance and theater – have become cliche in the current cultural vernacular. But the impulse behind the work is legitimate and still relevant. The challenge remains for us to decide how to reinterpret that impulse in new ways.

Perhaps it is the work of emerging playwrights such as Young Jean Lee and Thomas Bradshaw who create visceral, shockingly politically incorrect work to jolt us out of complacency. Perhaps it is the complex ensemble work of Progress Theatre or the multi-disciplinary stagings of Gamal Chasten from Universes. Who knows for sure?

But as the world becomes smaller and people more mobile, as different cultures cross-pollinate and transplant themselves into new geographies, the American endeavor at multiculturalism and inclusivity becomes even more important. The American legacy of global cultural influence does not have to be war, Hollywood and Coca-Cola. It can be cooperation, respect and mutual understanding.

Of course, Culturebot could be wrong.

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