Sonny E. San Juan, Jr.



The Multicuturalist Problematic in the Age of Globalized Capitalism

E. San Juan, Jr., states that with the end of the Cold War and the rise of transnational, globalized capitalism, a new “cultural war” has erupted in the United States, an ideological-political conflict symptomatic of the interminable crisis of liberal democracy. The article summarizes a range of views on multiculturalism across the political spectrum. In academic and intellectual circles, he observes the confrontation of two irreconcilable positions: one that claims the priority of a “common culture,” a liberal or civic nationalism, as the foundation for a democratic solidarity of citizens, and another that regards racism or a racializing logic as inherent in the sociopolitical constitution of the United States, a historical ground undercutting the universalist or cosmopolitan rhetoric of its proclaimed democratic ideals and principles. San Juan expresses reservations about the liberal, pragmatic species of multiculturalism that is color-blind and gender-blind, and omits from consideration the actual differences in systemic power relations immanent in the lived experiences of communities, peoples, and nations. That approach apologizes for the institutionalized racism, sexism, heterosexism, and class exploitation that prevail, sanctioned by the instrumentalities of government and international agencies. Likewise, the politics of difference works with concepts of diversity rather than structures of dominance; as a result, race is a marginalized concept, replaced by ethnic pluralism. Multiculturalism thus legitimizes pluralist stratification, exploitation, and oppression in the process of capital accumulation in the United States and worldwide. The current controversy over multiculturalism as political doctrine or pedagogical stance now transcends national borders in line with the explosion of ethnic and racially motivated conflicts in Europe, Africa, and around the world. In the United States during the first decades of the 21st century, the population will be composed mainly of people of color: Latinos, African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and other diasporic or refugee settlers. The author asks: If the former numerical minority becomes the majority in the United States, will the currently existing power relations and social divisions be fundamentally changed? Thus far, the civil rights gains of the 1950s and 1960s in particular, affirmative action, which benefited chiefly women have been rolled back, slandered, gutted, and erased from memory.

multiculturalism; culture — transnational; globalization — economic aspects; multiculturalism — United States; race — other; racism

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 27, No. 1 (2000): 61-75