Immigration and Multiculturalism

Sunday, October 3, 2021
First Aired: 
Sunday, March 10, 2019

What Is It

Whether for economic reasons or to flee violence and persecution, immigration rates continue to climb globally. At the same time, opposition to immigration and intolerance of multiculturalism is also growing. Should cultural or ethnic identity ever be a factor in immigration policy? Do immigrants have an obligation to assimilate to the dominant culture? Or should we make cultural accommodations for immigrants who don’t share our values and traditions? Do the answers vary depending on how culturally diverse or homogenous the host country already is? The Philosophers lift the gate for Sarah Song from the UC Berkeley School of Law, author of Immigration and Democracy.



Ken Taylor  
Should immigrants assimilate into their new society?

Josh Landy  
Or should society adapt to make room for different cultures?

Ken Taylor  
Aren't there some foreign customs locals should never accept?

Comments (12)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, March 8, 2019 -- 10:48 AM

The questions asked in your

The questions asked in your WHAT IS IT tag beg a host of others, many with ethical implications. The world is very different to that which existed when my ancestors came to America. My own ethnic, racial and cultural background is diverse, ranging from Wales and the British Isles, to the Netherlands and Germany, as well as native American people right here in the USA. My family considered itself American first and the rest second, third, fourth and so on. There was no quibbling or squabbling over such questions as are now international news. Religious differences were secondary in nearly every instance because family matters were bigger than those. Yes, I come from simpler times and am most grateful for that reality. I am most certainly grateful for the life I have been given; trying to make the most of it without imposing my values on everyone who will listen.

I do not suggest that current circumstances might adapt themselves to antiquated views, custom or tradition. However, those who come to America, somehow expecting her to bend to their every whim and need, may be in for a rude awakening. Maybe even more than one. There is much being made of the "strength" of a new crop of legislators. Some of them are from other lands and one or two have been outspoken, getting on some folks'nerves. I hope they will not be too badly bruised by their own outspokenness. Much has also been made of the divisiveness we see today; with plenty of blame to go 'round. The thing about America is this: at bottom, one size fits all, multiculturalism notwithstanding. Also worth considering: there are many millions more of us now than there were in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is not the wild west, in the sense that people once thought it was. We have no need for dissension and malcontent. Inclusion is the new paradigm. But those who would BE included,need to want to be included. The street goes both ways.

beactive's picture


Monday, March 11, 2019 -- 10:24 PM

First, I would like to have

First, I would like to have known what was meant by Dr. Song's comment that immigrants are obligated to integrate. What does integration mean, and how is that contrasted to assimilation?

Second, I heard her say that immigrants' opinions have nothing to do with culture. What?? Did I hear wrong? If not, I don't get it because such opinions have everything to do with culture.

Now, she said that something to the effect that immigrants deserve full participation in America, and that this entails the right to change the culture. This is precisely where things become fraught. Again, what is "integration"? How much integration do we have a right to expect? What kinds of changes become intolerable?

I struggle with this question, and I'm wondering how other people see it?

Ganesh's picture


Tuesday, March 12, 2019 -- 1:05 PM

A discussion about

A discussion about immigration can't be complete without referring to the research by Tajfel and many others around in/out groups. The innate sense of superiority for those in the in-group was perhaps an evolutionary strength - it may have helped to bond tribes more closely together to win/retain resources. Today, though, our base instinct of loyalty to an in-group, I argue, is the root cause of many of the problems we see in public discourse around immigration. Morally or ethically or rationally speaking, why should one believe to be superior to others, based on pure chance of where we were born and to whom?

If I were Tzar of immigration, my first order of business would be to institute a new practice of "Get Over Yourself-ism". The central tenet - "Don't judge others except for their actions directly impact others." One of the hosts mentioned the challenge when deciding how to set the line for exclusion. He mentioned categories such as homophobia or racism. In "Get Over Yourself-ism" - you would be free to enter and assimilate so long as your beliefs do not negatively impact those around you.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 -- 1:29 PM

Hear! Hear! (or is that: Here

Hear! Hear! (or is that: Here! Here!?) We who read and love philosophy know there are and have always been 'philosophical problems', even those whose solutions are eternally intractable. It may be fair to say, at this time anyway, that immigration is THE problem for the twenty-first century. I hope my assessment is not too grandiose. beactive's question about integration vs. assimilation is spot-on for this discussion. At the risk of over-simplification, I think many people, when talking about this topic, probably use the words interchangeably. That is not exactly right, but the distinction may be thin. Ganesh goes to one root of the problem by reference to tribalism. But these are thought starters only. I am not a social scientist---only an opinionated, social critic. Someone's got to do it. I have been wondering, just for grins, is there really a material difference between ETERNITY and INFINITY? Just asking...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, August 12, 2021 -- 11:55 AM

The Afghans are falling back

The Afghans are falling back under the domination of Taliban fanaticism. The US president sez they have to fight for themselves. If that were the fact now, it would have been the fact years and lives ago.. The Russians got their noses bloodied, asses kicked, years ago, UNDER A CRESCENT MOON. Good book. USA interests fell out of favor when leadership recognized the same path. Immigration and multiculturalism should not appear simultaneously in the same sentence. Not unless their presence IS simultaneous. In Canada, for example, immigration and multiculturalism complement one another. Or used to. I have not been there for awhile.

Anyhow, we finally recognized the folly of Viet Nam. Now, later, Afghanistan. There have been other places where we should not have stuck our nose. Consult your history books if you have doubts. Don't rely on your parents or grandparents. They bought the lie. Because they wanted to be good Americans. Many later regretted it.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, October 17, 2021 -- 2:04 PM

Have been ruminating over the

Have been ruminating over the matter of multiculturalism. Less over immigration. There are language issues afoot here. I will showcase some. Black folks make up their own versions of words.
Instead of saying I'll ask him, the verb becomes axe. An older co-worker used to say Pacific when she meant specific. Then, there is the ubiquitous p.o.-lice instead of police. And, num saying, after do you know what I am saying? A later perversion of linguistic decorum came, when the response to 'thank you' became, 'no problem'. Some of this might be due to multiculture. Or, Ebonics. Or, laziness: axe is easier to say than ask. No problem is a denial of legitimacy: it says the thank you was phony, out of hand. People, generally, speak rapidly when seeking to confuse; have nothing to say, or wish to cloud that fact. Many cons use this artifice, race, color or national origin, notwithstanding.
Many will not raise these questions, fearing repercussions---political correctness, and so on. I have no such trepidations. No worries about employment jeopardies. Tell it as I see it. Lies are as they seem.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, October 17, 2021 -- 8:07 PM

Dr. Song does address this

Dr. Song does address this generally at the onset, and the final caller adds the use case of Native Americans.

The basic norms to aspire to are (1) Do not cause harm to others and (2) Tolerate cultural practice – which would include idiom and dialect. 

The fact that you are retired, mentally active, reasonably well off, read extensively, and think about these issues raises the bar for your toleration and advocacy for this issue. It is repulsive to think you were restrained by employment in expressing your concerns.

We have greater access to federal and local efforts to debunk scams and confidence schemes than ever before. We need to have these links and resources available when our fellow senior citizens express concerns, especially based on race-based idiom or dialect bias.

I can provide them if you like.

That said, age can deteriorate and wizen as well as wisen. If we have loved ones who are not familiar with race-based justice, it is incumbent upon philosophers to help where they will listen. The best book that I know to address this is 'Just Mercy' by Bryan Stevenson. I haven't seen the movie.

'No worries' and 'No problem' are idioms and don't mean what you think they do often enough not to question their usage. 

Here is Merriam Webster…

"Most people who reply with "no problem" following an expression of gratitude intend to convey that they acted out of politeness and were not inconvenienced, and, really, no expression of thanks is needed. Sure, the term "no problem" is negative in construction, but its intended meaning isn't. Moreover, it isn't the first "negative" reply meant to imply that something was done out of sheer politeness or kindness. "

Lies are where the fun is unless they are malicious, but only a philosopher would know that. What are you doing Harold?

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, October 20, 2021 -- 11:53 AM



I saw that you responded here and that the response was removed. Let's see if we can stay within the guidelines for toleration, relevance, and safety.

Lies are NOT as they seem. The fact that they aren't can make them 'fun.' Luke Skywalker uses the force, and it seems like metachlorians exist. They don't. But it is fun to think of a life force that can move objects, change minds and give direction. As long as we don't make "real" life decisions based on these lies… no harm is done.

What is a 'not fun' lie is saying something like 'No Problem' means something other than what the lexicologists find in language surveys.

If you take what you are saying to be the truth, we must understand why lexicologists don't reflect that. It is not in their job description. Here is the OED entry for No Problem. It pretty much matches the Merriam-Webster definition above.

"no problem colloquial (a) simple, acceptable, not problematic; (b) used to express one's agreement or acquiescence, or to acknowledge an expression of thanks."

Note 'No Worries' is a cultural icon down under.

Idioms don't always mean what they literally mean, like "Yeah, Right!", which might be what you are saying right now.

Attributing laziness and confidence schemes to Ebonics is one factor that caused that term to lose its original meaning in the first place. The idea that African Americans have a choice in speaking and acting as different from any other ethnicity is absurd. No one chooses their parents.

As a person with Native American blood, you can understand the idea that segregating out a minority dialect or idiom spoken by citizens is not helpful and causes harm, be it microaggression, discrimination, or outright hate.

I agree that spell checker and everyday discourse should be somewhat standardized. We can't all speak Gee-chee and shouldn't expect that of one another. As famously satirized in the movie "Airplane," Jive is not a foreign language, however. The way one citizen speaks to another is protected speech and demands our toleration. To even call it out as lazy or the premise of a scam or con is harmful.

Imagine you did not speak English and immigrated to America. Your child would learn the dialect of their youth. That is too random a criteria to bias their employment prospects or educational opportunity based on dialects.

Ebonics is already a charged term. We need to be careful with our words lest we get canceled or cancel out others. It is possible to be careful and truthful simultaneously.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, October 24, 2021 -- 9:06 AM

All good and well-reasoned,

All good and well-reasoned, Tim. You are a repository of logic and tolerance, much more than I ever could have been. i respect and admire that. (Is admiration envy's little sister?). Anyway, my bluntness is honestly earned. I have often said things which offend. Big mouth and all. So, it is more than probable I shall always be censored.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, February 13, 2022 -- 6:54 AM

Assimilation, accommodation,

Assimilation, accommodation, values and traditions. These are fluid terms. Immigration can be useful and rewarding for all, so long as all understand rules and responsibilities and abide by them. Our justice system is by no means draconian. However, as a host country, affording opportunity for residence and/or citizenship, the USA is under no obligation to make countless exceptions to its' rules, just so that more immigrants have those opportunities. Other nations have rules-some more stringent than those applied here. They may or may not bend the rules, for one price or another. Prospective immigrants may not wish to move to such locations. Reality is harsh. So, no, it is not incumbent on this country to welcome any and all. That aspect of exceptionalism is no longer mandatory.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, February 13, 2022 -- 7:51 AM

Wanted to add one idea here.

Wanted to add one idea here. Caveat: I am not a demographer. Back in the 1970s, Canada appeared to have a comfortable balance with respect to immigration and multiculturalism. Toronto was a thriving metropolis, a melting pot of ethnicities and nationalities. As remains the case today, Canada has a smaller population than the USA, about one tenth, I think. There was no rampant unemployment and, concommittently, no massive public assistance network. They could not have afforded one. People got along with one another. There may have been racial division but that was never a constant news item. Some things,have gotten worse, but one factor remains much the same: low population pressure. Canada was not utopia then, nor is she now. But, all things considered, she is still a good place to live. For anyone.

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