'Multiculturalism' is not a dirty word
My niece goes to the same primary school I went to and I just found out that they no longer call Multicultural Day ‘Multicultural Day’ (the day when kids dress up in their cultural dress and bring food from their culture). They now call it ‘Harmony Day.’ I am side-eying the heck out of this.
When I was growing up in the 80s/90s Hawke/Keating era in Australia, the word ‘multicultural’ was finally no longer controversial. It was this thing we were now proud of, and it was personally reassuring growing up at that time knowing that the racism my parents experienced in the 60s/70s (we are Greek-Australian) was not going to be my experience. Everyone acknowledged that Australia = multicultural = duh. It was right there at school.
Then 1996 hit, and the Howard era began, and all of a sudden multiculturalism became a dirty word. Howard conservatives actively fought against the concept, there was no longer a Minister of Multiculturalism, and serious debate was sparked that assimilation, not multiculturalism, was needed.
I can’t help but wonder if my old school bought into this and dropped the word ‘multiculturalism’ because it is now controversial and politicised. The school might have reasoned with itself: “It’s the same thing, kids still sharing each other’s cultures, it’s just that ‘harmony’ is something everyone can agree on.”
No. Multiculturalism is not a dirty word. It is a better word that ‘harmony’ because it specifically acknowledges what we are - a land of many cultures. ‘Harmony’ is a weasel word that means nothing. Too often people want to deal with cultural/racial/ethnic tensions by pretending that culture/race/ethnic divides don’t exist. They do, and sometimes those divides are fine. We are all different. The end goal isn’t to make us all the same. The phrase ‘multiculturalism’ acknowledges this. ‘Harmony’ does not.
NOTE: Looking into it further, it is not my old primary school specifically. It is a national initiative promoting March 21 as 'Harmony Day' (old name: Multicultural Day) by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (old name: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs). Ugh. We now have a Labor Government, but it seems that Howard’s battle to taint the concept of ‘multiculturalism’ over the long-term has been successful.