How can society understand multiculturalism? By vicariously stepping into the shoes of multicultural authors and artists, society can be introduced to any multicultural community or individual in the world. Stepping into the shoes of multicultural authors and artists who create multicultural literature, media, and images introduces society to original points of view and authentic experiences. Students of multicultural works are allowed to discover various differences and similarities between themselves and a person of a different culture in society. The role of multiculturalism within society is important, because multicultural literature, media, and images: mirror society, facilitate learning, and address social concerns and conflicts.The role of multiculturalism within society is important, because multicultural literature, media, and images mirror society. According to Etta R. Hollins’ Pathways to Success in School: Culturally Responsive Teaching (1999): “None of us can afford to remain ignorant of the heritage and culture of any part of our populations” (p. 146). Multicultural works act as a mirror reflecting the emotions, thoughts, and actions of cultural groups that have historically been overlooked. Students of multicultural works are invited into a new cultural world where they can relate to characters’ feats and failures. Students may experience camaraderie when they view or read works by authors or artists that are culturally very similar to themselves. Also, students may find they can even identify with authors or artists whom they are very culturally different than. Aurora Levin Morales’ poem, Child of the Americas, describes Morales living in multicultural America. She writes that she is an “U.S. Puerto Rican Jew” who has lived in the “ghettos of New York” and she is not “African, taína, or European”, but “African is in me… taíno is in me… Europe lives in me”, and “I am whole” (Gillespie, Fonseca & Pipolo, 2008, p. 656). This work is again a prime example of how multicultural works are like a mirror toward society, because many people like Morales possess a variety of cultural labels even though they are American citizens. Multiculturalism within society is imperative since members of society, ironically, learn that multicultural works truly mirror society.The role of multiculturalism within society is important, because multicultural literature, media, and images facilitate learning. Major language arts associations have recently tried to introduce more multicultural literature, media, and images into middle and high schools across the U.S. The English Coalition Conference’s report stated that “many opportunities” would appear if “They [a variety of people] will not only have a sense of the richness and distinctiveness of the life of particular groups but also a sense of common humanity” (as cited in Hollins, p. 140-141). Currently, these efforts to expand multicultural literature in school curriculum have not been panning out as the Coalition desires. Most literature taught to middle and high school students is still written by male Euro-Americans; only sixteen percent of literary works taught are written by women, and only two percent taught are written by other races (Hollins, p. 143). The Coalition believes it is necessary for students to learn from multicultural works, because through these societal windows they are allowed to peek into an accurate portrayal of history and culture (Hollins, p. 140-141). Therefore, a student’s own identity may even be unearthed while observing authentic portrayals of multicultural experiences (Hollins, p. 144). Students may even desire to use multicultural characters as positive role models. Robert Hayden’s poem, “Frederick Douglass” (1947), describes the former slave’s hardships in a historically accurate portrayal. Hayden imagines how Douglass must have been a ray of hope to the Negro people during the abolitionist movement; “with lives grown out of his life, the lives fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing” (Gillespie, et al., p. 103). This poem allows not only Africa American readers, but all readers, to admire and understand Douglass’ importance in history. Learning can be facilitated through the role of multiculturalism within society in a way that is significant to anyone, no matter what their own cultural background consists (or does not consist) of.The role of multiculturalism within society is important, because multicultural literature, media, and images bring attention to social concerns and conflicts. While students are taught multicultural literature, media, and images; controversial topics like racism, oppression, and sexism can arise (Hollins, p. 140). However, teachers can take these topics addressing social concerns and conflicts, and teach their students about “difference, cultural pride, and nurture an appreciation of similarities and difference across the lines that divide, teach tolerance, and foster the challenges of inequality and social injustice” (Hollins, p. 144). Karen Alford, a teacher at Audubon Montessori in New Orleans, discovered that studying works of multiculturalism can heal open wounds. Alford found that there were underlying racial issues at Audubun Montessori, so bringing uncomfortable issues like African American slavery to the classroom allowed her students and herself to have a “deeper understanding” of the history of America (Freedman, 1999, p. 108). While reading works about slavery might have led to conflict in her classroom, Alford found that addressing the issue – and critically examining it – allowed all of her students to look toward the future in a new light. The students were able to relate to the past but not be defined by it. Multicultural works can play a major role in society by allowing society to communicate about various awkward social concerns and conflicts.Multicultural works allow society’s men and women of any race or ethnicity to realize that multiculturalism within society is significant. Not only is multiculturalism significant, but it acts as a mirror that our society continually needs to take a good, hard look at. By being introduced to new works of multiculturalism, society’s learning as a whole expands. Multicultural works allow society to address social concerns and conflicts, because the study of multicultural works can uncover underlying issues and deal with them positively. The role of multiculturalism within society is important, because multicultural literature, media, and images: mirror society, facilitate learning, and address social concerns and conflicts. The multicultural paradox is this: By hypothetically stepping into the shoes of a different person, society can be led to realize more similarities among all cultural groups than it ever imagined.
References Freedman, S. W. (1999). Inside city schools: Investigating literacy in multicultural classrooms. New York, N.Y.: New York Teachers College Press. Gillespie, S., Pipolo, T., & Fonseca, T. (Eds.). (2008). Literature across cultures (5th ed.). pp. 103, 656). New York: Pearson. Hollins, E. R. (1999). Pathways to success in school: Culturally responsive teaching. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Ebrium & Associates, Inc.
Yes, the role of multiculturalism within society is extremely important. I had a wonderful multicultural literature class recently that really opened my eyes to the world of writing in a whole new way… Through this class, the voices in the stories and poems spoke so bravely – so honestly – that I felt like like I was having a personal conversation with the writers myself.