Why Multiculturalism Fails and What It Means to Corporate America

Do people have a right to their own values when working for a company—or immigrating to a country?

Luke Visconti’s “Ask the White Guy” column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Interesting situation in Europe (reference: this article about a Swiss Muslim group demanding that the cross be removed from the Swiss flag). It would be the same as Turkey allowing hundreds of thousands of Christians to immigrate and the Christians demanding the removal of the crescent moon from the Turkish flag. I wonder where you see this going in America?

My first thought when I saw this particular article was “Oh, come on.” Anyone who knows Swiss people and Switzerland would know that this is an article about a fringe of a fringe group. The Swiss have the most cohesive culture of any country I’ve been to. No immigrant could miss that—but I think the larger question is a good one.

This reader also asked me how I felt about multiculturalism, so I will answer both questions in this column.

Sure enough, the article cited by the reader was written by a person who is obsessed with Muslims and is busy whipping up fear. In addition, if you go through Nina Rosenwald (Hudson New York’s editor in chief)’s connections, you’ll see she also has an ax to grind when it comes to Muslims. I often use muckety.com to research people; it turned up connections that make this point clear.

However, just because this article is designed to provoke Islamophobia (in a publication devoted to Islamophobia) does not mean that the reader’s overall point is wrong. I think multiculturalism, as practiced by countries in northern Europe and Great Britain, is a failure. Group performance, whether it be in a country or a corporation, requires clear values. Our Constitution and Declaration of Independence do a good job for our nation (such a good job that our Constitution is the longest-lived constitution in existence). The best statement of corporate values that I’ve seen is Johnson & Johnson’s credo.

I think it’s imperative that values be succinctly stated, rarely changed and frequently and loudly communicated to everyone (not just newcomers) that it is expected that we all adhere to the stated values. That means you can’t be a good American and expect theocratic dominion, whether you are Muslim or evangelical Christian. The danger, of course, is that the value message can be hyper-extended and turned into Jingoism—or perverted and turned into McCarthyism. In a corporate setting, it can turn into self-justified amoral behavior and result in horrible repercussions for society at large, such as the subprime crisis and Greek crisis (Goldman Sachs “helped” the Greek government hide its debt with swaps)—or huge companies, like GE, which can manipulate tax law to pay no taxes. Overt bad behavior aside, I’ve observed that values-based problems are usually due to imprecise expression of values—or poorly crafted values in general. History shows us that the benefits of concise, clear communications of well-crafted values not only outweighs the potential dangers but creates immense strength.

In my opinion, multiculturalism is economically and politically detrimental. A society does not benefit by fostering enclaves of people who refuse to knit into the society as defined by its stated values. I know that some people will disagree with this, but I also feel that it is the nation’s right to purposefully work toward limiting the operations of those who do not wish to live by the stated values, and that citizenship must overtly include living by our standards as defined by the foundation documents.

In an organization, this means that you cannot have overtly religious management meetings or associations (like the Air Force does) and expect top performance from your “outsiders.” This destruction of performance is a breech of fiduciary responsibility in any organization. In a publicly held company, it is also a breech of fiduciary responsibility to stockholders, which should strictly eliminate detrimental-to-brand-value behavior such as making donations to anti-gay organizations.

Our Constitution defines a cumulative behavior. If we define our values as founded on believing people are created equally and that our rights are given by the creator to the individual, then I don’t understand how you capture someone and fly them to another country to torture them and think it’s somehow OK. I also think there’s a broad swath of Americans who are profoundly ignorant of what the Constitution is. Recent immigrants have to learn what is written in the Constitution; they are likely escaping places that don’t believe people are created equally and endowed by their creator with human rights and therefore cherish what America truly is. In other words, if you come from a place where you have no rights, you’re likely to truly cherish the place that respects your rights—and that is certainly the path that the overwhelming majority of American immigrants have taken for hundreds of years.

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    • Luke Visconti

      I don’t think it’s necessary to make English a national language; however, research shows that it’s more important to teach young students English before they are taught other subjects (I’ll get hate email for writing this). There should be national standards for outcome in education, funding to pay and teachers and administrators should have quick accountability for failure. In my experience with Rutgers Future Scholars, I also think dormitory high schools are necessary in poor areas. Despite our high unemployment rate, companies are moving jobs overseas because our labor force is largely unprepared or poorly prepared. Complete fluency and literacy in English is extremely important for success in this country. Many of our native-born (not Native American, native-born) citizens don’t have that. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

      • Rebecca Erlinda

        I agree with you that complete fluency and literacy in English is extremely important for success in this country.

  • Thank you so much for this. You are 100% correct. I so wish everyone understood and could articulate these common sense ideas as well as you do. Your response really made my day. Ever thought about running for a political office? : ) You’ve got my vote.

  • Hubert Talavera

    Wow! We finally agree on one!

    I subscribe to the metaphor that we are more a salad than a melting pot. There are distinct flavors that cannot be ignored. Ultimately, us who come to this country need to do so in the understanding that our loyalty must be to the United States of America, the place we chose to call home. That does not mean, surrendering who we are to meld into White America. It means that we embrace the credo of the country, which is our Constitution. Now, if only fringes would stop trying to read it verbatim, without regard to historical context, or to twist it to meet political agendas…

    • Luke Visconti

      Read the article: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

      • The Constitution that refers to three fifths of all other persons? The Declaration that refers to merciless Indian savages?

        Values change over time-what are the current values of the United States and how do other cultures (and the people who are part of those cultures) fit into these values?

  • The issue is NOT integration–it is white-supremacy that has NOT allowed people to integrate.

    I am well educated, studied classics in college and have a decent job, yet I still feel excluded because of my race.

    The US cannot be multi-cultural because it is fundamentally euro-centric and White-supremacist.

    • Well, I’m a white immigrant from Europe, and I feel prejudism too. I don’t think it’s that much of a race thing. It is more cultural… But this is normal human behavior and reaction to newcomers.

      Nevertheless, I believe the Americans are extremely tolerant to different people and cultures, one of the most tolerant… I’ve been around the world and have seen more prejudism everywhere else, no mater what races those people are.

  • Very well put, and something I think all reasonably thinking Americans can agree with. I think the biggest issue with multiculturalism, the same as tolerance and acceptance, is that fear has generally been applied to make any rejection of the ideas a “bad.” Whereas acceptance of those ideas is a “good.” As you mentioned with the english speaking comment…you’ll get hate mail…but why? Again, because of the notion those ideas are inherently good, so to go against it, in any way is bad. These ideas are generally labeled to political and religious ideologies as well…If a repub mentioned the follies of multiculturalism, huffpost, ny times, etc would shun him as a bigot or a racist. Same as a dem supporting gay marriage…fox news, rush, etc would dismiss the individual as someone who hates America. While I’m aware of multiculturalism, and it’s history, i’ve thought little of it until a day ago (so nice timing of the article) when I was driving through a latino neighborhood in SW FL. I noticed a flag pole on a business front that had the Mexican flag displayed above the American flag. As someone who has family overseas in the service, this is sort of an issue for me, so I stopped, and politely asked the owner if there was a mistake with the arrangement. He looked at me and dismissed me as a latino hating bigot. I was speechless, but decided to leave. I thought to myself, is this really what we have become? I also thought, did anyone else say anything to this man, or try to fix it, or were they too dismissed as bigots? Perhaps worse, did anyone before me care at all to say anything? Were they so afraid of being labeled bigots or “haters” that they would rather ignore an offense to our country.

    • Luke Visconti

      The reaction you received could be attributed to ignorance (maybe the guy doesn’t know that the American flag never trails) but has to be put into context with racist ranting we’ve all been hearing at a fever pitch for the past five years or so. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

    • Would you have had a problem if he was flying the Florida State Flag next to the American Flag?

      That is the way they do it in Texas and Puerto Rico. Both flags on two separate poles at the same height.

  • paul johnson

    As the head of a multicultural organization I agree with your comments, in fact I would say one of the greatest threats to this country is different groups whether racial,business,religious or otherwise who manipulate the system for their own agenda against the best interests of the country. I do think english should be the national language because it is language which ties people together and helps to create a national identity while its absence tends to create separation[remember the towel of babel]

    • Luke Visconti

      Keep in mind that Benjamin Franklin had a bad moment when he opposed printing copies of the Declaration of Independence in German so the German farmers in Pennsylvania could read it. To paraphrase, he said, “Those people will never fit in, they will never learn English and we shouldn’t bother.” The descendants of those German farmers became one with our society, learned English, helped develop our country and fought in our wars, didn’t they? Long ago’s Germans became not-so-long ago’s Italians became today’s Mexicans. There were bigots against every group along the way and there are bigots today (that never changes). There’s no reason to have an “official” language, unless we’re ready to commit the resources to have “official language schools” whose students would mostly be the legion of born-here-in-the-USA people who are semi-literate. While they’re in school, our nation would do well to teach everyone a second language so we can compete more effectively in the global economy – and maybe even be able to talk about our values in a coherent way to the rest of the world. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • I find it interesting that we share the value of teaching immigrants English, while watching corporations send jobs to non- English speaking countries to maximize profits. No English needed to make them richer.

    • Luke Visconti

      Most developing “non-English speaking countries” have a high percentage of bilingual citizens. America still has the largest economy on the face of the earth – knowing English is a business advantage. I would add that knowing Spanish and Chinese is as well. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • I loved the article- though I look at multi-culturalism from a different prospective; I look at it as bring cross-cultural while each person can keep the pride of their roots, they still need to understand that coming to the US as an immigrant and enjoying all the rights that we have as a privilege, so they need to integrate into the “American” culture, while adding some of their own.
    Trying to manipulate things to fit their agendas, is just ugly plain and simple. The simplest way to explain this is if someone comes to my house they follow my rules and if they don’t want to follow my rules they can either leave or not come at all.
    As an immigrant that values everything I have and achieved today here in the US, I know that I am privileged even more that the people born here, whenever a group starts making demands to change things to match their individual culture, religion etc. I wonder if they would be able to make the same demands in their own native countries. They claim it is their right, but would they have been able to make the same demands where they came from. Regardless what religion I am- can a Christian group ask a country like Saudia Arabia to remove the “Shehada” they have on their flag or like you mentioned ask Turkey to remove the crest, or can a Christian group ask Israel to remove the star of David? it is becoming ridiculous but I still see that it is not multi-culturalism that is the failure -it is the people and individuals themselves – if each start by themselves and look at their own bias and prejudice rather than looking for them in others that could be a good start

  • Marilyn Richardson

    I like the metaphor of the orchestra better than other metaphors I’ve heard. There are common core values and goals, yet each musician retains their uniqueness, adding to the richness of what they create.

  • Jose Miguel Amaya

    While metaphors never completely illustrate a concept, why not use jazz to represent the American experiment? It’s a true American original invention, and it’s not always subject to a script or sheet of music. The players get to run their own riffs, and they can change the tune’s direction, without losing the unity of the group. Why always look to Europe? As the jazz musician, Louis Armstrong, once said, “If I have to explain it…”

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