BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Is a multicultural society best?
British Muslim girls waving the British flag
The term "multiculturalism" is again at the centre of a debate in the UK after the head of the Commission for Racial Equality said it was of another era and should be scrapped.

Trevor Phillips told the Times the term suggested "separateness" and was no longer useful. He pleaded for greater tolerance of Muslims and said "we must call them British".

Senior UK Conservative Alan Duncan has responded by calling for a "grown-up" debate on immigration.

What do you think? Is "multiculturalism" still relevant? Should different races and nationalities be recognised within one society or should all citizens be integrated?

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of the opinions we have received so far:

The UK has been a multicultural country for hundreds of years. Different races and nationalities should be recognised. I mean if citizens are integrated will there be such as thing as a Scottish/Irish/Welsh/English person. Why there were different cultures as far back as 1000s. You had the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Why should it be a big deal now?
Eilidh, Forfar, Scotland

Cosmopolitan is the best term and mutual tolerance is the best we can hope for
Jeff Jackson, Fife

Cosmopolitan is the best term and mutual tolerance is the best we can hope for. There are many people in this country, regardless of skin colour, who I could never respect for many reasons. I will tolerate them, just as I expect them to tolerate me. As for respect? Respect is a hard won, not given out lightly, and certainly not given simply because of skin colour or religious/cultural beliefs. Theodore Zeldin wrote that minorities are only tolerated when things are going well. As soon as the economy starts to slide, people look for a scapegoat. Minorities be warned. History always repeats itself.
Jeff Jackson, Fife, Scotland

From what I have seen of this multicultural society, it stinks. We are expected to welcome these people into our country and look after them yet we treat our own like second class people. We cannot afford to look after our elderly but we will fill our land with foreign people whose only interest is to draw on our resources. I think the true British would like to have their country back.
Keith Clarke, Poole, Dorset

I now work for Royal Mail and you could not find a greater mixture of culture anywhere
Alan Barnard, Romford

I am a white 60 year old Anglo Saxon. When I was 16 I worked for a Jewish man, yes they where pilloried even then, he was a nice man. He treated me with respect and was a pleasure to work with. My sister after a bad marriage, met and married a Maltese gentleman, in those days they where supposed to be pimps and crooks, but he was not. He was a great man, who became a dearly loved member of our family.

I now work for Royal Mail and you could not find a greater mixture of culture anywhere. With great regret I have to admit that the majority of people who I dislike are my own kind, and unfortunately I am not a left wing liberal - just a normal decent chap getting on with my life. Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Maltese mean nothing to me. I only see nice people and nasty people whatever colour race or creed. We have always had a mixed culture and the sooner we accept this the stronger this country will be.
Alan Barnard, Romford, England

Why must we be either one or the other? We can be integrated and still be a recognized nationality. I am a Caucasian US citizen and my husband is a Vietnamese refugee, now a US citizen. Just because we are integrated doesn't mean he's not Vietnamese. His culture is very important to us as is mine. We choose to share them with each other. I love the differences between us. There are some people who are so busy making distinctions between groups that society is never afforded the chance to appreciate the similarities. However, we choose not to buy into that type of thinking.
Kimberly Huynh, San Diego, USA

Wake up! England has been multicultural since the dawn of time. London is a roman word and the royal family can hardly be called English.
Chris, UK

All Britain can ever hope for in the way of multiculturalism is mutual tolerance and not much else.
Suchi Chatterjee, Brighton, UK

It doesn't have to be one extreme or the other. We should all be proud of our cultural background but see it as something we all have in common; having our own cultural backgrounds. People are the same everywhere. I'm not too bothered about the narrow minded bigots. Every country has them, along with wishy-washy liberals. If the bigots from each country could only meet each other, they would get on like a house on fire.
Tim H, UK

Whatever you name it, reality is still there. And this reality is of people with different origins, different religions and different cultures that live in the same country. Instead of discussing if a term is pertinent or not, we should be discussing the conditions under which people cannot only live next to each other, but with each other. Think of what brought all those people in Britain and make it a powerful link around which integration will be possible: democracy, freedom, equal opportunity. The discussion should be "how are we to do this?"
Lia, Greece

British ways are not always the best ways... we need to appreciate other cultures
Geraldine, Glasgow

Multicultural society has positives. I think it is wonderful to see different cultures and races learn from one another. If people were less afraid of knowing different cultures, there would be so much more harmony in our society today. I agree some people from all cultures tend to keep themselves away from mixing with other groups and that is not beneficial to any society. If I go to Italy, I am going to meet Italians and show them my culture just as I am going to learn some of their ways. I therefore believe such give and take should be practised in this country... but if Brits go abroad and refuse to mix with the natives of those lands then why should it be expected that other cultures be expected to adhere solely to British ways? British ways are not always the best ways... we need to appreciate other cultures because a broadened society makes a better life for all of us.
Geraldine, Glasgow, Scotland

If a multicultural society is meant to be lots of different ethnic groups living in their own little communities, and people from the different communities never integrating, then it can never work. If the ethnic groups merged, married, reproduced and integrated to form a slightly different and better Britain then that must be the best way of doing it.
Adam, Cardiff, UK

A multicultural society is good so long as people from different backgrounds learn to respect each other's culture and religion. A homogeneous society may not be possible but a society where each culture maintains its identity while at the same integrating with other people to form a "tossed-salad" society is possible.
Mamatha Balasubramanian, Kuppam, India

For me, a multicultural society is one where people from all over the world can live together peacefully and respect and learn from each others' ways of life. Many of the comments on this page show that we are still far from achieving any such society.
Iona, UK

Ethnic groups don't integrate into the communities! They don't want to. Keep Britain free of them.
JB Donnan, Dreghorn, Ayrshire

I believe that variety is the spice of life but I also believe in maintaining a balance
Carl, Edinburgh

I welcome people from other cultures and I believe that variety is the spice of life but I also believe in maintaining a balance so as to preserve our own culture which has developed over thousands of years. The word racist has such a distorted meaning in our over PC society here in the UK, is it racist to support your country and sing your national anthem? Sadly some think yes, I think racial discrimination will never be defeated and will remain an ideal.
Carl, Edinburgh, UK

The past Kings and Queens of England must be spinning in their graves over the demise of our English heritage.
Rikki, UK

No, it's not: Islamic society is best. But until that time, it is the next best thing.
Ahmed, UK

The concept of multiculturalism is an insult to the chosen country of adoption. Respect is earned by those coming here by their attitude towards the UK; respect is expected of those coming here towards the UK way of life. The PC brigade have tilted the balance too much towards the UK bending towards imported and alien cultures.
Mike Hall, Chipping Norton, UK

How many card carrying liberals set foot in working class communities of any ethnicity? How many would settle their families in an area where the local school was 90% Asian? How many would let their kids play with a Somali gang or kick a ball with the local drug dealer? How many would sell up if Bangladeshi neighbours squeezed 10 people into the house next door? Because those are the issues facing real people, and the rest - sadly - is just bunkum.
David, Leicester, UK

In my experience, most individual people just want to get along with one another
David Anderton, Newquay

My best mate's Indian, another close friend is Irish, a third is from Hong Kong and another is a Scouser. I live with Chinese flatmates; my best friend at college was Zimbabwean, my uncle's Polish. My background consists of German, English and French. I eat Italian and Mexican. My lecturer's Scottish. I'm a Protestant (with Jewish ancestry) and have Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Catholic friends. Multiculturalism may be an irritating New Labouresque buzzword, but it's dead right. And I believe we are much better for it. Just take people as they come. In my experience, most individual people just want to get along with one another.
David Anderton, Newquay

Keep it white - keep it right. This country will be a complete mess if keep on letting these people in. We are heading for disaster.
Richard Coombe, Westbury, UK

Multiculturalism is a failure, it cannot succeed
Mat, London

Multiculturalism is a failure, it cannot succeed. It is important for people to see the difference between race and culture. A country can only have one culture. The mother culture can protect the needs of minority cultures but they must be subordinate to the mother culture. Culture is independent of race. A multiracial society is achievable and is what Britain is striving to become. However, culture enshrines a whole series of values which define the laws which govern us. All the citizens of one country must be judged by the same laws, therefore one culture must be pre-eminent and respected by all.
Mat, London, UK

I love all these modern terms that often amount to nothing! I can agree our nation is built with many cultures. I cannot agree all are compatible.
Richard Sweetman, Winsford, Cheshire

I would not expect an Australian 'immigrant' to support the England rugby team. I would not expect to be forced to wear a turban if I lived in India. Those in favour of full cultural integration are desperate not to be called racist, but their expectations are different for different races. Surely that is the very definition of racism.
Ben, Leeds, UK

Multiculturalism is a contradiction in terms
Sam Martin, Milton Keynes
Multiculturalism is a contradiction in terms. For someone to be accepted into a group of people that's significantly different to him, he has to adapt to suit the group. It's the same in this situation.
Sam Martin, Milton Keynes, England

Let us not get caught up in a semantic debate. 'Multiculturalism' is a fact. Different cultures live as part of a wider society. The concept of full 'integration' is an ideal that can't realistically be met. What is important, however, is that a society's subcultures adhere to, abide by, and respect, the 'mother' culture.
Guy Jones, Birmingham, UK

I think by using terms as multiculturalism, we agree that there we are different. We should all see ourselves as humans, rather than different colours and races. We just have to accept each others' colours and beliefs. Tolerance and respect are two qualities we all have to learn. The rest will then be history.
Seema, UK/Mauritius

Multiculturalism is useful insofar as it is used to celebrate the richness that variety brings to society as a whole. It becomes a problem only where the term is used to segregate people into communities that only look in on themselves.
Andy, Gloucester, UK

I fear that British culture will be wiped out in the coming years as the Government panders to all other cultures and abandons its original children. I am not racist in the slightest but I feel that all cultures should accept the British way of life first and build their cultural identity around it. It is this refusal by some cultures to acknowledge British culture that upsets and infuriates so many.
Dave, England

People of all races are welcome in the UK provided they adopt our way of life. Come here, speak English, adopt our culture and be happy.
Keith, England

Would love to know what Keith from England thinks is 'our culture'-football, binge-drinking and garden centres as far as I can see, not much culture there eh?
Sadie Carr, UK

We've been absorbing from and adapting to different cultures for our entire history - each time there have been the same cries (and worse) about separation and assimilation, and then the UK has moved on all the richer for it. Isn't it about time we started learning from history instead of mindlessly repeating it?
Katherine, London, UK

Integration? How far do you go?
Mark, Glasgow UK

Integration? How far do you go? Any prospective immigrant family should have to spend a week in Blackpool to ensure their credentials.
Mark, Glasgow UK

Exoneration perhaps for those of us who all along loved this country, being British, British-ness and the British culture.
Ann, London

I am glad the Conservatives are asking for a 'grown up' debate on immigration. But I still feel the immature minds will continue to stifle the debate by calling everyone who does not agree with them racist. I call them the liberal fascists!
John Karran, Liverpool

The minority view gets more exposure than the majority too often in Britain
Dwayne Johnson, UK
Ninety percent of the people in the UK probably are willing to get on with their neighbour. A small fringe on both sides don't want to and spout propaganda for their own purposes e.g. BNP, Abu Hamza. Why do we focus on this intolerant view when we discuss race relations. The minority view gets more exposure than the majority too often in Britain.
Dwayne Johnson, UK

Diversity of culture is what makes Britain great - many cultures have been integrated successfully into British life and British culture has evolved accordingly, however it must be remembered that Britain has a history and culture and this must be respected by minority groups. Remembering your culture is one thing - demanding change on your hosts culture is something entirely different. You move to Britain to become British - don't you?
Lee, Stevenage, England

Surely, over time, this debate becomes irrelevant. How many of us can talk about our Celtic or Saxon or Roman or Norman cultural background? Eventually we will all be one.
Arthur, UK

As a host country to immigrants, if they want to be accepted into our society then they should accept our society rather than trying to change us! I'm emigrating and I am prepared to integrate into the country I am moving to and learn about their culture. I am fed up with being discriminated against as a white, married, working, heterosexual female by our PC government. I can't wait to leave the country that Labour has ruined with their policies (what a joke they are). There is no future for my family here, especially with rising house prices.
Michelle, UK

If the term is realistic then why scrap it. It is not offensive, it is just a description of a society. Some countries really are not multicultural and others are and therefore this should not be said. The PC brigade are at it again. What is the point in scrapping a word, replacing it with another that means exactly the same thing and then how long will it be before that is then offensive? This word is relevant to the America and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK and many of the European countries.
Nina, UK

Surely a multicultural society can be united as British!
L. Owen, London
Multicultural is "word" which means a society consisting of varied cultural groups. This seems a fairly accurate description of modern day Britain to me. I don't understand why we should be discouraged to use terminology that has such a clear cut definition. Surely a multicultural society can be united as British!
L. Owen, London

Separate development is the way things have developed, and it is not going to change. There is no longer a common culture in Britain even among the white population, and it is unlikely that the new cantonal systems of separate ethnic and class identities will now be welded into one unity, especially as the disaggregating influence of EU harmonisation and globalisation mean the locality is no longer relevant in a global village. The nation-state is being dissolved into regional enclaves of like-minded groups within a giant market-place.
Robert, Bradford

Yes. It is certainly time to scrap this offensive word which infers segregation, rather than integration, and is little more than a euphemism for apartheid.
Tony, F, Basingstoke, UK

Isn't there a danger of getting caught up in a debate over terminology at the expense of reality? Don't lose sight of the bigger picture. A small minority of racists are trying to whip up hostility and fear in the hopes of causing division in our largely well-integrated society. The anti-racist majority need to stand together and speak out against any attempt to divide races or religions.
Ben Drake, York, UK

People are trying too hard to make everyone the same when surely there are more benefits to be gained by embracing our differences
Claire, London, UK
I think the term is still relevant - I see the word "culture" as more than simply a reference for skin colour. My grandfather is white, but from a rural town in Poland originally - surely a very different culture from the one I grew up in, in Norwich! Yet again, a white British child born and raised in the East End of London has experienced a different culture from a white British child born and raised on a farm in remote Scotland. Don't get overzealous when being PC! Sometimes it seems that people are trying too hard to make everyone the same when surely there are more benefits to be gained by embracing our differences?
Claire, London UK

Allowing a 'Complete' multicultural society is why we have so many problems. By all means allow people to practise their own culture but as long as they can accept becoming British citizens, abiding strictly by our laws, learning our language, contributing to this country and swearing to stand loyally by this country in times of war then I don't see a problem. It's when you allow totally separate cultures with divided loyalties that problems and hatred arise. You cannot, or should not, live in another country whether Islamic in the UK, English in Iraq, German in the US or US in Sweden, without respecting that country and becoming fully assimilated into that culture.
Rich, UK

The notions of "multiculturalism" and "ethnic identity" force people to focus on the things that make them different, rather than the things that they have in common. I believe that it would be preferable to see ourselves as living in a "cosmopolitan" society, whereby people see themselves as free individuals, but part of a greater whole. I also believe that "acceptance" is preferable to "tolerance". It may seem a nitpicky distinction to make, but the language used can sometimes make the world of difference.
Brendan Fernandes, UK

Multiculturalism only works when everyone shows tolerance and not only the host country
Bernard, Belgium
Multiculturalism only works when everyone shows tolerance and not only the host country. And even then I doubt it is all that good an idea.
Bernard, Belgium

Multicultural these days, is for one to be called racist at the slightest disagreement with regard to the ethnic minorities which choose to come/settle in this country. It costs the country millions to be multicultural, printing publications in multiple languages, changing signage, employing interpreters in law courts etc. What ever happened to the saying "When in Rome".
Nigel, U.K

I am yet to find any "culture" that does not seek to divide, discriminate, and marginalize. It is probably the most destructive phenomenon that has ever afflicted our world - the source of hate, oppression and conflict. And it does not even exist - like a mirage, the more you examine it, the more transient it becomes. Whatever the problems within American society, no one doubts the fact that its near-contempt for "culture" has made it the most powerful and most successful economy the world has ever known.
UE, UK/Nigeria

To UE, UK/Nigeria: A slam on the US again? This topic is about the UK supposedly. The only thing the US has contempt for is the people from other countries who don't know what they are talking about.
Joe, USA

No - this seems to only to be a concept in politically correct Western countries. Perhaps it might be best - but only if the Middle Eastern countries embrace it too
P Carey, UK

I have long regarded the idea of multiculturalism as bogus, a pernicious undermining of our country's integrity. For that view I was immediately branded racist. Theoretically I should now be absolved of this canard, but I doubt it.
Steve, UK


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific