“Sari and Samosa Syndrome.” Coined by Uzma Shakir and shared at one of the stops on her visit to Windsor this week , this is what happens too often when people attempt to organize multicultural events. People are invited to wear their “traditional cultural dress” and serve “ethnic” food. There’s music and dancing and before you know it we’re all diverse and tolerant and there’s no more racism. Right?
Shakir argues that these are not transformative, anti-racist events. Without a discussion about power, equality, and social justice — real issues — what are we changing?
Windsor is guilty of this. Multiculturalism is more than Carousel of Nations. Multiculturalism is not a weekend field trip. Who at Carousel talks about poverty? About discrimination, violence, about a woman’s choice to wear or not wear hijab? What about forced marriage? Having years of education rejected, being unable to transfer skills and training? About being both an engineer and a cab driver?
Two years ago, when I sat at a table at a social justice conference with a bunch of high school teachers this is exactly what I witnessed. In attempt to deal with their frustrations with racism in the classroom at their school and a desire to recognize the diversity in the school’s population they set out to plan a Sari-and-Samosa event. I’m sure it was very successful too. So-and-so was a dancer, so-and-so could bring food — it’s so delicious, you know! — but the event was planned to be entertainment not issue focused. Ah well, who doesn’t like a samosa now and then? And at a elementary school last year the local grade school sent home information about their multicultural fair: bring in an ethnic food to share and to tell about your “culture”. Sorry, but culture is a lot more than food. Food is something we share, a point where we can recognize similarities, not a place to emphasize difference.
Why are we so afraid of the dialogue people?