It is for this reason that many Western societies have targeted certain areas of prejudice. We have laws against some forms of racism and sexism. We decry homophobia and religious bigotry. And so we should. Because to limit one’s rights or ability to survive due to one’s beliefs, one’s sex, one’s race or one’s sexual orientation is wrong. Every adult, without exception, should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to meet their needs, as long as it does not harm another. If one person has the money for an apartment, then all who can afford it and not harm others should get the same apartment. If one person can sit in a bar to drink, then all should be allowed. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. died for.
There is far to go in these focuses. Yes, an African American has been elected president, but thirty six percent of all abortions in the United States are on minorities, and 40 percent of all prisoners are African Americans. Yes, women are now able to succeed in almost any occupation men used to hold a monopoly on, but women still only make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Most people have the freedom to worship as they please, but any Muslim appointed to a high government position will soon have to resign because of false allegations that they have associated with terrorist groups. With prejudice, the work is never done.
The list of prejudices go on and on—the homeless are treated like criminals for not having a place to sleep, an immigrant is treated like an idiot for having an accent, someone who criticizes democracy or capitalism is held at arm’s length, distrusted, a person over 80 is treated as unable to make their own life decisions. Why is this? Not because we haven’t been taught about tolerance. Simply because our teaching of tolerance has been limited to only a few categories. Thus, we who are white males feel guilty at just glancing at a young black man, but we can openly speak hatred against the same man if we find out he is homeless and speaks with an African accent.
Our problem is not simply a lack of education. Certainly Americans would be more tolerant if they learned more about cultures, religions, and a variety of cultural mores and habits. But knowledge is not the answer to a monocultural outlook. The prejudice against women persisted for centuries because there was a mutual agreement between the sexes to not interfere with each other’s way of life, mores and areas of influence. Only when they began to live as equals, interfering with each other’s lives was there the beginning of understanding and a breaking down of the wall of sexism. The prejudice against African Americans persisted (and will continue to persist) as long as there is separation in neighborhoods, schools and cultural blocks. Only when there is a free and equal mixing between races will understanding and true hope come about.
And we cannot solve monoculturalism by just mashing neighborhoods together, because in the war of culture, the more dominant culture will always win, simply because they have more resources. The dominant culture will be quite "rational" when they dismantle the cultural values and visions of the non-dominant cultures. And if rationality does not work, then brute force always does. A homeless camp on private property, although neat and orderly, will be dismantled and all possessions stolen by a local government. A neighborhood association will fine a house that holds to a different cultural standard from the houses around it.
I believe that the answer to monoculturalism is living in other cultures, being humble in a situation apart from that which we grew up. When I visited India, after living my whole life in Southern California, I was confronted and ashamed by some of the things I did which was acceptable in my own society. I learned that not only were different races, religions and languages acceptable, but so were different ways of thought. When I began to live among the poor, I learned that there was much that I had an instant revulsion to—dumpster diving, for one—that was not only acceptable, but actually a moral benefit to society. We who are a part of a dominant culture need to live as a minority culture to understand how to recognize and protect minority cultures.
Only if we live humbly among different cultures will we learn to accept other cultures. Only if we are forced to confront our prejudices face to face with those who we appreciate but run in the face of our prejudices will we change.