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Promising, but in the end Disappointing
on December 3, 2003
This is a useful Guide to Living as & Working with Immigrants in a Multicultural USA, not a Multicultural World. It really has little or no street-credibility outside the USA.
I've worked for a US Fortune500 Company for 20 years, and in over 30 Countries.
The book confesses upfront to its limitations : although the information is US-centric, Williams, Clifton & Thomas believe their concepts are universal - but they haven't the experience to back that up. They admit they don't know whether current observations will hold up in different cultures, or whether different cultures have different profiles with respect to the lenses. The initial research has focussed on race, culture, nationality & ethnicity. In practice 90% of its focus is on race & ethnicity. Sexual orientation is ignored, and the word 'gay' doesn't appear until over 80% of the way through the book - and its only for one sentence.
Consider some of the Lenses :
For the Assimilationist they talk about "adapting US business norms appropriately, given global norms and standards" - well I've never met a "Global norm" - and as for being able to adapt US norms, there's the problem - you have to reject US norms in order to get on with the outside world. The Assimilationist must think about "Western cultural arrogance" - woah - what about "US Cultural arrogance" - ask a Canadian or a Mexican or the French how they feel about US hegemony.
The Culturalcentrist talks about the "Irish, Polish & Italian Communities", and in the same breath about the "Asian Community" - I'm sure the "Asians" would argue they had less in common between India, Vietnam, Korea etc than those Europeans, who at least had Catholicism in common.
For the Seclusionist : "Globalisation ... diminishes the authority of the USA" - hmm, I thought everyone was rioting recently complaining that Globalisation meant US hegemony? The Seclusionist "rewards the efforts of the majority group" - oh so Williams has never thought of a Society where the dominant group is itself a Minority, such as in Apartheid-era South Africa, and a number of other inequitable Societies today?
The Transcendant options were just not for me - according to Williams you are either 'Religious' or you are 'Spiritual' - nothing else applies. I am neither, and quite happy thank you. I'm always made to feel uncomfortable with this aspect of US Society, and it would be good if Williams had a section on how to work with 'agnostics'.
The Elitist offered no alternatives - what about Communism or Socialism - the inequalities of US Society would not be tolerated in Scandinavia. As I say to my friends in Minneapolis, it's a pity the wrong shipload of explorers colonised North America.
For all the talk about race, there's no mention of working with people in mixed-race relationships or of mixed-race ethnicity - over 10% of marriages in the UK are mixed-race, even though the ethnic minorities constitute less than 8% of the population. I find mixed-race marriages in the USA to be a tragic rarity - and why aren't they promoted in TV programs?
There were no examples of other diversities which can be just as sensitive in Society, such as no case studies featuring Native Americans, Hindus, Moslems, Lesbians, Vegetarians or people with Physical/Mental disabilities.
The much-promoted mystical Chapter on the Eleventh Lens was a real disappointment - just some new world 'Nirvana' where everyone loved each other and did right by each other (I presume so long as you could still hire & fire at will).
When I looked through the Bibliography, I understood; of the 86 references, only 2 of them weren't published in the USA, and they were published in London (both looking back at the USA). You can't write a book about a Multicultural world if you don't read/travel widely.
Williams continually refers back to Title VII of the (US) Civil Rights Act (pity he didn't include it as an Appendix). It would have been nice to talk about the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights - since so much of US Society doesn't comply with it. I recall when one of our Senior US Executives starting to spout about Affirmative Action etc at a staff meeting in Germany - he had to be told to leave or they'd call the Police - because his US-speak was illegal under anti-Nazi legislation.
I scored myself on the Lenses : I am Colorblind, an Integrationalist, Meritocratist and a Multiculturalist. Williams was (in 2001) inviting Contributors to help them develop the book for a wider audience - I'm going to volunteer to help them, because boy do they need it.