“Soft” Versus “Hard” Diversity

Vancouver Sun, September 22, 2008

An interesting concept that I had never heard about, but does handily explain much of our Canadian multiculturalism.  Soft diversity versus hard diversity.

McGill sociologist Morton Weinfeld’s distinction between “soft” and “hard” diversity might help. According to him, soft diversity is “food, music, art, and other symbols. Soft diversity adds spice and excitement to our lives … No matter what Canadians … think about Canada’s handling of ethno-racial diversity, this is one issue the rest of the world seems to think Canada has got right … . And we just love our soft diversity.”

How do you justify this rejection of some differences and not others?

Here’s where Weinfeld’s notion of hard diversity comes in. According to him, hard diversity challenges deep commitments, such as the political integrity of the country. Think here of Quebec or western separatism.

And there are other types of hard diversity. While not a threat to our territorial integrity, they do threaten the social and political institutions which make Canada the good place that it is. We should not trifle with our world-class mixture of personal liberty, guided by the rule of law and enriched by the legal protection of human rights, including equality, in the name of promoting ill-defined diversity.

Soft diversity is definitely what Vancouver has going for it.  The only thing that rivals the number of Starbucks and coffee shops in this city are the number of sushi joints in this town.  We love our sushi; we love our Chinese food; we dig trying out new ethnic foods of any variety in Vancouver.

However, Canada is obviously not accepting of certain cultural things like polygamy or traditions that could endanger people and their dignity.  Janet Keeping in the editorial does give a few examples. 

I think Second-Generation Canadians must struggle with this diversity on a personal level.  It’s one thing for your adopted country to accept certain things, but how does the struggle manifest itself within an individual.  Is there a distinction between soft versus hard diversity within one person?  What things do they find acceptable from their bi-cultural experience?  How much of the “home” culture in comparison to how much of Canadian culture is integrated in their lives?

There are literally thousands upon thousands of bi-cultural, if not multi-cultural individuals, in Canada.  We all at one point are immigrants from a far-off land, with the big exception of our aboriginal peoples.  So these different influences must work their way into almost every Canadian’s experience of culture and diversity.


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