Neoliberal Multiculturalism and Western Exceptionalism: The Cultural Politics of the West


The tradition of the west defines its modernity as a radical rupture with endless possibilities for egalitarian futures; yet western modernity was rooted in the genocide of indigenous populations, transatlantic racial slavery and colonialism. Moreover, as the war on terror demonstrates, racial/gender violence continues to be linked to the formation of western identity, culture and politics in the early twenty-first century. This paper examines how the histories of race and coloniality feature in the contemporary formation of the west, with a particular focus on US nationalism and Canadian multiculturalism. These nation-states are most often defined as antithetical, with the latter confirming that western society has transcended its originary racial/colonial politics. I begin with a brief discussion of the reformation of the west in the mid-twentieth century as the USA became the dominant western power. I then move to compare the contemporary national politics of the USA and Canada to highlight the divergence and convergence in their delineation of their identity and values. My study demonstrates that although the white supremacist discourse that presently constitutes US nationalism is at variance with the multiculturalism that shapes Canadian identity, these discourses can be defined as twin aspects of the racial/colonial politics that continue to give meaning to the idea of the west.

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  1. 1.

    See the Amnesty International and Native Women's Association of Canada Report, Stolen Sisters, for an account of their joint campaign to end violence against Indigenous women in Canada.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

    As the Globe and Mail reported, "Anti-indigenous social media messages supported Mr. Stanley's actions as vigilante justice, and then-premier Brad Wall condemned the "racist and hate-filled comments". Richards, L. (February 15, 2018) 'Colton Boushie and Beyond: A Primer', The Globe and Mail.

    See also Cecco, L. (February 13, 2018) 'Canada murder case prompts rival crowdfunding campaigns for killer and victim's family', The Guardian.

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    Starblanket, G. and Hunt, D. (February 15, 2018) 'How the death of Colton Boushie became recast as the story of a knight protecting his castle', The Globe and Mail.

  5. 5.

    Here, for example, is the Globe and Mail editorial on the Fontaine case—“We should remember that justice for Tina will not come from protesting the reasonable, if painful, outcome of a trial, but from making sure the next girl like her gets the care and attention she needs from our society.” In the case of Boushie, the Globe editorialized that the issue was primarily that of underrepresentation of Indigenous jurors in these Canadian trials: “indigenous people—who are vastly overrepresented in federal and provincial jails—are deeply suspicious of the justice system in general, and the process of jury selection in particular.” The editorial went on to explain that, “…[The] wider community was absent in the trial of Mr. Stanley. Hence the despair and anger of the Indigenous community….We are well past the days of being able to tolerate the implications of “all white” juries.”

    Editorial (February 12, 2018). The Globe and Mail.


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Correspondence to Sunera Thobani.

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Thobani, S. Neoliberal Multiculturalism and Western Exceptionalism: The Cultural Politics of the West. Fudan J. Hum. Soc. Sci. 11, 161–174 (2018).

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  • West
  • Cultural politics
  • Race
  • Settler colonialism
  • War on terror
  • Muslims