Reflecting on culture and racism…
January 17, 2011
This article has ignited a challenge for me. See, I struggle with acknowledging cultural differences.
Probably because I shamefully come from a long line of racists and it has been my intention to break the cycle. One of the first classes I took at university was “The Psychology of Prejudice” – I wanted to learn why my grandparents behaved the way they did.
In my twenties, nothing could impassion me more than a discussion on racism, sexism or age-ism. In fact, any “ism” got me started. I was the Queen of political correctness or “Dictator” (a less sexist title).
Uninspired by my white bread upbringing, I mourned what I perceived as a lack of culture. Other races, countries and religions had a “culture”, mine did not. I realize now that white bread is a culture (albeit one of sugar, bleach and emulsifiers) but a culture none the less.
Even with this new-found education about culture and world views, I still resist acknowledging differences of culture because I fear that they will be come issues of race or prejudice. I prefer to deny any cultural differences and shout WE ARE ALL THE SAME, when we are not. I have held on to this delusion for years because we HAVE to be exactly the same for the world to be fair. Acknowledging that the world is not fair is embarrassing and painful. Humanity should have evolved far better than this.
I used to count down the years until the planet held more biracial people than singularly racial people to ensure a consciousness shift and equity. I now see that I continually get culture and race mixed up.
Then my partner shares this classic joke with me:
“In heaven the police are English, the mechanics are German, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, and it’s all run by the Swiss. In Hell the police are German, the cooks are English, the French are mechanics, the lovers are Swiss and it’s all run by Italians.”
The whole “joke” makes me crawl with discomfort. But I am American and the Europeans don’t seem to mind. They seem to embrace their differences and their strengths. They talk about them.
I am afraid to talk about them, if I name any differences, I am pre-judging hence prejudice, hence a racist. and I cannot think of anything else worse to be.
So, I ignore differences.
When I started feeling that the Asian illustrator I hired might have more conservative plans for the project, ones based on her parents paradigm of the business world and publishing, I ignored the thoughts completely because they were stereotypes. I did not allow myself to consider cultural differences. After I read “Why Chinese mothers are Superior” my current situation seemed to make sense. During our time of disagreement, I lacked the maturity to start the conversation about the possibility of different cultural expectations effecting the plan for the project, it felt too uncomfortable.
I am starting to believe that denying myself the right to consider cultural differences and discuss them could be more racist than simply addressing issues when they arise.
So I’m changing my thinking, in honor of Martin Luther, I will start acknowledging cultural differences and be brave enough to include them in everyday discussions….because I believe with real, honest dialog we can all learn a thing or two.