You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for November, 2009.

Cultural Reality and Stereotypes

By Thomas Kochman - 11.21.2009

The mixed African American reaction to the film “Precious” is a reminder again of what happens when a portrayal of black life draws attention to prevailing social stereotypes of African Americans as a group. One reviewer saw the film as full of “brazenly racist clichés”. Another reviewer talked about what happens when you flatten the black experience by showing only the positive side which “denies our humanity.”

I think the Jewish reaction to the latest Coen brother’s film “A Serious Man,” will be similar. Some Jews will see it as reinforcing stereotypes. My own initial gut reaction was to see it as providing a rationale for anti-Semitism, even and including genocide.  Other Jews will see it, as I also later did, as a defiant film, confronting the public with Jewish stereotypes head on, mocking the mockers, so to speak, and more importantly, a very good film.

Ultimately, the question becomes for groups that have been stereotyped: can the whole truth of an ethnic group be told, one that would show “warts and all.”

The short and quick answer is “yes”, but if the whole truth is to be told then the question is how. Ideally, the public should see any portrait of an individual or family as a slice of life — as one segment of a larger cultural mosaic — and not standing for the collective and varied social and cultural experience of an entire group. Read more »

Social Etiquette at Work, Part II

By Jean Mavrelis and Thomas Kochman - 11.17.2009

The following email is the basis for this new blog,

\”Okay, now I\’m really confused. My coworker and I were talking at his desk on a work related matter. An Anglo-co worker and someone else (another Anglo-male) came up to us and just interrupted us. There was eye contact and a conversation going on and then its like they just stuck their foot in the elevator, opened it up and stepped right in. I wanted to say something because its JUST RUDE… but i just went back to my work station and decided to write the two of you this email.

I AM (Irritated Asian-Male)!\”

Dear Confused and Irritated Asian Male,

We have diagnosed the problem. The intruders  are self-initiating, self-determining, socially entitled, brash, U.S. white guys who \”create their space\” wherever they step. You are East Asian and expect people to patiently wait their turn and be considerate of others and acknowledge that what you’re working on is at least as important as what they’re working on.  You could say,  \”Excuse me\” in a tone that lets people know they have over-stepped. But my hunch is that it would not have much of an effect other than they would see you as being too sensitive.

Any aha\’s to share?

Individuals vs. Members of a Group

By Thomas Kochman - 11.11.2009

I agree with David Brooks that the rush to characterize Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killing of 12 soldiers and 1 civilian at Fort Hood as non- ideological was premature. I also agree that it was partly motivated by the wish to prevent backlash against Muslim’s as a group.

Of course, this last concern would not exist if Hasan and Muslims in the U.S. generally were not seen as members of a group where the actions of one are seen to implicate others of that group.

Compare for example, the different reaction toward Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who killed 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. There was no concern of backlash against white men because McVeigh and Nichols happen to be white men. They, like other white men in the U.S., were seen simply as individuals, not collectively, as members of a racial, ethnic or religious group.

The experience of U.S. white men when they go outside the U.S. begins to resemble the experience of ethnic minorities within the U.S.  There, they are seen as “Americans”, and begin to feel the pressure that comes from being seen collectively as members of a group: implicated not only by the actions of other Americans but those of America as a whole.

For U.S. white men, that is often a new experience. For U.S. racial, ethnic or religious minorities, it’s old hat.

Who Makes it Happen!

By Thomas Kochman - 11.03.2009

I just finished reading Three Cups of Tea which describes how Greg Mortenson overcame daunting challenges to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan far greater than climbing K2, the mountain in the Himalayas whose peak he hoped to reach, that initially brought him into the area.

What intrigues me is the statement made by Mortenson’s sponsor, Jean Hoerni who, near death, phoned a childhood friend and boasted, (p,182) “I built a school in the Karakoram, Himalaya ….What have you done for the last fifty years.”

What I find notable in the above statement is Hoerni’s use of “I” in describing his role which speaks not only to his identification with the project and pride in its accomplishment, but as its initial capital sponsor, ownership, too.

And this leads me to the question which opened this blog which is the age long debate over the relative importance of capital and labor –for Hoerni: his capital sponsorship; for Mortenson: his self-sacrificing and persistent effort over time against enormous odds.

Both capital and labor are critically necessary to the success of any project. Less obvious is how people weigh in and give credit to one side or the other.

When I reflect upon how I give credit–having been on both sides of the spectrum– it depends upon levels of creative involvement. If on the capital side of the equation it took years to grow, nurture and develop a marketable product and the demand for it, then I give great importance to that. If the creative development came at the delivery or performance side, then I weigh in heavily there. Read more »

Can White Women “get” Mo’Nique?

By Jean Mavrelis - 11.02.2009

Kathy Hughes asked Mo’Nique if she ever gets accused of playing to stereotypes of Black women – what in my day we called the “Sapphire” image.   Mo’nique said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Are there Black doctors and lawyers, yes, and they’re beautiful, and the sister in the projects with a head scarf and flip flops and gold teeth is beautiful, too.  Why can’t we have a whole range of characters?”

Mo’nique wants to “bring respect to women sometimes considered outsiders…  continues Mo\’Nique, \”Unfortunately, we live in a place that\’s taken that right from people.  \’You\’re too fat.  You\’re too black.  You\’re too short.  You\’re too white.\’  And they take the right from people, and people don\’t realize they can say, \”Can\’t give you that one.  I might have one leg and three eyes and two left toes, but I can\’t give you that one.\”

Mo’Nique represents for the archetypal community Black woman.  For me, she’s kind of a Roseanne Barr counterpart in that she represents for the blue collar woman.

However, I’m not sure people outside the Black community, by and large, are familiar enough with community African Americans to laugh “with” the character rather than “at” her.  For example, when Mo’Nique is upset with her daughter in the sitcom “the Parkers”, does her style conjure up, for outsiders, something akin to the Ricky Ricardo rants of the I Love Lucy Show?  Our Latino colleague, Ilya, used to say that the laugh track on I love Lucy didn’t work in Cuba because Ricky getting upset with Lucy wasn’t as funny there as the ridiculous things Lucy did.

Latinas get stereotyped as Sabado Gigante types, and Asian women suffer from being “exotic”. Other women of color are hardly represented at all.  Although white women are also stereotyped, and they have a narrower range of “types” to play in movies than white men do, they still have more roles to play than women of color have.

Black people have more familiarity with White people than vice versa.  As my colleague Ken says, Black people have worked for white people for a long time, and worked for them up close in their homes, but white people don’t know Black people welI. When women of color see Roseanne, they know she is one style of white woman. When outsiders see Mo’Nique, is the same thing true?

Come on ladies (and gentlemen if you dare) let’s talk about this.  The question is in the title.