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

The Elixir Complex

By Thomas Kochman - 12.20.2009

Frank Rich’s op ed column “Tiger Woods, Person of the Year” characterizes the fraudulent image that Tiger Woods perpetrated as a big “con” although not nearly in the same category as the illusions created by leaders who “marketed to us on the way to Iraq” or those “titans who legally created and sold the securities that gamed and then wrecked the system.”

Yet the question is raised who is responsible for being taken in by the images and illusions that others directly or indirectly promote.

There seems to be little doubt that we are a nation of hucksters, people constantly preying on our fears or greed to sell us something. After all, isn’t that what politics, capitalism and advertising is all about? Yet despite what we know and the warning signs — buyer beware — that surround us we continue to be taken in. As Rich says, “We keep being fooled by leaders in all sectors of American life, over and over.”

So, as any good anthropologist or therapist would say, “What’s going on, here?” Read more »

Birthday Blog

By Jean Mavrelis - 12.17.2009

I am not too old to begin to tweet.  You can follow me at JeanMavrelis.

Here are my birthday thoughts:

I’m a baby boomer, my Mom will be 90 Saturday, Aunt Til will be 100 in a month.  I like to think I will get to be an old gal, but as Betty Davis famously said, “Old age is not for sissies.”  I’m not done yet – I’m expecting many more grandchildren, and enjoy watching the business grow, and I want to eat more chocolate cake, and laugh so hard I cry, and dance, but my friend Tina, who is my age, died suddenly this week. I’ve been pondering the gift of life.

I saw a photo of myself as a preteen this morning that I haven’t seen in years.  I was wearing a mohair sweater dress and white wrist gloves – very early 60’s – before civil rights and women’s lib and classic rock.  Who was that young girl?  What would she have thought if all that’s happened was revealed to her then?  What if she knew her beautiful son would die at 13?  What if she knew her prom date would die in Nam? What if she knew she would write a book?  That she could touch people’s lives? That she would know the greatest love and the greatest loss? That she would one day travel to Africa and India and Asia and South America?  That the love of her family and extended family and friends and even “grand-dogs” would always restore her?

I think she’d know what her Dad meant when he said “life is a series of hurdles, and each one you get over makes you a little stronger for the next one…and life is good”.

Adult on Girl Violence

By Jean Mavrelis - 12.14.2009

A white woman I know asked, is the movie “Precious” about race or about poverty or about abuse? It’s about all three.  While abuse of women knows no race or class boundaries, abuse happens within a social and cultural context, and is exacerbated by social and cultural situations.

If you have an opportunity, google Laurie Schaffner’s working paper titled “So Called Girl-on-Girl Violence is Actually Adult-on-Girl Violence”.

Schaffner points out that poor girls of color are more likely to be vulnerable to predation by local idle older men…more likely to lack access to resources to heal from trauma early in life, and less likely to be protected by the law.

The Adult-on-Girl violence Schaffner alludes to is not from their mothers, but from society’s refusal to fund infrastructure: housing, jobs, schools (I would add healthcare), and the ruthlessness of a highly profitable prison system.

I’m dismayed by the backlash to what is called “Big Government Spending”.  Our constitution pledges to “promote the general welfare”.  Big business trickle down doesn’t help girls like Precious. Read more »

“Brother, Can you Spare the Time?”

By Thomas Kochman - 12.12.2009

Charles Blow’s comment in his op ed column “Paranormal Flexibility” of Americans “bending dogmas to suit them instead of bending themselves to fit a dogma,” reminds me of a quote from American composer Virgil Thompson who said, \”American music is any music written by Americans”.

These statements speak to a hallmark and feature of U.S. culture, not only “individual freedom” but also “primary control”, which is shaping the environment to accommodate oneself, as opposed to “secondary control”, shaping oneself to accommodate the environment.

This view has many corollaries. One is that within the U.S. individuals don’t have to accept the givens.

If God, fate or society has dealt you a hand that you don’t like, it’s very mainstream U.S. to say, “I want a new deal,” as opposed to, “I need to learn to manage these cards as best that I can.”

Mainstream U.S. folks tend to look at difficulties as “problems to be solved,” as opposed to “situations to be accepted.”

This cultural difference also leads to different sets of expectations on how individual and social problems should be addressed. Read more »

“How Does this Make us Look?”

By Thomas Kochman - 12.07.2009

One of the features of being a member of a group is to feel implicated by what other members of the group do or say. Because of this, great social pressure is often brought to bear on those whose only “crime” is that their social behavior embarrasses those who set themselves up as standard bearers for the group. Nowhere is this clearer than in the brouhaha surrounding the pronunciation of “ask” as “axe”.

I am reminded of this again from just having seen “Precious”, where “Mo’Nique”, playing the welfare mother, uses the “aks” pronunciation several times, authentically, I might add, for the character she is portraying.

Why do I say “authentic?”

For the record, Old English had two pronunciations of that word: ascian (modern day “ask”) and acsian (modern day “axe”). Both forms were in use and distributed regionally throughout England with both pronunciations at different times finding their way into literary use.  Chaucer used the “axe” form in The Canterbury Tales, as did Tyndall in his 16th century translation of the Bible in the well known phrase, “for whosoever axeth receavith”

So how did ask and axe become class linked, not only for African Americans, but also for Southern whites? Read more »

Solving our Racial Problem—or, When is a Neighborhood Integrated?

By Thomas Kochman - 12.05.2009

Charles Blow’s op ed column Black in the Age of Obama points out that the lives of Black people have not gotten better since Obama’s ascendancy to the Presidency –he cites statistics and examples that show in many respects black lives have become worse. He also points out the dilemma blacks face “how to air anxiety without further arming Obama’s enemies [which] has rendered blacks virtually voiceless on some pressing issues at a time when their voices would have presumably held greater sway.”

What also needs to be mentioned is the effect the Obama Presidency has had on whites, those who generally support Obama, and, prior to his election, could also be counted upon to oppose racism and ongoing injustices against blacks and other ethnic minorities. How has Obama’s Presidency affected their ability to speak out?

The answer to that can be partly found in the response that people gave to the question we asked a mixed racial group during the height of desegregation some years ago, “When is a neighborhood integrated?” White Answer: “When the first black family moves in!” Black answer, “When the ratio of blacks and whites is about 50-50.”

These different responses are telling. Read more »