You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for October, 2010.

Culture in the Classroom

By Kimberly Lord - 10.26.2010

Last week, I had the opportunity to share the KMA Hispanic module with my son’s freshman Spanish class at Whitney Young High School in Chicago – as part of a career day where parents described their jobs.

Although I don’t speak much Spanish, I thought introducing his class to some of the social history, values and experiences of Hispanic/Latino culture would make for an interesting discussion.  I used the latest Corporate Tribalism web-based module as a part of our discussion.

Before sharing the module with the class, I did my best to outline some of the key foundation pieces to KMA’s unique approach: defining culture, exploring individual culture through a quiz and describing the scientific process that supports cultural archetypes – especially the importance of framing generalizations (stereotypes vs. archetypes).

I’ve found in past conversations with teenagers that they are often reluctant to talk about how they are different, preferring to talk about how they are the same.  But after a bit of discussion, they embraced the idea that we needed to acknowledge our differences and establish ways that felt good to talk about them, before we could get anywhere.

Next, we started watching the Hispanic/Latino module.  I wasn’t sure if the kids were into it – as it’s designed for an adult workplace audience – but when I asked if they wanted to continue watching to see the second and third sections that followed the main character, Eddie, they whole-heartedly agreed. Read more »

Equal Opportunity Haters

By Jean Mavrelis - 10.26.2010

When Kennedy ran for President, Protestants were afraid he’d defer to Rome; some even suggested the Vatican would take over the U.S.

When Kerry ran, fear of the Pope interfering in U.S. affairs wasn’t even a bleep on the radar for anti-democratic pundits.  Evidently that fear had been dispelled, and religion only came in to the Kerry debate when some Catholics themselves were concerned about Kerry’s pro-choice position.

During WWII, it was Japanese and Germans who were feared.  Germans have again blended into the mainstream fabric, and post WWII Japanese Americans have the highest rate of “out-marriage” of any Asian group in the U.S.

The U.S. is a young country with a short memory.  We’re a country of immigrants who target and marginalize people of color and various ethnic and religious groups among others, but the targeting is more flexible and fluid than it is in other countries where only the dominant group can truly lay title to national identity. Read more »

The Power of Culture

By Thomas Kochman - 10.23.2010

The firing of Juan Williams for comments made on Bill O’Reilly’s show, The O’Reilly Factor, resurrects once again the power of culture to shape perspectives, behavior and events.

For the record, Williams said, “When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

So what’s cultural about this?

In an earlier blog Ethnicity and the Supreme Court , I wrote about the social and cultural influence of Thurgood Marshall on Supreme Court deliberations as an African American. The case I focused on was McPherson vs. Rankin.

On March 30, 1981, McPherson and some fellow employees heard on an office radio that there had been an attempt to assassinate the President of the United States. Upon hearing that report, McPherson engaged a co-worker, Lawrence Jackson, who was apparently her boyfriend, in a brief conversation, which according to McPherson’s uncontroverted testimony went as follows:

“Q: What did you say?
“A: I said I felt that that would happen sooner or later.
“Q: Okay. And what did Lawrence say?
“A: Lawrence said, yeah, agreeing with me.
“Q: Okay. Now, when you — after Lawrence spoke, then what was your next comment?
“A: Well, we were talking — it’s a wonder why they did that. I felt like it would be a black person that did that, because I feel like most of my kind is on welfare and CETA, and they use Medicaid, and at the time, I was thinking that’s what it was. . . But then after I said that, and then Lawrence said, yeah, he’s cutting back Medicaid and food stamps.  And I said, yeah, welfare and CETA. I said, shoot, if they go for him again, I hope they get him.”

McPherson’s last remark was overheard by another Deputy Constable, who, unbeknownst to McPherson, was in the room at the time.  The remark was reported to Constable Rankin, who summoned McPherson. McPherson readily admitted that she had made the statement, but testified that she told Rankin, upon being asked if she made the statement, ”Yes, but I didn’t mean anything by it.”  After their discussion, Rankin fired McPherson.

Rankin testified that, when he asked McPherson whether she meant the remark, she replied, “I sure do.” In neither of its opinions in this case did the District Court make an explicit finding regarding which version of this conflicting testimony it found credible.  We note that the question whether McPherson “meant” the statement is ambiguous. Assuming that McPherson told Rankin she “meant it,” McPherson might think she had said that she “meant” that she disliked the President and would not mind if he were dead, while Rankin might believe that McPherson “meant” to indicate approval of, or in any event hope for, political assassination.

What’s interesting here is that members of the court themselves could not unequivocally decide among themselves what was meant by McPherson saying “she meant it” when asked that question by Constable Rankin. It was, as they noted, “ambiguous.”  What is culturally relevant is that the ambiguity shown in the above transcript generally corresponds to differences in African American and U.S. mainstream discourse style as I discussed in my chapter “Fighting Words” in Black and White Styles in Conflict. Read more »

Existential Confidence

By Jean Mavrelis - 10.15.2010

I heard a new term on Charlie Rose. 

He was interviewing an Israeli journalist named David Grossman about his new book, To The End of the Land.

Grossman, who lost his son, Uri, in the last hours of the 2006 Israeli conflict in Lebanon, said he wrote the book to help restore his own existential confidence, along with the existential confidence of Israel.

It blew me away.

I always thought of existentialists as profoundly bitter and disillusioned folks who felt there was no meaning to life.

What Grossman was talking about was different – it was the optimism that would come from expecting to live your life in peace without threat of violence and despair looming around every corner.


Post Traumatic Stress victims know what that means.

Those of us who have lost children or suffered other profound loss know it.

Existential confidence – the confidence that life still has meaning and hope and even promise.

I’m still blown away by the power of that interview.  Grossman is a wounded, bereaved father, who looks at life and tries to create meaning through the stories of real families and relationships.

I can’t wait to read it.

If any of you have thoughts on the concept of “existential confidence”, I’d love to hear them.