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

Mind Games

By Jean Mavrelis - 11.30.2010

There are mind games being spun– that play on fear.

Why not leverage mind games that play on our better natures?

Since the civil rights era, spin-doctors have insidiously campaigned on programs like “the war on drugs” and “tough on crime” as code for “protecting” whites from minorities: “us” vs “them”.

There were also racial/class implications underlying the different penalties for use of “crack” –a lower-class, “street” drug — and those for use of cocaine: an upper-middle class social past time.

Guess which penalties were more severe.

In fact, Reagan’s “war on drugs” came before crack ever hit the streets, and when drug use was at a low point.

The racism and class hatred behind those messages was subtle and hidden. But it didn’t take much digging to see what was underneath the surface. Read more »

“Their Future is Behind Them”

By Thomas Kochman - 11.29.2010

Today’s NY Times article “Why French Scholars Love U.S. Colleges,” brought to mind a conversation that I had many years ago with a French Professor.

We were riding together in a limo going to LaGuardia airport and talked about the research that we were doing –I was also an academic at the time. He said that they have a saying in France, that once a person reaches the status of full Professor their “future is behind them.”

What he meant was that what counts in France and many other class-based societies are a person’s position, title and rank. Those are what confer status and privilege, not achievement, per se.

And once you have those and have  socially “arrived”, further striving stops. Read more »

The All of Me

By Thomas Kochman - 11.16.2010

The present on-going ethics investigation of Rep. Charles Rangel, apart from questions surrounding the panel’s political motivation, illustrates a number of social and cultural differences between African Americans and U.S. Mainstream Whites.

The social part has a racial feel to it: the view of many blacks that they are being targeted (“singled out”) for violations of one sort or another that whites regularly get away with.

But there are also cultural reasons behind the African American view –expressed by Rangel—that what is going on is “unfair.”

That has to do with proportionality—the weight given to one or another violation when measured against all the good things the person has also done.

It’s a judgment call, so to speak, and happens every day, not just at the final (pass/fail) stage when individuals confront their God head on.

White Mainstream Protestants within the U.S., for example, insist on moral perfection to a much greater degree than other groups do. Read more »

Invisibility, Ignorance and Education

By Jean Mavrelis - 11.16.2010

Minorities are tired of being asked questions so they can be culturally categorized, and then left to continue their invisibility at work.

I’m wondering, what causes this need to put someone in a box? Is it just a white thing? And if so, why the need to know?

I think curiosity is a human thing, but minorities have learned that it feels bad to be objectified, and so curb their curiosity in order to be respectful.

White folks often become defensive, “It’s an ice breaker; it’s an overture to get to know someone.”

But is it really?

For all our talk in the mainstream about being “color blind” or treating others simply as individuals, why do we want to know the ethnic or cultural category before engaging a person who is not mainstream-looking?

I read a fiction story once about a couple who named their infant “baby x” and refused to tell anyone the gender of the baby, which left adults at a loss in terms of how to interact with the infant.

What does this say about our ability to interact with humans as individuals rather than as members of groups?

From the minority perspective, it’s objectifying to ask the kinds of questions in the cartoon, and reflects an incredible sense of entitlement on the part of the asker, as if they have a right to demand personal information.

White folks ask me, “Then how do I start a conversation?”

The answer, “What would you say to a white person?”

I always advise this: instead of trying to start a relationship by asking personal questions (as white women often do), or by joking about difference (as white men often do), be helpful with the career of a colleague who is is of a different group.

And when the person is ready, they may then even start to share more about themselves.

If not, then you can know that they, like everyone, appreciates help that really helps.

And also know that you did the right thing.

Fortune Favors the Audacious

By Thomas Kochman - 11.13.2010

The above title, a paraphrase of, “Fortune Favors the Brave”, certainly held true in the last election.

United Republication opposition toward and misrepresentation of anything proposed or promoted by President Obama, or passed by the Democratic Congress, paid off.

Health Care reform was successfully cast as “Government Intrusion”.

A Bloomberg poll “taken the week before the election, found that some two-thirds of likely voters believed that, under Obama and the Democrats, middle-class taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program are gone, never to be recovered.”

All of this, as Henrik Hertzberg documents in “Electoral Dissonance”, is a total misrepresentation of the facts.

But, why didn’t the American people know that?

“Could it be because the President and his party did not try, or try hard enough, to tell them? . . . . This year, more Democratic candidates seemed to apologize for the health-care law—notwithstanding its imperfections, their party’s greatest accomplishment in generations, the fulfillment of a century-long dream—than to proclaim it.”

So what conclusion can we draw from that? And what does it say about U.S. culture”

In life and politics, audacity sells; apology and timidity, does not.

As Gore Vidal said, “In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler.”

And elsewhere, “As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”

Gaming the System

By Thomas Kochman - 11.06.2010

In the last scene of the 1972 movie “The Candidate,” Bill McCay, having just won a stunning upset victory for the U.S. Senate, in the midst of celebration, hands his political advisor, Marvin Lucas, a note which says, “Marvin … What do we do now?”

The film, framed around a political run for public office, says everything about campaigning –an end unto itself—and nothing at all about governance.

Like the slide show presented at a strategy session to House Republicans 11 days before Obama’s inauguration asked, “If the goal of the majority is to govern, what is the purpose of the minority?” “The purpose of the minority”– came the answer– “is to become the majority.”

That purpose and the continuous drumming of time worn Republican mantras: limited government spending, reining in the deficit, and lowering taxes had everything to do with providing fodder for the next campaign and no bearing at all on global economic realities or the pressing concerns of everyday working people. Read more »

Mi Voto

By Luis Vazquez - 11.02.2010

I am so angry right now.

I went to vote this morning at 7 am.  I called yesterday to make sure that I was at the right precinct.

So I show up this morning and I am asked for my name. No one in the room is bilingual and it is an all White staffed precinct.  I pronounce my name several times and spell it out each time and they cannot find my name.

I then give them my license and they check and they still cannot find my name.  I ask if I can look at the sheet for my name and they say it is not allowed.

I get sent to another table that has another precinct coverage for another area.  My name is not on this list either.

I go through the exact same process; however this time I give them my license first to guarantee no misspellings. Again, my name could not be found.

I am still being really nice but becoming frustrated and saying to myself –these are volunteers and they are doing the best they can do.

I then get told to go to the county court to check out what happened, which is clear across town, or fill out a provisional ballot.  Of course, I said I would fill out a provisional ballot.

They hand me the ballot and I get put at this high desk that they call a booth — no privacy and everyone is looking at me.  I open my provisional ballot and it is all in Spanish.

Some of the ways they presented things on the ballot were not written well in Spanish, so I also asked for the English version for everything to make sure that I did not miss anything that would enable me to make an informed decision.

When I asked for the English version, the lady behind the table proceeds to tell me to just fill out the Spanish version.  I asked her again politely to give me the English version. She proceeds to tell me, “Why can’t you fill out the Spanish version?”

At that point, I decided to make this a teachable moment and asked the monitor to listen to my discussion with the lady behind the table.

I shared with her that she should not be making assumptions and instead it would be most appropriate if she would just ask the voter what they would prefer or hand out the English version first, and then share that there are options of language for the ballots.

The monitor apologized to me and said that what just happened was totally inappropriate.  I then fill out the provisional ballot and got told that it will be mailed in and that I could check on the website 10 days after today to see if it got counted.  Read more »