Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

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.

As Foote and McLaren say, on the “Christian View of Death”, “Relying on the authority of the Bible, the Protestant sects gave a special vitality to such doctrines as original sin … and heightened the awfulness of the curse of inherited guilt.”

In contemporary U.S. mainstream life, for many whites, this translates into, “If I’m not morally perfect, then I’m not a good person.”

The part of oneself that is morally blemished, overwhelms the part that is not.

Within African American culture, the good counts along with the bad, and relatively speaking, carries much greater weight.

As Rangel himself said, “I can only hope that the full committee will treat me more fairly, and take into account my entire 40 years of service to the Congress before making any decisions on sanctions.”

Plus there is a strong belief in redemption –a Phoenix capable of rising from the ashes—and the power of good to ultimately outweigh and redeem the bad.

These differences have a great bearing on what is or is not overlooked and what is or is not forgivable.

It has great application not only to the current Congressional ethics investigation, but the focus of news coverage, and what infractions are punishable at school (cf. “zero-tolerance policies”) or, as discussed extensively in our book Corporate Tribalism, at work.

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