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You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for April, 2012.

Moments of Privilege

By Tatyana Fertelmeyster - 04.23.2012

I am in Paradise. I was officially welcomed to Paradise as soon as I got off my plane in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Actually, I am in a double Paradise considering that I am staying at a beautiful beach resort.

In a day or so this place will get busy with my colleagues who are getting together for the inaugural conference of the International Society for Diversity and Inclusion Professionals. And for a few days we will have passionate conversations about very important topics and rush to swimming pools at the end of the day to cool off and enjoy.

Swimming pools.

There is one right next to my building. I went there as soon as I dropped my bags in the room. I asked for a towel and got an uncomfortable explanation from a friendly young man at the counter that towels were only for red-level guests.

Red-level guests? It took a moment to compute.

A few minutes prior when I was checking in at the front desk a clerk put a blue bracelet on my wrist. It looks like something you get at the hospital or at the amusement park. This bracelet means that I am a guest at the resort. It means that I belong. I had no problem being marked as a part of the in group.

Now – here I am ready to jump into this enticingly turquoise water and being told that towels that are rightfully mine are at the main pool and that walking there along the beach will take me no time.

I am not “us” anymore.  I am now “them” or at least not “us enough”.

That does not feel right. I am about to get all righteous about it but my logical brain starts its boring reasoning with me. Read more »

Dick Clark: Naïve Offender?

By Jean Mavrelis - 04.20.2012

Last night I watched CNN as Anderson Cooper conducted live phone conversations with Aretha Franklin and Little Richard.

They kept saying he was a nice man, and he understood the industry, but there was no gushing.  They paid respect to the moment and the man.

Anderson Cooper missed the story behind the story.

What wasn’t said was that American Bandstand was not initially an integrated show.

Come on, we’re talking about the 1950’s.  I want to assume Dick Clark evolved like all the rest of us white folks who remember American Bandstand.

I googled Dick Clark on racism and found a reference to a time when, on the Pyramid game show, he offered a clue for things that are whipped: “Slaves that are disobedient” –then Clark added – “Of course, that was appropriate in a different era”.

It was a classic example of offensive statements that whites, often unthinkingly, make about blacks.

It’s not unlike the first line supervisor I heard of recently who wanted to compliment his line of workers, many of whom were African American, and sent them a “good job” card with a monkey on the front clapping symbols together. Most everybody agreed the first line supervisor was a “naïve offender”.  Maybe that expression fits for Dick Clark as well. Read more »

Easter – Eggs Post Facto

By Jean Mavrelis - 04.17.2012

I was preparing for Easter brunch a little while back.

Flowers for my patio were delivered, and the macho delivery guy said, “I used to garden with my Mom.”

When I stopped at Fannie May, to buy Easter candy, a woman said, “When I was young, my great aunt was becoming senile, and we found out she only ate chocolate.  Now I understand her.”

Seems like everybody reminisces at holiday time. For me, Easter has its own vibe of reminiscences that has to do not only with relatives past, but also my family’s religious evolution.

My daughter is celebrating Passover.  My son is celebrating the Rite of Spring.

When I was a young Catholic kid, holy week was solemn.  We went to the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and I was so sad about each image of suffering.  I would get a powerful feeling in my soul at 3 in the afternoon – the time we believed Jesus died.

I don’t know what Easter means to me any more.  Growing up Catholic, it seemed Lent was sooooo long compared to the one day of celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Catholics aren’t so much a salvation people as a people who know how to suffer and offer up the suffering for the poor souls in Purgatory.

Easter Sunday meant I could once again eat candy.  Man, how I gorged with that Easter basket.  Now that I’m grown, it’s hard to celebrate the end of suffering – when you grow up there’s always another suffering around the corner.

Life has such sweetness for me right now, that I can’t help but dwell on the fact that it will end.  I miss the old Easter.

Maybe I’ll become a Buddhist and realize and accept that life is suffering, so you might as well eat the strawberry.

Face, Eyes and Touch

By Thomas Kochman - 04.11.2012

I remember a sign in a store in the ski resort town of Vail, Colorado, which asked customers to remove their ski mask when entering the store.

Behind that request, no doubt, was the association of robberies with “people who wear ski masks” and an attempt to forestall the public alarm and fear that a covered face would otherwise create.

We can now add to the ski mask, the “hoodie”, made infamous now by the role it played in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

The issue there –apart from who wears it—is that it denies access to the face, which people often use to determine whether someone is “up to something or not.”

Because of racism, if the person wearing the hoodie is an African American male, what starts out as a general suspicion, ends up in specific certainty.

The public requirement that people present themselves with an “open face”, at times, goes even further.

Mainstream US culture also asks that people “look them in the eye” when addressing them and especially when learning is required, as in US classrooms.

Not doing so means, “you’re not listening”, or “not paying attention”, either of which, adds up to disrespect.

This takes on additional meaning in the context of a subordinate being chastised by a teacher or adult.

In Mainstream US culture, for example, it means accepting the punishment that is being meted out to you, whether you agree with it or not.

Looking away or down is seen as being evasive and cowardly, making whatever you did that got you into trouble, even worse.

In other cultures, by way of contrast, looking an adult or superior directly in the eye when being addressed or criticized is a sign of rebellion or defiance, and taken as gross disrespect of that person’s authority and position — the opposite of what it means in U.S. mainstream culture.

Add to face and eyes the matter of touch.

A recent article by Mark L. Keam highlights the problems that happen cross-culturally when Korean store owners or their staff in black communities interact with their African American customers.

As Keam points out, “In some Asian cultures, it is considered rude to look at a stranger directly in the eye or to physically touch a stranger in an intentional way.  So when a recent immigrant from Asia who is working as a cashier in a small grocery store refuses to look at his African American customer in the eye or to place the change directly in the hands of the customer, it is not because the immigrant wants to be rude. Instead, the Asian immigrant is actually showing respect to the customer. “

From the African American perspective, however, a store owner not looking at them directly, and perhaps especially, avoiding touch, such as not putting money in their hands when returning change, conjures up the experience that Blacks had in the South of being “untouchable” and, therefore, also the image of being less than fully human.

So how can we move forward in getting and setting things right?

From our perspective, it starts with having a conversation. Not just any conversation, mind you, but one that  deals with topics and issues that are difficult, and up to now, mostly impossible to discuss.

Things that make us who we really are.

Especially things that make us different.