Talking Cultural Diversity

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

The Greatest Happiness…

By Thomas Kochman - 06.26.2015

The latest Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare and same sex marriage epitomize both diversity and inclusion and Jeremy Benthem’s fundamental social axiom: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.”

We celebrate and revel in these latest social demonstrations of both these principles.

Serena’s return to Indian Wells

By Jean Mavrelis - 03.17.2015

Serena had a lot of guts coming back to the tournament at Indian Wells after she was mercilessly booed here 14 years ago by a white audience that believed her father manipulated the tournament by forcing Venus to withdraw, allegedly because he didn’t want the sisters to compete against each other. That last point makes no sense at all. African American women don’t shy away from competition in contrast to white women, who, outside of sports, generally do.

I was watching a match two days ago, and ended up in conversation with a white woman from Chicago who was sitting next me.  I told her how excited I had been to see Serena the night before.

“I can’t stand her”, said the woman.

White women don’t typically say something like that unless they think they’re likely to get an, “Amen”. She felt sure I shared her view of Serena, because white people react very powerfully to anyone even suggesting that they are racist, and that’s what she believed the Williams’ family had done.

For white folks, if you didn’t consciously intend to be racist, then it is unthinkable for someone to question your moral character, even when the facts illustrate that a Black person was treated differently than a white person would have been treated under similar circumstances.

Her personal indignation around feeling maligned was so powerful that she couldn’t get beyond that to look at the facts.  (Cultural note: when you make general accusations against white people, all whites feel personally implicated).

However, anyone who saw the video would see that Serena was brutally treated, and could further understand that race was an underlying factor in the white crowd’s assumptions of the Williams family alleged unethical behavior.

If one of the McEnroe brothers, or one of the Bryan brothers, had dropped out of a competition against their sibling, no one would have accused them of manipulating the tournament.  There is a deep bias of mistrust of African Americans by white people.

I wanted her to see her bias.  I tried a cultural tactic.  I have discovered through my research that there’s an unwritten rule in white woman culture that you are “mean” if you don’t come to the rescue of someone crying.

So, I used this cultural point to (perhaps unfairly) manipulate her view of Serena.  I said, “You know, Serena was interviewed after the match and she was very emotional, weeping.  Her Mom wept too”.

Black women typically view tears very differently.  They say, “Never let them see you cry” (so as not to show weakness), but these tears were more about the courage to step up and show forgiveness.

In any event, the woman from Chicago whom I was speaking to was on the spot when I said Serena cried, because she couldn’t (culturally) criticize someone who was crying, so she said, “Well, it was always the Dad who was the problem.”

She was inadvertently jumping on the bandwagon to demonize Black men.

I felt sick, and my appearance or my silence must have shown it, because the woman got up and left.

I was left with so many things I wanted to explain to her.

The next night, I was at a dinner with some other white women.  I shared my story.

One of the women said, “I like Venus, I just don’t like Serena”.  My sister chimed in, “That’s because Serena is more culturally ‘Black’ than her sister”: meaning more publicly forthright and likely to speak her mind – something white women aren’t allowed to do within their own cultural circles without risk to their reputation.

The reactions I’ve identified for these white women make sense when you know where they are coming from, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are loaded with bias – unconscious racist or cultural bias even though they were unable to see it.

They thought their views made perfect sense.  However, all of us have to know we have our biases, and be curious enough to want to examine them.

Once we white folks accept that we can’t help but look through our lens of social and cultural bias in analyzing situations such as this one with Serena, we can begin to consider the deeply rooted assumptions that drive our views.

Serena, like everyone, no doubt has her biases and blind spots, too. For example, she probably doesn’t know that white people think it’s worse to accuse them of racism than it is for them to have been inadvertently racist. But even if she didn’t know what was culturally behind the bias, she came to Indian Wells to face it head on anyway and that took the strength and heart of a champion.


Ningbo University Feb 2014

By Adrian Chan - 03.15.2014

Throughout the last week in Ningbo I gave seven lectures about my cultural bkgrd along with what Chinese students will encounter in global meetings.

In global mtgs, I emphasized that Chinese/EAsians participate less as they tend to shuo yiqian xiang (think before they spk), while mainstream USAers tend to yibian shuo yibian xiang (spk as they think).

Also, I mentioned that in EAsian cultures criticizing one’s ideas publicly is tantamount to criticizing the person and causing them to lose face (wo piping ni de jihua/yijian, wo rang ni diu le mianzi).

So it is difficult for Chinese/EAsians to dui shi, bu dui ren (focus on the issues not the person)

Ningbo University Feb 2014

Ningbo University Feb 2014


Implications of China’s Urbanization on Corporations

By Adrian Chan - 03.13.2014

February 25-26, 2014, Washington, D.C.
The Chief Diversity Officer & Thought Leadership
An in-depth conversation  about the global impacts of identity, labels and colorism on societies, communities and businesses.

Implications of Global Immigration and Migration Panel Discussion
Statement made by panel member, Dr. Adrian Chan (,VP & Head of Asian Pacific Operations for Kochman Mavrelis Associates on February 25, 2014 at the German Marshall Fund, Washington, D.C.:

Nobel laureate and economics professor Joseph Stiglitz recently said that the two most important trends or forces that will shape the world’s development in the 21st century are: 1) the technological developments in the USA, and 2) the urbanization in China.

It is easy see how dramatically and quickly USA technological innovations and their applications have transformed us personally, politically, and societally, here and throughout the world.  But the rural to urban transformation in China is slower to realize, a bit like watching grass grow.

Under Mao Zedong in 1949, China’s population was 90% rural and 10% urban.  Under the 1980 leadership of Deng Xiaoping, it was 80% rural and 20% urban.  But during the next thirty plus years China’s modernization program was such that by 2013 the urban population, for the first time in China’s history, surpassed its rural population, 51% to 49%.  Approximately 700 million Chinese now live in urban cities, while 650+ million still reside in the countryside (total population around 1.3+ billion people)  This is the largest migration in the history of humankind in such a short period of time (and still going on).  Given the same timeframe, India’s population went from 90% rural 10% urban to its current 70% rural, 30% urban (total population around 1 billion+ people). Read more »

Rules without Relationships

By Thomas Kochman - 01.25.2014

Rachel Snyder learned an important lesson from her experience as resident manager of an apartment building, which she writes about in her article, “How you doing, baby?”

As she describes it, “I was fresh out of grad school and thrilled, as a writer, to have free rent. My visible job was to clean the building, show apartments, escort workmen and circulate rent notices; the invisible part was to create community among different races, different economic scales, different cultures.

Eventually, I would hold potlucks at my apartment, plan camping trips, create a laundry-room library and plant a communal herb garden. But this was my first week on the job and one of my first calls to a tenant. All I knew was that she was twice my age and had lived in the building for more than 10 years.

“I was calling to ask her to remove several garbage bags sitting on her back deck. This was a building violation, but that mattered little to me. What did matter was that garbage attracted vermin — specifically rats, mice and possums — and I was masking my blind terror of possums in the convenient bureaucracy of ‘building rules and regulations.’ I had already had a run-in with a beady-eyed possum on a back porch one night. The possum was of that unsettling urban variety, too tough for mere humans. It casually sauntered away. Read more »

Physically Challenged: Humbling Experience, Huge Learning

By Rita Wuebbeler - 01.24.2014


I recently spent almost seven weeks not being able to put weight on my left knee due to a minor bicycle accident where I fractured a small bone in my knee joint.

It turned out to be a small accident with a huge impact. When I received the diagnosis from my orthopedist along with her casual “you need crutches” at the beginning of October, all I could think of were the numerous trips I had scheduled in the next two months.

I was planning to teach classes or give presentations at international conferences in far-off places, including Estonia, Germany and Canada. I almost panicked but then decided to get practical. What did I have to do to still be able to travel and teach?

I had to ask for help! I became an expert user of the airlines’ (and AMTRAK’s) wheel chair assistance services and relied on the helping hands of many fellow travelers and hotel staff when trying to maneuver stairs, steps and other “barriers.”

So, no big deal, right? Using crutches and a wheel chair is an “inconvenience” but at least it’s only temporary, right?

Right! However, the experience of being “temporarily” physically challenged was humbling and has taught me some important lessons:

Asking for help comes with challenges.

I had to rely so much on certain friends and colleagues, especially while traveling and co-facilitating, that it temporarily changed and affected our relationship. Even though I became pretty good at asking for help, it still “did a number on me” and made me feel insecure and “too demanding” at times. Read more »

Haves and Have Nots — Part 2

By Jean Mavrelis - 01.23.2014

As I mentioned in my last blog, those in a family who have something, are often called upon to help those in the family who have less.

While the US senate debates extending unemployment to people who really can’t find a job a lot of those who still have them — “working stiffs” (as my mother used to call laborers)–are going to have even less to spend, since they now are confronted with tough choices: offer money to the unemployed family members (which may require dipping into savings), have family members move in, or say no and have siblings who pick up the financial slack be upset with you.

All of these choices are stressful.

Making things even more difficult– a family member who no longer will receive unemployment checks may have voted for the very senators and congressmen who vote against extending unemployment.  These family members may sincerely believe in less government.  But they also believe in (and now depend on) family helping each other. For those others in the family who voted differently, helping those in the family who, in effect, didn’t do all to help themselves, compounds the matter of giving still further.

I now understand better how members of the same family were pitted against each other during the civil war.

Haves and Have-nots – within our families

By Jean Mavrelis - 01.06.2014

Families are often a microcosm of global politics: the haves and the have-nots.

Rigoberto Menchu describes a Mayan ritual (in her book, I, Rogoberto Menchu) where at baptism, a baby’s hands are tied together to symbolize that no one takes more than they need until everyone has some.

Wouldn’t it be something if we could make that happen across the globe?  This morning the front page of the New York Times had a haunting image of a malnourished Afghan baby with the weezened face of an older person.

Who among us wouldn’t trade everything under that Christmas tree or Hannukah bush to feed that child?  But how?

Who said, “Charity begins at home?” My Dad’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, and they had 8 kids.   The family grew up above a barn in the early years.   Dad always advised, “Take care of the family first”. I’ve taken that to heart.  I suppose I also believe, “to each according to their need”.  But sometimes taking care of family members encourages dependency.  Where is that line?  When are you helping, and when are you undermining self- reliance?  Nobody wants to be used.

My Irish Catholic mother said her Father would always give something to anyone who asked.  Any charity that came in the mail, he’d at least give a couple of bucks.  “Poppa” said, “If they’re asking, they must need it.”  My mother, although living off social security checks, once handed a $20 bill to a woman begging in the parking lot.  (Then I would cover the debit at the end of the month).

Some family members are have-nots.  And some of those have-nots are pretty “f—–“ up.  Some suffer addiction, others have been in and out of prison, still others suffer with health issues.   Some are just struggling to make ends meet.  And then there are the rich ones.  In some families, the rich may even be loaded.  A friend of mine was complaining that a rich relative tried to barter for her artwork, offering an oil change for a painting.  Ouch.

The season of giving challenges all of us, especially when we shell out a lot of dough on silly gifts no one will remember.   Every year I plan to make wiser choices for giving.  Maybe next year…


“Links” to God

By Jean Mavrelis - 09.17.2013

Yesterday I received two links.

The TED talk link with Alexander Tsiaras was sent from a Jamaican acupuncturist friend who grew up in New York.

The other link, which had comedians debating the existence of god, came from my niece, an on-line marketing guru who lives in Seattle.

The links provided two sources of deep philosophical thinking gone viral– “Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?

One from cutting edge science, the other from cutting up comics.

As I watched the TED link, the closing image of birth (I know a few women who say it’s not quite how they remember it) reminded me of a scene from 2001 space odyssey where the capsule is floating in space – a haunting image!

I then opened the second link where comedians W. Kamau Bell, Jamie Kilstein, and John Fugelsang debated the existence of God.

I couldn’t help but marvel at the minds that had the wit to think of “God’s fan clubs” and “atheism as white privilege”.

I found myself uplifted by these two links.

They renew my faith in humanity.

I’m thrilled that guys like Alexander Tsiaras are out there.  And I am thankful that comedians like Bell, Kilstein, and Fugelsang can take everything they know, bring it together in a perfect moment, and allow you to laugh at the humor and hopelessness of the human condition.

(Buddhists toil away at making sand mandala in the sand and then laugh when the wind blows them away).

I grew up with the fear of God – not so much the “friendship” of God (I was raised Catholic, and Catholics don’t sing “what a friend we have in Jesus”).

I took solace in the comic commentary that if God won’t let me into heaven because I didn’t worship “him”, then “he” is a (narcissistic) sociopath, and I’ll want to get the “hell” out of there.

Thank God for the internet.


An Open Letter to Paula Deen

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.29.2013

This open letter by Janus Adams, an African American, is so beautifully written.

The response reveals the strategy we try to teach white folks in our seminars who find themselves accused of the “r” word: racism.

Janus Adams wrote to Paula Deen in her open letter, “Do you understand that millions of hard-working people only want to hear you say: ‘I said the things I said. I was wrong. I’m willing to learn and to grow?’”

White folks react to the “r” word as if their moral character has been attacked, and anyone who uses it has done something worse than whatever they did to bring on the accusation.

There’s a strategy here that we share with Caucasian folks in our seminars: African Americans are amazingly forgiving if you admit you said or did something that adversely impacted them regardless of your intent.

If you admit you were wrong, and are willing to learn and to grow, there will be forgiveness.

As my husband and co-author of Corporate Tribalism, Thomas Kochman, says, “With African Americans, honesty works for you more than prejudice or ignorance works against you, especially if you are seen to be sincerely working to correct the problem.  What African Americans hate most is denial.”