You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for June, 2009.

Gosh, Golly, Gee, Iranians and Me

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.30.2009

I have to say in many ways, Iranians don’t seem so different from us.  Seeing citizens from the formerly branded “axis of evil” nation on the news forces us to think in ways that aren’t so clear cut in terms of who is good and who is bad. 

Gosh, Iranians have disagreements about how their government should be run. Granted, they can’t voice that disagreement without risking their lives – which they do – so maybe they have to be more courageous about democracy than we do.

Golly, many of Iran’s conservative voters are religious fundamentalists.

Gee, they also have differences that grow out of class and access to education.

Say, what if  all the religious fundamentalists in the world  joined a blog, and all the intelligentsia, the farmers, the factory workers, the scientists, and all the women joined one too..

Ah, but even if we spoke each other’s languages, or if everyone spoke English. It wouldn’t work unless we understood not only something about the ways we and others are the same, but how we are different as well.  That’s why the leaders of the future must learn to operate with multicultural understanding. In that way, Obama is the state of the art right now.


\”I shouldn\’t have laughed!\”

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.29.2009

Can we create a workplace that is safe for humor, where there is the ability to learn from our stupid jokes, and apologize for our ignorance?

WIS10 TV in Columbia, S.C., reported a Facebook post by an aide to state Attorney General Henry McMaster that described an escape by a gorilla on Friday from the zoo in Columbia. DePass, once a state Senate candidate, responded to the post with these words: \”I\’m sure it\’s just one of Michelle\’s ancestors – probably harmless.\” On this one, you really have to be clueless to not “get” that it is racist no matter who it comes from.

However, when you\’re not sure a joke is racist or sexist, you can apply the litmus test: would an insider of the group the joke is about think it was funny, or derogatory, as applied to their group. Ask yourself this question when you\’re not sure if you should be appalled or laugh when someone tells a joke at work and you\’re not sure how to react. Read more »

Ethnic Solidarity: Myth and Reality

By Thomas Kochman - 06.24.2009

David D. Kirkpatrick’s article on the relationship between José A. Cabranes and Sonya Sotomayor  (Judge’s Mentor: Part Guide, Part Foil The New York Times, June 22, 2009) referred to a time when Cabranes was named ambassador to Colombia, “only to have his nomination languish as Colombian diplomats took offense at the dispatch of a Puerto Rican.” 

 What’s interesting here is the tendency within the U.S. mainstream to group Hispanics together as a single group which runs afoul of the ethnic/country/culture specific way Hispanics are seen throughout Latin America and how, within the U.S., they often see themselves. These differences become important when doing business in the U.S. as well as abroad. Viewing Hispanics as more similar to each other than different works when comparing them to non-Hispanic groups in the U.S. corporate workplace. But change the venue and differences among Hispanics are what stand out as shown in the 1998 article in Business Mexico by Adler and Garaitonandía, “Same Language, Different Meanings”  

This pattern of difference also applies to Asian Americans –especially first generation immigrants. Differences among them tend to diminish within the U.S. corporate workplace. They are also more drawn to each other there because they share cultural patterns that collectively set them apart from those of the dominant U.S. mainstream culture. What matters outside the workplace however, in choosing where they live, or whom they marry (or more telling perhaps, don’t live near or marry) are the differences among them, especially historically rooted ethnic rivalries. Read more »

Playing the Culture Card

By Thomas Kochman - 06.23.2009

As President Obama’s proposal for a national health care plan begins to generate some traction  one strategy of the opposition has been to use a TV ad arguing  that \”This government-run plan could crush all your other choices, driving them out of existence.” Richard Martin takes a close look at this in his article Television Ad Targets Health Reform. See the ad itself on Conservatives for Patients\’ Rights – Bulldozer 

This debate illustrates the power of culture to shape the way people look at an issue or policy. Freedom of choice for individuals in mainstream U.S. culture is a significant part of our value system.  It is able to garner support in and of itself regardless of what is being offered, like someone pitching equality –another U.S. value– but at the cost of making everyone poor.

I remember being asked to do a diversity program at a government agency and one man said, “We don’t discriminate against anyone here. We treat everyone like shit.” So in pitching equality we need to ask what is the quality of that equality? Likewise with respect to free choice; is the important question with respect to health care who decides, or what do the various plans offer? Read more »

Obama Socialized by White Women

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.23.2009

Talk show host and liberal social commentator Bill Maher criticized Obama on his HBO show “Real Time” when he said Obama was “focusing too much on his charm offense and not enough on substantive change…I’m glad he got elected. But he’s not really putting it on the line against the banks, the insurance companies, the energy companies who run the country and in many ways, have ruined this country.”

In effect, he accused the President of being what I describe in our book, Corporate Tribalism, as a “people pleaser.” I have observed that when the oldest child in a family is male, he often spends more time with Mom or Grandma, and tends to also fit the description of what I describe as a white female “people pleaser.” It would not surprise me if Obama learned from his white mother and grandmother that you catch more flies with honey than with a fly swatter. Read more »

What’s Racist – Intent or Impact?

By Thomas Kochman - 06.23.2009

In our blog Race Awareness we looked at social reasons that explain why Blacks see race where Whites do not. In this blog we look at cultural factors that also play a role.

We find disputed cases especially interesting because they raise for us the question of what’s going on that leads Whites and Blacks to come to such different conclusions on whether something is racist or not.  It is a question we address in Corporate Tribalism.   We look at court cases where racism has been charged but not found or situations where there is disagreement over the charge of racist policies and practices. What we’ve found is a clear pattern of difference in what blacks and whites look at and weigh in coming to their different conclusions of what’s going on.

One constant factor for African Americans is inconsistent treatment along racial lines or “being singled out.” Attention and assessment and from that accountability is established around what was said and done and the impact of that. This can be seen in the case with former Yankee player Gary Sheffield when he said back in 2007 that he felt that Yankees Manager Joe Torre treated black players differently than whites. Read more »

Race Awareness

By Thomas Kochman - 06.20.2009

A report by Target Market News last week noted that News Corp is forming a diversity council following protests over a cartoon of President Obama that appeared in a February issue of the New York Post. Protesters picket New York Post over chimp cartoon February 19, 2009. Over the years we have noted many protests occurring as a result of blatant racism (as in the present case), as well as thinly disguised racism, or  simple racial insensitivity, as in the case of Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilgheman who was suspended for the \’lynch\’ remark about Tiger Woods.

Sometimes, the charge is more one of bad timing or bad taste, as directed toward The New Yorker for example. The New Yorker ‘s cover of Barack and Michele Obama in which they were depicted as terrorists, was presented and seen by many as satire –mocking the mockers, so to speak.  But it was also received as having “all the scare tactics and misinformation that has so far been used to derail Barack Obama\’s campaign — all in one handy illustration.Read more »

Tribal Stereotypes

By Thomas Kochman - 06.18.2009

The column by Brent Staples titled Even Now, There’s Risk in ‘Driving While Black’ , The New York Times June 14, 2009 is a good reminder that profiling and stereotypes of African Americans, especially black men, endure, notwithstanding the election of an African American president.  In fact, it has been long held by black men — especially those that have reached celebrity status—that the white public views their success as exceptional: as reflecting upon individual achievement but not upon an African American, or member of group, achievement.

This persistence of these attitudes toward a group notwithstanding, the success of individuals from that group raises the question of what it would take for stereotypes of the group to change?  And if many individual successes as members of a group are ultimately what it takes, how long before that happens?
Tribal stereotypes prevail in the corporate workplace too, as we document in our book Corporate Tribalism.  In our diversity training, we often talk about the challenges individuals from various groups face because of views of them as members of a group, and not just as individuals. We pose the question, “If you just became manager of a new work group what do you think you might specially have to prove above and beyond what everyone might have to prove?” The different responses that we get from different groups speak directly to stereotypes that exist about that group. Read more »

Mocking Sarah Palin and Her Daughters

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.17.2009

I am a womanist– that means I’m FOR women – all women-all cultures-all ages.  I am proud and delighted to be a woman and yet I caught myself laughing at David Letterman’s jokes about Sarah Palin and her daughter last week. He said Palin had updated her “slutty flight attendant” look during her recent visit to New York, and experienced an awkward moment during the Yankee’s game when her daughter was “knocked-up” by Alex Rodriguez.

I asked myself, “Why did I laugh?  Why wasn’t I immediately outraged at the double slam of a promiscuous daughter and a ‘slutty-looking’ mom?”

The answer is, something made me laugh before I got to the part that objectified women.  I think it was this: a lot of people talked about how the treatment of the candidate would have been different if it had been a Black candidate whose daughter had a baby out of wedlock. I think my initial reaction was to the irony of a “sanctity of marriage” mom/political figure having a daughter who may have embarrassed her. Read more »

Ethnicity and the Supreme Court

By Thomas Kochman - 06.16.2009

In a post late last week, I explored the question of how Sonia Sotomayor’s ethnicity might influence her judgments or the judgments of other members of the Supreme Court if she is confirmed. It got me thinking more about Thurgood Marshall and his time on the nation’s highest court, and the role his ethnicity played in his judgements.

In addition to the social perspective Marshall brought to the Court, what was also telling, but less obvious, was the cultural perspective he brought as an African American to deliberations. The case where this played out most clearly was  Rankin vs. McPherson.  I have some familiarity with this case because I was called upon to testify as an expert witness on behalf of McPherson in one of the earlier trials. Read more »