You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for February, 2011.

Arab Uprisings

By Wageh Saad - 02.28.2011

Recent events in several Middle-Eastern countries are driven by a multitude of factors that have been brewing for the last three decades.

What we read in the Western media, however, is only the backdrop.

At the top of their list are factors such as poverty of the masses & extreme wealth in the hands of a few (a phenomenon that describes most countries in the Middle East).  Alongside poverty is the fact that Middle Eastern governments are dictatorial whether they are run by an individual or by a party.  Couple this with strict control of free speech, and press and media usually managed and run by the regime.

Opposition, democratic or otherwise is not allowed and in many situations opposition leaders are persecuted, jailed or exiled.

Leaders have always focused on their survival as rulers forgetting about what is important for the people and the country.

Governments are perceived by their people as very strong and heavy handed vis-a-vis their own people, yet very meek and weak when dealing with the outside world.

This last fact taps into historical shame. Read more »

What Does your Gut Tell You

By Jean Mavrelis - 02.21.2011

Harley-riding, ice-fishing, Northwoods hunting, tough as nails “cheesehead” Packer fans and self reliant pick-up truck driving men and women who endure hardship, may be all about getting “big government” off their backs, (despite being the ones who most may be in need of the safety net that the federal government could create if only the wealthiest Americans paid their fair share of taxes).

But just when they’re getting all jacked up on Rush Limbaugh, these hard-working blue collar union-identified workers find themselves at odds with red state spin.

Many of them are still upset that jobs were moved from Wisconsin to the non-union South.   Then the non-union South got jilted when those same businesses moved those jobs from the south to even cheaper labor outside the U.S.

Although only a small percentage of Americans are now union members and sometimes the unions themselves have to be regulated (See Waiting for “Superman” about teacher unions and tenure for unfit teachers)

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  Unions are part of our collective American Story. 

On the Waterfront, Grapes of Wrath, and Norma Rae are movies that are etched on our collective psyche.

And they are an important balance to check the growth of big bonuses for CEO’s while wages for those most in need decline.

Blue collar folks aren’t afraid to sacrifice, they’re used to it. They’re tough survivors.

Read Jim Webb’s book, Born Fighting, to better understand their “insistent individualism” and resistance to big government “handouts”.

To the extent that government has become the domain of oligarchs who buy lobbyists, I too am suspicious of government.

But I differentiate central government reform from big government in cahoots with special interests, like big pharma (pharmaceuticals) or lobbyists who make money off expanding prisons while cutting back on education budgets for children who will, instead of being prepared as professionals and technical experts,  populate those prisons.

I’m proud of those protesters.  I hope these protests are the seed that awakens those hard working blue collar folks in Wisconsin to the reality that “big government” is not one swath – there is big government that promotes special interests, and centralized government that protects and promotes the general welfare of the people, just like the unions have done.

Let’s clean up the unions and the government, not throw them away so big money oligarchs can continue to take advantage of working class vulnerability.

Image Management

By Thomas Kochman - 02.06.2011

I find that people often dismiss representations of their group not so much because the slice of life portraits are distortions of what goes on for members within their group but because the stories are all too depressingly familiar, something they want to distance themselves from.

When that happens the story becomes less about the facts and more about them.

This is often the case among members of ethnic minority groups and it often surfaces when a book about “their” group becomes a run-away best seller, like “Angela’s Ashes” –one Irish immigrant grandmother said disparagingly after reading it, “For Christ’s sake, I could have written that”.

Likewise, the mixed reactions among the people in Limerick, Ireland.

It especially surfaces around “Oscar” time when nominees are announced for best actor or best film.

In 2009 many African Americans had difficulty with the accolades and awards given to “Precious”, or in 2005, with “Crash”.

The Coen Brother’s movie “A Serious Man,” prompted deep and heated debates among Jews.

An Italian American friend didn’t like the 2010 nominated film “The Fighter”.

Those of us hearing his complaint thought that the dysfunctional (“Italian”, “Irish”) family depicted in the film –especially the mother matriarch in the family— resembled too closely his own family experience.

Members of class or ethnic groups do have an issue, if not a problem, that mainstream members of U.S. society do not have.

The former are seen as members of a group. The latter are seen simply as individuals.

When you’re seen, or see yourself, as a member of a group the stakes are higher.  As an insider, you are socially implicated, for better or worse, by the way members of your group are depicted.

When you see yourself or are seen by others as individuals, then it’s just about you or that other person, not about us. Read more »