Interactional Etiquette

By Thomas Kochman - 07.08.2009

An article in the July 8, 2009 New York Times on Interracial Roommates  focused on the social and prejudicial aspects of sharing a room with someone of a different race but neglected to deal with cultural matters which directly affect willingness to engage or, in many cases, tolerate different preferences and lifestyles. One frequent African American/U.S. mainstream clash around sharing the same room or even same floor at universities before headphones ameliorated the problem was over when and how loud to play their music –African American students generally preferring to play their music louder and later at night than white students. What’s cultural about this are the different standards regulating expressive behavior. Blacks generally prefer more potent, dynamic and forceful expressions whereas mainstream whites prefer and tolerate expressions that are more modest and subdued.

What’s also culturally relevant is who is expected to accommodate whom? Mainstream U.S. cultural etiquette puts the onus on assertors to monitor and regulate the level of their expression to that which receivers can comfortably manage which socially gives receivers control over how loud or forceful expressive behavior can become.  African American cultural etiquette gives assertors much greater latitude and license to set the emotional tone of what goes on thereby placing those on the receiving end in the more accommodating position and role. Read more »