On May 29th, I believe I wrote one of my first blogs while in cultural exile immersion out here in Murrah-land. I entitled it The Dominant Subordinate Culture and I, in many words, explained that blacks in this country are really the dominant culture. Whatever is on top encompasses what is beneath it as far as ranking is concerned; blacks are definitely aware of our own cultural nuances as well as white culture. The ability to go between both has been coined as “code-switching” (which gets very annoying when you’re seemingly forced to stay in “white mode” for too long). I went on to say that whites are ONLY aware of their own culture and haven’t been forced nor forced themselves to understand the nuances of black culture–yet and still we’re the subordinate culture.
I was sure I hit the nail on the head because my one friend told me he 100% agreed with that post, and usually there’s something that me and him disagree with, so this was a pleasant exception.
The problem that I am having with the good whyyyyte folk of Maryland is two fold, or maybe its just a two headed coin. Whatever the case, they maybe culturally aware, like my host mother (post the “hip hop comes from the prison culture” statement) who totally butchered Mahalia Jackson’s name calling her “Mikela” and poo-poohed it saying “you know what I meant” and laughing giddily, but didn’t have the sensitivity to think just how revered and sainted Mahalia Jackson is in the black community.
Sure, we’ve all made our jokes about Mahalia when we’ve been at certain events and a big, black woman (yes, it’s a cliche) get’s up and belts out in a soul stirring alto; or that something has an old-school “Mahalia Jackson” feel to it. But that’s our culture, we can criticize our own because we, black people, are aware of cultural nuances, but moreover, what know what is sensitive to one another. We know that taking the Mahalia Jackson comments too far is a problem. We know that taking the Rosa Park comments too far can cause some controversy–and this is amongst ourselves!
So is ignorance of the law an excuse?
The powers that be say no of course. If I get caught riding with a cellie to my ear in DC, supposedly, I should get a ticket even though there’s absolutely NO WAY I’d know that it’s illegal.
In this case of cultural awareness versus sensitivity, I think that ignorance should be taken into consideration. Here’s my case in point:
In Philadelphia during our trip, every night we’d have a big group time where the two other groups and ours would meet up and the trip leaders over the Philly site, would put on a skit. The site director, who’s name is Tom, had come up with this idea of dressing as old man. Putting on the fake beard, a bathrobe, a walker and a shuffle–a regular John McCain with a beard.
Now what do you think the old guy Tom named himself?
You got it UNCLE TOM!
Please believe, after sitting through a week long of that, I left a long 2/3 page comment on the evaluation sheet, leaving citations and whatnot. Clearly, after talking to the guy in person, this was an issue of not even being culturally aware. So even with my kids, I took a LONG time explaining what “Uncle Tom” means in a contemporary sense because they were all aware of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. So for the rest of the week, all of my kids were laughing and looking at me when “crazy old Uncle Tom” came out of the back.
I think the problem is that too often whites don’t value black culture. My host mother didn’t care to read my face and realize the seriousness in it when she foolishly and carelessly said “hip hop came from the prison culture” or when she asked me if I knew about “Mikela Jackson.”
Well, I guess I can get over that. The bigger problem is when the two cultures clash, and the lighter of the two proceeds to imply that her way is the right way. Now, I’m not saying that this person is racist, but still the product of white privilege (yes, I said it.)
In addition to the fact that her major in college is in the education field, and clearly I graduated with an Accounting degree. We sat on the steps of whatever Revolutionary War memorial/statue that is in the circle across from the Philadelphia Musuem of Art and I had this discussion with her and she wass “grieved” because we didn’t see eye to eye on the evening discussions. That was her way of saying that she didn’t feel my social and political tone was appropriate for the youth.
Sorry, I couldn’t help but read that I was being “too black” for the youth.
Maybe that one’s a stretch, but still, it was damn insulting as she said she was sorry that we couldn’t get on the same page. Hell, I wasn’t sorry, I halfway didn’t expect her to agree with me, but by her saying that, the implication is that she was saying “My way is the right way, and you should get on board with me.”
I don’t like ish like that.
I think her problem is also that she was suffering from anti-intelligence, but I’ve already covered fools like that.
Oh well, the group is headed to the beach on the Maryland Shore on Thursday, and I need to head in to the office.
Are there any instances where you’ve had a clash of cultures and you’ve felt culturally insulted or culturally dismissed? That may have been someone being culturally insensitive to you. Share with the UNN and let’s have a discussion about it.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL
One thought on “Philly Debrief III: Culturally Aware Vs. Culturally Sensitivity”
Union Seminary. 2000-ish, perhaps late 1990s. I was relating in a class how Black Caribbean immigrants like myself often were dissed by African Americans. This was, of course, my personal experience but it is borne out by decades of immigrant fictional writing by Caribbean people in the US, and by the New York newspapers. Still, an Uppity Negro–like yourself–decided to tell me how wrong my experience was, and that there was never any tension between blacks and West Indians.
For a change I was not the only Black Non-American Caribbean child in the room; and another equally black woman took him on. We tag-teamed him into at least shutting up long enough to listen.
Yet more evidence that, 30+ years later, I’m still not ‘black enough’