More incomplete thoughts on race
I first got the idea for writing about this topic when I was listening to the bluegrass station in my husband’s car. He has lately really gotten into it. There were some guys talking about rap and how they don’t know anyone over 60 who listens to rap. It was an offhand comment. My first thought was, “This is not racism, it’s culture.” They just move in their own circles of interest and experience.
I think there are really important and wonderful movements going on in the U.S. and around the world. Racial reconciliation is a long and arduous labor of love and forgiveness. In the current U.S. conversation, I feel there are a few missing bits. Right now we tend to go straight to topics on immigration or race. It feels like our media and politicians have hijacked us, the normal people, for their own ends. My background is anthropology and on occasion, I have had the privilege of receiving various trainings on cross cultural subjects. I can’t remember where I first heard this term, but, cultural lens is an important concept. Everyone on the planet has a cultural lens. It utterly matters where you were born, what year, what sex, and family of origin in HOW you see the world. In the U.S., I feel there is not enough respect and attention paid to culture within our broader culture. We talk a lot about gender, race and regional differences, but I don’t feel enough attention is paid to culture.
Here is how Merriam Webster defines culture.
1a : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time. popular culture, Southern culture
I think we need to add culture lens to the race conversation which would be a lot more helpful than just labeling each other or rushing to interpretation. We make a lot of assumptions in this country based on very shallow intake. One of the most insightful lessons we learned before living in another country is to “suspend judgement.” Our class got put into this simulation and we didn’t know what it was, but we had to operate on assumptions. We were in an airport and didn’t speak the same language. At the end of the exercise, our instructor fussed us out! He was so ashamed at how we acted and how we responded without compassion or mercy. We jumped to conclusions and protected ourselves by and large. We got EVERYTHING wrong about the situation because we didn’t ask questions, judged on what we saw and thought we knew, and fear of the unknown took over. Cultural lens matters. I will never forget that exercise because it exposed my selfish and damaging behavior when I don’t understand what is going on and when I am afraid or unsure of what the rules are and how I should respond.
The temptation in the U.S. is to gloss over differences, because we are all American, right? But, what if we slow down and consider the above factors when we encounter people different from us?
Back to music. I am drawn to both folk and rap because they tell stories and put our struggles to words. I experienced deep poverty while living in Uganda, and when I returned, I happened upon Woody Guthrie. I found so much comfort in his narratives. As far as I know, he was agnostic, but he writes this one song on Jesus Christ and it tickled me to no end that it is the socialist Jesus. Listen here. This week, I was listening to Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. He is Canadian and comes from a cross cultural background. His mother is Jamaican and his father is British. He wrote a podcast on country western songs in the U.S. and what makes a song sad. Listen here. His take on U.S. music and songwriting is refreshing because of his cultural curiosity. He talks about the specificity of certain genres and says this at one point, “Hip hop and country are both tightly knit musical communities. And when you’re speaking to people who understand your world and your culture and your language, you can tell much more complicated stories. You can use much more precise imagery. You can lay yourself bare because you’re among your own.”
I LOVE people and cultures. I am curious about stories. I love how diverse the U.S. is and I am discovering that diversity in other traditionally western cultures. My class this semester is on Francophone countries, which are French speaking countries around the world. I am filling in blanks and broadening my horizons on many historical topics. I have my own cultural lens, but I have to add to my cultural awareness of other people. If I can apply this to living overseas, why can’t I do the same in the U.S.? I hope I can grow in my pausing and asking better questions AND then, listening.