Culture Awareness I was planning to take a leisurely trip this summer, but now I think I’ll have to change my plans. Instead I’ll probably have to take a crash course in Sensitivity for the Culturally Unaware. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Chicago, perhaps the most culturally diverse city in the country. Maybe it’s because I have a mulatto niece and nephew. Maybe it’s because my cousin’s last name is now Hernandez.
Maybe it’s because my wife’s cousin is a Native American. Or maybe it’s because we Poles have borne the brunt of more jokes than any other ethnic group, but all this time I thought I was aware of other cultures and the feelings of members of other ethnic groups and minorities. Now I guess I’m not. At least my union newsletter, the BEA Messenger, says I’m not in an article on multicultural awareness. I for one take pride in our nation’s history in regard to minorities.
Minority groups founded this nation. The religious groups who felt the pressure of persecution in their homelands came here to begin new lives, and eventually a new nation. The ethnic groups that came in a great flood of immigrants came to escape the economic oppression of their homelands. Those groups, too, found a way to become part of the American experience. They didn’t need, nor did they demand, any laws requiring acceptance into society.
Kindness, tolerance and respect are things that can only be earned, not handed down by legislative decree. Those things mandated by law never reach into the fiber of our country. They never take root in our psyches. In fact, as we have too often seen, legislative decrees that mandate how we should act or feel lead to only more dissension and divisiveness. Great strides have been taken on the road to equality. Despite claims to the contrary, women have more opportunity now to succeed than ever before.
Today, fifty percent of law school graduates are female. Where twenty years ago perhaps 5000 women were industrial engineers, today that profession consists of 175000 females. Blacks, too, have made great strides. They are now mayors, governors, and judges. They hold positions of authority in almost every segment of our country. We as a nation by and large have indeed accepted minorities into the fold of this culture, particularly when those minorities have done much to earn our respect.
The February 21, 1992, issue of the Messenger, however, suggests that I am not multiculturally aware enough. It suggests that things I say or feel may be taken as derogatory. It smacks of a political correctness and Big Brotherhood, which, if we honestly appraise it, does more to hinder our First Amendment rights than any oppressive behavior of the past. I am multiculturally aware enough already without having my union trying to convince me that I am not. I am particularly upset by the implication that remarks I may or may not make are derogatory and multiculturally unaware. I think, and believe, that people should be treated equally.
I also believe that much of what is deemed to be “multiculturally aware” is just plain silly. And some of the things in the Messenger article point to this. It is true that “few of us..think that women are the weaker sex.” It is equally true that most of realize that, unless her name is Bertha or Beulah, few women can bench press the same weight as men, or hit a golf ball as far as Jack Nicklaus. Admittedly, many attractive women have the physical capabilities of the ancient Amazons, but they usually go by the name of “Blaze” or “Dementia” and appear regularly on American Gladiators or Roller Derby. Yes, I do become “impatient with elderly people who drive more slowly” than I do.
But, it’s not because they are elderly. It’s because I don’t want to wreck the front end of my car by running into back end of a car that is going 35 mph on an interstate highway. After drunk driving, the majority of auto accidents are caused by drivers going under the posted speed limits. I do not, however, become impatient with elderly people who “stow their change before moving from the check-out counter.” They’re not stowing their change. The experience of their years has taught them that half the cashiers in the country don’t know how to make change, and they’re just making sure they don’t get gypped. I now have to suspect the wisdom of saying certain things, according to the Messenger. Saying of my son, “He’s all boy,” is wrong now. So, too, is saying that he and his friends are “acting like a bunch of savages.” So I can’t tell them to “sit Indian style” for a while and behave themselves.
I don’t understand this at all. I certainly don’t want an hermaphrodite for a son. But if he was, I still wouldn’t want him acting like a savage when we are supposedly civilized. As for the act of sitting on the floor cross-legged, which is not to be confused with the sitting position of meditation known as the Lotus position, I can think of no other way to say it other than Indian style. By the time I got, “sit on the floor cross-legged, etc…” out of my mouth, my son and his friends would turn into all boys again and start running around like savages. The Messenger asks if I feel that a boy who plays with dolls is less masculine. Boys have always played with toy soldiers.
Today’s G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures are still dolls by any other name. When they start playing “Let’s dress like Barbie,” though, I think it’s time to worry. I’m not willing to have my son put on a dress at an early age just to see if he turns out like Ernest Hemingway. I must admit that at times I must remind him to stop being “all boy” and that his sister is not a member of the evil Cobra Force or Foot Clan.
Next, the Messenger asks if I feel that eating a pig is more acceptable than eating a dog. As I am neither Jewish nor vegetarian, in which case I would really be upset by the question, I will pretty much eat anything on the plate as long as it isn’t still moving. Any Pole who can slurp down a bowl of czardnina (duck blood soup to those of you who are culturally unaware) ought to be able to handle a portion or two of Rover ala Carte. I am wondering, though, how this eating of dogs fits into the agenda of the animal rights activists. Are they planning to travel to Eastern countries and tell them to stop eating dogs and start chewing down a few brats and beer instead just to keep the pigs represented equally on the world’s dinner table? In perhaps a final attempt to make its point, the Messenger asks how I would feel if a black family bought the house next door.
Given that my brother-in-law was black, I supposed I should be the one who is insulted by this question. It’s just as silly as the other points made in the article. Nobody in their right mind wants anybody living next door to them. All of us would probably prefer that our nearest neighbors were forty miles away and the only way they could contact us was by dog sled. Since we can’t have that ideal, we settle for anybody who can kill dandelions and cuts their grass on a regular basis. We would also require that they keep their dog from pooping in our yard. We would like them to do the same things with their kids, not have a lot of large, loud parties, and not have the cops pull up in front of their house every other night.
Most of us have never given much thought to the question, but when we do, we decide we don’t give a hoot. I don’t presume to know about other cultures. My perceptions of other cultures can only be based on experience. That is why I plan on attending that Summer Camp for the Culturally Unaware. I do have one condition to place upon my attendance at this camp.
Whoever is running the camp, perhaps even the person who wrote the Messenger piece. has to attend a camp that I am starting down the road from them. It’s called Summer Camp for the Multiculturally Without a Clue. Every night we have czardnina and hot dogs for supper. Then we sit Indian style around a campfire.
Boys and girls are welcome regardless of race, religion or creed.