Final Thoughts

I was really looking forward to this Intercultural Communication course and I learned a lot about myself and others. These are my main takeaways: 

Change Starts with Me   

This really struck me as we were studying racism for our group project. It’s up to each of us to be aware that racism exists in our society and in our world and when we see or hear something, we have the responsibility to speak up and say something. Even if we are with our family and friends, we can call them out and change the discussion that surrounds race. We’re doing no good when we ignore problems that exist. This is also very true for any discrimination that’s taking place, whether it be against women, people of color, someone with disabilities, etc. Our conversations need to change so dangerous stereotypes and stigmas can be eliminated. 

Compassion Goes A Long Way

Is it possible to be too nice? As I’ve grown and experienced life, I’ve had to work a lot on having self compassion. This comes with the realization that I’m not perfect and will never be. Life is messy and mistakes are made. Life can still be a joyous experience though, despite the difficulties. In learning about other cultures and in my service opportunities at the basket ball camp and then at the Easter celebration, I got to work with people who experience life differently than I do. Though they are not perfect and they are different, that doesn’t mean they are any less valuable or worthy of certain things in life. Love, kindness, and compassion go a very long way in being culturally aware and accepting of others who are different. Compassion helps us recognize the humanity that lies within us all. 

The World is Waiting   

There’s always something new and exciting to discover and learn about. With so much focus on school and work at this time in my life, I sometimes forget there’s a lot more world out there waiting to be discovered. Travel used to be a passion of mine, and I’m hoping in the future I will be able to travel often to learn about new lands and people. Experiencing a world other than our own can foster a life-long love of learning and a new zeal for life. Our world is diverse and that’s what makes it so beautiful and interesting. I can’t wait to get out there again! 

 

Popular Media

Media has a significant impact on our culture. Everything from the TV shows we watch to the music we listen to and magazines we read portray pop culture and establish and perpetuate cultural norms. These various forms of media show us what has been deemed important, trendy and valuable. For example, the subject of some of the most popular songs, movies and stories is love. Love is a powerful and important subject in our western culture. Love is highly valued and sought after. The concept of “true love” is something we believe and some spend a lifetime looking for. In other cultures, romantic love isn’t seen as important or even necessary. Another example would be how our concept and expectations of the American Dream or just being successful in America are portrayed in movies and shows. Success equals things like being a home owner, owning a nice car, having material possessions, being able to take vacations and travel and having an excess of income. I think of the shows on HGTV for example that are extremely popular and they are all about helping people find, buy, and decorate their dream homes. It’s a huge milestone of adulthood and success in our culture. Overall, the media has a great influence on how we view the world and our expectations for ourselves and others. 

 

Me + Natalie

In talking about interracial relationships, I wanted to share my personal experience with one of my oldest friends. Natalie and her family are Nicaraguan. We became good friends when my family moved in across the street from hers when we were both just juniors in high school. Natalie and her sister Nicky came over to my house after school one day and asked if I’d like to join them in their walk to the local convenience store. I said, sure! We walked to the store, grabbed some Cheetos’s and Jone’s sodas and bonded as we sat in my driveway talking and eating. After that day, Natalie and I spent a lot of time going back and forth between our houses each day after school; doing homework, hunting for after school snacks, helping each other make outfits and watching music videos.

We’ve both learned a lot about each other and our families in our 10+ year friendship, since we do come very different cultural and racial backgrounds. I talked to Natalie and asked her to tell me about some of the things she found weird, different, surprising, etc. when we first became friends. In talking to her, I learned some surprising things! She told me that I was basically her first white friend, all her friends before had been Black or Hispanic. Her family was actually skeptical of me at first. Her older siblings, especially, gave her a hard time about spending more time with me and accused her of forgetting her old friends. They were also concerned about her coming over to my house, in fear that she’d somehow get in trouble or make us mad, and we’d end up suing them. She said her family treated me like a guest anytime I was over because I was white, while any other Hispanic kids that came over, were treated like all the other kids.

From my perspective, I never knew, saw, or felt her family’s initial uneasiness or skepticism. I always felt welcome in their home and I was just too young and naive or having too much fun with my new friends to really be aware of the greater issues surrounding our newfound friendship. My family was okay with me being friends with Natalie and Nicky, and were just fine with them spending time at our house. They did often make insensitive jokes about race, which was uncomfortable for us all. Her family was always willing to share whatever they had with me and I felt comfortable with them.

In looking at this situation now, after many years and experiences, it’s easy to see how our difference in race played a big part in our friendship and how our families felt with each other. Natalie and her family, as minorities, felt a certain level of anxiety with their daughter becoming friends with and spending so much time with a white girl. While me, being white in the racial majority and in a place of greater privilege, I never felt threatened, uneasy or anxious in any way being with her or her family.

Eventually, I spent so much time with Natalie and her family, that they feel like an extension of my own family and I know they are much more comfortable with me now. It took time to build that trust and connection though. Our difference in race and culture was a big deal in the beginning, but we’ve learned to accept each other for our differences and we’ve learned about our respective cultures along the way.

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Monopoly Board Activities! 

New food tried:  Galilee Grill and Bakery (Middle Eastern Cuisine) in Lindon, UT and CherCher Ethiopian Restaurant in Washington D.C.  |  Both of these places were great! The food was very flavorful and delicious. The Ethiopian food was the most unique for me. We ordered a big platter that came with several different items on it, which we ate with their flat, thin bread, Injera, that was similar to a crepe, but without the sweetness. Very good! 

Movies Watched: I watched two international films. One was a Chinese documentary called Last Train Home. It follows a poor Chinese family as the parents work away in a large city in a clothing factory and their two children live in their rural home village with their grandmother. They only get to go home once a year, for Chinese New Year. Their family relationships struggle, but this is the reality for many, many people. The other film I watched was a Japanese classic called “Rashomon”. In this film, we listen to several different stories in a murder trial of a man. Each perspective is vastly different and we’re left wondering what the truth is and how justice will be served. We also take a look into the Japanese culture in how women were treated and how their courts and trials took place. 

 

 

Broke, But Not Broken

Poverty is a societal issue that affects nearly every community. Millions of dollars have been thrown into research and programs aimed at ending poverty, but significant improvements have yet to be seen. There are also many negative stereotypes surrounding those who live in situational and generational poverty. Poverty and the people living in it are generally, and greatly, misunderstood. 

In the Ted Talk, “The Story We Tell About Poverty Isn’t True”, by Mia Birdsong, she sets out to dispel our misconceptions about those in poverty. She tells the stories of several individuals and families who have worked extremely hard to provide for their families and to stay afloat. She grew up in poverty herself, the daughter of a single mother. These families are poor, but they are resilient and smart, they may be broke, but they certainly are not broken. “I’m tired of the story we tell, that hard work leads to success. This implies that those who make it, deserve it, and that those who don’t, don’t deserve it,” says Birdsong.

Her solution to poverty is to look to those who actually live in those situations. These overlooked people are our most “powerful and practical resource”. She suggests that the people are not the broken ones, rather it is out approach to helping them. What may really work and offer a solution is to create new systems, rather than changing the ones already in place. 

After having interned and worked for a non-profit whose mission is to help end local poverty, this issue has taken on personal significance for me. When we have people suffering and struggling in our community, it hurts us all. We provided resources that could lead to long-term solutions. We wanted to help people help themselves, essentially. I think the most important lesson I took from Mia Birdsong’s Ted Talk, is that these people are strong and capable. They find a way to survive. I think those of us who do not live in poverty, still have a responsibility to help those in need and to offer a support system and resources as needed. 

In my research into the poverty issue, one article I found, “Ending Poverty: The Great Moral Issue of our Time”, supports the fact that we should offer more resources and education to strengthen those in need. It also makes the point that we should step up and provide the help that is most needed. Speaking of college students who volunteered to help with Hurricane Katrina clean up over their spring break it says, “They understand that in America, when a neighbor is in need, you do not make excuses. You do not point to someone else and say it is their responsibility. You just step”. (Edwards, 2007, p. 348)

In another article entitled “Ending Poverty, One Village at a Time”, ideas about poverty solutions are given and studied. It is suggested that, “In any development effort, there must be top-down and bottom-up programs in place at the same time, and they need to be implemented at a pace set by the people receiving the assistance. Top-down efforts include changes in government policies and business practices to promote and support the flow of resources. Bottom-up programs include those that teach practical skills for adults and children and provide sufficient resources to kick-start the production of food or the ability to earn a living.” (Jesteadt, 2007).  These types of changes can help provide more relevant resources, or even be the catalyst to create new and innovative solutions. 

I agree completely with Mia Birdsong in that the best solutions will be found with those who have lived or are still living in poverty. I propose that we work directly with these people to know better the resources they need and want, how they survive and work already, and what their end goal would be. In doing this, we’ll have more affective programs and resources that these individuals will be more at ease with and feel more confident in taking on. We just need to “add fire to the flame they already have”, says Birdsong. 

Sources: 

Birdsong, M. (Director). (2015, May). The story we tell about poverty isn’t true [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/mia_birdsong_the_story_we_tell_about_poverty_isn_t_true#t-904928

Edwards, J. (2007). Ending Poverty: The Great Moral Issue of Our Time. Yale Law & Policy Review, 25(2), 337-348. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40239682

Jesteadt, E. (2007). Ending Poverty, One Village at a Time. The Wilson Quarterly (1976-), (3). 9.

 

What Now

As we’ve had lengthy discussions in class on privilege and I’ve had time to reflect on my own privilege through readings and these posts, I have found that my perceptions and beliefs on the matter have been confirmed and I have a better understanding of privilege. This was an issue I had heard about and knew a little about before coming into this class. I still very much believe that it’s an issue that needs to be talked about more and it is shocking to see how many people don’t believe in it at all, or they don’t really understand what it means. I also still have much to learn about it.

In one discussion in another class, where we talked about privilege, the important takeaway our teacher emphasized was that we shouldn’t feel guilty or get defensive about the privilege that we have. None of us asked to be born with a certain color of skin or into a certain socio-economic background. There are many factors that are simply out of our hands. However, it is important to recognize the privilege we have, so that we can be advocates for change and supportive of those who are different. I think when we know our privilege, it makes us more empathetic and compassionate, two things often lacking in our fast-driven, competitive and selfish world. When we each have a real chance at success, which looks different for everyone, the possibilities are endless. 

Walk Boldly

Who has the power? We explored this is in a class activity where we were divided into different socioeconomic classes based on the color of tokens that we randomly drew from paper bags. Each colored token had a point value associated with it. We were given a few minutes to trade and barter with what we had, but when time was up, we were stuck with the amount in our hands.

From this activity, I drew several parallels that we often see in our society. One of the most profound for me being that it all started with the luck of the draw. Some drew several of the high-value tokens, randomly, straight from the bag. They were on top right from the beginning. And it wasn’t because of any external factor, it’s just what happened by chance. I believe the same is true for each of us. We are born into certain families and circumstances, some of which automatically come with wealth, power, and status. You didn’t do anything to deserve those things, it’s just the situation you happened to be born into. Same for those who are born into poverty and oppression. We are dealt certain cards in life, right at birth.

The second parallel I noticed, was that it was very difficult for those who were on the bottom to rise to the top, or even make it to the “middle-class” group. Most who had a low score, remained with the lowest numbers throughout the entire game. Even as we drew more tokens and were able to trade again, if you started with a low number, it was very difficult to break into a different group, even though you may have earned more points. This is definitely true in real life situations. Those who are on the bottom typically have less resources and support. They work and get by, but it’s extremely difficult to rise above the social class you are born and raised in. On the other hand, the wealthy have the money and resources to keep gaining more and more. 

 Another powerful parallel, was that the “wealthy” group was given all the power. They could actually change the rules of the game if they wished. This is another stark parallel with our society. Money = Power. If you don’t have money, your power for change and success is greatly diminished. With wealth, status, and yes, race, come certain power and privileges. We live in a society where it’s much easier for the rich to get richer than for the poor to make any gains.

My group also presented our project this week that centered on racism. One of the most powerful take-aways for me was learning about the danger of being color-blind. In our society, we are often taught to not see color; that seeing color is a bad thing. The sentiment behind these messages are not inherently evil; they are to teach the point that we should love and accept everyone, despite their race. While this is most certainly true, it has also led us down a path where we have become blind and ignorant to the fact that racism still permeates our society today. It’s like putting a soft, fuzzy blanket over an ugly, hard issue that’s never really been resolved. So, it’s ok to see race and color. We should see it, and we should celebrate our differences and similarities. Seeing race is also a way to recognize the ways in which discrimination and racism are still effecting many people. And it’s the first step we have to take in order to fight the injustices that exist in our world today. 

We used a clip of this TED talk by Verna Myers in our presentation. She makes some great points in regard to race, being color-blind, and some ways in which you can address and confront these issues. 

 

Privilege

I believe that privilege is an often misunderstood and improperly used word in our American society, particularly the highly-charged term “white privilege”. In the book Inter/Cultural Communication by Anastacia Kurylo, she defines privilege as “a frequently invisible and normalized process whereby a person is granted more value, and given better treatment solely based on this person’t membership in a group.” So, in relation with white privilege, and as a white female, in our society, I am granted more value and better treatment, simply because I am white. 

There has been a lot of debate over white privilege. It causes a  lot of confusion and anger. It’s something I still strive to understand and learn about. I think the misunderstanding comes from the fact that those who are labeled as having white privilege, believe that that label discredits or negates all of their personal struggles. Without a deeper understanding of what white privilege is, those who came from nothing, who were poor or who have suffered tremendous heartache and pain in their lives think that recognizing the privilege that comes with the color of their skin is unfair and cruel. 

In my personal life, I have been privileged in many ways. Though my family was not wealthy by any means, I grew up in a home where my parent’s valued and encouraged education. We always had piles of books. I grew up loving to read. I always had a way to school. I had clean clothes to wear to school. We always had food on the table. I grew up in a quiet neighborhood, where most of my neighbors were white as well. I didn’t fear violence or harm when I walked out my door. I was privileged in that I had the knowledge and resources to come to college, though my mother never went to college and my father only completed an associate’s degree. I was privileged in that I had teachers and counselors who encouraged and motivated me to start and complete my education. I was privileged in that I felt comfortable in this type of environment, because almost everyone else looked just like me. I’ve never had the experience of feeling like an outsider, like a minority.

Simply because of my skin color, I have been treated a certain way my entire life, and in largely positive ways. I’ve never feared authority figures. I’ve never felt discrimination. I am welcome anywhere. The doors have always been open for me, despite a lack of education and money in my family. The options have been greater and more easily attainable because of the color of my skin. 

Life is a challenge for each of us. It’s never fair, for anyone. Privileged or not, we all struggle and experience moments of pain and difficulty. I believe recognizing that privilege exists in our society is the first step in creating a safe and equitable society.

Another Point of View

Joseph Ostraff, a professor of Art from Brigham Young University, spoke to our class this past week on his experience with working and living with different cultures. Since Ostraff is an artist, he showed us some videos he created to illustrate some of his stories. One that stood out to me was a short video depicting two different perspectives of a moving merry-go-round. From one perspective, the merry-go-round was filmed while he was on the playground toy, with just the shadows moving around the center. From the other, it was filmed while he was off the toy and you could see the bars and the rails all moving in the circular motion. His point was to illustrate how perspective is everything.

His view of the merry-go-round changed dramatically depending on where he was standing. Just as our view of another culture, people, place varies dramatically depending on where we come from, how we were raised, our preconceived notions, etc. There are many factors that affect the way we see the world. He also illustrated the point that you can see things from a different perspective, if you are willing to move; to make an effort to see something from a different point of view. 

Perspective taking is an important aspect of learning. It helps create a more tolerant and peaceful world view. Knowing that our perspective is just that, and that it’s subject to change and grow and expand is one of the beauties of living in a culturally diverse world. What can we learn from our neighbor?

Ostraff also spoke on the difficulties of acclimating to a new culture. He said that you will most likely always stand out as a visitor to native people. That’s not an excuse to not try though. He suggested that observation of body language, and especially watching how other people of your age and gender are acting, can help when tying to fit into a new culture. Simply asking if you don’t know is always ok too! 

My Cultural Self-Assessment

A cultural self-assessment is a way in which you can examine your own identity. When we have a greater understanding of who we are and how our culture has influenced and shaped the way we think and perceive others, we’ll be more readily able to understand our personal biases and assumptions, some of which can be dangerous or damaging. Being more aware of this identity can help us fight and correct biases and assumptions. It can create a more accepting and tolerant environment. This is an ongoing process, as these cultural identities are deep-rooted and can be difficult to change. 

I identify as a white, middle-class, female. I grew up in an average sized town in the southern U.S. state of Arkansas, where the majority of the population was also white. The town I grew up in was home to the Wal-Mart headquarters, so the corporation did bring in people from all over the world to work there, and it has grown in number and diversity over the years. I grew up speaking English and am fluent in it. English was the language spoken by the majority of people I knew and grew up with as well. My family was religious and identified as LDS for part of my childhood, but in my early teen years they decided to stop attending and were no longer involved in the religion. I continued to keep going and was actively involved in the religion up until last year. Now I don’t associate myself with any religion at the moment. I am an able bodied person. I don’t have any physical disabilities that hinder my movement or freedom. I also don’t have any intellectual disabilities and consider myself privileged to be attending college and doing well in it. 

In examining cultural groups different from my own, I’ll choose gender and race to use as comparisons.

Gender: I do believe that discrimination against women exists at the hands of men in the world we live in today and I’m an advocate for equal rights among men and women. Looking at history, it’s easy to see that women have mostly been subject to men. We definitely live in a “man’s world”. In my life, I personally have not been at the receiving end of major discrimination as a woman. But at times, I do feel like I’ve had to play down my intelligence or play down assertiveness to feel more accepted by men, mainly in the workplace. In my personal relationships, I often wonder if I’ve been unlucky in love because of my ambition, independence, and career goals and afraid that I may come off too strong in those situations and men end up feeling intimidated. (If this is the case, I know I’m a whole lot better off without those kind of men in my life). I feel like women have been generally painted in a submissive light and if they don’t fit that role, if they are too “loud”, too “outspoken”, too “ambitious”, too “outgoing”, too “determined”, they are not feminine enough and therefore they aren’t socially acceptable. They’ve been told to sit down and be quiet. Unfortunately, in our current political climate, I fear women’s progress may slow down and that discrimination against women will continue to rise. When the very leader’s of our own country seem to have little regard and respect for women, I think many men will feel like that’s a free pass to also treat the women in their life in a similar way. Luckily, I have felt empowered by my own parents, family and friends. I’ve been taught and raised that it’s ok to be a strong, independent woman and that I shouldn’t rely on men for everything in my life. I also recognize that there are many good men out there who respect and support women and also seek for equality among them. I think there are more similarities between men and women than we may realize. We both hope, dream, and want better lives for ourselves and our families. I believe when men and women work together side by side, with both respecting what the other has chosen to do with their life and abilities, we’ll have a more peaceful and productive society. 

Race: Race is a difficult subject to talk about. In an article I recently read, it said that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about race though. It’s ok to recognize and celebrate our differences. We can do so without being disrespectful and fully believing and supporting equality among the races. The article also talked about the dangers of being “color-blind”. Many white kids are taught by their parents to not see color. But being blind to color can also blind us to our privileges as a majority group. I definitely grew up with the “color-blind” mentality, believing that everyone is equal. I also feel like I’ve been blind to my privilege. This is a new concept to me and I’m still learning more about it, but it’s something I hope to continue to explore so that I can understand race differences better and how I can assist in the fight against racism and prejudice. Coming from a southern culture, with a lot of family still living in the south, I’ve heard a lot of racist and prejudice comments and beliefs about African Americans in particular. Unfortunately, those shaped a piece of me, though I actively fight against those notions. I know they absolutely aren’t true and are just perpetuated stereotypes that are meant to harm and repress African Americans. I’ve also luckily had the chance to work with and personally get to know several African Americans in serving an LDS mission, and through those experiences I’ve seen how we work, love, and live like one another. Yes, there are cultural differences, but those can be learned and celebrated. There’s nothing to fear in things that are different. 

My knowledge about these groups and the differences between them, has come from my family and the media (books, movies, music, news, etc). I believe our earliest opinions of others who are of a different gender or race come from our families. Their opinions and beliefs become a part of your home culture, and though it may be wrong or misinformed, those beliefs still influence your own beliefs for some time, a lifetime for many. Once you gain independence and start looking more to the media for opinions and ideas, your viewpoint can change or your beliefs may be solidified. I found a contrasting idea of the majority portrayal of women in the media with that of my family. My family always emphasized and encouraged independence and education, while the media emphasized that a women’s worth was placed mainly on her physical appearance and beauty. These two beliefs are still conflicting and although I do place a very high value on education and independence for myself, I also find myself placing a very high emphasis and belief in the fact that physical beauty still means something in our society for women and this has a significant, negative, impact on me still. As far as race goes, I feel like the media, especially movies and TV shows perpetuate and solidify race stereotypes; that African Americans are poor and uneducated criminals, that Asian Americans are smart and nerdy, Native Americans are stuck in the past and are only good for running casinos. These stereotypes are exactly that, they’ve caused damage among these people and have closed our minds to the truth. I also appreciate that the media, particularly through social media, has taken an step in recognizing and pointing out discrimination against African Americans in particular, which has spurred the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe this movement is often misunderstood and that many fight against it because they don’t recognize or even realize their privilege. It’s been all too easy to turn a blind eye to discrimination that has continued to happen in our country. 

Through this reflection, there are areas of improvement I recognize in my own life. I truly wish I could erase all bias and prejudice from my internal, core values and beliefs. To help achieve this goal as much as possible, I would like to learn more about white privilege, what exactly that means and what it looks like and it’s influence on our society and culture. I’d also like to learn more about advocacy. I’d like to say that I’m an advocate and provide opportunities for those who may not usually have it to speak out. I’m also very interested in gender studies and how to live better in a “man’s world” and in what ways I can change this perception to make it a “man’s and woman’s world”. How can I fight sexism in a productive way? 

 

 

Hola . Bonjour . Ciao

It is estimated that a little over 300 languages are spoken in the United States, with English as our primary language. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a nation to have a declared official language that most can speak or are at least familiar with, but I do not think there should be an “English Only” law. 

Language is a beautiful and intimate way many people express themselves. There are many words in other languages that don’t translate in english, because there simply isn’t an english word for it. Language can be a tie to a person’s past, family, and culture. Taking away someone’s language would be taking away a piece of their very identity. 

In the United States, we welcome immigrants from all over the world and I think they have every right to bring their language, customs and culture to the U.S. I firmly believe that all these characteristics people bring with them from their native countries can make America a more diverse and better place as we learn from one another. Spending time with a new person or in a different culture can open your eyes to new ideas you may have never thought of before. I think we should be more open to learning new languages. I really wish there were more of an emphasis placed on learning different languages in our educational system. 

Unfortunately, I haven’t had any volunteer experiences yet, but I’m working on contacting people in hopes for some more ideas and activities that I’ll be able to help out with.