catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 20 :: 2008.11.07 — 2008.11.21


Dealing with differences

I used to think that the phrase, “I didn’t even notice that she was black,” was a compliment. When I hear some variation of this phrase now, it makes me cringe. The colors of our skin very much relate to the cultures that form who we are. If I don’t notice another’s cultural uniqueness, either I’m lousy at being aware of other cultures or one of us has lost a distinctive expression of our own culture.

Yet, since culture and skin color have often been the cause of much discrimation and pain, it’s hard to talk about cultural differences in a way that is both honest about difficulties within cultures, while still honouring and respecting those who are different from ourselves. This difficulty came up again while reading the September and October blog entries in Gruntled Center, written by William Weston.

In his blog, he relays some statistics that focus on African American culture and comments on it. He notes that the number of single mothers with non-supporting men in their life is significantly higher statistically for African Americans than any other group in Ameria. As well, the number of men who participate in behavior that could (easily) lead to children but are unwilling to take responsibility for the children is much higher among African Americans. He indicates that there is something disturbing about this, and not only because poverty and well-being of children has a lot to do with whether parents are married. And he starts asking why.

I’m not sure what to make of these statistics, and I know I’m much less qualified to try than Weston is as a professor of sociology. I’m anxious about moving from verifiable statistics to discussing values and practices that seem to have become part of a culture-and then moving to questioning what really is good. Yet, if I don’t ask about what might be good and better, am I hiding from my responsibility as a Christian?

I believe that different cultures and skin colors and languages are truly gifts from God that we should notice and delight in. And I believe that each culture has aspects that fit better with following God’s commands for us and certain aspects that seem to move away from God’s intentions for humans. In this way, certain things are better, in terms of how they fit with God’s intentions, about/in/from each culture. As Christians, we have the responsibility to acknowledge this, while still trying to be wise concerning all of the discrimation and hate between cultures and all of the sensitivity and pain related to discussing cultures and differences. 1 It helps significantly to recognize that none of us lives in a vaccuum. Even as we all have our own cultures, these cultures shape each other and affect the values of other cultures. As I raise concerns about other cultures, I need to pay attention to how my culture has negatively affected other cultures. And as I attempt to examine other cultures more closely, I ought to be noticing how my own culture has values that fail to fit with God’s intentions. 2 And I have so much to learn from these others who are different from me.

I am still nervous about questioning values in culture-and about raising statistics and questions that can so easily be misinterpreted or abused to cause hurt in others of a different culture. Yet, pretending that everything in every culture is good prevents positive interactions between different cultures, for it suppresses some of the culture and our world loses some of the wonderful flavor found in the different cultures.

  1. To provide a bit of a balance from the statistics related to African American culture, I should note that Weston’s blog also mentioned that despite the high poverty level among African-Americans, African Americans are not the largest cultural group on welfare. Knowing a bit about the immigration questions of those who are Spanish speaking (and who generally avoid welfare), and recognizing the high value put on achievement and avoiding shame in most Asian cultures, it seems that this statistic about welfare should raise some questions about entitlement and laziness in “white” culture.
  2. As an example in my own culture, as much as I appreciate the honesty of the directness in Dutch culture, I also recognize that this directness (i.e. bluntness) often can be used in a hurtful way-and in certain situations this directness can fail to show the grace and gentleness that God asks of Christians.


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