I’m only part-way though the course with this post, but this section of the course threw up some really interesting ideas that I wanted to get down before carrying on with notes etc. for the rest of Week Two.
Issues of Cultural Bias
Starting out with a quote from one of the course leaders, Chi Ruobing:
‘the concept of cultural identity implies both a shared sense of community and apparent similarities that generate both shared and common patterns, as well as social markers. And these help give participants a sense of belonging, a sense of security or satisfaction, and some continuing connectivity.’
Being challenged to look at your cultural identity is quite hard – and the next section of the course admits this – probably because in UK society (and quite a lot of other places), we’re encouraged to believe that cultural inequality or cultural differences don’t exist if we pretend they don’t exist, and that we somehow increase to the problems of racism, sexist and other forms of bigotry if we draw attention to them. After all, aren’t we supposed to be aiming be to one big happy equal society? But the whole point of this course is to examine the unconscious assumptions we draw between cultures.
This is actually pretty topical in the UK press at the moment, with the high-profile firing of BBC presenter Danny Baker for comparing the Duchess of Sussex’s baby to a chimpanzee. He claimed that since he’s not an outwardly racist person, of course he wouldn’t have seen the issues with comparing a child of African-American descent to an ape – so clearly, he’s not at fault! But it is his failure to recognise the cultural context, and his participation in the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) press bias amongst the Duchess of Sussex, as a mixed-race, American ‘outsider’ to the British Royal family.
How to start bridging the gaps
Having gone into detail over the previous few sections about identifying cultural differences and the where the potential for misunderstandings can arise, we now get into the next important bit, how do you go about ensuring you do understand? The first thing, again, is to start with yourself.
From the course article:
‘Our identity (self-view and how others perceive us) has a major effect on our communication. It influences the language and gestures we choose (Approach), the desires or hopes we have (Expectations), the way we conduct the interaction (Exchange) and the results (Outcome). And every communicative encounter leaves us redefining our identity…Subconsciously, we are involved in Identity Management constantly in our communicative encounters.’
In other words, we learn to reinvent ourselves through every new interaction, and through each interaction, we find it easier to connect with and understand the motives, behaviours and values of people from other cultures, even cultures we have not experienced before.