This intercultural communication class has brought many things to my attention: the different levels of how we communicate within different cultures [(un)conscious (in)competence], how different cultures communicate, and how we must acknowledge the difference before we can communicate effectively. I have had many things brought to my attention that I previously was not aware of and this class has also helped me to realize, even more, how generalizing can lead to stereotyping. I’ve always considered myself to be cultured, but this class has brought to my attention the fact that I still have a ton to learn.
I am a white woman. I grew up in a high-to-middle-class, white family. I am, as many have told me, as white as they come. Ethnicity wise, I am primarily German, Scottish, and Irish. With this background, I have noticed that when conversing with those of different races, I become acutely aware of my background and my race. I grew up in a larger town with about 100,000 people; about the same size as Provo. It was a very diverse town being that I grew up in Southern California; about an hour north of the US/Mexico border. In high school, I had some classes in which I was the minority and was surrounded by people of all different races with different cultures than myself. I, having grown up in the LDS church and being extremely religious, had very different morals and standards than the majority of those around me. I was often called “the Mormon Girl” by teachers and friends all throughout high school and was singled out by that culture and the way that it shaped my behavior and personality. I was often told by friends that they wouldn’t invite me to parties because they were aware of my standard of not drinking and therefore didn’t want to put me around so much alcohol. I was constantly being sheltered or mocked for my culture that comes from my religious beliefs. I grew up in a diverse town with a lot of religions so I was exposed to many different beliefs, behaviors, and the cultures that come with that. I am grateful for this because I wasn’t sheltered and did not grow up in a way that would hinder me from being comfortable with conversing and interacting with those of a different race than myself. I am aware that I am in the majority, being white and having grown up a middle-class family in a nice cul-de-sac, but I am always trying to be aware of others and be conscious of different cultures.
Ideas about Cultural Groups Different from My Own:
The two identifications that I am going to focus on and address are that of gender and race. As previously stated, I am a (very) white woman. Being a communication major, I have had countless lectures on how men and women communicate differently. Something that has really been drilled into my mind the fact that men communicate in a task-oriented style, while women communicate to connect and to build relationships. Men often have a conversation to get the information that they need and then once that is achieved, the communication is stopped. Women, myself included, want to connect and are interested in the feelings and emotions of those that they are conversing with. I’ve had so many conversations with some of my friends that are girls that have lasted over an hour that was purely about our feelings and emotions. I have asked my husband if he has ever had this kind of, and this duration, of a conversation with any of his guys friends and he simply stated, “no,” but then added, “but I have with you when you were upset”. I’ve noticed that when men are talking to men, they are more (almost) emotionless and less willing to bring up their deep, negative emotions. But when talking to a woman, especially one that they care about, they are more willing to have emotionally-based conversations and have these conversations last for a longer amount of time.
In regards to how other cultures and races communicate, the thing that stuck out to me is the distance in which people stand when conversing. For instance, Asians and Asian Americans will stand much closer in a normal conversion that an American would. I have experienced this first hand and at first, I couldn’t quite figure out why I felt to uneasy and almost slightly uncomfortable. Once I took a small step back, simply shifting my weight, I immediately felt better and more at ease. This behavior involved with communication is definitely something to be aware of when interacting with those of a different culture as to not be so off-put or uneasy by it, but to understand it and to be able to reciprocate as to effectively communicate.
I have learned how to better take a step back and take a quick second to evaluate who I am talking to and what their race and gender are. One thing that stuck out to me in a lecture was how the Japanese put out a statement during WWII- the statement being, “Mokusatsu”. This was translated and taken to mean something entirely different to us, the United States, and then the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan. This difference in meaning of a word/phrase was impactful to me as it made me realize even more that when translating, it is important to not only take the literal translation into account, but also the culture and the meaning of the word in the native language. Differences in language and meanings assigned to language is something that is different in every culture and sub-culture. I do view other races and the opposite gender to be as intelligent as myself and my race and gender. I do not, in any way, view and specific gender or race to be superior to another. This kind of thinking baffles me. There can be similar values and behaviors between any groups of people and any cultures. There are so many stereotypes with every race that I have, unfortunately, caught myself slightly falling into them and then having to catch myself and re-train the way I think. Every group and every culture fits into my worldview as I do love diversity and I view differently cultures and different races and a way to expand my knowledge and as something that is interesting and inherently beautiful.
I have heard my parents say that everyone, but I have also seen them act contradictory to this way of thinking. As previously mentioned, I grew up in a pretty diverse town and my parents, especially my mom, grew up in equally diverse towns. Gender is something that I have noticed from my parents as being especially contradictory to what they say. I come a family with three daughters, so one would think that my parents, especially my father, would be more supportive and encouraging of women and their abilities; but sadly, this isn’t the case. Simple, small statements from my father have lessened mine and my sister’s abilities, or even the way they we view our abilities.
Sources of Cultural Knowledge:
I have gotten a lot of knowledge from my everyday experiences and from hearing the experiences of others. Growing up, my teachers were my parents. I would act the way that they acted and, more importantly, I would try to do as they say. As aforementioned, my parents don’t always do as they say, so trying to follow their lectures and vocal instructions was much more important and helpful for me. I would always try to never think poorly about other races but as so many people, especially those in the South, think and still, for some reason unbeknownst to me, act differently than that of what I have mentioned. From a very young age, I remember trying to find those that were genuinely kind to everyone around them and I tried to mimic and copy them because I so badly had a desire not to offend or insult someone. I still carry this desire with me today. I have since read in textbooks, newspapers, and online articles of how other cultures are and I have tried to pick up on useful tidbits of information so that I can be polite and respectful of those of other cultures. This class has been of great use to shape and mold my information of other cultures. Yes, I have obviously been aware of the fact that every culture is different and every race has its own culture, but this class has caused me to look at races in a different light. I always tried to “not see color”, and it wasn’t until this class that I finally realize how demeaning that can be. “Not seeing” someone’s race takes away from their identity and who they are. That has been one of the major things that I have picked up on from this class.
The media and how they portray certain genders and certain races also has a huge impact on all of those that hear and see it, myself included. It can be so hard to view a population of people in a more positive light when the media is so consistently and constantly. The one population that sticks out to me the most that is constantly shown as being all negative is that of Muslims, and really, anyone from the Middle East. There have been so many stories and articles and news coverings of someone that happens to have darker skin and accent, and this is enough to get them hate speech, abused, and/or kicked out of wherever they are. It is truly heartbreaking that the bad choices of a certain race and any of those that may have similar outward features have had such a negative and lasting impact on the rest of them as a whole. I am ashamed to say that I have caught myself beginning to fall into the trap that is thinking more negatively than positively about a certain race or culture just because the media portrays them as such. I was once told that the first thought that pops into your head is what society tells you, but the second thought is what you actually think. In my case, this has brought me great comfort because as long as someone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or culture, isn’t putting me, my loved ones, or the general population in harms way, then I have no problem with them. I will not be afraid of someone with a certain color of skin because the media tells me to be, I will think for myself and I will make a choice every single day to show love and compassion to any and everyone. The media has too much power over how so many people think and they have become the “culture teacher” to too many people. I do understand that there are groups, such as ISIS, that the general population needs to be aware of and have an understanding of, but the media should control how they share these types of stories in an effort to protect anyone else that may have any sort of imposed affiliation- even in the terms of skin color.
One question that I have is the following: “What, if anything, can be done to get people of every race and culture to be understand and more patient when dealing with and conversing with those of a different race or culture?”. I’m not sure if this will ever happen, but it would be wonderful if it did. My next questions may be slightly unethical, but stems from the video “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes”, it is: “Would it ever happen, and would it be useful, to somehow spend a day or two treating certain races and other races are treated as an attempt to “walk in someone else’s shoes”?”. My third question is simple yet very difficult: “Is there a way to completely eliminate racism? If not now, will there ever be?”.
I would like to better learn what the truly best way is to understand a culture and how to better communicate within each different culture, how to better fight stereotypes in the form of communication, and if there is a single culture that has the most effective form of communication. I hope that throughout this assessment I was able to articulate my thoughts in an organized, understandable manner.