I’ve been reading Sherman Alexie’s memoir You don’t have to Say You Love Me.
He shares such beautiful and raw poetry and prose on grief, injustice, racism… just for starters. (read a sample here)
He credits his successful escape from poverty to one gigantic leap of bravery he made during high school into white culture. He learned to navigate a foreign land on the land his ancestors faithfully stewarded for hundreds and hundreds of lifetimes.
It sounds like many people ignorantly “compliment” him now by saying how “un-Indian” he is. He acclimated to mainstream culture, and occasionally enjoys the views, but he remains a tribe all his own, still looking for his people.
Is it possible for cultures to merge?
Sherman Alexie remembers the first white funeral he attended. He felt like a foreigner.
I remember the first black school assembly I attended. I was a foreigner.
One thing I learned about black culture, is like white culture, there’s tons of them. Poor black culture often feels powerless. So does poor white culture. It’s not the same culture, or the same powerlessness, but if we were constructing venn diagrams, the poor has more in common with one another than any other group. [SNL: Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks] Partly because Authority and Power bring more choices.
Like Everyone Else has less to overcome.
And ultimately, what I perhaps foolishly believe: Like Everyone Else has less.
My roots grew in middle-class soil. The son of a midwestern farmer, my father worked very hard to place us there.
It has caused great confusion from others to watch me uproot myself from middle-class soil and replant in a non-mainstream garden, living with less (outwardly) than normal. Others would say I am poor, but I just can’t use that word to describe my life. I’m choosing an experimental lifestyle, like the growers and makers who live and work here, I am a part of a community supported lifestyle. I like it.
One of the things about living in community, is we have to intentionally navigate and negotiate the basics, so conflict is seen, spoken to, and resolved. Unspoken conflict is the Petri dish of offense. We learn to respect the disagreement and the people, and so we need to define “normal” as lived within our pieced-together existence. These important conversations need respect.
Where do we put the dish rags?
Who hand washes the dishes that can’t go in the dishwasher? And when?
When can we be loud?
Where can we be alone?
And how long will we need reminders to remove hair from the drain after showers?
What is our trash policy? Our pet policy?
How can we share the patio on sunny days?
This is how culture is formed. We piece together our views of what respect looks like, and try to line up the edges. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Actually, it’s not easy at all.
One of the advantages of being the dominate culture is you feel Right.
One of the disadvantages of being the dominate culture is you feel Right.
Recently, we were getting close to running out of toilet paper, and I only had a portion of the cash needed to buy our “normal” package. Someone else offered to run to the store and started to ask which package, then stopped, and said, “Never-mind…I’m sure we just get the cheapest one.”
The entire room, shocked, horrified, let out a collective “Nooooooooo…” to which our brilliant friend Sam, (14 years old) explained,
“We may be poor, but we still have middle-class values when it comes to toilet paper…”
I remember working in a Male Dominate Culture. I did a better job being a man than I’ve done being a woman. I can’t survive one afternoon in Female Dominate Culture.
I think we need to reevaluate the role of personal values versus community values.
You may prefer I be more like you in the work place, but if I stand closer than you like, or talk louder than you like, does that make me different from you, or inferior to you?
Can our cultures be different without the sense of superiority?
Can our shared work spaces reflect a conglomeration of our company’s values? Instead of (sorry for the small box) the extraverts on the social committee celebrating in their preferred style only, can some introverts get in on determining what some of the celebrations look like? We can BLEND together to make company, family, and team policies and decisions that Respect Differences?
I read a Dusty Springfield quote where she explained how others described her as “gay” and her explanation was that she wasn’t “anything.”
“I’m just…People are people…I basically want to be straight…I go from men to women; I don’t give a shit. The catchphrase is: I can’t love a man. Now, that’s my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition…They frighten me.”
I applaud her honesty. I think if we were honest about why we like to be in the dominate culture, and why we want to find “our place” where everyone is like us, it’s because we’re frightened. We have not experienced a safe place where differences are respected. We have learned to expect ridicule, instead. And somewhere we believed: acclimating to this small definition of Normal hurts less than being ridiculed.
But it’s not true.
*photo cred: Anders Lewis