Friday, July 3, 2009


The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

From My Home Curriculum

My Intercultural Communication course is done now and I'm still thinking about Cortes', one of the scholar's, concepts of the "home curriculum." One of the ways we learn about culture is at home, growing up.

In a number of ways, I came from a super-judgmental home and it bred some poison, e.g., perhaps a higher-than-average amount of envy...or a higher-than-average awareness of my envy; a sort of parochialism/provincialism and a protectionist attitude. It also invited being minutely/pettily critical of others.

For example, yesterday, I was taking a ride with a relative and at a stop-light, pointed out: "Look at the decal on that Honda!" (It appeared ahead of the driver's door and featured a side-vent with flames coming out of it.)

My relative responded, "You know what *that* is! Just look at his [big, beefy, white] arm! [The driver's crooked elbow was leaning on his car door.] Pure W.T."

W.T. stood for White Trash.

Was every family this prejudiced? This critical?

I might have wanted to answer yes prior to taking the course on Intercultural Communication; I met a classmate who came from a multiracial background and who said that it was precisely because of the identity-mix of the classmate's background that caused the classmate's home curriculum to focus on not judging others, since that family knew what it was like to be judged.

Parts of my family were less mature than my classmate's. Growing up, even as a kid, a number of times, I wanted to tell my offending relatives: "You should know better. After all, you know how many people have negative things to say about Jews. You shouldn't put others down." But I never did.

Years ago, I formed a theory based on my experience with a number of my family and when the whole Crown Heights thing blew up -- when a Chassid ran over someone Black and terrible tensions were sparked; my theory was that every minority was seeking to be not the lowest among the minorities, e.g., a number of Black people might think, I may be Black, but at least I'm Christian, and a number of Jews might think, I may be Jewish, but at least I'm White.

Asserting My Independence

I don't want to be like the part of my family that is prejudiced. It's like gossip. If I engage in it, it's just a matter of time before someone will be talking against me. And like gossip, it's like slipping into a warm bath, but a bath from which I emerge dirty.

The last thing I want this posting to sound is self-righteous. I'm full of intercultural faux pas, waiting to happen, but it's just that I don't want to relish putting others down intentionally. The members of my family who were most virulently prejudicial and critical were the least successful people in their work and friendships.

If I'm to assert my independence from the legacy of prejudice, first, I need to show some compassion, maybe, to the family that are stuck in the cycle, i.e., they're being proactively prejudicial in their minds; they figure, everyone's an anti-Semite, and so if I'm disdainful first, I'm invulnerable. That *must* be it.

Or they're simply victims of human nature, which can be pretty clannish, i.e., we're the best and everyone else is inferior. Again, it's a defense against vulnerability.

What's the worst that could happen if we were vulnerable? The Holocaust.

Well, the worst has already happened, to Jews and others, unfortunately...and I've been thinking that if the Bernie Madoff scandal hasn't kicked off murmurings of the virtues of Jewish genocide, then the world really has advanced since the '30s and '40s.

That reminds me of more junk from which I need to gain independence: having been taught to avoid producing a "shande fur de goyim," (roughly: a disgrace in front of the gentiles), which is really just a particular shade of self-hatred. To prove that I don't want to come across as overly-self-righteous, as well as to tell on myself, so that I stop doing it, I'll share the most recent example of my own prejudice...against my own people(!):

Last weekend in San Francisco, Pat and I spent time with one of our relatives; growing up, our relative learned the same Yiddish phrases as I learned -- we're six months apart in age. Earlier in the weekend, over dinner, we discussed the concept of a "shande fur de goyim," but just academically.

On Sunday morning, on our way to the Pride Parade, on Market Street, we passed a rail-thin man, wearing a white tank-top, satin shorts, red knee-socks, black dress-shoes, a big Star of David around his neck, a super-hero cape, eye-glasses from the '80s and perhaps a silly hat to top it off, though I may be embellishing about the hat.

I turned to my relative and said, "A shande fur de goyim!"

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