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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Intracultural Intelligence - Excerpted from My Internal IBM Blog

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

Comment in the LotusLive meeting chat:

Sarah Siegel (IBM) to All - I think this is so marvelous because individuals from historically-underrepresented groups sometimes grow weary of having to educate people. This, though, is vibrant, poignant education that re-inspires me, for one, to be generous in helping educate -- because the cultural piece of helping people understand really is gripping.

We met in LotusLive to listen to Mr. Lonnie Bunch deliver a lecture [internal link, not accessible beyond the IBM firewall] on the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) as the first in IBM’s U.S. Black History Month series, on Habitual Giving and Better Living, including giving to our:

* Families
* Teams
* Communities
* Selves.

My LotusLive chat-comment referred to my own occasional weariness at having to explain my female or Jewish or lesbian perspective to the larger community. Really, when I thought about it generally, everyone had a unique story, no matter how prevalent their people; it was just that when they were prevalent, fewer of the prevalent people seemed curious about one another’s story, as they assumed that they already knew it, since on the surface, they came from a similar background.

Mr. Bunch’s remarks reminded me of the power of each of us telling our story, and of the power in listening to one another.

As we prepare for the 2010 Cultural Intelligence Summit, I'm even more hyper-alert to cultural differences and commonalities, whether compared with other countries, or with other cultures within my own country. After swimming at my local Jewish Community Center the other day, I walked toward the exit, thinking, So many of us are always searching for common ground with one another when the much more interesting learning opportunity is to notice the differences and actively expose ourselves to them.

Probably, the perfect balance of familiarity and disorientation made for optimal learning conditions...in any situation, and particularly with intercultural learning.

For example, I loved seeing a screen-shot of IBMers' memories that were posted on the NMAAHC web site, as it reminded me of the exhibit that my mom and my partner Pat and I attended a few years ago, at the emerging National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, called "Forshpeis," which was Yiddish for "appetizer." As part of the exhibit, there were metal boxes filled with index-cards, where visitors could add memories of growing up in Jewish kitchens. Also, just as Mr. Bunch referred to the future site of the NMAAHC, being, "...right next to the Washington Monument, in the shadow of the White House," , according to its web site, the National Museum of American Jewish History is, "...steps from the Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.” Mr. Bunch’s story felt familiar then…

Until he re-told a story that made me feel guilty/disoriented and validated at once; it was captured by StoryCorps, and featured a grandfather, talking with his grandson. The grandfather was relating how he arrived in D.C. from overseas, having served his country with distinction in World War II, and how he headed to a movie theater after touring around D.C. landmarks during the day. The ticket-taker would not admit him because he was Black.

Listening to the story, I felt guilty, as I am White and my dad of blessed memory was a D.C. native and also a WWII Navy veteran, having been a radar technician on the USS Alabama. My father told us of how the Black sailors lived in the lowest part of the ship due to the still-discriminatory nature of the U.S. Military then. And then as a lesbian in the United States in 2010, I felt validated, since the news lately, has covered whether or not the U.S. Government will enable openly gay and lesbian soldiers to serve their country in the U.S. Military.

How could we have treated Black people so sub-humanly for so long, and even still, it is happening? And then I thought of how GLBT people sometimes still were treated like pariahs in the United States, for example, in this week's "New Yorker" magazine, I read an article about a popular Gospel singer, Tonex, who has been shunned by a number of the Black Gospel community, since becoming open about his homosexuality. I hadn't heard of him prior, and so I went to find a sample on YouTube. I found "Fail U." I'm not Christian and it stirred me. Music with a strong beat was my favorite kind, which this featured, and I felt sad that Tonex's talent was taking a nearly mortal hit for his openness around his sexual orientation.

This week, too, I experienced a couple of reality-checks about how the month of February appeared not to be on the radar of certain groups in relation to U.S. Black History. For instance, in the United Kingdom, February has been declared Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans (LGBT) History Month, probably to bring attention to the Community’s capacity for love during the same month that included Valentine's Day. Surprising, perhaps, was how a U.S. small town, Elk River, Minnesota, declared this February as "Random Acts of Kindness Month," without acknowledging it, also, as U.S. Black History Month.

Such an absence made me want to understand the demographics of the community, so I looked at a "quality of life" video, which showed only White people and referred only to welcoming churches (as opposed to welcoming churches, mosques, synagogues...). When I read the mayor's proclamation, though, it embodied a fundamental goal of the Cultural Intelligence Summit (and world peace): "I urge all citizens and city employees to practice acts of random kindness for family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, and to live their lives in keeping with this attitude every day." Without kindness and openness to everyone, including strangers, we could not be culturally-intelligent.

Cultural intelligence, though, may have come more easily to people who already felt bicultural, e.g., immigrants, people with disabilities, GLBT people, really, anyone from an historically-underrepresented group, depending on where they lived. I didn't want to generalize about Elk River, but at a glance, it certainly didn't seem to have as high a proportion of bicultural people as, say, Toronto.

Look how sophisticated I tried to be just now in my stereotyping and prejudice! I did not know anyone’s story from Elk River, Minnesota and had never been there, but pronounced its ignorance of U.S. Black History Month….And this was why cultural intelligence was such a priority. Until we could suspend our judgment of other cultures and even immerse ourselves in them physically or at least virtually, how could we know their people and culture?

The role and goal of the Museum, according to Mr. Bunch, were primarily U.S.-oriented, but the specifics got at the universal goals of cultural intelligence:
To help America remember. To find ways to help America explore our tortured and contested racial past. It needs to help us wrestle with slavery and segregation and also must be a place that celebrates the joy of Duke Ellington or Aretha Franklin, or humor. It has to be a place that helps us all. A national museum has to use African American culture as a lens to help Americans understand what it means to be American....

It needs to tell a story that all Americans can embrace. It also has to help us understand that we are in an international context...to make America better, to help us grapple with the great divide of race….We look to the virtual world to help us expand our audience and expand our reach.
The goal of living, let alone of any one museum or even of cultural intelligence, was to remember and wrestle and celebrate and gain support…and to be willing to educate, and be educated.

1 comment:

rucsb said...

This posts reminds me of one my favorite quote
Great acts of love are done by those who are habitual of performing small acts of kindness.

Cheers,
Ruchi