Monday, August 22, 2011
The Uniqueness of the
Trans-Cultural Awareness Institute©
Offie C. Wortham, PhD
The difference between this organization and many others is that it does not use the buzzwords "multi-culturalism" or "diversity training." It also does not assume that the major social problem in the world is racism. Of course it acknowledges that racism does exist, but the Institute believes that the larger problem is one where conflicts and misperceptions about life-styles must be examined and discussed.
We propose trans-cultural dialogue in distinction to mere inter-cultural dialogue. This points to the capability of transcending (and, thereby, transforming) one’s own horizon of understanding towards other forms of cultural self-realization, and not merely of relating and comparing abstract contents of one’s own cultural environment to other such environments. The term signifies the fact that our own cultural awareness is shaped by the interaction with other cultures, that it reaches a level beyond its original setup.
This approach, versus one with a Euro centric orientation, is one of dialogue on the cultural, and of partnership on the socio-political level. Based on a concept of culture as "a system of interconnected values, perceptions, and modes of interaction" this approach requires a new doctrine of public education which should, although based on a particular cultural tradition, make understandable the values and world views of other civilizations, doing away with any form of cultural exclusivism, tribalism, or ethnocentrism.
The educational system in any given cultural environment must reach beyond the exclusive interpretation of the collective cultural awareness on the background of that very culture’s specific traditions that, in turn, shaped the very understanding (self-comprehension) of that culture. This has to be transcended towards the inclusion of other (genuinely different) traditions that have been shaped independently of one’s own culture into the cultural understanding of any given community (civilization). We must have an understanding of the other, of that which is different from ourselves. This implies a more profound awareness of our own culture; it allows us to define ourselves more adequately in distinction from the other(s).
The consequences in the field of education are obvious: European curricula should not only include the teaching of Graeco-Roman and Christian traditions but should also convey the knowledge of non-European traditions and religions such as Islam and Buddhism. Total Euro centric ignorace of other cultural environments that have been shaped outside of Europe and the United States has been the main breeding ground of cultural chauvinism and the root cause of imperialist aggression over the centuries up to the present age of a prematurely declared "New World Order."
Trans-Cultural Awareness requires a reorientation of the information and media sector in regard to the stereotyping of other civilizations (the most drastic example being the stereotyping of the Islamic civilization by the West). On the level of international relations, this approach towards cultural self-comprehension requires a new method of cultural diplomacy, abandoning the propaganda-style presentation of one’s own civilization and promoting genuine trans-cultural encounters. The traditional crusader spirit has to be overcome in trans-cultural encounters, and the hegemony of Euro centric worldviews and life-styles in the international media and entertainment sector has to be counterbalanced by the unbiased presentation of other civilizations. A truly multicultural environment should be the goal on the local and global level. One has to get out of the vicious circle of self-affirmation that has characterized the Euro centric approach to cultural encounters for so long, and that has so greatly discredited the Western tradition of Enlightenment.
Each of our events is designed to bring together people to discuss a subject of common interest. By placing individuals in discussion groups with others from differing backgrounds we hope to broaden the perceptions we have of others, and reduce the number of stereotypes we all have of people we normally never socialize with as peers. We have put on similar events in New Jersey, New York and in Atlanta, Georgia.
Trans-Cultural Awareness is not limited to racial or ethnic awareness. This approach can be used to sensitize individuals from different nations, different classes, different age groups (the "Generation Gap"), or between male and female. It would be especially useful for individuals who must work in tense situations with others who are products of an entirely different, and often conflicting, lifestyle or subculture.
Policymakers and planners, government officials, teachers, law enforcement personnel, employers, supervisors and others in important positions of authority and power would greatly benefit from non-threatening encounters between themselves and the recipients of their decisions and actions. Transcending the horizon of one’s own tradition is the precondition for a better understanding of that particular cultural tradition.
For those who are concerned about the future of the human race, a universal dialogue of civilizations is of crucial importance for the future of mankind, because such a dialogue is a basic condition of peace and stability on both the national and the transnational level. As stated by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in 1974: "No nation, however large or powerful, can escape from the fundamental reality of our interdependence."
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
More than Race, Ethnicity, or Economic Class!
Offie C. Wortham, PhD
As obvious as the above title may seem, this truth is generally denied or beyond the comprehension of the general public. People have been categorized or generalized by race or ethnicity for centuries with the erroneous assumption that these vague and unclear classifications would yield correct and meaningful information to formulate successful policies and programs to solve a multitude of social and political problems.
There are certain standards and patterns of behavior in our society that are admired and respected. There are others that are not. These patterns cut across lines of socio-economic class and even education. Even among the least educated and less affluent there is an awareness of when a person “has no class.” The lifestyle of an individual is a more accurate indicator of the values, morals, ethics and even problems of an individual than their race or ethnicity.
Adults in the past were miss-educated to believe that various ethnic groups were either inferior or superior intellectually and morally. This is what we call racism. Certain aspects of a group’s culture; their music, their diet, their religion, their speech, their dress, the way they walked, and even their art, were deemed inferior and sometimes almost sub-human.
The group in power tends to set the standards of what is considered civilized or uncivilized behavior. Whatever they do and like is correct, and everyone else is lacking in terms of proper conduct. (If the minority groups had been in power, the classifications would have been reversed, and the lifestyles of the dominant group would have been labeled as inferior and ignorant.) In some societies people are even killed or put in prison for simply violating manmade social norms. Drinking alcohol was once a crime in the United States! So was gambling, fornication, not believing in a God, homosexuality, and interracial marriages! Today, this lack of tolerance for variations in behavior includes the current laws against the use of certain drugs, and the persistent belief that time in prison improves human behavior.
Conforming to the lifestyle of the group in power usually assures individuals of more acceptance and less discrimination. People like to associate with people who are as much like them as possible. We feel more comfortable with those who share a common language, religion, culture, and worldview. On the one hand we preach diversity, but in reality, we want to be with people who are just like us. This could be intellectually, spiritually, or who dress as we do, like the same past-times or hobbies, sports, music, or even art.
The Obama phenomena can be understood better if we view his acceptance as an acceptance of a preferred lifestyle. Highly educated, financially successful, articulate, clean-cut and “nice looking,” moderate in his politics, somewhat religious, and a good family man. This is the perfect image America wants to project to the world, and to itself. In the past, his color and his ethnicity simply meant that he was a member of a race that was generally uneducated, poor, inarticulate, unattractive, a follower of a primitive and emotional religion, and either born out of wedlock, or the unmarried parents of children being raised in poverty and ignorance. Obama transcended the racial issue by having the perfect lifestyle that we all desire! This far over-shadowed his mixed ancestry. His equally intelligent and successful wife even gave up her $250,000 a year job to be at his side as the First Lady! Is there any woman in America, of any color, that cannot fanaticize about having such a choice?
My point here is that we reject certain groups or individuals because of their speech, their mannerisms, their behavior, their lack of interest in education, and their appearance. The amount of money they make does not move them up one notch in social acceptance, as long as they continue to act like immoral and ignorant clowns. We have always discriminated by lifestyle throughout history. Only recently have we become confused and introduced race or ethnicity as primary factors in determining human behavior, and forgot that lifestyle is really much more important than race.