Step 2: Getting to Know Your Own Culture
Cultural identity has a strong impact on our work and life, and exploring our own cultural identity is a strong foundation for understanding other communities. At the same time, it’s important to realize that cultural groups are not monolithic or static—there is always diversity within the group. Every group has both dominant and counter gender stories and roles.
Antiracism trainers use this exercise primarily for social and human services providers and social change activists. It does not require a high level of safety or trust in group settings, and it can be effective with mixed-race groups.
Part 1: Write down three values that are important in your culture. Take only two or three minutes to do so. Then answer the following questions:
- How did you feel when you wrote down the values?
- Was it easy or hard to write them down?
- Were you able to write anything at all?
In general, people of color tend to come up with their answers quickly. White people often take much longer to decide what their cultural values are. And there are always people who don’t writing anything—often because they cannot figure out what their culture is. White people who are able to answer often identify their culture as a nationality or ethnicity, such as Irish, Italian, or Jewish. Some define their culture using religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
When we talk about culture, white people often think about the cultures of people of color. This is a common reaction for any dominant group: many men think that gender violence and sexism are women’s issues, heterosexuals think of sexual orientation as something that only concerns gays, and so on.
Many white people don’t think that they have a culture or ethnicity, but of course they do. Consider the white family that goes to a fair famous for its ethnic food. When they arrive, the family finds only hot dogs and hamburgers and they feel very disappointed. But of course, hot dogs and hamburgers are ethnic food. They are white, North American cultural fare. Of course, there’s much more to culture than its visible aspects of food, dress, and the like, but this illustrates how hard it may be to see one’s own culture, even at superficial levels.
Part 2: Write down three values in your culture that are important for you. Again, take only two or three minutes. Then answer the following questions:
- Are your answers in the two exercises similar or different?
- Why do you think that is?
This part of the exercise helps people see that there are different versions of core values in every culture. When we are trying to learn about values related to gender equity and gender violence in other groups, it’s important to know who is establishing the values. In particular, we must find out whether the voices of the women are being heard.
When facilitating this exercise, pay attention to who is having a harder or easier time writing down their values. Have a few people share their answers. People of color will usually be the first ones to raise their hands. Make sure that everyone participates.
After a few people have shared their values, ask how they would define their culture. This usually leads to a good discussion about white people not being aware of their culture.
- Why do you think it’s important to get to know your own culture when building alliances with other groups?
- Who benefits from the cultural values you named in the first part of the exercise?
Share your responses and see what other people are saying about learning to understand their own culture.
Last modified 2004-08-29 04:33 PM