With the holidays approaching, I find it is always a good time to reflect on cultural inclusiveness. We all have that friend- the one who has disavowed the dominant American culture due to its’ ancestral atrocities, and has completely immersed themselves in another culture. Be it simply the intense new-age spirituality that shuns all things “Western” or “Conformist”, or the person who collects all things Native American and only goes by their adoptive tribal name. Let me be clear, having admiration for other cultures and even adopting certain traits of them into our own lifestyles is certainly an advantageous act- we learn more about ourselves and the world around us through doing so. Additionally, recognizing the beauty and importance of other cultures is naturally fascinating to us, particularly as Americans who live in a place of many cultures. However, completely disavowing your own culture (while some will argue Americans don’t have one, but I could write an entire other article on that subject), I argue can have some negative repercussions.
This topic is something I’ve explored at lengths in various settings. As a previous early childhood administrator in an environment with a penchant for cultural sensitivity, I had many conversations about anti-bias cultural relevancy and how to implement it while remaining sensitive to all the cultures represented in a school, including the dominant one. More recently, I was an early childhood nutritionist for a non-profit preschool. Nutrition and food certainly can introduce a person to another facet of culture beyond food- well into parenting practices, childhood behavior, the social culture and more. This particular school had a “no celebration” policy. This policy insists that if we celebrate any holiday or cultural event, we are in danger of being culturally insensitive, and therefore are not allowed any celebrations, secular or not.
Think about what this Kantian approach to celebration means to all of us, but particularly children. No celebration. Being who you are is possibly offensive to other people, especially if who you are is a product of a colonizing culture. Often I have witnessed how this type of policy, while once well meaning, ends us protecting all other cultures except the dominant culture. Keep in mind; this is not an example of those who have led centuries of persecution now whining about their rights. This argument is about balance. You cannot correct gender inequity by reversing the roles and demonizing everything male (which is the case in many movements I thought I had supported at one time), any more than completely demonizing a dominant culture would create an accepting, balanced, anti-biased society. Oppressing the oppressor does not create the appropriate healing outcome, an outcome of true acceptance. Getting to where we can be truly sensitive shouldn’t require a punishment (especially towards those who simply had the misfortune of being born an ancestor of the perpetrators), but rather an action. An action that recognizes the possibility of a balance that exists between exposing and eradicating true racism and bias and still allowing for all parties to express their individuality.
A conflict arose at the school I work for about the allowance of Halloween celebrations, in which everyone (staff and families) were informed we do not formally celebrate any holidays, regardless of origin. This is a tricky area; on one hand, I can see the merits in simply saying, celebrations are for outside of school, and on the other, I can see the social need for children to want to share their cultures with their peers. This white-sheet approach to celebrations seems to teach children that rather than respecting their cultures, we are simply pretending they do not exist. This approach, once again, is in the name of not offending anyone. Once again, this is teaching children that the entire American culture (since this is the dominant culture) at its core is offensive to someone, somewhere and therefore shouldn’t share who we truly are.
To avoid confusion, allow me to clarify- I don’t believe that religion should be force fed to children in schools. However, there is a difference between teaching about and preaching about. I see no harm in a child learning about all religions, particularly so that they make more informed judgments about them. I sincerely believe that learning about religion and culture is hand in hand with appropriate social development. A child who has knowledge about cultures beyond their family culture will not be ignorant, and will be theoretically, less likely to make snap judgments about those who hold different beliefs than their own. Of course, many believe this education is for the parents to provide, but I say that belief is one from a privileged position. Not all children have parents who are involved in their educations, now do they have access to this kind of information. As such, I sincerely believe the reason we have public education in our country is for the overall betterment and advancement of our society as a whole. That said, I truly believe a solid foundation in knowledge of other cultures will lead to better social development, which has been proven to support success in other educational realms for a child.
When children (and everyone really) are taught that their celebrations are not important, they learn that their culture is not relevant, and therefore neither is their individuality. This preaches the case that society is only interested in what parts of your personality are homogenous with the rest of society. This homogenous view does not lead to expanded thinking, and therefore does not encourage forward thought or invention. Again, if the purpose of public education is to propel our country beyond what we were formerly capable of, then shouldn’t it embrace and encourage individual thought- thoughts that often come from a person’s home culture. Schools don’t have to hold celebrations for every holiday, but allowing space for non-biased, non-tourism education (i.e. no “let’s eat guacamole and wear sombreros on Cinco de Mayo) as well as meaningful conversation, could be far more influential than an all-out ban.
An evolution towards a dominant culture that is actually one that celebrates and educates about all of the nations’ culture could be a much more sensitive goal. While there has certainly been oppression that resulted from overt celebration of the dominant culture, the oppression wasn’t directly from the celebration itself, but rather the ideologies behind them- ideologies that did not recognize other celebrations as being as relevant and as important to our culture as the dominant one. By celebrating Christmas, I do not immediately oppress someone who does not; it is the manner in which I am sensitive to them that does. If I insist that you should celebrate Christmas because you live in America, I am being oppressive. Further, if I fail to acknowledge that there are other winter celebrations, (particularly in a classroom setting) then I am being oppressive. If I state any negative comments about the others lack of celebration, or a different celebration than my own, that is oppressive. Having and celebrating beliefs itself isn’t an oppressive action. Using those beliefs to gain a position of power or to make decisions for others IS oppressive.
Once we establish this mantra on oppression, maybe we can move away from the “P.C. Policing” and move into a more integrated, accepting celebration of who we all truly are.