Why Understanding Cultural Impact is Important.

by Mr.Ellipses

People with the privilege tend to be unaware of their status – and thus have the ability to act incredibly bigoted. A lack of cultural awareness is not a good thing. Ignorance, specifically on how culture impacts us, is universally correlated to bigoted behavior on any issue around equality.

The only antidote, my homies, to combating things like ingrained gender roles, is attempting to arm yourself through awareness. You got to know your sht, before you can escape these sorts of cultural forces. If you want to be a legit egalitarian, you actually have to put in work. You have to work on understanding the various cultural forces that is likely shaping your ideology. If you can’t do that… you just wasting everyone’s time.

Simply being able to identify the stereotypes around gender, sexuality, race, or religion… takes that implicit bias that act on us “unconsciously,” and brings it up to an explicit cognitive level where you can then make a more informed decision on your actions. Without this, you leave yourself vulnerable to be influenced by these biases without ever knowing it. It should be no surprise then, that those who lack cultural awareness are the ones who act in the most bigoted ways…

Let me illustrate this with a simple anecdote.

Take racism… racism in America is a touchy subject, people are uncomfortable talking about it. Sometimes they get offended when minorities point out some unfair actions or prejudicial view the privileged may have. Many times minorities themselves are fooled. (I am talkin to you fcks who think being “colorblind” is the best way to go.)

I am often fooled myself. When I was younger… I am not joking, the self image I had of myself was that I looked physically white. (I am actually a brown skinned Latino and have distinctive non-white features). Now, I thought of myself as white…. so much so, that I basically thought I could pass off as a white person. When I got older and saw how silly this was… I thought this was just a peculiarity within myself. However, years later, my sister showed me some studies around this phenomenon. I found out that, what I experienced is not some odd trait only I had… this negative self image (minorities denying their skin color) is ingrained within society so deeply…. that many other minorities have had the same experience. I realized that this event, was an aspect of racism, and that I failed to realize its impacts on me.

This is the true face of institutionalized racism, it is faint and it hides itself well. Many people in general, white, black, and brown, want to deny it has such deeply ingrained ill effects, but nothing can be further from the truth. (Also let me be real… most of that denialism is coming from the white end)

The studies I saw, show that when kids are prompted to paint themselves (self – portraits) they will paint themselves the way they want to look, and not the way they do in fact look. In that sense, the experimenters noticed that many black children painted themselves white with blond hair and blue eyes! A girl, when asked why, said she gave herself straight hair was because “nappy hair was ugly.” That was just appalling to me. Society teaches children to subconsciously devalue their ethnicity and wish to be what they consider a greater value… that is to be white, skinny, tall… etc. This type of deep cognitive bias should scare dah bah-jebus out us all.

I mean later on… while I was watching the kids over my brothers house… I saw a similar result first hand… Me, my nephew and his friends were, making ourselves wii characters (for those of you who do not know, this is just personalized 3-D avatars). My sister and I decided to let them make their own…. we got astonishing results. One of the kids, about to enter highschool gave himself straight blond hair and blue eyes… when we pointed out he was black, with an afro, and brown eyes… he cringed… and tried to deny it. You see “being black” was not what he wanted to be. We did not know what to say to the boy… I mean, he was black, but obviously he felt negative feelings towards being black. We just let him be.

A few minutes later, my nephew was actually making me, and he ended up making my skin lighter than what it really was, giving me straight hair (I have huge curly hair), making me tall (I am not), and not putting on my glasses – in that way, he was making the character the way he wanted me to be, not the way I was. Again, we just let this be… the kids just were not at an age where they could understand what they were doing – not even the highschooler.

Combine that personal anecdote, and the fact that there have been numerous studies on this confirming this trend… we get something remarkable. Sht, if you combine that with the fact that talking about the results makes people uncomfortable, and combine it with the fact that they wish to dismiss this as just some sort of oddity with no connection to racism.. we got a problem. If many people wish to deny these types of biases are ingrained within us at an early age… then it leaves us unprepared to tackle the issue of racism with the force required to end it.

I will give you another story.. that plays into this. There was a story I read about, that took place in the “museum of tolerance.” Now, this museum had a specific tour… where they made you go through an exhibit where they showed off the different ways people are “intolerant.” There were pictures of fat people, black, Latino, Chinese, Women…. other religions…etc. They made people go through the whole gambit of prejudices. As you left, and finished the tour, there were two doors you could walk through… One that said “intolerant” and the other that said “you have no intolerant assumptions.” Now the twist here was that…. funny enough… the “tolerant” door was locked! In that way, everyone must walk through the intolerant door – I think you get the point. Everyone had to admit they once in a while were influence by bigoted thoughts. I mean think about it, if this culture is bigoted it is no “big deal” to admit that once in a while you are influenced by the culture, and you yourself act bigoted too.

I mean, I also admit.. the idea is kind of wack and patronizing…. but never the less, even if was executed in a pompous way…You can still kind of see the point they were making. Anywho…

The real story, was that every once in a while someone did not understand the point…

One day, it was witnessed, that a bunch of people were banging on the intolerant door… demanding that it be unlocked and that they be allowed to pass through! I literally still laugh out loud picturing this!

Now, as hilarious as that is.. the point is still pretty revealing. This is the kind of behavior that is really silly. I mean, if you can not admit to your own flaws, you can not hope to progress above them. You need to, we all need to admit that we are all equally prone to error. It is only by doing so, that you can avoid doing silly things, and you can work to prepare yourself to rise above cultural influences.

The point is not that “everyone is a secret Nazi” that is silly. No one is saying that you follow the line of thought that, someone of a race or creed or gender is an unequal and thus not deserving of fair treatment. What I mean to say is, that we all think in character archetypes or stereotypes, and that is the way our mind functions. It is because of this, that we sometimes over estimate this archetype and say something silly like… “That black guy is a professor.. no way!” (this was me BTW in my freshman year at college. To which all my friends looked at me saying… “dog, that is racist.”) You see, it is because that person has a character archetype for a “professor” and does not realize that this archetypes is based on racist stereotypes – thus they are surprised when they see something that does not match up with their preconceived racist notions.

The reality is, that these caricatures of real people develop in us all, this is how we naturally think. However, when you combine this with bigoted cultural messages, the character archetypes we have for people develop into bigoted stereotypes, that lack a concrete basis in reality. Yet, and here is the positive thing to take from this, once we know this, once we are aware of the various mechanisms influencing our thoughts and actions, we can acknowledge the errors in it and mitigate it’s effects on our actions.

For instance, I was walking in the subway one day, a while back…and I noticed that this black guy was walking in front of me with his pants rapped around the bottom of his ass and showing me his boxers. My first thought, I sht you not, was “why do black people have to dress with that “thug” look?” – this was my archetype, my racist stereotype of black people. Then I noticed what I said in my head. I was like… “WhyTF am I so racist! AHHH”…  So I had to work to correct it.

Take this part in, it takes real actual work, and consistent work to combat negative bigoted cultural messages that you receive about minorities. As a minority myself, I still have to work on it. Therefore, if you are not doing this, or working really hard to to spot when you act bigoted, then you probably act bigoted a lot – and not even notice it.

Anyway, here is what I did to dial back my internalized racism….

I knew that our minds are particularly vulnerable to confirmation bias and implicit racial bias. In that we tend to emphasize things that prove our case and de-emphasize the things that do not. In this case, I was racially biased against black men, and I was looking for things that confirmed racist ideology rather than looking for things that in fact probably had the ability to prove it wrong.

Knowing this, I thought, “Surely I am mistaken! This could be just a case of confirmation bias and me being racist.” So soon enough, I looked for other black men, and tried to see how they were dressed. I noticed that there were a lot more black people that were dressed in a variety of different ways, and that for every guy I saw with his pants down at his ankles…. I saw 5 times as many black men that did not where hip-hop clothes at all.

I noticed that, my mind emphasized and confirmed racist thoughts (whenever I saw a black guy wearing a hoody or something) and cleverly hid the negatives, things that proved racism wrong, away from me (when a black person was wearing a suite). I also just failed to account for the fact that hip-hop clothes have their own negative stereotypes attached to them, and that there is a lot of negative stereotyping about what black men choose to wear.

As a side note.. don’t you think it is fcking odd that society has this really fcked up fascination with what black people chose to wear? As if wearing a fcking suite makes you a better person… man… fck all that noise. Anyway…

If I had not known all of that… and I had not acknowledged that I am vulnerable to confirmation bias and implicit racial bias…. I would have walked away thinking “Racism must be true!” I would have thought that this was. “just another case were some black guy was dressing like a thug.” Instead of realizing that this is not the actual reality I was living in, and that I was perceiving this false reality based on internalized racist views.

Here is the thing…if I failed to make that rational analysis.. I would have been internally driven to a false conclusion. A conclusion that would have been wrong and super duper fcking racist! Imagine that!

The problem is that our minds may be naturally accustomed to placing people in categorizes for easy reference, and that this society influences our categories to reflect bigoted norms. Yet, once we know how these categories can fail and why they often fail, once we know we can have biased category placements to begin with due to race bias, we can understand a way to stop them from overriding us and making us view the world in an unrealistic and often stereotypically racist fashion. This equally applies to all scenarios with minorities.

So if you want to actually not be a bigot.. it takes actual fcking work son. You have to be willing to explore your own bigoted thoughts, and not bother minorities with them asking them to make you less of a bigot, and be willing to try and unpack the way culture can influence your own thoughts. Without that, you are going to be carrying a lot of bigoted baggage around, and guess what? No matter how much lip service you pay towards equality, you are probably not going to have the ability to treat other minorities as equals.