Tag Archives: Jewish

Everyday People*


The New York City Police Department has a melting pot guide for its officers. This guide offers tips for understanding the ingredients that make up our multicultural stew. At first blush it would seem a little quaint in the 21st century to need such a guide (in New York City). Unless the police recruits are coming from a small town (in the 1950s!) it’s a pretty sure bet that they’ve met or seen people of other backgrounds. But more than a cursory familiarity is needed on the front lines.

What is striking about this 21st century guide is the assumptions it makes. The reports of its content would suggest that it is written for the white, Christian, heterosexual police officer. Unfortunately there’s nothing unique about this approach. “Diversity” manuals are almost always written from that perspective (and without irony!) Social worker guidelines, medical manuals, public and private sector human resource documents are almost always written from the perspective of the white Christian heterosexual. Anyone doubting this need only flip through the tomes in pursuit of the chapter: Understanding White Christian Heterosexuals. Good luck with that.

Beside the obvious bias that this perspective has, there is a larger efficacy issue at hand. Police officers, social workers, et al. who are not white, Christian and heterosexual experience a gap in their training. A social worker, let’s say from an observant Jewish urban background, working in a rural white Christian area is not well served by this type of training. It is assumed that she will know the customs and culture of white rural Christians. The assumption that NYPD officers are white, Christian and heterosexual is (mercifully) outdated. A first-generation Chinese-American police officer may be well versed in the customs of Chinese-Americans but not know the customs and culture of white Christians. It is true that people who are outside of the power-base of a society know some of the ways of that power group. It is an integral key to survival to know of the holidays and some customs of Christians, whites and heterosexuals if you are not of that background. But the more subtle cultural cues (the type which are always addressed in these manuals and training) need to be spelled out clearly for all people of all backgrounds. Creating diversity manuals, which only have the potential of being 100% effective for white Christian heterosexuals transcends irony.

By not viewing whites, Christians and heterosexual people as a “group” we are asserting that these people are the norm and everyone else is a minority or special interest. This perspective is not helpful and is on the verge of being utterly false. If nothing else it is woefully old-fashioned. When it comes to the topic of cultural awareness we must be ahead of the curve not behind it.

*I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do – Sly Stone (1968)


Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique


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Lines Are Drawn

Have you noticed a cultural aversion to boundaries?  It seems the very concept of boundaries, and hence the concept of “others” has taken on a verboten quality.  A very disingenuous verboten quality I may add.
Certainly the phenomenon of parent as “friend” and child as equal member of the family has been observed and critiqued.  Do parents still even have locks on their bedroom door?  Whatever boundaries existing there are pretty much invisible to the naked eye.
But what of larger more far reaching lack of boundary phenomenon?  I recently was on the bewildering end of a religion conversation.  My conversational partner insisting that lots of Jewish people celebrate Christmas, and advising me that I was being dogmatic in my view of religion.  Isn’t that the whole point of religion?  Doesn’t a great deal of religious identity depend on identifying what it is not?  Judaism is a whole lot of things, and one of them is that it is NOT celebrating Christian holidays.  Do I know of many people of Jewish origin who in attempts at either not denying their cherubs or in their own ambiguous identity have embraced Christmas?  Absolutely.  But why is it wrong or “rigid” to maintain or at least recognize, a boundary?  Haven’t we fought wars over such things?  Don’t we have an entire government based upon parties whose very existence is predicated on not being a member of the “other” party?
We are all equal as human beings, but it is dismissive and offensive to maintain that we are all the same.

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Cultural Critique


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