Cross-cultural Teaming in a Laboratory

This is a guest blog post written by Amy Prunuske and Katie Nemeth. Their biographies follow the text.

lab-1825276The laboratory is a multicultural environment that stimulates innovation but also contributes to misunderstandings. Scientists often have formal training in research techniques, but rarely in communication, and particularly not in cross-cultural communication.

In the University of Wisconsin biochemistry laboratory in which Amy did her research training, there were lab mates from Korea, Germany, Japan, India, and Poland, as well as the USA. This diversity is vital for the development of new ideas, but it can also create communication challenges. Many of the undergraduates in the US Midwest come to the university with minimal exposure to people from different backgrounds, so it is important to help them understand that different cultures have differing verbal and nonverbal rules mediating social interactions.

During Katie’s postdoctoral training, she participated in many active learning and training workshops. While diversity and inclusivity were part of the lesson designs, she wondered if and how students could become actively mindful of the role that culture plays in a group setting. Seeking out ideas, she participated in non-science workshops and discovered Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures. After finding this vital missing link, Katie worked with Amy to add the experiential learning component to various courses and groups in the biology department.

We have found that Ecotonos is an amazing way to expose scientists to the existence of cultural differences and how to use them as assets. As part of the activity, students are divided into three monocultural groups: Delphenius, Zante, and Aquila—each with a unique set of cultural characteristics. Ecotonos comes with ten sets of rule cards, three case studies and three different tasks, so students can play the game repeatedly and each time it’s different. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

In our work with the biology students, we have them practice their new cultural rules by creating a flag that represents the values of their culture (see pictures). The students in the monocultural groups enjoy taking on these new characteristics, with some finding it easy and others finding it challenging to behave in new ways.

After the monocultural work, participants are re-sorted into multicultural groups of different structures: minority-majority, joint venture with balanced populations, and diverse membership with representatives of all three cultures. In their multicultural groups, we have them rank the performance of three hypothetical workers, with the three workers demonstrating characteristics similar to one of the three sets of group rules. This exposes the participants to the ways in which we can be biased toward people with behaviors similar to those of our own culture, and allows students to practice getting beyond their biases.

We have used the program as part of the introduction to the biology laboratory, where they will be expected to work in groups, as well as in programs for undergraduates from groups under-represented in the sciences.

Ecotonos is a great ice breaker activity for the students to get to know their classmates, and students often carry forward some of the behaviors learned during the activity, like snapping in approval, as part of creating a new shared culture for their group. Most students find the activity to be fun, and leave it with a much greater appreciation for the challenges of working across cultures.

Here’s a typical student comment: “It was helpful to understand how difficult it might be interacting with a different culture for the first time.” This is an important lesson for scientists, who often believe their discipline is a meritocracy not subject to the biases that are universally found. We are currently measuring the impact of Ecotonos using the cultural intelligence assessment.

We would like to thank Dr. Shelley Smith for introducing Ecotonos to us.  We are grateful for the time she took to share her expertise in running the activity.

amy-prunuske-2016
Amy Prunskee is a Faculty Curriculum Program Manager and Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Medical College of Wisconsin — Central Wisconsin.

katie-nemeth2
Katie Nemeth is an Assistant Professor of the teaching faculty in College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN.

 

Fascism, Democracy and Inclusion

cdfc-grad-5I am very pleased to share with you a guest post written by Taruni Falconer, Lead Facilitator of Cultural Detective Certified Facilitator Workshops, and co-author of Cultural Detective: New Zealand

“Fascism did not rise in the 1930’s because it was strong, but because democracy was weak!” These are the recent words of a political strategist in a news interview following the US elections. This declaration stopped me in my tracks.

I have the good fortune to live in relatively stable and prosperous democracy, Australia. I have also lived and worked in countries taking their first steps into democracy. In Yemen, l watched their precarious first, UN-supervised democratic election. In Tanzania, I listened to Julius Nyerere, father of unified Tanzania, make an impassioned plea to his people to act peacefully during the turmoil of Tanzania’s very first multiparty elections.

My life’s work as an intercultural educator has been built on the democratic principle of “better together than apart”, of finding ways to leverage and bridge differences, of responding to difference as a potent resource rather than a source of fear.

The political strategist’s statement about democracy has me reflecting on the rich range of tools I have for participating in my democracy. It has me realising the tools I have at the ready to understand the position of “the other” who represents different thinking. And there is no shortage of that!

I have been using Cultural Detective© as a primary training tool since 2003. I use it with my clients from Mumbai, India, to Wellington, New Zealand; from Singapore to Melbourne, Australia. It does not mean that I try to shoehorn it into every design I create, however, it is a reliable go-to resource. It’s a favourite tool in my toolbox, applicable in very diverse situations where training, facilitation, or coaching is concerned.

Right now, as I respond to the after-shocks of Brexit and the US election, I am also reaching for the simple Cultural Detective Method that applies three core questions:

  1. Who is doing and saying what here?
  2. Assuming they have a reason to respond in this way, what might that be?
  3. In what ways can we bridge this difference, this divide, and then take appropriate action?

Cultural Detective is a well-tested tool for taking effective action in these mutable, turbulent times.

These three questions at the heart of the Cultural Detective Method were taken up by two client organizations who joined together recently in Adelaide, South Australia, for a two-and-a-half-day Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification course. The workshop was hosted by Multicultural Aged Care, a group that has long been actively engaged in building intercultural competence for the aged-care workforce, and Scope Global, managers of international development and educational programs throughout Asia and the Pacific. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Both organisations were drawn to this in-depth course to learn more about the multiple applications and strengths of the Cultural Detective Method and materials. Over a three-day period, they shared intense, guided interaction, and gained many useful and practical insights:

“I really got that I need to adjust the type of bridge to the specific situation. I had thought of bridging as a major project like the built-for-hundreds-of-years Sydney Harbour type of bridge. Not true! Bridging can flex according to the situation and not all bridges need to be the permanent stone structures.”
—Agnieszka Chudecka, Multicultural Aged Care, South Australia

“Before doing this course I had understood that bridging could happen at the interpersonal level and not really considered the ways this could happen systemically as well. That’s changed. I get it. I now see multiple ways we can make simple low-cost systemic modifications that will facilitate bridging.”
—Ammeline Balanag, ScopeGlobal

I reach for Cultural Detective with confidence.  It’s safe. It works alongside other tools. It gives me a deliberate approach and process to understanding different viewpoints. It enables participation and the inclusive practice of democracy in our teams, in our organisations, and in our communities.

It continues to have my participatory vote and that of my clients.

On the Road with Migrants: Translation Help Needed

migrants-2-7123c.jpgThe Caritas game “On the Road with Migrants” is now available online in Italian and Greek, in addition to French, English and German. Please scroll down the following link for your free download:
http://www.secours-catholique.org/actualites/en-route-avec-les-migrants-un-jeu-a-telecharger

I am working on a translation to Spanish. Would LOVE your help! …. Please let us know if you are willing and able as we are putting together a team.

Thank you for helping us build respect, equity, inclusion and JUSTICE in our world!

Inclusion in Cyberspace?

I am pleased to present you a very interesting guest blog post written by John Gieryn, about inclusion and intercultural competence in online communities.

O[en Source Collage_209.jpg

The internet was a promise of open access and global inclusion, but has this been realized? You have most likely felt or heard hints of the web’s democratizing potential. You might have also sensed that the internet isn’t living up to this potential, and that barriers to global access and equity are yet to be bridged. The internet was born in a time before 4G access and smartphones. The current design of our web no longer supports the progress of society and is in need of a major remodel to ensure it supports inclusion, and a social cohesion that fosters both cultural and individual diversity. I write this post as a call to action. My hope is to spark discourse, the sharing of challenges and examples, lessons learned, and practical ways towards self- and group-improvement in the arenas of open source design, participatory organization and online collaboration.

Background
I’m a digital native, having communed and convened through the web since I was young. For the last nine months, the majority of my social and professional interactions have occurred online. Engaging with what I’d consider progressive and impressively democratic networks, I’ve seen and heard surprisingly little in open source design communities on intercultural competence seeking.

My interest in such competence began from a painful yet most valuable experience. For six years I have been working primarily as a community organizer, within the framework of social change. At the end of my first year, I had the opportunity to learn in a personal and powerful way what my privilege meant. A long story short: myself and two other males had been dominating the conversation in a non-hierarchical, direct-action collective, in the midst of the biggest protest movement Wisconsin has ever seen, and several women of color felt unable to bring their issues up for a period of months. The outtake was a dramatic pair of sessions, six hours each, that were necessary to reestablish the balance and harmony of our group.

I’m cis, white, and male, from the lower-middle class. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much easier I can move through my world than others who don’t have these same privilege-granting characteristics. It was just easier, more comfortable, for me to speak than for people whose experiences differed vastly from my own. This balancing lesson taught me how to authentically collaborate through the lens of power with instead of power over, and it continues to shape my work and increase its effectiveness.

In my current work online, the lessons I learned about balancing power have become harder to apply, because 1) I can’t always tell who is in a virtual room, 2) it’s harder to determine what privileges are held by those present, and 3) asynchronous communication lacks many of the visual cues that are so helpful in facilitating safe(r) spaces and recognizing when someone is in discomfort or shut down. With the loss of visual cues and physical presence, new tactics are required for safeguarding groups from imbalances and reversing disparities when they occur (e.g. asking someone for a quick face-to-face after an online meeting can feel very different than it might in a face-to-face meeting).

Why Intercultural Competence Matters
Cultural competence is defined as “a complex, psychosocial and socio-cultural process of cultural awareness, content knowledge, and applied or practice skills. It is as an active, developmental, and ongoing process, one that is aspirational rather than achieved,” (. It is the awareness of cultures, the distinctions of their context, their sense-making, and their values and norms and the applied practice of interacting with them through communication and other collaborative processes in appropriate and competent ways. Beyond being a fair or just concept, intercultural competence is just plain effective, as it can activate and sustain collective action in many ways, especially through Social Capital. Cultural Detective, since it helps people develop intercultural competence, can thus play a role in activating social capital.

Beyond being a fair or just concept, intercultural competence is just plain effective, as it can activate and sustain collective action in many ways, especially through Social Capital.

Benefits of Social Capital
Social Capital is a concept used to identify resources that are neither human nor financial, but interpersonal. It’s important to note that the phrase “social capital” is problematic, as “capital” has represented a relationship of domination and oppression for half a millennium or more. I use the term (without intending these connotations) as it is widely used in the literature I cite, and is useful until a better naming emerges. The resources found in “cross-cutting personal relationships…provide the basis for trust, cooperation, and collective action in such communities,” write Nahapiet & Ghoshal (1998). In that same paper, they found it useful to identify three dimensions of social capital— structural, cognitive, and relational— though they admit there is much interrelation between each.

The structural dimension refers to the makeup of the network, who relates to whom and how strongly. The cognitive dimension refers to the self-rated expertise and tenure one might have; self-efficacy, or control belief (the belief that my actions will yield the intended results) has a significant effect on whether one will intend to do anything, let alone participate in an online community.

The relational dimension has the largest potential impact, in my opinion, for the way online communities organize. Relational Capital can be further broken down into four aspects.

Rela Capital.png

In a group that has high amounts of Relational Capital, it’d be likely that:

  • A member has confidence in the other group members
  • Members identify with the group
  • Members feel a sense of obligation to participate in the group; I’ve renamed this interdependence above, since it is a primary cause of this commitment
  • Members understand and abide by group norms. This may be reinforced through sanctions

Intercultural Competence for Collective Action
Relational Capital is where intercultural competence can be effectively leveraged in order to build collective action and increase knowledge sharing in online communities. Intercultural competence, as I explained above, means being able to understand someone’s cultural context, communicate in ways that are appropriate, and take actions that are mutually understood. I’d also describe it as being fully present with someone. Such competence is required to build confidence, create shared identity, communicate and form norms, and enable commitment. Intercultural competence strengthens all of the components of Relational Capital.

Another leg of the stool for collective action, that I’ve depicted below, is reciprocity. Studies, “consistently found that reciprocity is critical for sustaining supportive relationships and collective action” (Chechen 2013). Intercultural competence is key to reciprocity because, in any exchange, understanding the context of someone’s culture and the ways that they send & receive signals is critical. How can you return the favor if you don’t know what you’ve received? How can you pay it forward if you don’t know what you gave, in the eyes of the other person? This is why online communities need intercultural competence.

In future articles I hope to write more about some of the other concepts depicted in this Collective Action Hypothesis, above. The dotted lines are my personal understandings, and the solid lines are backed up with formal academic research.

Call To Action

If we are to reach the admirable, attainable goals of the internet—to bring democracy, inclusion, and access to people everyone around the globe—then intercultural competence must be on the agenda. The Open Source movement, as well as participatory organizations and any online collaboration, have much to gain from prioritizing dialogue and resource sharing on intercultural best practices, as cultural competence is a key component of open access to tech.

I invite people to share any resources, comments, or quotes by making a suggestion here. I also hope that you will spark these sorts of conversations, and share these types of resources, with your community. Continuous learning and diverse lenses have the capacity to transform our world into a more sustainable, flourishing home. So please— stay curious.

Resources + Examples

  • The World Value Survey created this very interesting cultural map depicting traditional values versus secular-rational values and survival values versus self-expression values
  • “The Challenges of Managing Cross-Cultural Virtual Project Teams” research paper on the challenge of leadership, virtual aspects of communications and developing trustMany of the online resources I found were proprietary. However, this
  • 6 Levels of Culture diagram was helpful; the DIE assessment is a freely accessible & widely used method to teach cognitive flexibility, frame of reference shifting and curiosity
  • Short videos, like this one on New Zealand & German cultural differences, can be helpful

References

  • Carroll, Doris Wright. “A Model of Cultural Competence in Open Source Systems.” Safari. IGI Global, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.
  • Chechen Liao Pui-Lai To Fang-Chih Hsu , (2013),”Exploring knowledge sharing in virtual communities”, Online Information Review, Vol. 37 Iss 6 pp. 891 – 909.
  • Faraj, Molly Mclure Wasko; Samer, and Wasko. “Why Should I Share? Examining Social Capital and Knowledge Contribution in Virtual Communities” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
  • Nahapiet, Janine, and Sumantra Ghoshel. “Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage.” Academy of Management Review 23.2 (1998): 119-57. Web.

john gieryn | @coopchange | john(at)enspiral.com Licensed  CC BY-SA 4.0

Sperm Whales and Cultural Diversity

gero-whales

Image from “The Lost Culture of Whales,” by Shane Gero in The New York Times

Our annual year-end gift to each other in our family is a boat trip to visit the humpback whales in our bay in Mazatlán. They are gorgeous, and during the trip we often swim with dolphins, delight in jumping mantas, and greet sea turtles.

I just read an article about sperm whales on the other side of Mexico, in the Eastern Caribbean (The Lost Culture of Whales, in The New York Times); their populations are declining by 4% annually. Horrible, for sure, but why write about that on the Cultural Detective blog? Granted, we here at Cultural Detective very much support sustainability, a reduced footprint, and respect for our planet and its ecology. But what do declining sperm whale populations have to do with culture?

According to Shane Gero, behavioral ecologist and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project: “Behavior is what you do; culture is how you do it. All sperm whales do the same things — feed, swim, defend, socialize — but how they do them is different around the world. Just as humans use forks or chopsticks, they, too, differ in how they eat, what species of squid they eat, how fast they travel and where they roam, their social behavior, and probably many other ways we still do not understand.” Sperm whales in the Eastern Caribbean have at least 22 different dialects, and can identify one another. Interestingly, those from a similar culture are more likely to cooperate.

It seems that the lives of sperm whales are remarkably similar to those of humans: extended family members — usually female — babysit calves. Family is critical to survival, and the whales live in communities of neighboring families in a multicultural oceanic society, according to Gero. “We are not just losing specific whales that we have come to know as individuals; we are losing a way of life, a culture — the accumulated wisdom of generations on how to survive in the deep waters of the Caribbean Sea.”

I found all this fascinating, but I especially enjoyed reading Gero’s conclusions, which I post below.

“The definition of biodiversity needs to include cultural diversity. All sperm whales around the world are similar genetically… But genetics may not be particularly helpful when conserving populations of cultural whales. ‘Genetic stocks,’ which we have traditionally used to manage and protect much of the world’s wildlife, simply cannot preserve the diversity of life. Diverse systems are more resilient, and the most important diversity in sperm whales, as in humans, is in their cultural traditions.

I could point to many reasons to protect whales, like the way they mitigate the effects of climate change by cycling nutrients that enable the ocean to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, or how top predators regulate marine food chains. But if we are to preserve life, ours and theirs, we must find ways to succeed together, and value diversity in our societies and in our ecosystems.

—Shane Gero, behavioral ecologist and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project

Life is indeed wholistic, all beings are interconnected, and preserving the diversity amongst ourselves and our animal and plant life may be key to our survival. I have no doubt it’s key to our well being.

The best part of working with Cultural Detective has always been the community — you — like-minded people striving to build intercultural competence. Gero’s opinions and experience would seem to make the case that our community is broader than I thought, including, at a minimum, biologists and ecologists, as well.

A Personal Dilemma: Diversity vs. Diversity

Photo from the UK Telegraph

Photo from the UK Telegraph

This is a story of due diligence, mutual deception, and dialogue. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Pretty much my entire life has been dedicated to intercultural competence and diversity issues. It started when I was eleven: my family moved and I became the target of bullying for being “different.” I decided then that I needed to learn how to adapt (“fit in”) to new situations much more nimbly than I was then able to do. So, at twelve, I used my babysitting money to spend a summer abroad in Mexico. That was the first step on a lifelong path.

I am also quite Christian. Open to, respectful, and inclusive of other religions and spiritual practices, by all means—at least in my intentions and ongoing learning process—but in my own life I follow the beliefs rooted in my childhood. I am eternally grateful to my parents for instilling faith in me from a young age. So, I’m a Christian who’s committed to diversity, inclusion, and intercultural competence.

In 1999, when I moved to Kansas City, Kansas, USA, I interviewed various pastors and churches to find the right “fit” for me. I did not want to have any part of a parish culture that was exclusive or righteously judgmental. I was delighted when I found an Episcopal parish with a pastor who swore himself, and his parish, to embracing diversity.

I knew that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church had declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church” (1976-A069). I also knew that the Episcopal and Anglican Churches (the Episcopal Church is an offshoot of the Anglican Church and is part of the Anglican Communion) were having a heated internal debate about homosexuality, particularly about whether gays and lesbians should be able to be priests. I vehemently felt they should; this would be the inclusive practice. Thus, I interviewed my pastor about his feelings on this matter. When he told me he heartily agreed with the declaration, I could feel my worry ease.

The parish engaged in extensive domestic and international outreach, and not just the short-term, feel-good kind. We had long-term relationships with a medical center in Haiti and a Diocese in Ghana, with whom we partnered to alleviate hunger, improve health, and develop job skills. Ghana and Haiti were part of the Anglican Church, not the Episcopal Church, but that didn’t matter to me; we were all the same family. At least two Sundays a month our pastor’s sermon included talk about diversity, his desire to include more people of color and lower socio-economic strata in our parish that was located in an upscale, largely white neighborhood.

Things happened that I didn’t like. I remember attending a Bible study group in which the members ganged up on me. They all said that a Christian had to proclaim Jesus as THE ONE AND ONLY Lord and Savior. I said I proclaimed Jesus as MY Lord and Savior, but that I recognized many other paths to God, peace, or enlightenment, as well. I explained that I respected those paths as valid and appropriate for the people who followed them. Members of my study group fervently disagreed, showing me Bible passages to prove I was wrong. They told me I wasn’t a true Christian.

What?! I have been a Christian my entire life, in four countries on three continents, and no one has ever had the gall to tell me that before! How dare they define my spirituality for me!

I spoke to my pastor about it. He apologized. He explained to me that Kansas City was fairly “southern” in its outlook, and that our parish commitment to diversity included people who were more fundamental/literal as well as people who were more liberal in their outlook. He said we are all human, we are all on a developmental journey in this life, and that I should be compassionate.

Okay, I quit the Bible study group. For about three years I was delighted, becoming more and more involved and vested in parish life. I became an active Sunday school teacher, and co-led Vacation Bible School for the kids. I tithed 10% of my earnings, which I knew supported our outreach projects as well as parish upkeep. I attended women’s retreats and study sessions. We had a great time. I absolutely loved my community, and felt I was growing closer to God, becoming more the person He would like me to be on this earth.

Then comes 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop. I was so proud! We had married priests, women priests (I had grown up Catholic, so this was major), and now we could have priests who are variously sexually-oriented as well! I felt joy at such a major step forward for an organization that, like any other, is prone to human failings.

Thus, I was completely blindsided when, in church on Sunday, our pastor announced that we were leaving the Episcopal Church. Huh? Can he do that?! He told us that our parish would be joining the Anglican Church. The reason? He didn’t agree with having a gay bishop, and he said we shouldn’t, either. What???!!!

I obviously made an appointment to speak with the pastor right away on Monday. I was livid. How could he have pledged to me his commitment to diversity, told me he agreed with the Church’s 1976 declaration on LGBT matters, and then do this? How could he take the annual pledge I’d made and just move it without my permission to another Church?

He spoke calmly. He was obviously centered, had prayed on this, and was confident he was doing the right thing. He explained to me that pro-LGBT activities have a western bias. And not just a western bias, but a higher socio-economic class bias as well. He said that in most of Africa, most of Latin America, most of the rest of the world, the Anglican Communion does not want openly gay priests. He told me he still did support the Episcopal Church’s 1976 LGBT declaration. But, he went on to say that that declaration says gays are children of God. In his opinion, gay sex is a sin, so as long as our gay parishioners remain celibate, they remain in God’s good graces. What?! Nearly four years I’ve been learning from this man, and this is what he believes?! I was horrified. He explained to me that it was me, not him, that was failing to honor diversity and inclusion; I was being ethnocentric, with a western and upper-middle-class bias.

I, of course, disagreed. I told him that we, as a society, cannot pick and choose which differences are “acceptable” to us and which are not. I told him I’d be leaving the church. I demanded that my annual tithe be returned to me; my money would most definitely not be used by him to promote this kind of discrimination.

While this personal story is now dated, I decided to write it up after reading a recent article from Canada, “Indigenous bishops say they’ll resist imposition of ‘Western’ cultural values,” about the Anglican Church there. That article really caused me pause. I am devoted to indigenous causes. Back when I was 11 and being bullied, my only friends were Hopi and Diné. They welcomed me, and I will never forget that inclusiveness. So, indigenous people are saying LGBT inclusion is an imposition of western cultural values? That the Church is not heeding their voices? That’s not good. Everyone should be heard, listened to, respected.

Spirituality is a lifelong practice. Cultural competence is also. At this point in my development, I remain committed to the belief that we must be inclusive and respectful of all God’s creatures: human, plant, animal, and Mother Earth. Defending our lack of respect for another by attributing it to “culture” is just not acceptable. Change is difficult; my inability to adapt when my family moved is what got me into the intercultural field in the first place. Change takes time. We must engage in respectful processes, during which we honor and hear one another. Together, we can create a world in which all our unique gifts are honored and utilized.

I welcome your thoughts, insights, and experiences.

Prologue: We here at Cultural Detective are very much wanting to partner with authors on a Cultural Detective Christianity, as well as packages on other spiritual traditions, to accompany our CD Islam and CD Jewish Culture. I would also very much like to see Values Lenses on Fundamentalism/Literalism, and Liberalism/Interpretivism—as a non-expert in divinity studies, I obviously don’t have the correct vocabulary. If you share my passion and do have the vocabulary, please contact us: blog@culturaldetective.com.

To Slurp or Not to Slurp

PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION COVER FACE 3One of the greatest benefits of working across cultures, aside from the terrific people, is the fabulous food we are privileged to enjoy. I’m sure most of you agree, as some of our food posts have proved to be popular entries on this blog:

  1. French Food Culture Selling Men’s Underwear
  2. Food Speaks in Many Tongues
  3. The Squid Has Been Fried: Chinese Food Culture
  4. Ukiuki, Pichipichi, Pinpin: Japanese Food Onomatopeia
  5. Bicycling in the Yogurt: the French Food Fixation

In the 90-second video below, Joe Lurie, author of Perception and Deception: A Mind Opening Journey Across Cultures, tells the story of a Fulbright Scholar who spoke five languages, yet refused to sit next to Japanese colleagues during meals.

Differences in customs and etiquette can damage relationships; Perception and Deception provides stories from nearly 100 cultures. Be sure to order your copy today.

Once you’ve read it, remember that it is the underlying values we hold and the assumptions we make that are the differences that make a difference to productivity and satisfaction. Cultural Detective helps you learn on that deeper level, building understanding as well as strategies and skills for harnessing differences as assets. Get  your subscription today!

Righting Culinary Injustice

Photo © Johnathan M. Lewis

Photo of Michael W. Twitty © Johnathan M. Lewis

“I challenge you to find anyone in the history of the world who was enslaved and who revolutionized the food, sex lives, religion, dance, music, and aesthetics of the people who enslaved them—like Africans in the Americas did. The man and woman who became enslaved enslaved the palates of those who enslaved them.”
—Michael W. Twitty, food historian

Michael Twitty is aspiring to be the first US Civil War-era Black chef in 150 years. To that end, since 2011 he has researched, written, and, amazingly, performed the day-to-day labor of an enslaved person. Why? “It’s my job, using imagination, body, archeology, ethnography, anything I can, to honor and restore dignity to my ancestors.”

It is important that we not only honor the ancestors but provide a lifeline to contemporary communities and people of color looking for a better life in the new economy, a way out of the health and chronic illness crisis, and a way to reduce the vast food deserts that plague many of our communities. To honor the food past and provide for the food future is “culinary justice.”
—from Michael’s website, Afroculinaria

All over the world, people have lost and are losing proprietorship of their ancestral traditions. As Michael explains, “Spam colonized Oceania, Korean traditions were usurped during the Japanese occupation, there was the pseudo-history of the Columbian Exchange, Native Americans probably exchanged recipes with immigrants as they shivered under small pox blankets and dodged musket balls.” Too many people have no claim over their own heritage, no access to a field of heirloom vegetables that their ancestors brought to a country or a continent.

Maybe you have heard about Michael Twitty. I had not until I read a post by colleague Missy Gluckmann from Melibee Global this morning. Learning from Michael has occupied my entire morning, and I can’t tell you how thrilled and how moved I am by his work and who he is! Bless you, Missy and Michael!

Readers of this blog know that we often write about food (1, 2, 3, 4, 5); it is central to the soul of a culture. We also frequently write about cultural appropriation (1, 2, 3), from fashion to symbols to traditions, how to avoid it, and how to extend power and privilege, credit and honor where they belong—to origins and originators—while also continuing to be generative. Heck, bridging and blending cultures is what Cultural Detective is all about! Building on others’ work while honoring it respectfully and justly is a difficult line to maintain, however, one that requires ongoing dialogue, learning, and adjustment. Living as a gringa in Mexico, I learn more about that “thin line” on a daily basis.

Here in Latin America, where colonization and the appropriation of historic lands remain modern-day concerns, and the switching from heritage to GMO crops breaks my heart and worries many for our future, Michael’s work provides a much-needed vocabulary and conceptual framework. According to Michael, “In a world where oppressed communities worldwide are struggling with food security and economic inequalities, advancing culinary justice is essential to a better and more sustainable future for the global community.”

How does he define some of his terms?

  • Culinary Injustice: “When the descendants of historically oppressed people have no sovereignty over their culinary traditions, and essentially go from a state of sustainable production and ownership to a state of dependency, mal- or under-nutrition and food injustice. It results in feelings of shame for being under history’s boot heel, and puts distance between our past, ourselves and our future. Culinary injustice places originators in a tertiary and passive rather than a primary and active role in the transformation of culinary traditions, and results in fortunes being made for others”—those who oppress, appropriate, or innovate unjustly.
  • Culinary Justice: “Respect for truth and honesty in telling the stories and traditions of the oppressed. Reconciliation not blame, hope not guilt, the power of working together not avoiding one another. Ensuring that children of color have access to the land, ecosystems, clean water and legal protections to grow the heirloom crops and heritage breed animals of their ancestors. This results in a greater connection to nature, spirit, and our ancestors. Culinary justice enables the oppressed to become entrepreneurs, producers and providers by using their unique cultural heritage, and lifts communities out of poverty.”

Bridging Cultures via Culinary Traditions

Michael himself is a Blended Culture person, both African-American and Jewish, among, no doubt, many other identities. How does he bridge cultures? Again, in his words, “Food is extremely culturally connected and inherently economic and political. It is a proving ground for racial reconciliation and healing and dialogue. The responsible exploration of the Southern food heritage demands that the cooks of colonial, federal era and antebellum kitchens and enslaved people’s cabins be honored for their unique role in giving the Southland her mother cuisine.”

Think about this a minute. Here’s a culinary historian who has dedicated his life to reclaiming the Black culinary heritage of the Americas, especially in the US South. How do you think he might feel about someone, like, say, Paula Deen, celebrity chef and doyenne of Southern comfort food, who, when you think about it, has made a fortune off adapting (or appropriating) African-American recipes and traditions? In fact, Michael named one of his projects “The Southern Discomfort Tour,” to help us redefine how we think about what is commonly referred to as “Southern comfort food.”

Again, in Michael’s words, “I invited Paula Deen to dinner, at a plantation, to engage her as a cousin, not a combatant. The Cooking Gene seeks to connect the whole of the Southern food family—with cousins near and far—by drawing all of us into the story of how we got here and where we are going. There is power in food traditions for bridging the pseudo-boundaries of race.”

Bravo!

Michael talks about “identity cooking,” which relates directly to the Blended Culture that we as Cultural Detectives talk about. He tells us, “Identity cooking isn’t about fusion; rather it’s how we construct complex identities and then express them through how we eat. Very few people in the modern West eat one cuisine or live within one culinary construct. Being Kosher/Soul is about melding the histories, tastes, flavors, and diasporic wisdom of being Black and being Jewish. Both cultures express many of their cultural and spiritual values through the plate, and Kosher/Soul is about that ongoing journey.”

He talks about the Americas as “a culinary cornucopia unknown anywhere else in the world, where foods from Africa, the Americas, Eurasia, the Middle East and Southeast Asia met. Cooks from modern-day Ghana, Angola and Nigeria perhaps exchanged recipes with each other in their new Afro-Creole pidgeon English,” and here, paraphrasing him, sharing with one another how they adapt their ingredient list to the plants and herbs available in the Americas, as well as the palates of their new owners. “What results is not like anything they have cooked before, but is the essential truth of all of the parts.”

Remember when I told you that modern science is proving that memory is biological, that it crosses generations? Michael Twitty, with his one-man mission to reclaim African-American culinary heritage, recently found out through DNA testing that he his paternal ancestors were the Akan of modern-day Ghana. The Akan language, called Twi, has a word and an Adinkra symbol called sankofa. Sankofa means that we must go back and reclaim our past in order to move forward! You tell me Michael isn’t doing what his ancestors, and his genes, tell him needs to be done! Inside each of us, indeed, is a piece of the puzzle, an answer to the challenges facing our world!

Akindra-sankofa

The Akindra symbol for sankofa

Sankofa_bird

Akindra bird symbol for sankofa

Personal Learning (or Reframing) Points

What are some of the key points I learned, or reframed, from Michael Twitty this morning? Most of the below is verbatim from Michael via his videos on the internet.

  1. African slaves were not unskilled labor. They were brought to the Americas for their skills, to help build nations. They knew how to grow rice and cotton from West Africa, and brought it to the USA. We brought over 20 different African crops and animals to the Americas on slave ships. They brought their ability to cook. Post-slavery, they were the first generation of caterers in America, culinary aristocracy, cooking for the White House, embassies, highest society. Yet our children don’t know that!
  2. “Yam yam” is a Wolof word, the word enslaved women used when caring for white children in the big house, encouraging them to eat her food. Look in the dictionary under “yummy”: “origin unknown”? Black people!
  3. As new generations were born in the USA, kids’ palates changed. They don’t like guts, which of course contained the spirit, the soul, the essence of the animal that was sacrificed to feed us. We began to lose the mystical, the mythological, the metaphysical, and the magical… Those chitlins (small intestine): they contain the soul, that’s why it’s called soul food!
  4. Enslaved cooks from Central West Africa used spirituals to time their cooking; there were no clocks. To roast the meat, bake the bread… they’d reference the number of times they could sing the song before the food would be done.
  5. Rice in South Carolina made 10 out of the first 12 millionaires, all of whom were involved in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It took only two seasons to make the rice planters of Charleston millionaires. Charleston Gold Rice sells for $14/bag today, yet not one black person owns a rice field in Charleston. That’s food injustice.
  6. It’s important to respect and revive the culinary knowledge of the oppressed. It takes guts to insist that the chef act as a keeper of tradition, an advocate of memory, of ecological integrity, of ethnographic and historical respect, with contemporary awareness and a sense of urgency to acknowledge debt. Culinary reconciliation will lead to healing and a better life.

I’m sure you’d love to see Michael in action. Below is a video of an 18-minute presentation he gave to MAD, a Danish non-profit.

If you have heard Michael speak or, better yet, eaten some of his food, please let me know about your experience. Bless you, Michael Twitty! Thank you for helping make our world more respectful, equitable and just!

 

 

How Language Can Deceive

PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION COVER FACE 3“We’re all coming to be like each other. While there’s some truth to that, it’s also truth that in coming together so rapidly—with technology, migration across borders—we are unprepared for the contact between people and cultures we know nothing about.”

Joe Lurie recently spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Commonwealth Club of California. In this two-minute excerpt from that presentation, Joe tells the sad story of a woman looking for a job who isn’t hired, at least in part, because of her name.

We’ve published about the importance of names previously on this blog. While Joe and Fadwa’s story is anecdotal, it echoes the experience of thousands of others worldwide. You may recall the widely reported story of José Zamora, who was hired only after he changed the name on his resumé to “Joe.” According to Recruiter magazine:

Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity.

The book, Perception and Deception: A Mind Opening Journey Across Cultures, tells hundreds of stories like this one, in an effort to help the reader develop awareness and understanding, so they can then use Cultural Detective to build their skills and competence. If you haven’t yet read the book, be sure to order it now. Better yet, order a copy for Aunt Margret or your Cousin Vinny, too.

War Zones and Cultural Disconnects

PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION COVER FACE 3Our book, “Perception and Deception: A Mind Opening Journey Across Cultures,” is getting incredible reviews and selling like hotcakes (or roti, sushi, tacos…)! Quite a few successful, internationally renowned professionals leading multicultural lives—a famous news anchor, an ambassador, journalists, professors—have written on Amazon to tell us how much they’ve learned from the book. Check out the reviews for yourself. As Joe tells us:

I wrote the book because I think that in this age of globalization, more and more cultures are coming together in ways for which we are not prepared. We don’t understand the real intent behind behaviors, behind images, gestures, and how we use our voices.

Perception and Deception‘s author, Joe Lurie, is born a storyteller. Most of his speaking engagements to promote the book have been sold out, including the one in the video below, taken at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Over the next couple of months, I’ll share excerpts of Joe’s talk there. This first clip, below, is four minutes long, and in it Joe discusses the cultural disconnects in modern war zones.

Perception and Deception is a great gift for anyone who would benefit from taking some time to reflect on what is really involved in communication across cultures, even or especially those who live and breathe it on a daily basis. Copies are available through Amazon.com or your local bookstore. Through more effective intercultural communication we can build justice, equity, respect, and collaboration in our world!

“Those who were dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
—F. Nietzche