Mixed (&) nuts? A cross-cultural parenting perspective

A Czech and a Jamaican walk into a…. relationship. And BAM! There we have it — my reality in a nutshell. Building my relatively new multiracial, multicultural blended family has been quite the ride: challenging, but worth all the energy, inspiration and personal transformation that the experience has brought about.

The key to making things work has been clear, open and respectful communication and a willingness to self-examine and adjust, while staying authentic and standing one’s ground about the key values that must remain uncompromised. As my sweetie and I say, if he and I can’t work through our differences, how can we ever expect the rest of the world to do the same?

In our case, in addition to the divergent racial realities we experience in this society (he as a black male, and I as a white female), the contrast between our upbringings and home community cultural values is quite vast. Our parenting styles mirror those which guided each of us, and they are nearly polar opposite! The parenting of our children from previous relationships, in fact, has been the hottest point of contention.

My style veers towards the permissive side of the spectrum which gives the child the time and freedom to construct his own internal moral compass experientially through empathy (of course, not totally without guidance). This parenting tendency reflects how I was brought up and is, in a way, indicative of the degree of the privilege, which has applied to me since childhood, to be generally relatively safe, and sheltered from strife.

My partner’s parenting method is authoritarian, bent on instilling strong discipline and ethic as a means to survive and thrive in a sometimes harsh world. His is a form of tough, protective love, “a strict and clearly defined” style, as he calls it. You could see how these vastly different philosophies could drive us nuts, but we are on a journey together, determined to respect one another and find meeting places somewhere in the middle. In fact, an interesting pattern is developing where we, the parents, are adopting a little of each other’s tactics as we evaluate which are useful for our particular circumstances. In short, we are really mixing it up in the mixing bowl that our family is.

What I am most excited about is that we are learning from each other and drawing on not only the richness of what was passed down to each one of us, but also from each other’s worlds. My hope is that this, for our children, rather than confuse, will open new doors and encourage new ways of seeing the world and interacting with the people in it.

Layering Lenses: We are All Multicultural Individuals

“As an ethnic minority woman working in a large multinational firm, too often I feel like I have to learn only, to fit in. For the first time since I’ve worked here, I can now see, and explain, the unique and valuable perspective that I have to contribute as well!” she said, her face positively glowing.

The privilege of experiencing such affirming responses from Cultural Detective customers is part of what makes my job so incredibly worthwhile. This woman had just spent time creating her personal Values Lens, using Cultural Detective Self Discovery as well as a selection of Values Lenses from various other CD packages.

While the core of Cultural Detective is its process, which enables ongoing learning, collaboration and conflict resolution, the Lenses play an invaluable supporting role. As shown in the diagram above, one important role the Lenses can play is to help us realize that we are all unique, individual composites of the various cultures that have influenced and helped form us over our lifetimes. We are not “just” Chinese or Brazilian; we are much, much more than a single story, as Chimamanda Adichie so well told us.

In international cross-cultural work such as I’ve done over the past 34 years, too often people limit their definitions of “culture” to “nationality.” Culture goes way beyond nationality. Since by definition culture is the shared norms, values and behaviors of a group of people, culture can also include ethnicity, language group, physical ability or mobility, sexual orientation, or gender identity. More often than not, in my experience, while nationality(ies) tend to have a strong impact on our behavior, professional training, the culture of the organization to which the person belongs, the team culture, their socioeconomic level, generation, their faith or spirituality … all of these influence behavior as much as or more than national birth culture. It’s worthwhile for all of us to know ourselves in all the layers of our cultures: why we are the way we are, how we got to be who we are today. In this way we can better predict how we’ll respond, and better explain ourselves and our motivations to others, powerfully transforming collaboration.

People often ask me, where does personality end and culture begin? As a practitioner, my response is, “Does it really matter? Is there an objective, accurate answer?” We are all unique individuals and we are all also influenced by the multiple cultures in which we’ve grown up, been educated and trained, worked and lived. If we can keep our values and our goals clearly in mind, we can be flexible in our behavior and creative in our approaches, in order to perform at our highest and best in a broad variety of contexts.

Eating with One’s Hands: Cause to Lose One’s Children?

Members of the Cultural Detective community are united in a common purpose: to spread respect, understanding and justice through collaboration in our world. I am so, so lucky to be able to work, each and every day, with such passionate and diversely talented people.

Yesterday was a wonderful day. We held the second in a successful series of two FOLEs (Facilitated Online Learning Events) with a globally dispersed group of movers and shakers; launched a MUCH-anticipated new package (CD Bridging Cultures); got out a blog post and a newsletter; and finished the admin area on our upcoming Cultural Detective Online subscription service. But, I was tired, and feeling rather overwhelmed by all the technology I (have to) work with. I was wondering, as many of us do sometimes, if my efforts were really having a positive impact on the world.

Just then I opened a note from one of my colleagues, a sign language interpreter who is a “foodie.” She reminded me that, yes, every little bit we put out there positively (including via technology) has constructive ripple effects in our world. Bless you and your beautiful work, Anna! Keep reading to see her note and a terrific effect of a recent social networking link.

Here’s the note I received:
Hello dear Dianne,

I am excited to share with you a post and video I made inspired by a story on your Intercultural Competence Newsfeed. Do you remember the piece about:

Norway authorities take away Indian couple’s children for feeding them by hand

My fascination with food and culture spurred me to write a post about different cultures who eat with their hands (including Indian, Ethiopian and Moroccan). And with the help of a friend, we shot a video of this lovely Moroccan gentleman I know giving me a lesson in eating with the hands.

I am hoping to make a series of such videos on cross-cultural food ways. Hopefully it can help build cross-cultural understanding and respect.

Thank you so much for all your wonderful work!

Anna Mindess
Co-author of Cultural Detective Deaf Culture
blog: East Bay Ethnic Eats

Below is the first video in her series, for those who don’t want to keep clicking. We’ve added it to our Cultural Detective YouTube channel as well.

Objection! – Talking with children about cultural stereotypes

“Oh no!!! Is my son really fighting the natives? Objection!” That was my thought recently when I saw my white first-grader playing a Lego video game whose content clearly perpetuated the age-old stereotype of the monolithic mass of vicious, “savage” brown-skinned “primitives” fighting the white heroic characters on a mission to find the proverbial pot of gold.

“This cannibal is a native of Pelegostos Island where his cannibal tribe believes Captain Jack is their god, trapped inside of a minifigure! He loyally serves Chief Jack – until he tries to serve him for dinner!” reads the description of the Lego character whose portrayal appalled me. Surely enough, the very ethnic group portrayed as cannibals in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the Garinagu of Belize joined with the Kalinago (Caribs) of St Vincent, Dominica and Trinidad to send a protest letter to the executives of the Disney Corporation challenging their negative portrayal in the film, based on an ahistorical 17th century stereotype that is still very prevalent and harmful.

How to challenge destructive stereotypes present in the world around us and effectively address issues of race and racism were the topics discussed in the excellent and informative workshop I attended earlier this month in Seattle. “Talking with Children and Youth about Race,” taught by Dr. Caprice Hollins and co-facilitator Ilsa Govan of Cultures Connecting, offered the following tips I would argue work well in conversations with adults as well:
  • We don’t have to have all the answers.
  • Ask questions to see what the child is thinking and to get the child to think deeper (do not assume you know until you hear more).
  • We don’t have to be profound or “seize the moment,” as if it is the only one we have.
  • We don’t have to respond immediately. It’s okay to think, research, ask a trusted adult for input first before coming back to the conversation.
  • We can learn & explore with the kids.

Most importantly, SLOW THE CONVERSATION DOWN.

I came away from the workshop realizing that many of us, whether of color or white, are the first generation to have deep conversations about race with the younger generation, finding our way. It’s good to connect with others on a parallel journey.

Disney did not listen to the advocates from the Caribbean, but my six-year-old and I have already had a few of good conversations about problematic depictions of dark-skinned native people in the media and games. More discussions will follow.

Please share with us your stories about how you teach your kids, extended family and friends’ kids, about cultural stereotypes, via the comments section below.

Or, please share with us also your own story of intercultural effectiveness, via the form on this page.