The Pulitzer’s of Diversity

Edith Anisfield Wolf, Photo from the Cleveland Foundation

Edith Anisfield Wolf, photo from the Cleveland Foundation

Do you think you are well-read on world cultures? Do you occasionally wonder what one person can do to promote justice in this world of ours? Are you someone who thinks that it’s primarily people of color who recognize the vital importance of diversity on our planet? If so, think again and most definitely read on.

Edith Anisfield Wolf, born way back in 1889, was a poet, businesswoman and philanthropist from Cleveland who had a lifelong passion for social justice. The daughter of immigrants, Edith spoke four languages (English, French, German and Spanish) and used literature as a means to explore racial prejudice and celebrate human diversity.

In 1935 she created the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, to honor books that explore these very issues. That makes 2015 the Award’s 80th anniversary! Congratulations and thank you, Edith! Note how visionary that makes her—establishing this important Award 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision! Edith died in 1963, but her legacy lives on.

“The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures…Today it remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity. Past winners have presented the extraordinary art and culture of peoples around the world, explored human-rights violations, exposed the effects of racism on children, reflected on growing up biracial, and illuminated the dignity of people as they search for justice.”
—Anisfield-Wolf website

Over the past 80 years the Award has highlighted nearly 200 significant books, most of which I have not read. So I need to get going! For those of us who may be intimidated by such a long list, they also have a smaller list of 24 “Lifetime Achievement” books, or you can sort winners by year or according to the categories of fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

Again from the Award’s website: “The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first community foundation, has administered the Anisfield-Wolf prize since 1963. Before then, the Saturday Review sponsored the awards. From the early 1960s until 1996, internationally renowned anthropologist and author Ashley Montagu chaired the awards jury. That panel of globally prominent scholars and writers has since been overseen by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the acclaimed scholar, lecturer, social critic, writer, and editor.”

Have you heard of this Award? Despite its prestigious history and huge contribution, and the fact that the Anisfield-Wolf’s cash prizes equal the Pulitzer’s, many people haven’t heard of it. Perhaps that’s due to how ahead of its time the Award was, though Karen Long, the Award’s manager, has another theory:

“[The] Anisfield-Wolf remains a relatively unknown honor. Awards manager Karen Long suspects she knows why. ‘Things that address race are considered, sometimes in the larger culture, as homework or broccoli or good for you.'” —USA’s National Public Radio

Cultural Detectives, I am thrilled to be on the journey to developing intercultural competence, respect, understanding, collaboration and justice with you. And, I’m feeling like we need to work together to make sure more people know about this incredible resource! Let’s start by watching the Awards via live feed this Thursday, September 10, at 6:00 pm Cleveland time (GMT-4), and by circulating this post widely to your networks.

Kids Skyping Around the World

tumblr_mqvsd7ij1c1rkz363o1_1280Remember the goal of intercultural communication? To help us be able to better understand one another, talk to each other, collaborate, and make our communities and our world a better place in which to live?

Sometimes, however, I get discouraged that my beloved intercultural field has lost its way. It’s great that we now have so many PhD and MA programs, but when did intercultural communication become all about dimensions and theories? Or about exercises and activities without an underlying coherent design?

Yes, perhaps these are expected mid-life or late-career gripes. Then I come across a movie entitled, “The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It,” showcasing a most excellent-sounding project called “Skyping Around the World” by a group called “Do Remember Me: Connect, Dispel, Build,” and my faith is restored. The project gathers youth aged 12-15 at neighborhood recreation centers in France, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and the USA for a series of workshops that use art for social advocacy and to motivate activism.

Kids connect with one another via Skype to engage in positive dialogue and dispel the myths of hopelessness, overcome media stereotypes, and bridge cultural differences. Their mission is to delve deeply to find their common ground, to share experiences, and to work toward actively supporting one another. They encourage activism and advocacy for issues such as peer violence, the absence of leaders and heroes, and many other pressing issues.

Regular readers of this blog know that the “contact hypothesis” tells us that merely bringing kids together via Skype isn’t enough to achieve these lofty goals. The meaning they make of their Skype experiences must be facilitated, and that is apparently done, at least in Philadelphia, by two teaching artists, Sannii Crespina-Flores and DJ Lean Wit It.

The 12-minute film is most definitely worth viewing. It is embedded it below. Come on, get your cup of tea ready, and prepare to smile and be encouraged.

“The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It” | Sundance Institute

These kids use their phones and iPads, which they would normally use to text local friends, take selfies, or make social plans, to enlarge their worlds by forging friendships with peers across the world. For young people who have often never left their hometown, these exchanges prove to be both touching and surprising, giving them exposure to new corners of planet Earth and encouraging them to witness to the great (and sometimes unfulfilled) potential that exists in their own back yards.

The film came to be when it was the winner of a 140-character story entry in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge, designed to help put an end to extreme poverty in creative ways:

“As technology advances, our world grows smaller. Yet, while we are more connected than ever before, we remain separated by the lottery of where we are born. Around the world, people just like you – with the same beliefs, dreams, and aspirations – have drastically fewer opportunities due to extreme poverty and hunger.

Through the universal power of storytelling, the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge will put a spotlight on our similarities—showcasing stories that communicate how we can support one another to end poverty and hunger once and for all. There is a more hopeful future for millions of people around the world, it’s up to us to inspire a positive change together.

In 2015, storytellers from around the world will gather to showcase how creativity can change the world.”
–Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge website

Obviously a very noble cause—ending poverty—though the Film Challenge is taking a  Minimization (in DMIS and IDC terminology) approach to intercultural competence. A Minimalist approach, of course, is probably most appropriate to build critical mass; while it by no means stretches us to the levels of intercultural competence needed to end poverty, it can, at least, help build momentum to get people on-board and helping to accomplish the goal. The Film Challenge is an impressive global partnership of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sundance Institute, and the following organizations:

partnership There is some connection to Global Citizen as well, though I can’t figure out from the website exactly what that affiliation is. The Global Citizen is a platform that advocates for the achievable goal of ending extreme poverty in the world by 2030; it was created in 2012 by the Global Poverty Project. Kudos to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Sundance Institute, as well as all the sponsors and participating organizations!

Some of the other films in this challenge are also very interesting; all highlight successful attempts to bridge cultural differences in order to end world poverty. Watch them here.

Thank you for joining with Cultural Detective on this journey to build intercultural competence. We are thrilled to be able to share projects like these that parallel our goals: better understanding of others and ourselves, and innovative and meaningful collaboration. Together, we can transform our world. As Dr. Seuss, the children’s author, wrote in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Unsolicited Review

coverAfAmI just had a chance to review the newly released Cultural Detective: African-American, by Kelli McCloud-Schingen and Patricia Coleman, as well as talk to the authors yesterday in the teleconference on the topic of “Black versus African-American.” Normally, I don’t review items in this series, not just because I’m the co-author of several, but because the formula for their success both in printed versions and now online hardly requires special notice for the individual items which now number well over 50.

However, in this case I think a word is necessary. Necessary, particularly because my suspicion is that most folks reading the title twill probably think largely in terms of diversity and inclusion, rather than in terms of culture. While these issues are at a certain point inseparable, one of the weak points of the diversity movement in the USA has been to imagine itself as intercultural, with little attention, and sometimes fear of dealing with the attitudes and values of targeted groups. There is still a lot of sensitivity here. Consequently when people, particularly outside the US, see publications focused on US minorities, they may think to dismiss them as some of the same-old, same-old diversity stuff.

That is not the case here. This is truly a work of intercultural significance, despite the fact that the participant guide runs to only about 30 pages. First of all, the introduction, slightly longer than the average instrument in this series is absolutely brilliant. It gives the user an overview that is rich, thoughtful, insightful, even for, perhaps particularly for US Americans who tend to see racial issues one at a time, without a sense of heritage and culture in their historical context. But it is certainly what outsiders need and should want to know in order to work well with African-Americans.

“Truly a work of intercultural significance!”
“Absolutely brilliant.”
“Rich, thoughtful, insightful.”
“Heritage and culture in historical context.”

For the many expats going from other parts of the world to the USA, there is usually a question of, “What should I know about… How should I behave around… What should I avoid when dealing with African-Americans?” This instrument helps you cut to the chase, not by offering “kiss, bow, and shake hands tips” but providing insight into the values, strengths, and sensitivities peculiar to a part of the US population who are still to a great degree consciously heirs of a trajectory anchored in slavery, passing through personal pain even while also arriving in corporate boardrooms and occupying the Oval Office. This is a solid cultural perspective on the discourse, on the story that leads to the core values of African-Americans today, in all their diversity, and in contexts where bias and discrimination are still possible obstacles to appreciating cultural identity.

So, if you are preparing expats to go to the USA, or if you are one, this is an important tool, and now one of several dealing with internal cultural dimensions of the very diverse USA, now available in the easily accessible online versions of Cultural Detective.