We concentrate on the color of one’s skin.
What do you envision when you hear the word “multicultural?” More often than not, the word evokes the image of a group of people intertwined by race. Or maybe it’s a large collection of hands, each displaying a different skin tone. However, a multicultural group is one that contains more than just an array of races.
First let’s quickly take a look at the definition of the word “culture.” Most typically, culture is defined in two ways. Both of these definitions have been obtained from Oxford. The first definition provided is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” In other words, this is the common, current culture that a certain group of people, such as teenagers, are enjoying during a certain time period, such as the 2000’s. This culture can take many forms including music, tv shows, movies, books, magazines, and games. The catch with this kind of culture is that it’s dynamic. It’s constantly evolving as time moves forward and as an age group’s interests change.
The second definition provided is “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.” This is the kind of culture that we carry with us throughout our lifetimes. It does not waver, for it is rooted in traditions and oftentimes, it is rooted in our family trees. For example, someone who is born from Swedish descendancy will continue to be Swedish throughout the span of his or her lifetime. Although, our individual cultures do not necessarily need to be the result of blood. A boy of European descent who was born and raised in America and moves to Chile when he is nineteen will likely maintain some of his American culture in his new country of residency, however, he is also more than likely to adopt aspects of Chilean culture as well. In this scenario, the boy himself has become a work of multiculturalism.
Thus, the word implies much more than simply someone’s skin color. This is not to say that race is not a significant component of multiculturalism. After all, it is one of the only defining cultural characteristics that we can witness with only our eyes. But culture embodies one’s values, customs, beliefs, and traits of all sorts. To truly understand these more personal aspects of one’s cultural, we must branch out from our own cultures, which brings me to our next point.
We maintain an outside point of view.
When approaching multiculturalism in today’s society, it appears to me that some people are afraid to become educated about and engaged in cultures besides their own. This can only be done when we burst our protective bubbles and branch out to embrace another’s unique culture. Okay, sure you can’t jump into another person’s body to grasp an understand of his or her background. However, you CAN play an active role in promoting a multicultural society by actively interacting with people who belong to different groups than you. Far too frequently, people believe that they can be welcoming to all without actually recognizing all.
Let’s look at a few examples of unique cultural customs and the internal satisfaction that they allow the groups of people who practice them…
The Swastika is most well known for the hatred that it represented throughout the Holocaust. However, when it is translated to Sanskrit, its native language, it means “well-being.” In Indian, Viking, and Greek culture, the clockwise Swastika (the original one) symbolizes positivity and prosperity. In fact, I have a friend from Indian who wears a bracelet with the Swastika on it. People who are unaware of the culture from which it descends probably often assume that he is a Neo-Nazi and disapproves of Jewish people.
Another tradition that may go unknown by some is the Eskimoan ritual for loved ones who may be suffering death or elderly age beyond functioning. The custom is to set these individuals afloat on an iceberg all alone. Though it may sound sad to some and may even receive harsh criticism, the tradition exists because Eskimos have a strong belief in an afterlife. By sending their disabled loved ones out to sea on an iceberg, they are displaying a respect for the individual’s dignity that they will not be a burden on the family.
A special tradition in my Polish household is to bless the house each year on the Feast of the Epiphany in January. We use chalk to write a symbolic combination of the current year and the initials of the three wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, over our front door to bless anyone who passes through. This year the scripture over our door reads “20+C+M+B+18.”
These customs and beliefs are unique to specific cultures, but there is no reason why they should not be shared. Multiculturalism is manifested when we do share and embrace the cultures of others, and this can only be done effectively by taking an active and inside role in other people’s cultures. Who knows? You may even find that you establish an intrinsic rooting in the cultural customs of others and you adopt them for celebration as well. Do not be afraid to do this based on what others may assume of you. It only means that you are becoming more multicultural as well as demonstrating genuine respect for the values of others!
We pretend to understand.
This one is much less complex than the others. The phrases “I know” or “I understand” have no relevance or necessity when attempting to console or comfort another. Oftentimes, people are faced with hardship or discrimination due to their cultural differences and may turn to someone of another culture for help. By using these insubstantial phrases, we are unintentionally simplifying an issue that should certainly not be simplified. If you come across an instance in your life in which you are in a similar situation, avoid these common phrases. If someone is coming to you seeking relief, they are asking you to listen, respect, and empathize to the best of your abilities. For more details on why we need to stop saying that we “understand” and “know,” visit the Odyssey.