Posted: May 25th, 2022
Cross-Cultural Issues for African-Americans
The chapter on African-Americans primarily discusses three main cross-cultural issues. The first and most obvious one is the physical difference between white and black Americans, which is more pronounced than between Caucasians and any other minority group. This leads to an immediate, visual acknowledgment of difference and the predominance of severe racism that keeps people from being promoted, thinks they are less worthy, and makes them work harder for the same recognition. The second main cross-cultural issue seems to be one of group guilt. The chapter seems to suggest that blacks see individual whites as individually responsible for their actions, but whites seem to see blacks as responsible for the actions of all other blacks, seeing them not as individuals but as a profiled group. In addition, if some blacks are incompetent or criminal, they are all seen that way. The third and most cultural of the cross-cultural issues is one of behavior. Much is made about “acting black” and “acting white.” This is the hardest issue to pin down, and deserves the most attention. Unfortunately, it seemed to receive considerably less attention that issues of perceived worth, genetic skin tone, and group perceptions.
What exactly is “acting black?” From the chapter, it appears that: “sociologists have attributed several cultural tendencies to this group: directness and spontaneity, expressiveness, sense of community, and a great regard for family and religion. Although there may be disagreement by some cultural specialists regarding these attributes.” (Blank and Slipp) So the next question must be, from this article and from my experience, what do black people feel that white people (and what do white people) feel about these traits? Only a few of them are actually mentioned in the article. The article discusses how directness and expressiveness in male African-Americans is looked down upon by many more restrained white business men, or treated as instances of unacceptable aggression. The article also touches briefly on a sense that black people who like to sit together and have “community” are seen as segregating themselves. However, nowhere in the article is their any evidence that acting black by having a high regard for family or religion is a problem. I had to stop and ask myself if I had ever known an insistence where a high regard for these things had led to any cultural tension, and I couldn’t find any. So I suppose the big issue here is candor and expressiveness: “Telling it like it is.”
Now, I ought to digress for a moment and say that I was really pleased by some of the truth-telling in this chapter. I have honestly had many experiences where I noticed such racism. For example, as a co-worker on a very part time job in a grocery store, I noticed that whenever several employees were standing around doing nothing, the boss would come up and particularly upbraid the one black person in our midst and send him off to do clean-up or other menial jobs that “needed doing,” before briefly telling us not to look so lazy and leaving us be. This came very much to mind during discussions of blacks being used primarily for grunt work and being pushed harder and criticized more than white co-workers. I certainly have seen this and other evidence of talented, dedicated black workers and students being treated differently from whites. I found this to be particularly bad in my school. Black kids were discouraged from getting good grades, and emphasis was always put on sports instead. If we did get good grades, it was a fluke, or we were “exceptional.” One thing that I have just begun to think about is the way in which sometimes even other black kids or teachers would contribute to the idea that you weren’t a good black person if you did well, that you had to be “ghetto” to be legitimate. This was pushed on us especially in classes. There is a lot of prejudice that all black kids misbehave, and so even when they’re good the get called into the principle’s office more often, and so on. Unfortunately, as the chapter mentions, there has always been a silence surrounding the issue. It is something that is in fact difficult to talk about without finding one’s self in trouble. I could certainly see how the suggested behaviors were better in some cases, but if one wished to do so, one could still see them as being racist. So from an employer’s point-of-view, it must be awkward. If these aren’t steps already taken with every employee, and one takes them just with black employees, won’t that reinforce ideas about being coddled and needing special treatment? Understand, I think they’re good ideas. But everyone needs this kind of fair treatment, or people will just keep looking at us oddly.
For example, in the case of Fred La Monte, it was suggested that the boss should have made sure he knew to interrupt him (even though Fred himself volunteered the idea that his boss was very, very busy), that the boss go out his way to take time out of his schedule to get Fred to social functions, and to make sure that everyone knew his qualifications. In my very short work history, I already know that these things almost never happen to new employees or new management of any race. It’s just like going to a new school, or having a substitute teacher come in. Whenever new management or a new teacher came in, I never saw anyone introducing them to us or all the faculty, and they seldom had any clue what they were doing, and the workers/students generally did get many laughs at their expense till they figured it all out. That seems like the normal progression of a job. So, frankly, does the need to worm ones way into the established office culture. I don’t think community is really an African-American value — it is a value held in most places, I’m guessing. So getting to be a part of the community is important, but is always difficult. Especially if you are fundamentally culturally different. That gets back to the whole concept of “acting black.”
If the office doesn’t accept people who speak their minds, maybe we should keep our mouths shut more? If it’s company policy not to get all up in someone’s face and talk them down, then maybe we should respect that. It seems fair to have rules about how people should behave, even if it goes against the grain for blacks who are from a far more open culture. If a lot of tact is necessary for the job, though, we need to have it. On the other hand, if only black people are supposed to be tactful and polite, that’s a problem. Having to always be submissive is degrading. It always made me angry when a little white girl could talk back to the teacher and he’d listen to her, but when I talked back it was seen as giving lip or even being aggressive just because of my cultural voice. I was interested to see that one person they quoted said that he hated being asked why he didn’t act black (and thus they insinuated that he could, if he wanted) because he just wasn’t like that, and someone else said they hated having to not act black. I don’t think there’s an across the board answer for whether people want to be accepted as a stereotype, or not.
In the end, the chapter was a very positive thing, if only to get people thinking about racism. There’s a lot of racism in the workplace, I’m sure, because I saw a lot of it at school. I guess my one critique to the author, but even more to blacks everywhere would be: we needed to decide how we want to be treated, and then address it openly. Do we want to be seen as our color and take pride in it, and “act black” or do we want to fit in? Do we want to be treated as a group, or as individuals? Do we want to act like everyone else, or like ourselves? If we’re willing to behave differently than everyone else, are we willing to accept the consequences?
Blank, Renee & Slipp, Sandra. (1994). African-Americans. In Voices of Diversity: Real People Talk About Problems and Solutions in a Workplace Where Everyone Is Not Alike. New York: Amacon.
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