On Culture and Prejudice

In Archives, Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm

I’m taking this semester’s Cultural Capital class, which explores the cultural factors that promote or inhibit development. It’s a really interesting field, and one that was essentially banned from academic discourse from the mid-1960s until quite recently. (And not without reason: last semester’s foray into the topic offended a lot of students.) So far, the field does feel nascent and a bit stunted, pervaded by the sweeping characterizations you might have found a hundred years ago in, say, psychology.

The most interesting thing in yesterday’s class was the students’ reluctance to even discuss the topic. I and other young, liberal Americans choked on our words as we tried to describe feelings as plain as, “There appears to be a general difference in outlook between Catholic and Protestant countries.” (Actually, I hesitate to write even that.)

The moral here, I think, is: “Never deny the power of socialization.” Our educational and social environment was not neutral; it profoundly shaped the things we’re willing to talk and even think about. Maybe understanding the way we have shackled ourselves in the name of greater societal goals will help us understand others’ shackles—especially if those shackles seem less benign than an unwillingness to stereotype.


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