Dear Cultural Coach:
Why do people put labels on their grandchildren? I hear people make statements like “my local grandkids, my Italian grandkids, my Mexican grandkids … my Jewish ready-made (adopted) grandkids.’ I personally find this extremely inappropriate and have since learned that many parents of those kids are also annoyed. How do I let people know that this is offensive? I may have once said something, and it was disregarded. Please help.
– Us Labeled Folks
Dear Labeled Folks:
Labels are helpful on cans, packages and bottles but not on people and certainly not on grandchildren. I would add a few more descriptive terms to your list: my gay grandchild, my fat grandchild, my pretty or plain grandchild or my smart, lazy or dumb grandchild. When we encounter a friend or neighbor who gets a thrill from attaching adjectives to people, we must gently remind him/her/them that there are better ways to spend their time.
We might say politely, “I have a pact with my grandchildren: I don’t label them, and they don’t label me. It works out very well, actually, because then they don’t run and tell their friends that I am their old person.’
Dear Cultural Coach:
Sometimes I am afraid to talk to Whites for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. I don’t want to be called a bigot, yet sometimes I can’t express my real thoughts. Help!!
– Afraid to Be Real
OK, I suspect you are poking fun at me and the column. I’ll admit your question made me laugh. I am going to answer your question, however, because you unintentionally make an important point. Somewhere along the line, some people of color got the impression that diversity lessons apply only to European Americans. They see diversity classes as a chance to get even and get angry rather than acquire interpersonal skills.
One of my most memorable moments as a journalist came as I sat quietly watching an elderly, white copy editor fight to keep copy out of the paper that he felt demeaned an African American woman. The writer in question was Black. The impassioned white copy editor, by the way, won his battle, and the objectionable sentence about Black women in hot pants was removed.
In life, as in business, some people chase opportunity, and others await its arrival. Effective cultural communicators act like skillful coaches who use words to motivate, inspire and win. Past experiences have taught me that if I deliver a message passionately and fail, most likely my words didn’t fit the audience well, or my listeners didn’t think I was a credible source.
Americans possess varying degrees of cultural skills, including language skills, and knowledge of global history, tribes and ethnic groups, and I don’t think any of us can afford to rest on our laurels.
Recently, I sat in a predominantly white coffee shop while two African Americans loudly bemoaned their plight and discussed the latest plots invented by ‘white folks.’ I was not surprised to hear their relationships had not been happy ones. The attitudes we carry around about particular ethnic, racial or religious groups are lenses that limit our view to some degree and thus affect the quality and of our interactions.
Right now, in America, the woods are on fire. Protesters from all walks and stages of life seek justice because our lives, community safety and the 2020 election are all at stake.
Let’s band together to promote equity and imagine a fairer world for our children. This is not the time to turn on our allies-the Jewish community, especially. Watch your words.
(Linda S. Wallace is a freelance journalist and communication specialist, who helps clients develop cross-cultural messages for the workplace and the media. Readers are invited to submit questions on work or personal problems related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical differences to [email protected].)