Culture Fail: Cultural Sensitivity

cfposter1Cultural, racial, and ethnic sensitivities aren’t singular things, but complex structures with many dense layers. Recently I had the chance to read a few posters issued from the University of Colorado Boulder that’s part of a larger campaign to deliver some cultural awareness via Halloween. Since one of the favorite costume archetypes for teens through 30-somethings centers around pop culture and similar idiocy, every stupid stereotype under the sun is available to be mocked, intentionally or not. But is this issue more complex than even the university suggests? As it is with most things people try to sum up in a series of slogan-based posters: yep.

Let me first state that I understand. Not from first-hand experience, but from having a brain and some semblance of primordial empathy. If your culture, or who you are and where you come from, is important to you, it can be pretty terrible to have to go outside and see some dillhole dressed up in a “Native Chief” or “Kabuki” costume. And then there’s the famous “I’m culturally sensitive so it’s okay that I’m in black face” people, who should be slapped silly just for that logical fallacy, if for nothing else. I won’t say it’s okay, and I certainly won’t say that no one has the right to be upset, angry, or both. But there is a need to play the devil’s advocate here, because as aforementioned, this is not so cut and dry.

The goal at hand seems to be this: exercise understanding and sensitivity towards your fellow human beings. With the sort of ideological diversity we possess, the “be sure not to offend anyone” approach seems to be a losing strategy. I’ve always believed that intent is paramount when it comes to understanding someone and being sensitive towards them. So why is it, as a culture, we can’t get beyond the surface? Instead, we opt for forming these hard sets of rules that determine what’s okay and what isn’t for ourselves—and then projecting them onto everybody else. This current way of doing things—the methodology that the University of Colorado’s posters unwittingly suggest—does some, if not a lot of good… but also absolutely guarantees conflict.

Okay, yes, I am indeed aware that I’m spouting off a bunch of ideological hullabaloo that’s totally impractical, but that’s where a lot of real world solutions are born. I personally believe that the human race is capable of great, beautiful, disgusting ironies and I’d like to see a world where we’re free to perpetrate them—questioned on the platform of our intentions rather than appearances.

See what I did there?