Archive for February, 2011

Bridging cultural differences is challenging enough when people agree on the labels used to describe those differences. But when someone believes a label ascribed to them doesn’t fit, all kinds of hot buttons are pushed.

Let’s take race as an example. Most people assume that race is a biological concept. Whether this is true or not, though, is being hotly contested among physical anthropologists, the one group we would expect to have the definitive answer.

What we do know is that the meaning assigned to one’s race is what makes it significant. So how does it work when people believe that the label ascribed to them doesn’t fit?

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Yesterday morning, my niece called me. With rage in her voice, she explained that her thirteen-year-old son had received a text message from a friend saying, “You f**king n****r”. “I called his mother — they’re Mexican American,” she explained. “I wanted to know if they understood the significance of that word.”

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Many people are confused about what term is appropriate to use when referring to different others. I provided examples of this in Part 1 of this series on bridging cultural differences. This topic is a hornet’s nest because a term that is appropriate in one context may be inappropriate in another.  Choosing the right word can be a daunting task for who wish to avoid offending others and are horrified at thought of being judged.

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