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Culturally Unaware

I was planning to take a leisurely trip this summer, but now I think

I’ll have to change my plans. Instead I’ll probably have to take a crash

course in Sensitivity for the Culturally Unaware. Maybe it’s because I grew

up in Chicago, perhaps the most culturally diverse city in the country.

Maybe it’s because I have a mulatto niece and nephew. Maybe it’s because my

cousin’s last name is now Hernandez. Maybe it’s because my wife’s cousin

is a Native American. Or maybe it’s because we Poles have borne the brunt

of more jokes than any other ethnic group, but all this time I thought I

was aware of other cultures and the feelings of members of other ethnic

groups and minorities. Now I guess I’m not. At least my union newsletter,

the BEA_Messenger, says I’m not in an article on multicultural awareness. I

for one take pride in our nation’s history in regard to minorities.

Minority groups founded this nation. The religious groups who felt the

pressure of persecution in their homelands came here to begin new lives,

and eventually a new nation. The ethnic groups that came in a great flood

of immigrants came to escape the economic oppression of their homelands.

Those groups, too, found a way to become part of the American experience.

They didn’t need, nor did they demand, any laws requiring acceptance into

society. Kindness, tolerance and respect are things that can only be

earned, not handed down by legislative decree. Those things mandated by law

never reach into the fiber of our country. They never take root in our

psyches. In fact, as we have too often seen, legislative decrees that

mandate how we should act or feel lead to only more dissension and

divisiveness. Great strides have been taken on the road to equality.

Despite claims to the contrary, women have more opportunity now to succeed

than ever before. Today, fifty percent of law school graduates are female.

Where twenty years ago perhaps 5000 women were industrial engineers, today

that profession consists of 175000 females. Blacks, too, have made great

strides. They are now mayors, governors, and judges. They hold positions

of authority in almost every segment of our country. We as a nation by and

large have indeed accepted minorities into the fold of this culture,

particularly when those minorities have done much to earn our respect. The

February 21, 1992, issue of the Messenger, however, suggests that I am not

multiculturally aware enough. It suggests that things I say or feel may be

taken as derogatory. It smacks of a political correctness and Big

Brotherhood, which, if we honestly appraise it, does more to hinder our

First Amendment rights than any oppressive behavior of the past. I am

multiculturally aware enough already without having my union trying to

convince me that I am not. I am particularly upset by the implication that

remarks I may or may not make are derogatory and multiculturally unaware. I

think, and believe, that people should be treated equally. I also believe

that much of what is deemed to be “multiculturally aware” is just plain

silly. And some of the things in the Messenger article point to this. It

is true that “few of us…think that women are the weaker sex.” It is

equally true that most of realize that, unless her name is Bertha or

Beulah, few women can bench press the same weight as men, or hit a golf

ball as far as Jack Nicklaus. Admittedly, many attractive women have the

physical capabilities of the ancient Amazons, but they usually go by the

name of “Blaze” or “Dementia” and appear regularly on American_Gladiators

or Roller_Derby. Yes, I do become “impatient with elderly people who drive

more slowly” than I do. But, it’s not because they are elderly. It’s

because I don’t want to wreck the front end of my car by running into back

end of a car that is going 35 mph on an interstate highway. After drunk

driving, the majority of auto accidents are caused by drivers going under

the posted speed limits. I do not, however, become impatient with elderly

people who “stow their change before moving from the check-out counter.”

They’re not stowing their change. The experience of their years has taught

them that half the cashiers in the country don’t know how to make change,

and they’re just making sure they don’t get gypped. I now have to suspect

the wisdom of saying certain things, according to the Messenger. Saying of

my son, “He’s all boy,” is wrong now. So, too, is saying that he and his

friends are “acting like a bunch of savages.” So I can’t tell them to “sit

Indian style” for a while and behave themselves. I don’t understand this

at all. I certainly don’t want an hermaphrodite for a son. But if he was,

I still wouldn’t want him acting like a savage when we are supposedly

civilized. As for the act of sitting on the floor cross-legged, which is

not to be confused with the sitting position of meditation known as the

Lotus position, I can think of no other way to say it other than Indian

style. By the time I got, “sit on the floor cross-legged, etc….” out of

my mouth, my son and his friends would turn into all boys again and start

running around like savages. The Messenger asks if I feel that a boy who

plays with dolls is less masculine. Boys have always played with toy

soldiers. Today’s G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures

are still dolls by any other name. When they start playing “Let’s dress

like Barbie,” though, I think it’s time to worry. I’m not willing to have

my son put on a dress at an early age just to see if he turns out like

Ernest Hemingway. I must admit that at times I must remind him to stop

being “all boy” and that his sister is not a member of the evil Cobra Force

or Foot Clan. Next, the Messenger asks if I feel that eating a pig is more

acceptable than eating a dog. As I am neither Jewish nor vegetarian, in

which case I would really be upset by the question, I will pretty much eat

anything on the plate as long as it isn’t still moving. Any Pole who can

slurp down a bowl of czardnina (duck blood soup to those of you who are

culturally unaware) ought to be able to handle a portion or two of Rover

ala Carte. I am wondering, though, how this eating of dogs fits into the

agenda of the animal rights activists. Are they planning to travel to

Eastern countries and tell them to stop eating dogs and start chewing down

a few brats and beer instead just to keep the pigs represented equally on

the world’s dinner table? In perhaps a final attempt to make its point, the

Messenger asks how I would feel if a black family bought the house next

door. Given that my brother-in-law was black, I supposed I should be the

one who is insulted by this question. It’s just as silly as the other

points made in the article. Nobody in their right mind wants anybody

living next door to them. All of us would probably prefer that our nearest

neighbors were forty miles away and the only way they could contact us was

by dog sled. Since we can’t have that ideal, we settle for anybody who can

kill dandelions and cuts their grass on a regular basis. We would also

require that they keep their dog from pooping in our yard. We would like

them to do the same things with their kids, not have a lot of large, loud

parties, and not have the cops pull up in front of their house every other

night. Most of us have never given much thought to the question, but when

we do, we decide we don’t give a hoot. I don’t presume to know about other

cultures. My perceptions of other cultures can only be based on

experience. That is why I plan on attending that Summer Camp for the

Culturally Unaware. I do have one condition to place upon my attendance at

this camp. Whoever is running the camp, perhaps even the person who wrote

the Messenger piece. has to attend a camp that I am starting down the road

from them. It’s called Summer Camp for the Multiculturally Without a Clue.

Every night we have czardnina and hot dogs for supper. Then we sit Indian

style around a campfire. Boys and girls are welcome regardless of race,

religion or creed.

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