I admit that I am a novice when it comes to talking about race. I know I will make missteps along the way, I will say things that are foolish and naïve. I expect to be wrong and unintentionally offend. I call that learning. Just like when I learned to ski, I fell down a lot, I made some mistakes getting on the chair lift, I dropped gloves and poles from the ski lift, I accidentally cut people off and even made others crash. But I didn’t give up, I got better and now I’m pretty good at it.
Tatum's book is helping me learn. I'm beginning to understand what it means to be part of the Dominant culture, which I am as a white, financially secure, heterosexual, well educated man. No fault of my own, it just is. But it matters and I need to understand more about how it matters. Here's how I understand Dominant Culture.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were the minority? Maybe when you visited a foreign country and nobody spoke English. Or finding yourself in a community where you realized the color of your skin didn’t match anybody else’s. Then you’ve experienced what sociologists describe as Dominant and Subordinate culture. If you’re part of the Dominant culture then you don’t notice all the things that make you different. But if you’re not part of the Dominant culture then you might feel like you ‘stick out like sore thumb.’ You become very aware of your inability to speak French or the different color of your skin.
Every culture has both dominant and subordinate parts. Every culture has a shared myth on what is normal. In America that myth might be that normal is white, male, heterosexual, thin, intelligent and financially secure. So, if you aren’t one or more of these things, then you become very aware of it. But if you are all of these things then you likely don’t think about it and wouldn’t describe yourself in those terms. I've never described myself to someone as white and I don't think about myself in those terms. But I do think of myself as fat, and I'm aware of that because that is the way I differ from what is the mythical norm.
Think about Jesus. In some ways, he was part of the dominant culture. He was male, Jewish, a rabbi(well educated), and healthy. But, he had great empathy for those who were part of the subordinate culture, he reached out to women and gentiles and the sick. And he challenged those who were like him, the Pharisees, to have similar empathy and love.
Understanding what the dominant culture is and examining where you line up or don’t line up is the first step to having empathy for those whose experience in life is different than yours. What other things would be helpful for us to understand as we grow in diversity?