cud“We really fell in love with the house.”

Dolcy Campbell was talking about the Berwyn, Illinois, home that she, her husband and their three children bought in March 1992.

Yet less than a week later, they put up a “For Sale” sign and made plans to move. Why the sudden change?

Like most of Berwyn’s citizens, the Campbells are hard-working, law-abiding people–with one difference. Most people in Berwyn are white; the Campbells are black.

The day after they moved in, while they were unpacking, someone threw a rock through their window. Three days later, they awoke to find the house’s front porch aflame and the glass front door shattered. Though no one was injured, the police immediately gave them 24-hour protection.

The attacks severely shook the Campbells, radically altered their lives, and tested their faith in people.

“We moved here to be in peace,” said Mr. Campbell. “This is no way for any family to live.”

Other residents tried to understand what spawned the attacks.

“I’m ashamed,” said Charlette, a resident who came to visit the Campbells. “Not everyone here is like that. Most are nice.”

Neighbors visited them, sent flowers, and left messages supporting their decision to live in the village.

Appreciate Your Heritage

When different cultures and ethnic groups intermingle, there is often a great deal of adjusting for everyone to do. Mixed feelings of caution, confusion, and even fear toward other groups can arise. As the Campbell family learned, this fear may be expressed by acts of violence or discrimination.

Yet we need to understand and appreciate people from other races and ethnic groups. There is much to be learned not just about them, but about ourselves as well.

Feelings of uncertainty about people from other races and ethnic groups are not unusual. There are, however, things that can be done to reduce this anxiety.

If you first examine and appreciate who you are, it’s easier to understand others better. Ask your grandparents about their grandparents. You may find you’re the product of many cultures.

Everyone–no matter of what group or race–has valuable contributions to make to society. The combination of many races and ethnic groups working together is what has made America successful.

A good part of your heritage involves your values. Make a list of words such as family, friends, education, and other things you may feel strongly about. Think about the words, and write a sentence telling why each is important to you. The answers may surprise you.

Share Your Cultural Story

By knowing more about your own heritage, it becomes easier for you to appreciate the heritage of others.

Sharing your own cultural story and asking others about their roots can be a powerful learning experience. You are likely to find you have more in common with other races and ethnic groups than you may have thought.

At one time or another, everyone has probably felt he or she was the victim of some kind of discrimination. Did you want to play ball with the guys but couldn’t because you were a girl? Maybe you felt discriminated against because of your gender. Don’t discount this feeling. Instead, use it as a bridge to understand how others feel who are victims of prejudice.

It’s important not to feel threatened by cultural differences but to see them as necessary and valuable.

To try to understand people from other races and ethnic groups, read their fiction, biographies, and poetry. Countee Cullen’s powerful poem “Incident” describes the painful memories of a child. Langston Hughes’ gripping poem “I, Too” poignantly tells how a “darker brother” is sent into the kitchen when company comes.

Common Bonds

In Studs Terkel’s 1992 book Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession, one man interviewed, Joseph Lattimore, said, “I am a typical African-American. We are a nice, gentle race that has a great desire to be friends.”

Another man, Bob Hensely, who is white, said, “I think most white people realize deep, deep down that that other person is just as good as they are.”

All races and ethnic groups have common bonds that can unite them. Most Americans value independence, honesty, and decent personal behavior. Like other great nations in history, America is strong because its people are constantly exposed to new ideas, new attitudes, and new cultures. When you open your mind to these new ideas and cultures, you benefit.

The Campbell family wants to live in a nice home, near good schools, in a safe neighborhood. They have a cultural heritage from which others can learn. And they can learn from others. By combining their strengths, both the Campbells and their neighbors are enriched. In addition, the town benefits. It becomes a better and more interesting place for everyone to live.

4 comments on “Cultural Understanding Is More Important Than Ever

  1. Noelia Pennewell on said:

    Mom always reminds me to take time to learn about the past of the country so I would know where these culture and tradtions came from. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to do so. But this is something I would love to take on in the future. I want to be aware of it so I will have something to share to my kids when it comes to our heritage.

  2. Tam Robley on said:

    I feel the same way. The advances in technology made me so busy that I do not even think of exploring the heritage. I guess it is time to read books, talk to my folks and set foot in places that symbolize my culture.

  3. Aleshia Ax on said:

    I appreicate this article for it made me realize something that I have not felt in a while. Suddenly, there is a hunger for me to know more about where I came from. I have been very busy with modern stuff and this prevented me from knowing my roots. Time for change.

  4. Jebediah Worthington on said:

    Great, great article. You don’t see many articles on the web these days that seek to unite instead of create differences between us.

    I read Terkel’s book, and definitely recommend it to anyone. It’s a real classic on race relations, and in my opinion should be taught in high schools. We need to continually pose these questions if we ever expect answers to come.

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