Saturday, January 9, 2016

Cultural Learning is a Two Way Street

For a number of years, I have been offering cultural orientation to Americans going to Africa or those dealing with Africans here in the U.S.A. I have been doing the same to Africans who live in the U.S.A.

I have noted that Americans tend to be quite aware of the need to learn about the African ways. Wanting to do the right thing, they do not hesitate to ask for guidance. I can testify to this from the requests I get to offer such orientation.

My experience with fellow Africans in the U.S.A. has been somewhat different. These Africans have been mostly immigrants and refugees, who tend to desire to be understood and accommodated by the Americans. The Somalis, for example, who have moved into a number of cities in Minnesota and beyond, consistently appeal to the fact that they are Muslims and need to be able to abide by the norms of their religion, such as praying five times a day, not eating pork or drinking alcohol.

I think these are appropriate expectations, and as I have noted, Americans tend to want to understand them in order not to offend anyone. American society has evolved to a point where people are wary of offending any one or any group.

Still, I feel that the Africans and other foreigners who have come to the U.S.A. should learn about American culture and live by it, unless there are valid reasons not to do so, such religious beliefs.

I remember an episode from a talk I gave to immigrants, mostly Somalis and other Africans, in Mankato, Minnesota, about raising children in the U.S.A. During question time, a Somali woman, in typical Somali Islamic attire, asked me to advise her what to do with her daughter who was wearing jeans.

She was very concerned, and I had a hard time finding the right way to respond. I did emphasize, however, that this is a different culture, and jeans are acceptable in this culture, even for young women. I told her she should just pray and be grateful that her daughter was not breaking the laws of this country. She seemed to understand my point, but I do not know if she was entirely satisfied.

Yes, cultural learning is a two way street. That is what I emphasize in my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. It is the point I make whenever I offer cultural orientation, whether in Africa or in the U.S.A.

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