You don’t get to choose where your born. And you don’t get to choose who your parents are. And you don’t get to choose how you are raised. But you do get to choose where you live and how you want to live after all of that…sort of.
I drove north several days ago. On the surface I was looking for information. But what I was really looking for was friendship. I found the first. I did not find the second, except in the groups of trees that silhouetted the predawn at 5 a.m.. Groups of black spruce gave me hope all along the way there and back that morning. Silent relatives standing together, supporting one another through a massive root network. These and their progeny will be here long after I am gone, which is a reality that is shaping my life more and more with each passing season the older I become….a reality that I bless and look forward to fully becoming a part of, and of leaving the world to the trees.
I was born a white man; there’s no changing that. I was raised in a psychologically and physically competitive society where everyone was on their own and no one gave anything away. I was enculturated to believe that you fought for what you wanted to win. There was no mercy for those who did not join in this fight. But I never fought for anything. There’s just no need to do that. See, there was a catch – a knack – to surviving without fighting. Instead, I found another way…one in which I accepted no responsibility for the destructiveness of this other way of life, but which simultaneously offered a life-giving way to myself by simply focusing on the genuine recognition and honouring of all others, and of simultaneously graciously showing a way out of anti-social behaviours for those who came to their senses and wanted to rise above the toxicity of competition. It took me a long time to come to see that any efforts in pointing out the violence in which my culture was immersed was pointless to the violent themselves, unless people resolved themselves to pull themselves out of it by their own efforts. I would do my best to serve as a counterweight to this end.
Many years ago as I spoke to a young man about where I had been raised he questioned me about people’s attitudes toward perpetuating violence. I told several stories from own own life and laid out some of the statistics. And his reply to it all was that he would never live there and behave that way and then he gave me the story-line from his own culture as to how his society was not just different, but superior because of all of these other reasons, which he had obviously been enculturated to believe about his own superiority. I pointed out that people learn the dynamics of their surrounding culture and through that influence self-embed the values and norms appropriate or necessary for survival within that culture. I finished by saying that if he were living where I had grown up he would see the world in that way. But he became vehemently argumentative at that point and called me stupid, which is itself one of the key defensive signs of how thoroughly enculturated he had become.
Enculturation is a normal process of growing up. But living in what is now an ever-increasing diverse world demands the death of the design-blindness and exclusivity that is both its cause and result, respectively speaking. We all learn to see the world through one’s own cultural filters. By the time we are adults we never question the filters in our minds.
I went several places that morning up north. I was looking for information on a body of water upon which I wanted to canoe this spring. Questions pertaining to that activity were the only ones I made: flow rate, launch site, camping sites, etc.. And I indeed found answers to those facts. But I was saddled with a lot more than those facts because in each of the places I visited, with the exception of one, and for no reason brought on by me or my words, the other culture that lives in that region was suddenly and forcibly cursed out. ‘Damn indians’, ‘stupid indians’, ‘God damn indians’, ‘fucking indians’, ‘vagrants’, and ‘worthless’ were only some of the epithets that were suddenly inserted into the conversation literally from out of nowhere and for no reason whatsoever. There is obviously a lot of resentment for reasons that are beyond me and my simple presence there that morning. When I heard these phrases I was most certainly viscerally assaulted and thoroughly taken aback. Nor were these isolated cases because this occurred in three out of the four places I stopped while looking for information, each of which served in some official capacity in that region.
In the development and then the maintenance of ethnocentrism several factors come to play as one is enculturated: the values taught, one’s social environment, the emotional reinforcement of one’s sense of place in the world, one’s sheer intelligence, how we are psychologically structured, the experiences we have and our intentional rational and intuitive reactions to them. Generalizing about people and their psychological characteristics leads to stereotyping. Prejudice is based solely on stereotypes, leading to discrimination and unfair treatment of others based on something they have no way to avoid.
There are always inherent limits to stereotyping. There are always individual difference even among those who are enculturated.
This is by no means the first time I have gone to that region. In fact, my social interactions there have in the past been almost exclusively limited to aboriginal culture. These experiences have always been fair and reasonable and warm.
I have mused on my trip over the past several days. I find it interesting that just showing up and having white skin admitted me to a club of which I did not want to be a part. It is indeed a club that I was enculturated into as a child, but one I left in later adolescence when I saw my way clear to begin naming its abusiveness first toward myself, and then prejudicially toward others outside of their purview. Without cross-cultural experience, and without critical consciousness, and without the ability to reflect on the destructive nature of their own psychology the culture of my youth was cool at best. They expected unquestioned obedience. They saw others as needing to be controlled. And I continue to be surrounded by these today. Indeed, much of the disconnect between dominant Canadian culture/government and the real lives of oppressed people throughout this region has to do with the former’s privileged self-perception of themselves as the only valid influence which authoritatively guides those who do not have control. And considering that the places where I stopped to enquire were each official offices of one type or another, their level of frustration at not being listened to, or wanted, or even needed – let alone resisted – is surely a source of frustration for them, but then again, it is they who are being disrespectful. And so this standoff ensues. Unilateral actions lead to unilateral reaction. What can I say? You reap what you sow. My sense is that white people in western Canada basically own and control everything. But they still feel sorry for themsleves. They want more. They won’t stop until they have everything and drive both aboriginals and those who don’t want to be party to their authority into non-existence. I say this because I never meet white people who bother to ask anyone else what they want for their own lives. There is no recognition that other ways of enculturation exist, let alone are valid and that would stand alongside theirs. Aboriginals want self-determination as do many other people here. But this is threatening because it means that another way of life will exist that may even call into question a culture’s enculturated myths about itself, including the reality of its own abusiveness both within its own ranks and its genuine and oppressive intolerance for others.
Two weeks ago I was talking with a long-time friend who told me that he was looking for a new church denomination to attend. He said that he greatly admired what we did along with the entire Catholic Worker movement. He volunteered that he had made a concerted effort to meet and start to befriend people of other races, which is something outside of the goals of the denomination in which he was raised. And then he said, But what I find to be really hard is being around people who are so different. It’s just so inconvenient.
And I think that that’s what white culture in North America overall boils down to, namely, not wanting to be inconvenienced, which is nothing other than a source of real shame, since white culture is the one that makes everything inconvenient for everyone else who is not enculturated into it, whether they want to be or not…indeed, whether they can be or not. I know that even having been raised in it I sure as hell don’t.