Graduation and Cultural Change

Lady_Slipper_WoodsAfter a day of stormy skies and light rain, today dawned sunny and mild. Over the past week, many trees have leafed out, and the leaf color has changed from soft pastel to deep, vibrant spring green. Jennie put in our garden transplants yesterday; all around the neighborhood flower boxes are overflowing with bloom. In the woods, the lady slippers are in full flower, as are the large white trillium; spring is at an end.

It has been a busy, fun week, punctuated with birthdays and a joyous college graduation, celebrated by the graduate, parents, step-parents, grandparents, and sibs, a real Twenty-First Century event. We are reminded that although we are cultural minorities, many of the life markers and ceremonies that are important to us, are the very ones that are significant to our friends and colleagues. These shared life events are the stuff that shapes our understanding of the social world. They are also the foci for numerous conflicts: who may vote or drink, who may marry or utilize bathrooms, and who may pass through educational barriers, hopefully into a larger world, to name but three.

The graduation was at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, where one of my step-children/adults, Daniel graduated last Thursday. The venue was filled with proud, boisterous families and friends; the graduates, as fits an art school, were decked out in a fantastic array of creativity, in addition to robes.

The audience was marvelously diverse, economically, racially, and ethnically. Each of the several graduation speakers noted that, and called for the graduates, and those of us in the audience, to do all we can to support and encourage such diversity, even in times such as now, when diversity is under sharp, concerted attack.

The speakers, and the diversity before me, set me to musing that while culturally significant life events such as this graduation may be nearly universal, the way individuals, families, and cultures understand, and approach them, is immensely variable, as are the conflicts that arise when values and norms collide. For example, during this spring’s graduation season, there were several controversies centered on Indigenous people’s traditions of wearing eagle feathers, or other emblems, to signify significant accomplishment.

Usually, these conflicts erupted when educators from the dominant culture refused to allow students to wear traditional clothing or paraphernalia. Such refusals effectively erase the identities of Native students and their families, and strongly imply that First Nations cultures are unimportant, or worse. It is not a coincidence that Indigenous students seek to display pride in their families and cultures, nor that school authorities attempt to deny such expressions. Painful incidents are ubiquitous in the general culture, only becoming visible to all when they are played out on a brightly lit, public stage. In the context of large life-cycle events, everyday micro-aggression becomes magnified, and thus, more collectively distressing.

In our consulting rooms and healing circles, we are daily reminded of the myriad ways micro-aggression is used to marginalize and degrade Native people, alongside other minority cultures, alternatively gendered folks, and persons with disabilities. Micro-aggression is ubiquitous in the dominant culture, even as what has long been the cultural norm is challenged by a host of other cultural traditions.  All too often, as we are seeing to in the U.S., and around the world, politicians side with those who repress and stigmatize, who have an overly narrow view of cultural norms.

This morning NPR ran a piece about the rise of ultra-right wing politicians in Europe and North America, and their success at the polls. In the U.S., attacks on minority cultures come from both the left and the right, even as they are primarily identified as arising from the right. As we navigate this very difficult election year, it is crucial that we point out, and reject, micro, and macro, aggression against those with less power when it occurs, irregardless of where it originates.


5 thoughts on “Graduation and Cultural Change

  1. I have often wondered, being so far removed from your country, if ever there is any acknowledgement of debt or reparation, or expressions of guilt from the American government about the taking of the land and treatment of the people that were the initial inhabitants of America. Or in the media? I just wonder as we sometimes hear condemnation and judgements passed against the actions of other nations against neighbours and minorities, but nothing about their own historical shortcomings. But, as I’ve said, I am removed from your country and may be a little ignorant about it.

    1. Hi Andy,

      Essentially, there is little, if any, conversation re reparations. Congress did accept responsibility for wrongs against Indigenous people a few years ago, but did so quietly and never really announced their actions. Things are, for the most part, better, if tenuous. All levels of government continue to break treaties and harm Native people. The Conservatives would like, I imagine, for us to just disappear…..

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