I’ll be the first to admit that until starting my counseling grad program, I didn’t give much thought about multiculturalism. I was so blinded by my own white privilege that I was not even aware of the importance of recognizing and celebrating other cultures, even though I live in a melting pot. I felt that I always respected other cultures, but I did not realize how comfortable I was sticking to my own “people,” and how much injustice was occurring outside of my white privileged bubble. Thankfully, my MSE program helped shift my worldview.
I grew up in small town in rural Wisconsin, graduating from a high school that was roughly 97% white origin. Although I was brought up to respect all human beings, no matter their color, religion, socioeconomic status or sexuality, it’s safe to say that my thinking (and language) was highly influenced by the lack of diversity I used to immerse myself in.
One of the first classes I was required to take for my program was Social Cultural Foundations. Essentially, it was a class dedicating to exploring other cultures, examining what privilege is, and learning to step out of your comfort zone. For one of our first class assignments, I had to interview a person of a different culture from my own. I had the pleasure of interviewing a Hmong woman. Although that interview was nearly a year and a half ago now, I still remember listening to her thoughtfully crafted words regarding her cultural traditions, and feeling her enthusiasm and love of the Hmong culture. I learned so much about her in that short 30 minute interview; in fact, I learned so much about myself. Why, I thought, has it taken me so long to get to know someone from a different culture? It truly was a life-changing experience.
I personally wish that every citizen had the opportunity to take a course in multiculturalism as I had. I learned so much about myself and about the world around me. It shifted my thinking, my language, and most importantly, has made me aware that how I walk about the world may not be the same as how others walk about the world. I thought it was important to write about why it is important to celebrate other cultures. In doing so, I connected with the individual whom I interviewed last year (whom is now a dear friend) and dressed up in a Hmong-inspired outfit to inspire a conversation with you all on how YOU can celebrate other cultures.
5 ways you can celebrate multiculturalism
1.) Initiate difficult dialogues
If given the opportunity, I think that people would love the opportunity to share more about their culture. I think it speaks a great deal about someone’s character when they have a genuine interest in getting to know how others differ from them. Perhaps just asking someone, Hey, I’d love to hear more about your culture. Tell me some things that I may not know, would be an excellent learning opportunity for you.
2.) Attend cultural events different from your own
Another assignment for the class I described above was that we had to attend 10 separate multicultural events over the course of the semester. At first, it was a pain in the butt trying to manage my time with attending events and balancing my school work, but I am so incredibly grateful for the experience now. I was able to listen to people speak about issues that I knew nothing about and gain different perspectives. There are always cultural events going on around us. Maybe attend a speaker series at your local college. Participate in a march. Visit a museum. The opportunities are endless. Culture is a very diverse word in itself: It encompasses different races, sexuality, religions, socioeconomic statuses, and more. The point is, try to look into someone else’s worldview other than you know. Get a glimpse of what it is like for them to walk about this world.
3.) Educate yourself
Read a book. Watch a documentary. Even some Hollywood movies are able to artistically showcase different lifestyles and cultures. Be aware of bias in the media, and be sure to check your sources while educating yourself. Do not look at educating yourself from a political standpoint, but rather to simply learn more about the world around you.
4.) Be aware of the language you use
I once wrote a post for Huffington Post regarding slut-shaming, and the comments exploded with negativity. I talked about how I do not believe women should call each other sluts and whores because it is de-humanizing. Some comments I received included people saying that I needed to “chill out,” and that “That’s the way language goes. It grows and changes.” In addition, I was told, “It’s amazing how America thinks it is entirely in charge of policing the English language and the manner in which humans interact.” However, I disagree. I believe that words DO matter, and the context in which we use them can be life-changing. Language is a direct result of bullying, hurt, and suicide. Words are the human way in which we choose to communicate with others. So yes, I believe that language is an important piece of the puzzle. I’ll be the first to admit that in high school I used to use phrases such as, “That’s so gay.” NEVER would I use a phrase like that now. Please, be aware of how you speak, for the connotation could be incredibly de-humanizing for someone else. It’s never to late to change your current language habits.
5.) Advocate for multiculturalism
It doesn’t end here! Now that you have made a commitment to celebrating diversity, it’s time to be an advocate. Encourage others to do the same. Engage people you know in these conversations. Talk to your friends about the language they use. Be an advocate for those whom may be oppressed. Making a difference can be as simple as spreading ideas and encouraging kindness.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it isn’t a problem to you personally.” This quote especially pertains to me because I was not aware of my privilege until I stepped out of my comfort zone and was able to get to know individuals from other cultures. I challenge you do the same thing. Be kind to others. Spread love and celebrate diversity.
Food for thought for today: What are you doing to celebrate other cultures besides your own?
Modeling this Hmong outfit was a huge honor for me. Photos by Plua Her. Thank you for sharing your culture with us!