Covert and mutually reinforcing behaviors

When Melville Herskovits embarked on his massive study, The Myth of the Negro Past, to document the fact that much of the behavior of African-Americans was not deviant but rather derived from African sources, he ran into two obstacles (besides the obvious ones in 1930s U.S.A.):
one was covert behaviors and the other was mutually reinforcing behaviors. Both factors can often disguise the origin of a cultural trait, a behavior.
An example of the second is that both European and African cultures were rich in stringed instruments of music. But Herskovits uncovered several interesting threads in the development of stringed instruments in the U.S. that pointed to African sources:
the string bass was designed and played in Europe as a bowed instrument. In the hands of African-Americans, it was a plucked instrument used quite percussively, in keeping with the rhythmic foundations of African music. An antecedant was found in the wash tub bass, a wash tub turned upside down used as a resonator with a broom handle attached, a cord leading from the top of the broom handle to the center of the upturned tub and plucked. This improvised instrument not only clearly led to the plucked bass of jazz bands but also led directly from the African earth bow, a bow (bow and arrow type) stuck into the ground next to a pit covered with animal hide. The bow string was led from the top of the bow to the center of the hide and, stretched taut, plucked to make music.
So in this case, Herskovits showed that African-Americans were drawing on their own musical heritage in their use of the bass, not misusing the bass out of incompetence and musical ignorance as the common perception had it.
The example of covert behaviors is personal. My wife is from East Texas and grew up speaking Black English. For 48 years now she has consistently asked me to hand her a book when there was no book around, only magazines. I would keep asking her to clarify, that she wanted a magazine, not a book. Recently I discovered that throughout large regions of the South, including Texas, magazines are called books, including in Black English.
So what was happening there is she had a language trait, a dialect feature which used the word book to refer to what my dialect calls a magazine, which I thought represented some sort of stubborn refusal to separate the two categories of reading material. What was a distinct cultural, behavioral trait was hidden from me by the close relationship between book and magazine, both reading material.
A further example from school: both Anglo and Hispanic students sometimes have to blow their nose. Hispanic students will often ask permission to do so, and then, to the alarm of the teacher, walk out the door. The teacher will demand to know where they are going and the confused student will tell them [yes, them], “I’m just blowing my nose. You said I could.” “Well, I didn’t tell you you could leave the room.” The reason the student is confused is that in Mexican culture, it is considered rude to blow your nose in front of people, so it is assumed you will step out of the room to do so. The Anglo (or Black) teacher, not sharing that cultural trait, will not only assume the student will blow his nose at his desk, but will be surprised he even asked permission.
I once worked briefly with an Anglo teacher who had taught in Mexican schools at various levels for 16 years. She told me she saw many things her students of Mexican origin in the school we worked at here in AZ do things that would cause trouble in most American schools. I urged her to write a book on it, but I don’t know if she ever did. My experience is that when you bring these cultural traits up, especially with Hispanics, you get a lot of discussion of discrimination and poverty, but not actually about culturally-based behaviors. Too bad. I know from my experience with African-Americans that:
#1 They are so overwhelmed by the racism they encounter, they have little desire to talk about their own behavior.
#2 Differences in behavior have been used to justify discrimination, so it’s thought best not to emphasize differences.
#3 Most African-Americans are unaware of their own behaviors which deviate [embedded assumption there that there is a White norm to deviate from] from the expectations and practices of the general, White, society.
I once did a presentation at ACTFL on the sad fact that all of this had been well described, including specific behaviors and directed specifically toward classroom settings, back in the 70s, in a number of books and articles, but have been ignored in most training programs. One exception was a program on Hispanic culture in the classroom presented by Chuck Luna from Colorado. I got a lot out of that.

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