Magnum Opus Culture


I know exactly where my wife messes up on these tests, These tests do reveal how well acculturated you are into the dominant culture. If that’s what we want for teachers but just with darker skins, why don’t we end the de facto segregation in our society so everyone will turn out like the people in Seinfeld? Years ago I took part in a school skit as a character in Seinfeld and had no idea who this was. I’d never seen Seinfeld. The next week the NYT listed favorite TV programs by race: Seinfeld came in first among Whites and 56th among Blacks. Why can’t people look at a fact like that – “empirical” as they like to say – and deduce that we have different cultures in this country and that determines the pattern of their responses on standardized tests?

Fukuyama’s recognition as being a part of dignity from which stem identity politics and Karen Armstrong’s assertion that violence erupts when people feel their identity is being lost cf Gypsies in Germany wanting to see the Impressions

In textbooks for students studying U.S. government and history, what we call civics, the multiethnic makeup of the country is stressed. In the face of that, there is often voiced the notion that the melting pot view of American society is that these ethnics groups lose their culture and are absorbed into a general U.S. culture. That latter culture is often defined as pragmatic, freedom-loving, hard-working, and adventurous. It is the culture I have dubbed Norwegian, a shorthand for the Midwestern culture, primarily Protestant, White, European in origin, with occupation backgrounds in agriculture and industry.

Where did this idea come from that being an American meant being absorbed into this Norwegian culture, what many call Heinz 57 or mutt or general American? The culture labeled Yankeedom by Colin Woodard has always frowned upon non-conformity. If the community is to be successful, then everyone has to be on board in terms of values and behaviors. The community provides for everyone – contrary to the Appalachian attitude that it’s every man for himself – but in turn everyone has to conform to the values and behaviors deemed acceptable by the Yankeedom culture. Foreignness is frowned upon, difference is regarded with suspicion, and every effort is made to absorb the recalcitrant into the dominant paradigm.

Contrary to that is the culture Woodard dubbs Midlands, made up primarily of people of German ethnicity, tolerant of individuality without making it into an idol as the Appalachians do. Each person minds his own business and everyone works hard to be successful and helps others to be so. It is hard to find anything out of sorts with this Midlands culture other than it lacks the passion of conversion of the Yankees, the stubborn rejectionist stance of the Appalachian, the haughty superiority of the Southerner and Tidelanders, but it does allow everyone to get along and work together. Or so it seems.

Here is another example of culture: I have a tape of a lounge singer in Brighton Beach where so many Russians settled in the 80s. She is belting out beloved Russian songs in a very Russian manner and all the Russians are responding with great enthusiasm………. and she a Black girl from Newark. She adapted her culture – probably singing in a Holiness church, to the demand economy. Love live free enterprise!

Another one: NPR interviewed a Black waiter who was nonplussed when he took the job and was told by the White waiters to be aware that Black diners do not tip. How racist! he thought. Then he worked there a while and, guess what?, Black folk don’t tip. That made me almost drive off the road when I heard it because I was always sneaking back into the restaurant when my brother-in-law paid for the meal because I knew he was stingy as hell with tips. Now why would this be a cultural trait? Simple. When I first moved into the Black community, no one went out to eat because restaurants would not serve them. One unintended consequence of integration was you no longer get a great meal after church IN the church, cooked by church ladies. So back then, Black people assumed, as my brother-in-law would say, the waitress is getting a salary, why should I give her money? Now, of course, everyone understands and tips…. I think. 🙂

Obsolete cartoon of young man wooing a girl by sitting down at a drum kit and declaring, “I composed this for you.” No longer funny. Back then, the cartoonist could count on an audience of people for whom drums were simply the monotonous background to insipid dance music or the occasional accompaniment to orchestral pieces. But after 50 years of “world music”, the notion of a piece for drum kit that would be not only rhythmical but melodic is not to be wondered at.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *