Culture: Post-reading Strategies

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Mural section by Diego Rivera

Reflecting on Dangerous Memories

The title of this book is Dangerous Memories.  What are some of the memories included in the book thus far that you consider being dangerous?

  • To whom are they dangerous?
  • How did those in power seek to erase or distort those memories?
  • What are some “dangerous memories” or “dangerous ideas” that exist today?
  • Do you see any similar erasures or distortions happening today?

Reflecting on Culture: A Preliminary Discussion

Culture provides a background to the world in which we live.  This chapter of Dangerous Memories presents the evidence, the story of the manipulation and annihilation of that background for millions of people in this hemisphere in the five hundred years since Columbus.  The cultural context of some people’s lives have been painted over, and integrated with or subsumed by the more dominant culture.  The cultural backgrounds of some people’s lives are visible now only to them.

This chapter looks at the impact of this sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant war against culture.  To prepare for reading, reflect on the meaning of the following terms: culture, dominant culture, “minority” culture, subculture, popular culture, and multicultural.  These words may often be heard, but seldom do we consider the extent to which our lives are framed by the substance of those words.

Use the following quotes to discuss what culture is (beyond the dress, the food, the customs, and the traditions) and the way that culture deeply affects all of us.  Begin to consider the issue of imposition of culture and the whole question of the ethics of a “dominant” culture in a hemisphere such as this one. 

As you read this chapter, begin to analyze the way in which people’s cultures and lives can be radically different and whether they can ultimately integrate without doing injustice to some.

  • Should cultures be assimilated?  Can they be?
  • What is it to which they are being assimilated?
  • What would Native Americans have to do to “fit” into the dominant society?  Should they?

If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.  (Margaret Mead)

Until he [sic] has become fully human, until he learns to conduct himself as a member of the earth, he will continue to create gods who will destroy him.  (Henry Miller)

North American civilization is one of the ugliest to have emerged in human history, and it has engulfed the world.  Asphalt and exhaust fumes clog the villages….This great, though disastrous, culture can only change as we begin to stand off and see…the inveterate materialism which has become the model for cultures around the globe.  (Arthur Charles Erickson)

Worldview: What is It? What is my Worldview?

Most people recognize different cultural practices, habits, customs, languages, art forms, food preparations, celebrations, dress styles, and physical appearance.  What is more difficult to observe is cultural worldview which contains cultural values, the deeper expressions of culture.  Worldview cannot be seen because it is held in mind and heart.  Worldview is a framework through which we see the world and the perspective with which we interpret the world.

Our own cultural worldview is often partially hidden from our conscious awareness because our world perspective appears to us as “natural,” as a universal point of view.  Thus different worldviews are seen as wrong, aberrant, exotic, cute, unscientific or the like.  To be challenged by another worldview requires an ability to see our own worldview and to recognize different cultural perspectives.  The key to examining cultural perspectives is history.

As an exercise before you read this chapter, consider your own beliefs and viewpoints regarding some of the concepts listed on the following page.  To do this think about how you would define each area and how something you do is connected to that definition.  For example, I might think of time as linear and an evidence of that is the calendars, date and appointment books that I keep as well as expressions I use (e.g., “That event is on down the line,” i.e., “in the future).  I might also think of process and progress as moving forward in one direction and from one point in time.  I might also think that we go forward in time progress is inevitable and that we are more advanced now than we were fifty, five hundred, or five thousand years ago.

After you consider your own beliefs and frameworks and begin to read the chapter, be alter to the voices, stories, poetry of the indigenous and African Americans.  Fill in the chart here.

Concept

Beliefs/

Frameworks

Evidence/Behaviors that Indicate this Belief

Implications/Extensions

Time

Linear and lateral

Time logs/calendar

Notions of progress and process

Space

 

 

Human nature

 

 

Animals & Nature

 

 

Dreams

 

 

Land & the Earth

 

 

Identity as Individual vs. Community

 

 

Community

Family/Clan

 

 

Property/

Ownership

 

 

Body/Spirit

Duality vs. Wholeness

 

 

Power—what constitutes power?

 

Historical Research

GhostDancePaiute

Ghost Dance

 

Research a historical event, movement, or law that is of interest to you.  Events that are referred to and/or highlighted in this chapter of the book include the following:

American Indian Movement

Palmares

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Quilombos

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

The Requerimiento

Encomienda System

Reform Law (Le Code Noir)

Ghost Dances

Sioux Nation

Iroquois League

Wounded Knee

 

Consult at least two different sources.  Once you have some the historical record, write the event as though you were writing fiction.  Use present tense and describe the scene as though you and the reader are there.  While sticking to the facts, be creative and imaginative.  You can include dialogue, description of the scene, etc.  Part of your research should include the dress, architecture, mannerisms of the period to give your story an authentic appeal.

How Could It Have Been Different: A Simulation Scene


Divide into two groups.  Group one should be made up of seventy-five percent of the participants.  This group represents white Europeans.  The other twenty-five percent are indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere.

The year is 1650.

 

Each group should think about their goals and aspirations and values.  The following is a list to consider:

White European Values and Goals

Indigenous Values and Goals

Survival

Survival

Gaining more land for agriculture

Keeping lands for hunting

Christianizing the Natives

Accepting all religions

Freedom to exercise religion

Living in harmony with nature

Gaining wealth and prosperity

Sharing with community

Trading with natives for furs and goods

Trading with whites for cloth, guns and other machine-made items

Making room for the Europeans still coming

Sharing with others the goods of the land

Both groups are deeply religious.  The indigenous believe in the Great Spirit who has given them this land.  They do not believe it can sold.  The settlers are Puritans who believe that they were sent here by God to Christianize the heathen.  They believe that they are to found a “city on a hill” that will be a “beacon to the world.”  If they fail in this mission God will eternally punish them.

A disagreement between the two groups has arisen.  The indigenous people are complaining that the Europeans are settling on their land.  Those settlements are destroying and scaring away the wildlife that they indigenous depend on for their food.  The whites, on the other hand, say they have to find new land in order to feed the extra people who have been coming, fleeing the persecution in Europe and looking for a new way of life.

A negotiation session has been arranged.  Each group must decide what they want from the negotiations, who will represent them and how the session will be organized.

The leader can interject new developments as the negotiations continue such as:

  • A boat load of five hundred new settlers has just arrived from England.
  • Word has reached the negotiation session that a group of white settlers were killed by another tribe of natives (not included in this particular negotiations).

After the role play, debrief both groups:

  • Discuss both feelings and thoughts about what happened.
  • Was the solution reached a satisfactory one?
  • Would a satisfactory resolution have been possible in reality?
  • Did such meetings ever take place
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