May 21, 2003

Why Anthropology Matters

Rich, Black, and Flunking tells the story of UC Berkeley anthropology professor John Ogbu's research into why upper-middle class black students were performing so much worse than other upper-middle class students.

While acknowledging that there were external societal factors that seemed to contribute (i.e., racism), he concluded that, essentially, the problem came from within the culture of the black students, who considered excelling in academia as "acting white." Also, he saw that, generally, the parents assumed that educating the children was the job of the schools, and were pretty hands-off. (This lead to perhaps the greatest oxymoron, because the parents also were quite distrusting of the school as a white institution. "'I'm still trying to understand it,' [Ogbu] conceded. 'It's a system you don't trust, and yet you don't take the education of your own kids into your hands.'"

Needless to say, this caused a stir, particularly among those who favor pointing the finger of blame at factors beyond their control. It's shocking and saddening that some of the parents accused Ogbu of simple knee-jerk "blaming the victim" stances, labelling him an "academic Clarence Thomas"... As a graduate of Cal's anthropology program, I can say, with a high degree of certainty, that any professor of cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley is *exceedingly* aware of all manner of cultural sensitivity, be it race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class etc. etc.

In talking about this article with a friend, he mentioned that he'd recently read Randy Shilts' "And the Band Played On," about the spread of AIDS in the homosexual community in SF, and how the gays similarly were unwilling to accept any responsibility for the situation. Yes, the behavior of the Reagan administration was contemptible, but so is egregious denial.

Another element of Ogbu's research is a distinction between involuntary and voluntary immigrants. Involuntary immigrants (slave-descended African-Americans, native Americans, Chicanos) don't perform as well academically as voluntary immigrants. This mitigates some of the blaming of racism -- recent African immigrants perform better than African-Americans, though one supposes they're subject to the same societal racism.

Anyway, read the piece and see what thoughts it spurs.

Posted by peterme at 01:48 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

May 19, 2003

Relationships and Compromise

Meg writes, "People will tell you the key to any successful relationship is compromise." This is illustrated by alternating who chooses the movie, which is perhaps the most common example of relationship compromise.

This common belief disheartens me.

Let me address the minor aspect, the movie thing. Should couples feel compelled to see every movie together? Seeing a film alone is not a signal of the end of your love -- it's just a reflection of different tastes. In fact, it can be very liberating. I imagine that goading someone to see a film they're uninterested in can only lead to a kind of seething contempt. But maybe that's just me.

On the larger issue of compromise, well, yes, I can see compromise as being very important in relationships where people are thrown together by circumstance -- work, politics, air travel, etc. To make the most of the situation, there will likely need to be give and take.

But love? That's a relationship of choice. Why choose to be in a relationship where you have to compromise? While searching Google for "relationship compromise" mostly returns writing that supports the notion that compromise is a key to success, I found one insightful article that purports the opposite. The author of "Is Relationship really about compromise" argues that compromise "has no place in a relationship built on love, truth and respect."

Compromise in relationship means to choose to be someone you would not naturally be, for the sake of the relationship. It is giving up being who you really are in the hope of guaranteeing the love of another. Compromise is based on the fear that unless we are somebody different to who we would naturally be, we risk losing love. All we are really risking is losing ourselves.

Contrary to a very popular belief that compromise supports love; the truth is compromise erodes love. When you compromise yourself for the sake of the relationship, very quickly resentment is experienced, not love. Love and resentment are mutually exclusive. They don't live in the same house; they don't even live in the same suburb!

I find that statement remarkably affirming.

I think it's telling that when it comes to friendships, people don't really compromise. If friends have to extensively maneuver in order to find common ground, they will inevitably drift apart. It doesn't make sense to hang out with people who won't let you be yourself. Does it make sense to deny aspects of yourself for the sake of love?

(I suspect Meg never thought her statement would engender such an earnest response. But it's one of those Things I Believe, and it kinda triggered a chord.)

Posted by peterme at 08:27 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack


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