Defining Multiculturalism

Culture is a set of norms, beliefs, history, attitudes, traditions and other facets of life compiled and shared by a group of people. Culture can often be recognized by or reflected in language, food, music, visual or performing arts and other expressions of self. The preface “multi” of “multicultural” pertains to multiple cultures. Multiculturalism is often referred to in academia as the process of understanding, acceptance and appreciation of different cultures. Contrast having a multicultural perspective with being ethnocentric, where only the dominant culture is portrayed, studied, uplifted, understood or appreciated.

If being multicultural means being informed, involved, engaged, or immersed in more than one culture, then if you live in America - particularly in urban settings - and have a TV, internet or mobile device, no doubt you are being exposed to multicultural expressions or perspectives. But just because you are surrounded by multiculturalism in education, the workplace, media, etc. doesn’t mean you adopt a multicultural perspective or lifestyle, right?

Married Into Another Culture

What if you are married to a person from another culture? Can you consider yourself to be multicultural? I’m Puerto Rican, born and raised in New York City, and call myself Puerto Rican, Nuyorican, a New Yorker, American, or a Charlottean, depending on the context of my conversation at the time. “Western” thinking is so dichotomous - you’re either this or that, black or white, gotta check a box, etc., but the reality is that we need “both, and” thinking. I am both a Nuyorican AND American AND Dominican (my wife's culture). I add her culture because, I certainly feel Dominican when I’m up in Washington Heights visiting our people, eating great food and sharing life experiences, old and new. If you are married into another culture, the extent to which you choose to embrace that other culture determines whether or not you are multicultural. And that's something only you can decide.

Raised by People of a Different Culture

According to my oldest son, he is White, Black and Hispanic. We aren’t his biological parents but we raised him since he was a teenager and we are now his Mom and Pops. He embraces both his biological mother’s White American roots and because of his mixed-race status, his African American roots. But because we raised him and immersed him in our families and cultures, he claims all aspects of his racial and cultural identity. We love him as our son and are proud of him for being a good person and for his military service to our country.

Justin Timberlake: A Celebrity Who Embraces Multiculturalism

Justin Timberlake produces music and holds performances that capture a broad audience, which span many types of people throughout the world. He holds the respect and admiration of people of all cultures. Face it: the man is popular for a reason - he’s extremely talented. When working with people of other backgrounds, I believe he harnesses their talents across racial or cultural lines. I would say Justin Timberlake embraces multiculturalism and leverages his cultural competency to produce great works.

Acceptance As Brothers

I have had people call me brother in church settings before, but the first time a co-worker from a different race and culture called me “brother” in a corporate environment, I was blown away. I didn’t know how to interpret the reference. I thought, "man, I'm not your brother; we do not look alike, run in the same circles and besides, you can get me fired in a heartbeat." I was biased and didn't know it. But now on further reflection, I believe he was genuine in calling me his brother (in spirit) because he recognized my talents and greatly appreciated what I had to offer, who I am as a person, what I represented and the value my team added to a community of leaders, employees, vendors, customers and the broader community we all served. In my day job at that time, I promoted diversity and inclusion but didn't have the emotional intelligence to recognize and overcome my biases and return the gesture with, "yes, my brother." I've matured in my acceptance since then, and I hope this story inspires your own willingness to accept and include people of different backgrounds as you as you interact with them daily.

Promote Community

Internal biases, beliefs or issues about cultural differences can be resolved with intentional self reflection, openness to what is new and different, and a genuine caring attitude about people on a personal level. However being a person of color doesn't automatically guarantee that you embrace multiculturalism and championing it doesn't depend on one's race or culture. Let’s forget the labels we attribute to people, forget whether a person is or is not multicultural by birth, marriage or upbringing, or comes from another cultural background. Let's be more self-aware about our own biases, see people around us for who they truly are, validate their existence, appreciate their contributions, and become brothers or sisters in spirit with them for a greater sense of community.

You feel me on that?

Please comment and share.

Peace, my brothers!

Photo Credit: 

2013 AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS - THEATRE - “2013 American Music Awards” broadcast live from the NOKIA Theatre L.A. LIVE on SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET/PT) on the ABC. (Photo by Matt Brown/ABC via Getty Images)
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE Licensed under (CC BY-ND 2.0)
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