Posted by: Magistra | May 8, 2006


Why don’t we have multicultural friends? Why can every high school student point to “Mexico” or “Africa” or “Chinatown”? The book I’m reading for my adolescent health class suggests the primary reason is basically that like attracts like, and that especially during adolescence when we’re asking ourselves all sorts of identity questions, it’s comforting to hang out with people like us.

If I had to name one reason, that’s probably what I’d go with too. But I also think there’s something about American society that makes it more difficult to cross cultural lines. Actually, thinking about the recent attention France has received for its cultural problems, I think it’s a problem for all egalitarian societies. By “egalitarian” I don’t mean that in actual practice every person, or even every citizen, enjoys equitable treatment. I mean that the nation proclaims egalitarian values. When you can see that the reality is that certain groups have, or had, preferential treatment (or the absence of discrimination), I think it’s harder to see people as individuals first. I think you’re more likely to see them as members of a certain group (white, Muslim, Latino, straight, etc.). I think it’s easier to see people as individuals when there isn’t a national story telling you that you’re both the same, with the same opportunities and responsibilities, when that clearly isn’t true. To put it another way, it’s easier to cross international lines than intranational lines.

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