I grew up in one of the largest and most diverse cities on the Eastern seaboard: Brooklyn.
When you speak of diversity, you really can’t get more diverse than Brooklyn. I went to school with people from all walks of life. I had friends who were Jewish, Indian, Asian and West Indian.
Stores, publications and programs that celebrated all the different cultures surrounded me. I was exposed to so many other cultures that my impression was that the entire United States experienced the same upbringing.
I was wrong.
On a road trip from New York to California, it occurred to me that America wasn’t as diverse as I assumed. The trip made it a lot easier for me to understand why America earned the reputation as being the most arrogant country.
You don’t have to look too far to see why our media coverage in this country is beyond pathetic. A story isn’t a story unless it affects the United States. The British Broadcasting Corporation, which airs after midnight locally on 88.9 FM, is the main source of news for many European nations. The BBC covers events worldwide that allow the listener to understand and appreciate the cultural difference in other countries. One feature last year probed the effects of hip hop in Africa. Another focused on the AIDS plight in South Africa.
Why should you be interested in what happens around the world?
The answer is simple. We can no longer afford to be cultural isolationists.
September 11, 2001 showed us that in clear fashion. In order to defeat the so-called terrorists, we must understand them. We must understand the issues and problems of other countries.
So many of my peers lack basic geography knowledge that it’s impossible to even expect a cultural understanding. Is it no wonder that when we travel abroad we are dismissed as ignorant once someone learns we are American. It still amazes me that there are individuals who refuse to leave their comfort zone. Instead of taking a trip to Toronto, Canada, they would rather go visit relatives in Alabama, because that’s what they know.
How will we ever know that something simple such as flashing the peace sign in France, walking into a mosque with shoes on, or even refusing a meal in Japan could cause problems?
High schools and universities attempt to help students discover other cultures through study abroad programs, but not everyone takes advantage of them, and when we do take advantage of the opportunities, we criticize the host nation because it’s not American. We try to find the McDonald’s, or the Burger King. We look for MTV or BET on the local channels, and if we can’t find what we are accustomed to we become unhappy, and thus our arrogance begin to show.
Many times I’ve heard that America is for Americans from individuals who do not like the fact that our country has such a large immigrant population. However, if we ever embrace such an ignorant ideology we are destined to fall as the world superpower. Immigrants who left their country to study, and work in the United States discover many of our technological advancements. We are a nation based on consumption. Take a moment right now and check your entire wardrobe. You are wearing clothes that represent India, Taiwan, China, El Salvador maybe even Mexico. It is clear economically that we cannot afford to be culturally ignorant.
The next time you run into someone from another country, ask him or her questions. Get a map and locate the country. Take up a foreign language and this spring break travel to a destination besides Daytona Beach or Miami, Cancun or Mexico.
Gregg Bishop is a senior business administration student from Brooklyn, N.Y. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org