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When we are confronted with a radically different reality, it could be an oppressing experience. Steve Biko uses the phrase “culture contact” when referring to the exposure of one culture to another. Many people would think that culture shock only happens on foreign soil, but they don’t realize that culture could vary from region. Moving from state to state, I had to suppress my way of life in order to adapt to different environments.
Growing up in California, there were many people of different ethnic backgrounds on my street. There were Asians, Latinos, Jamaicans, Africans, Caucasians and Black-Americans who had a different way of living. My father always illuminated our Native heritage; which was spiritual. I was taught to stay educated and to be a just person by balancing my chakras. Our family lead a relaxed life. In my father’s eyes, we were human; never limiting ourselves to one race.
In Reading, Pennsylvania, where I moved to with my grandmother, the Hispanic/Latino population was eighty percent. Because our cultures were similar, it was easier for me to convert. Most of the school administration, as well as other citizens who hold high positions in the community, only spoke spanish. Because I attended a school in the city, I was forced to learn the language. With the language came the fashion, choices of words, style of dance, music preference and it even shaped the way I viewed my food. If we didn’t see smoke in the kitchen while cooking, it was not wise to eat it. “Clean cooking” was for white people, whose food was colorless and tasteless.
After a few years in Pennsylvania, I was granted the opportunity to live in Virginia. Driving down I-64, I see a lot of confederate flags. I immediately established myself as a second-class citizen. Them being allowed to wave those hate-rags introduced their characters, but it didn’t make me feel “at home.”On top of that, my host mother sounds like a country bumpkin; the fact that she was from Boone, North Carolina didn’t loosen me up at all. The transition was not easy at all.
I attended a private school in the country for basketball. Those kids treated me like a new toy. When I wore my natural hair down and curly, they had to touch it. If I knew an answer to a question, they’d gasp in awe or sing my praises. Whenever I expressed my frustrations, in a respectful manner, they would be sweep under a Jesus rug. Every time I cooked, the smoke alarms would go off and all would panic. These instances shook me and I dialed back. Dialing back meant wearing my hair in an updo or in braids, not cooking, not being eager to answer questions and to just talk behind someone’s back instead of to their face when I have an issue. I was extremely depressed and felt as if I was losing pieces of myself every season. I was just a half-bred basketball player, but I knew that I could contribute much more- I just didn’t have enough confidence to do so.
Attending Howard University, we experience people from all nations. Being a historically black university, there are all types of “black” present. The atmosphere evokes me to actually find my identity as an American, professional and a human being.
The effects of culture contact often times fall under the rubric of acculturation. Ideally, the two or more cultures would merge or borrow traits from one another. Adopting a characteristic may cause you to let go of another. If you find your culture or practices being coerced, speak on it or use it in a way to benefit the environment.
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