Cultural awareness is paramount in the 21st century.
I grew up in a city called Bloomington-Normal, in the cornfields of Central Illinois. To say the conservative city lacked diversity is an understatement. I was frequently one of a handful of Black children in my primary school classes and usually the lone African. When it came to teachers calling out my last name during attendance -Batambuze- it was butchered worse than names in Key and Peele's skit, Substitute Teacher. The morning roll-call became "Groundhog day" at my expense and something which I dreaded.
Additionally, a blank stare was a common occurrence when I mentioned that my family was from Uganda. "Where's that? Oh, you mean Ghana?" Let's say the yearly viewing of "Roots" during Black History Month wasn't a comprehensive view of African culture. The African curriculum we received shocked me. Black people were primarily portrayed as slaves, and the stories of my African ancestors being kings, queens, lawyers, politicians, entrepreneurs, doctors, and more was missing. A one-sided narrative was being told, and it was evident that relying on the educational system as a singular reference point made us dependent on learning someone else's agenda.
You may be thinking, "Why does any of this matter?" Today, we live in an increasingly interconnected world, and the internet and mobile technology have seamlessly removed barriers bringing us closer together.
Cultural awareness helps develop:
Recognition that everyone is different
Understanding there are multiple ways to do things
Empathy towards a range of opinions
Expanding one's cultural awareness is easy, fun, and above all, can provide quality time for strengthening parent-child bonds. Here are five easy ways to make this happen:
Plan a family trip to a museum
Museums maintain and display items of cultural significance for the public's education and are found in most major cities. Make sure to research museums that will appeal to you or your family beforehand or centered around topics you feel are important. If you haven't visited a museum since you were a kid and worry museums are dark, dreary places, no need to worry. As a family, we've had some great family outings to museums (pre-Covid) and highly recommend the Tate Modern Gallery in London, and Liverpool. The David Adjiye designed Smithsonian National Museum of African-American history has also received rave reviews since its opening in Washington D.C. in 2018 and is well worth visiting.
Read children's books that promote culture.
Children's books promoting culture aren't always the easiest to find in local bookstores; however, there's been a recent movement to make them more accessible for children. Vashtie Harrison's Dream Big, Little Leader and Raakhee Mirchandani's, "Super Satya Save's the Day," are two children's books promoting culture in an easily digestible way for children to understand.
Attend festivals/events that celebrate other cultures
Children are naturally curious beings, and exposing them to festivals/events of different cultures allows their minds to wander. These festivals/events will likely contain foods, activities, and music, which will enable them to experience culture through multiple senses.
Introduce a map or globe
I love this because it's simple, relatively cheap, and very effective. Pointing out places you've traveled to or want to visit on a map opens up conversations with children regarding different countries and lands. Follow on discussions about life and cultures in these foreign lands becomes much easier when using a map or a globe as a reference point.
Learn a Foreign Language
Language is one of the great pathways to different cultures and allows us to experience cultures with a different, richer lens. Studies by Harvard University confirm that learning an additional language increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility in the mind. The ability to pass down language with our children takes a bonus when it allows them to converse with relatives or people from older generations, who may not speak English as a first language.
As you can see from the list above, it can be fun and educational for the entire family to engage in cultural outings. Increased awareness of other cultures will hopefully allow us all to live together in the world peacefully.
Have you found a good way to teach your kids about culture? We'd love to hear how.