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 oftentimes 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 I dreaded.
Additionally, a blank stare was common when I mentioned that my family was from Uganda. “Where’s that? Oh, you mean Ghana?” Let's just say the yearly viewing of “Roots” during black history month wasn't a comprehensive view of African culture. Looking back, the African curriculum we received shocks me. Black people were primarily portrayed as slaves, and it was often omitted that my African ancestors were kings, queens, lawyers, politicians, entrepreneurs, doctors, and more. A one-sided narrative was being told, and it’s evident that relying on the educational system as a singular reference point makes us dependent on learning someone else’s agenda. It's our personal responsibility that our kids know the colorful spectrum of the world.
You may be thinking, “Why does any of this matter?” We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected, and the internet and mobile technology have revolutionized the way we communicate. However, being culturally aware allows us to be a communications chameleon, which is a great skill to have.
Cultural awareness also helps develop:
- Recognition that everyone is different
- Understanding there are multiple way 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’s 5 easy ways to make this happen:
Plan a family trip to a museum
Museums maintain and display items of cultural significance for the education of the public, and can be found in most major cities. Make sure to research museums that will appeal to you or your family beforehand, or that are 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. Opening in 2016, The David Adjayi designed, National Museum of African American History, was received with excellent reviews, and was one of the four most visited Smithsonian museums after six-months. The Harvey B. Gannt Center for African American Arts and Culture, in Charlotte, North Carolina, is another boldly designed museum, housing a spectacular body of arts and programming.
Read children's books that promote culture
Children's books promoting culture aren't the easiest to find, however there's been a recent movement to make them more accessible for all children. Children’s subscription box clubs like Culture chest, and children’s media companies like the Caribbean-themed Callaloo, or Nigerian based, Bino and Fino have grown in recent years, and they promote culture in an easily digestible way for children to understand.
Attend festivals/events that celebrate other cultures
Children are naturally inquisitive beings, and exposing them to festivals/events of different cultures really allows their minds to wander. These festival/events will likely contain foods, activities, and music, which allow them to interactively fully 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 of different countries and lands. Follow-up on conversations about life and cultures in these different lands becomes much easier 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 an added 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. An increased cultural awareness 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.
Jonah, co-owner of lifestyle brand KampInd, is a multimedia artist, entrepreneur and UK-based digital strategist focused on shifting perceptions through design and fashion. You can find Jonah on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @KampInd and check out KampInd inspiring multicultural leaders to change the world at www.kampindusa.com.