I’m always reflective in November. Even before my mom passed away. It happens to be the month in which so many people I care for were born, including my mom and son. My mom left me a great legacy. There’s stuff, but what is most meaningful is the non-tangible. These past couple of weeks I have been particularly reflective on the legacy of cultural capital she left me.
I teach a class on cultural competence. That class is about human service workers being able to work effectively and compassionately with people of different social identities (race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc.). There is a different type of cultural competence that I’ve been reflecting on lately. The first snow has fallen on Loon Mountain and folks are going skiing….
In undergraduate and again in our doctoral program I read Bourdieu’s work along with some post modern takes on cultural capital. The term is broad, vague, ill-defined, not ethnically relevant, maybe even unnecessary, except when you realize it is necessary…I am sure that in proper society no one goes around speaking of their cultural capital, but we know it when we see it. I’ve been particularly reflective about ethnic-specific and regional differences in cultural capital. I’m not ready to write a thesis about this, but I am aware of that in my travels around the country, living in different regions and being blessed enough to have friends from different backgrounds, I’ve noticed that we each have cultural capital in different ways. And even with our country’s growing diversity I am struck that we still revert to a WASP standard of cultural capital (orchestra outings, certain types of art, music, skiing, apple picking, specific books, etc.).
When and how does cultural capital become diversified? I know that in the African American community there are organizations that have been formed in an attempt to inculcate children with some forms of cultural capital. And while depending on the region of these by-invitation-only groups a child may get the typical reproduced messages about cultural capital with some sprinkling of ethnic-specific cultural capital (i.e. sharing of some art by famous black artists and musicians). But for the most part the cultural capital being instilled and passed on is still lodged in the WASP world. It’s o.k. and it’s not o.k. Every ethnic and racial group has much to contribute to the mickle bag (a term one of my eccentric high school English teacher used ad nausem…I think she made the term up!) of what can be considered to be part of the cultural capital suitcase. I’m sure someone has written an article (or two) about this; and maybe I’ll go look it up…but my point is that some of our parents do an amazing job of providing some elements of cultural capital (which we then hopefully build upon for ourselves) and I’d like the scholars, theorists and pundits to consider adding futbol (soccer), and Gordon Parks, and hair braiding, and making tamales, and…you get me right? Cultural capital should be culturally competent & relevant.
For me, I am thankful that my mom laid a foundation in our multi-cultural, multi-value, multi-activity house and elsewhere that allows me to move with some ease within and between cultures with my well-packed cultural capital suitcase. It’s that ability to code switch (a show on NPR now) that really makes me a culturally competent individual with capital. And I’m thankful. Thank you mommy! I’m hoping to reproduce some culturally relevant capital with our son. Here’s hoping I can build upon my mom’s legacy and also hoping I don’t drive our son crazy in doing so!