Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cultural Mosaic: A Profile of a Future African-American Male Librarian

Before reading Chao and Moon's Article, I rarely thought of myself in the context of a cultural mosaic, or "multiple indicators of cultures used to describe an individual" (Cultural Mosaic, 1128). I usually describe myself as Johnnie R. Blunt, a 46 year old African American gay male who has lived in a variety of different cultures during the last 28 years.

But even that short description demonstrates that I already use some of Chao and Moon's terminology to construct myself and the world around me. I describe myself according to demographic tiles: gender, race, and age. I feel comfortable with these terms because they seem "objective". When people meet me, they can immediately tell that I am a middle-age Black man. Some people may argue that my being gay is also a biological tile, because it is something that I may have inherited from parents and ancestors. I recently discovered my family has a large number of gays, bisexuals, and lesbians. We simply do not talk about it that much.

The reason for this relative silence is geographic: I was born and raised in Norfolk, Virgina, an area near the border of North Carolina and Virginia. My family and many other African-Americans in Virginia are highly conservative, although some of us have progressive tendencies. Norfolk is a small city (population 280,000) with a strong economic base (military and tourism). When I grew up, Norfolk was almost liminal: it wasn't a Chicago, New York, or even a Detroit urban environment. But it wasn't rural, either. This affected my personality and my world-view. Unlike many Chicago African-Americans, I wasn't raised in the shadow of Jesse Jackson or his Operation Push. Therefore, I never participated in racial equality marches or any other "progressive" movements before I turned 18. But Norfolk did have some of the luxuries of an urban environment: public libraries, excellent museums, colleges, university, and even an excellent public school system. Because of these luxuries, I learned that the world was much bigger than Norfolk. And I left to explore that world as soon as I turned 18.

I also tend to describe myself in terms of education. I was graduated from Granby High, a well-respected, predominately white school. I studied English literature at the University of New Mexico, where I was graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. I earned a masters from Roosevelt University in Chicago. I "brag" about my accomplishments because I achieved something that was denied to my parents and many other people in my old neighborhood: the chance to prove an intellectual excellence on par with almost any highly educated, middle-class white male. My accomplishments are not part of a legacy: my parents both had grade school educations. As far as I know, almost no one else in my family has completed college, much less get a graduate degree. I struggled to prove myself, and I am very proud of that.

I am also "proud" of the various religious, professional, and political associations that shape my personality. Despite being from the very Protestant South, I am a practicing Catholic who came to the religion as an adult. I value the rituals of the Church. I consider myself a reference librarian, although I have not completed my MLIS. I do a lot of reference work at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I am a liberal Democrat, although my conservative Virginian roots do "inform" my ideology often.

In short, I guess all these cultural tiles, this mosaic, accurately describe me. I hope that I can use my mosaic to promote other African-American males to join the ranks of librarianship. I think my cultural mosaic is very useful in my reference work. I work with a diverse population of students, many of Arabic background. I understand some of the prejudices and discrimination many of the Muslim students may have encountered since 9/11 and thus respect their differences in a way that a suburban white male may not.

REFERENCES

Chao, G. T., & Moon, H. (2005). The Cultural Mosaic: A Metatheory for Understanding the Complexity of Culture. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1128–1140.

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