U.S. Hispanics: An Unstoppable Evolution

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In 2011 the Culturati U.S. Hispanic Segmentation Model proved that the U.S. Hispanic acculturation is non-linear and the start/end points are not definitive.

This new white paper seeks to present the why’s behind the shifts that have shaped this market in the past four years and that will continue to form this burgeoning market in the years to come.  It is imperative for marketers to be one step ahead of this evolution to ensure that their U.S. Hispanic strategy is reflective of today’s Hispanic consumer.

Culturati’s attitudes and values-based segmentation model provides an understanding of U.S. Hispanics and the various shades of acculturation in terms of beliefs, value systems and cultural mindsets.  After analyzing the key dimensions and accounting for media language preferences, four distinct and actionable Hispanic segments were identified.

As U.S. Hispanics acculturate they begin to adopt certain values and lifestyle elements of the dominant American culture (forward acculturation) but they may also move in the opposite direction deciding to revive their own roots through the phenomena of retro-acculturation.  Culturati recently set out to understand the dynamics of this evolution to reveal how each Hispanic segment is changing and the factors responsible for triggering retro and forward acculturation.

A two-year longitudinal survey was conducted between 2013 to 2015, where a total of 400 Hispanic consumers were identified by segment in the pre and post waves to identify which of them had changed segment and whether they moved forward or backward within the acculturation continuum.  They were also asked whether specific events had occurred in their lives, based on a list of events that may impact acculturation.

Additionally, a series of online in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted among those who changed segment in order to further explore how their cultural attitudes had shifted and what they felt contributed to that change.  To understand the long term implications of these attitudinal shifts, projections through 2030 were calculated by modeling data from U.S. Census projections to incorporate the impact of Hispanic demographic changes by gender, age, nativity, years in the U.S. (for foreign born), parental nativity (for U.S. born), income and presence of children.

What did we learn?

Hispanic identity in the U.S. is multidimensional and multifaceted.   We confirmed that U.S. Hispanic identity follows a path that is not linear or definitive, but rather a continuous course of transformation where profound shifts in cultural identity occur as Hispanics forward or retro acculturate.

Through forward and retro acculturation, the continued growth of the U.S. Hispanic population and an increase in the proportion of U.S. born vs. foreign born Hispanics, Culturati projects the influential bicultural Savvy Blender segment becoming increasingly larger compared to the other segments.

On the other hand, the Latinista (Culturally Hispanic) segment remains important but is gradually shrinking while the Heritage Keeper (Bicultural) and Ameri-Fan (Culturally American) segments remain stable.

By 2023 Savvy Blenders (Biculturals) are projected to surpass Culturally Hispanics (Latinistas) as the dominant Hispanic segment, accounting for 37% of Hispanics by 2030 (Figure 2).  This marks the importance, more than ever, to understand Hispanic acculturation, its evolution and the implications for the future as Hispanics continue to grow but also redefine their Hispanic identity.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, 2014 National Population Projections; Culturati 2015 Longitudinal Segment Change Survey
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, 2014 National Population Projections; Culturati 2015 Longitudinal Segment Change Survey

 

The Hispanic Segment Journey

The Hispanic Identity journey consists of three distinct cultural states: Deliberate Hispanic Dominant Culture, Natural State of Biculturalism and Deliberate American Dominant Culture (Figure 3).  These cultural states are driven by conscious and subconscious forces that shape an individual’s attitudes and beliefs and occur at each person’s own pace – the journey is not necessarily sequential nor do Hispanics eventually travel through all three different states.

Interestingly, nearly 3 in 10 of Culturally Hispanic Latinistas are moving directly into the Bicultural Savvy Blender space while Savvy Blenders who retro-acculturate are most likely to move into the Bicultural Heritage Keeper space.  Shifts in Heritage Keepers are split fairly evenly between retro and forward acculturation.  In many cases this is due to the conscious recognition, acceptance and gradual redefinition of their identity.

Furthermore, the journey of U.S. Hispanic identity is unique to each individual as their journey is often interrupted and modified by internal as well as external factors.  Significant life decisions, unexpected events or changes in lifestyle and life-stage can send an individual to another state, causing them to forward or retro acculturate.

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Hispanics in the various states are in very different mindsets about their lives and themselves, and experience different tensions, all of which can influence their openness to certain ideas.  As they travel through different states, they sometimes feel differently about their core values and have varying degrees of conscious awareness of them.

  • Conscious evolution: Core values are considered explicitly Hispanic and conscious choices are made to preserve them.
  • Subconscious evolution: Core values are tested, strengthened and refined as American values are incorporated more subconsciously.

Life events linked to personal growth and self-improvement (financial and educational) are key drivers of forward acculturation.  On the other hand, retro-acculturation is triggered by life events that may be outside of an individual’s direct control but are the catalyst for a renewed desire to reconnect with Hispanic culture.   It is important to note that the ease and pace of transitions is greatly impacted by differences in income and education – forward acculturation is highly accelerated among higher levels of income and education.

These life changing events lead to a process of self-discovery and re-evaluation of identity and life priorities.  As they move through the retro or forward acculturation journey, a shift in mindset occurs that allows them to feel more comfortable in their own skin.  They become more accepting of themselves and embracive of their identity.

In addition, reconnecting with others and new relationships further impact the retro and forward acculturation transformation.  For retro-acculturators, closer relationships with other Hispanics contribute to a stronger sense of self and seamless identification with Hispanic roots which they previously lacked.  For forward acculturators, exposure to Non-Hispanic environments is an important factor in allowing them to further integrate themselves into American society. This often leads to a greater appreciation for diversity and the American lifestyle.

The Retro Acculturation Transformation

Retro acculturators are characterized by a heightened awareness of their Hispanic and American sides, an acknowledgment of the fear of losing their Hispanic identity and renewed appreciation for their Hispanic heritage. This is followed by conscious and deliberate choices to reconnect with their Hispanic self.

The strongest unique triggers for retro-acculturation are moving to a new home (38% vs. 26% for Forward), becoming a parent (21% vs. 12% for Forward) and getting married/moving in with significant other (18%. vs. 9% for Forward). These triggers result in:

  • An increased desire to reconnect with Hispanic culture and ensure that cultural identity was retained
  • An awakened emotional need to connect with other Hispanics and learn more about their Hispanic heritage, leading them to identify with Hispanic culture stronger than before.
  • A deeper appreciation for Hispanic culture and traditions (e.g., celebrations, faith, respect, etc.)

The Forward Acculturation Transformation

Forward acculturators have experienced a subconscious evolution in cultural identity and adoption of American lifestyle elements and values, yet they continue to retain core values. Forward acculturation is most associated with a significant change in financial situation, with 28% experiencing a positive change in financial situation over the last two years (vs. 19% for Retro). To a lesser degree, increased interaction with other ethnicities (29%), starting to work (16%) and higher education (17%).  These triggers result in:

  • A growing appreciation and respect for the opportunities the U.S. had to offer (e.g., education, financial growth, etc.) and realization that the opportunities were endless but each individual was responsible for taking action to improve their life in this country.
  • A shift from a reactive to proactive mindset and greater focus on the future (i.e., “the future is in my hands”).

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Holidays are a prime example of occasions when Hispanic and American traditions converge for both retro and forward acculturators.

  • Retro acculturators seek opportunities to practice Hispanic traditions that they had left behind in an effort to further connect with their Hispanic side and learn more about their culture. Participating in traditional Hispanic holidays is viewed as an important symbol of Hispanic identity, connection to family and an authentic celebration of the Hispanic lifestyle.
  • Forward acculturators are adopting certain elements of American culture (e.g., celebrations) and do so with ease by tailoring them to their own customs. This is viewed positively as a symbol of inclusiveness, integration and appreciation for cultural diversity but also as a symbol of remaining authentic and true to their roots.

Perceptual Shifts

Forward acculturators express low tension regarding the blending of cultures and value the ability to be bicultural.  Retro acculturators also value biculturalism but feel a stronger pull to their Hispanic identity than in previous years.

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Forward Acculturators acknowledge that their perception of cultural identity has changed. They now believed that being both “Hispanic and American equally” was possible because they had the ability to pick and choose what to retain from Hispanic culture and what to adopt from American culture. This shift led to:

  • A deep appreciation for the opportunity to be part of both cultures and ultimately benefit from the best of each.
  • An ability to customize their own blend of biculturalism to fit their lifestyle – key to shaping their identity as they forward acculturated.
  • In particular, those that had children had learned from their children’s bicultural experience and had witnessed the value that being part of both cultures could bring.

Retro Acculturators have a stronger connection to their Hispanic roots than in previous years but their connection to American culture remains unchanged.

  • It seems that Retro Acculturators now feel more comfortable accepting their Hispanic side more than or equally as their American side. The process of finding/reconnecting with their Hispanic side has brought them closer to their roots while at the same time not losing their connection to their American side.
  • Already coming from a bicultural mindset, they appreciate being able to blend both Hispanic and American cultures in their daily lives and continued to see the advantages. However, having gone through the retro acculturation transformation their renewed appreciation for their Hispanic identity is powerful and leads them to feel like they are “more Hispanic” or “less American” than they were in the past.

Impact on Shopping and Advertising

Retailer preferences have expanded across both segments; Forward Acculturators are incorporating Non-Hispanic stores while Retro Acculturators are incorporating Hispanic stores.

  • Forward acculturators are less likely than before to need help when shopping and therefore have branched out of their comfort zone to seek value and variety at Non-Hispanic stores.
  • Retro acculturators are more inclined to “live like a Hispanic” and cook with ingredients found in Hispanic stores.

Interestingly, both Retro and Forward acculturators identify with Hispanic advertising.  From a relevancy and emotional connection perspective, Hispanic advertising is viewed as engaging and has the ability to connect with them on a cultural level.

  • Forward acculturators become more neutral towards Spanish advertising being more informative and relevant to them.
  • Retro acculturators move from a neutral stance on Spanish ads to seeing more value in them. The neutral attitude has the most stability overall.

 

Conclusion

  • We have learned that, in the short-run, forward and retro acculturation tends to balance out the movement between segments. Overall, the segments are fairly stable with slight movement from Latinistas to Heritage Keepers and Savvy Blenders and slight net retro acculturation from Ameri-fans to Savvy Blenders. However, in the long-run, demographic trends will impact the segment distribution.
  • It is important to keep in mind the growth of 2nd and 3rd generations of Hispanics that are choosing to redefine their identity and the phenomena of retro and forward acculturation that is ultimately contributing to the continued of the bicultural space.
  • There is also a population and demographic shift that is impacting the segments, in particular the Heritage Keeper segment which is projected to remain stable. However, forward acculturation from Latinistas and retro acculturation from Savvy Blenders is expected to keep the percentage of Heritage Keepers stable.
  • A larger segment of Savvy Blenders that include those that have retro and forward acculturated suggests an evolved bicultural segment that will continue to assert their presence and influence in American society as their collective identity takes further shape. It is important to note that most Savvy Blenders are not forward acculturating to become Ameri-Fans but instead are making a conscious choice to retro-acculturate.
  • The implications for marketers are vast given that the projected growth of the Savvy Blender segment and stability of the Heritage Keeper segment underscores the importance of cultural relevancy. As predicted, a well-integrated strategy that includes Culturally Hispanic and Bicultural is necessary. Despite new generations being predominantly U.S. born and immigration declining, the power of cultural relevancy may increase given that Savvy Blenders are characterized by a bicultural identity that is natural, fluid and strongly celebrated.

Your Editor Celebrates: You’ll find very few, if any, research studies as deep or detailed as this one by Culturati, but this one can be improved with your observations, comments and suggestions.  The authors have promised to immediately respond to your comments.

Retro Acculturation through the Hispanic Influence in U.S. Culture

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As the Hispanic population in the United States has grown, with a marked increase in native births and a plateau in immigration, the notion of conforming to the prevailing culture has given way to a richer, more resonant and less coercive concept: acculturation.

Acculturation is the process through which individuals or groups adopt cultural features from a different group and weave them into their own cultural fabric — without losing an inherent sense of identity. A vivid example of this is the celebration of distinctly American holidays, such as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, by families of a different national origin. These families, many of whom share the same values that the holidays have come to represent, have adopted these American customs and have made them their own by adding native foods, music and social rituals to their celebrations.

Additionally, while minority groups can incorporate the traits and customs of a dominant culture, it also is clear that a reverse flow exists. Hispanic culture is having a profound effect on American food, music, sports, beauty products, fashion, politics and much more. This influence is due not only to the sheer size of the Hispanic population of 52 million now in the U.S. — roughly one in six Americans, with projections to nearly one in three by 2050. In many cases, it’s due to the recognition, acceptance and consequent gradual, organic adoption of aspects of the Hispanic culture by non-Hispanics.

The exchange, interpretation and borrowing of cultural characteristics is a great American tradition, but at this intersection a paradox arises: The thrill of the new combines with the tension elicited by the unknown. For every man who swoons at the beauty of Sofia Vergara, there is another who raises his eyebrows at her accent; for every supporter of the Dream Act, there is a detractor who looks with skepticism upon a new and independent voting bloc. Similarly, there are marketers who work to understand and identify crossover opportunities between the general market and specific groups, while others miss opportunities with strict, conventional interpretations of demographic information and analysis.

This study explores this paradox. As Hispanic culture continues to permeate the mainstream, we seek to learn where the effect is concentrated and which groups are most receptive to its influence. We want to know which aspects of American culture are affected and to what degree, and we explore how the majority perceives a minority group that has risen so quickly in influence — after all, Hispanics are this country’s largest and fastest-growing minority group. Moreover, we wanted to understand how Hispanic identity might evolve: Do Hispanics see themselves as agents of change? What are their views on balancing their distinctive heritage with the pull of the mainstream?

Do they feel secure in a society that, despite its advances, still might not fully recognize them as fellow Americans?

The purpose of this study is to help marketers more effectively navigate our dynamic and evolving society.

Talk of the Hispanic market going mainstream is nothing new. Now there is more talk (and more evidence) about the mainstream going Hispanic. When it comes to measuring the degree of Latino influence on American culture, the jury is in: It is present, it is profound, it is pervasive and it is permanent. More important: It is a shared perspective. Three out of four Americans agree that Hispanics have had a significant influence on American culture. And although Hispanic and non-Hispanic populations may disagree about the level of Latino influence in a particular segment of the culture, it is striking how close they are in perspective when it comes to the overall influence across markets.

One key factor in our study is geography. Its influence is consequential across numerous metrics. In some instances, respondents’ market locations within the U.S. revealed a regional prevalence of certain sentiments. In other cases, a specific belief may be widespread, embraced by study participants throughout the country.

Predictably, the touch point ranked by Hispanics and non-Hispanics as delivering the greatest influence on American culture is food. Almost 90% of non-Hispanics saw it as having the most prominent impact, placing it nearly 25 percentage points ahead of the next greatest influencer, music (63%). Hispanics gave food a slightly more modest share at 82%, and music was only seven points behind at 75%.

While music ranked second in overall impact on American culture as perceived by all Americans, there are important geographic differences. Hispanics in New York, Miami and McAllen, Texas, note a substantial effect of Hispanic culture in music at 86%, 86% and 90%, respectively. These cities also comprise the top three markets for non-Hispanics on the music question, albeit to a lesser degree at 75%, 73%, and 71%, respectively. In Nashville, the center of country music, just 42% of non-Hispanics (the lowest mark of any city) and 67% of Hispanics feel a Latino beat — a stunning 25-percentage point gap between the two, and both lower than their respective national averages.

The Latino influence in sports is felt most acutely among non-Hispanics in New York (72%) and least in Detroit (48%). Baseball, however, demonstrates how deeply integrated Hispanics are in American sports culture. The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY has installed a permanent ¡Viva Baseball! exhibit celebrating Latino contributions to America’s favorite pastime, and the number of Latino players in the league has surged in the last two decades, jumping from 13% in 1990 to 28% on opening day in 2010.1

The Hispanic community gives itself high marks for influencing beauty standards (64%), style and appearance (62%), and clothing (61%). Only about a third (32%) of non-Hispanics believe that Latinas have had a great to moderate impact on standards of beauty, a proportion that remains largely constant across demographics and is essentially the equivalent weight they give to the Hispanic influence on clothing (34%). On matters of style and appearance, non-Hispanics seem more aware of Latino influence (48%) than they are on beauty (32%).

Both non-Hispanic and Hispanic audiences size up the impact of Latino culture in television programming and channel real estate in equal force, as 54% of each segment see moderate to great influence, highlighting a strong presence in the channel lineup combined with the proliferation of Latino actors in general market television and cable programming. Univision now ranks as the nation’s fifth most popular network and two of the highest paid actors on television from May 2011 to May 2012 were women of Hispanic descent: Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family” and Eva Longoria of “Desperate Housewives.”2 Even with the ascension of these actresses into mainstream television, however, negative stereotypes of Hispanics are viewed as a fixture in media, with 73% of Hispanics and 68% of non-Hispanics noting their presence.

Latinos in the United States are frequently grouped into a monolithic group of Americans. In reality, Hispanic subgroups reflect profound DIVERSITY in ethnicity, culture, and origin. Given the distinct differences among the various people we call Hispanic in this country, it is essential to recognize that there is diverseness within this segment. But when it comes to understanding the diversity of Hispanic culture in the U.S., our survey demonstrated that only one-third of Hispanic and non-Hispanic respondents alike believe it is extremely or very well represented. So there is progress yet to be made on this front, and sadly, more work to be done in a less nuanced dimension: 55% of Hispanics (but only 15% of non-Hispanics) said Latinos encounter frequent discrimination, while 67% of Hispanics strongly or somewhat agree that as a group they are discriminated against more than other ethnic minorities.

The Hispanic consumer is both social and vocal, and proactively engages in a dialogue with friends and family about a range of products from high-ticket technology to fashion and style. The “next new thing” resonates with three out of four of these consumers, and more than half consider themselves a go-to source for information and guidance for new products.

These proportions are comparable to those of non-Hispanic consumers, half of whom consider themselves advisors and more than 81% of whom “love trying new things.”

The materialization of a substantial, widespread and thriving minority culture, intersecting and complementing the more pervasive culture, brings with it a new set of challenges, opportunities…and expectations. It is an exciting and rich horizon, and one that we aim, both as experts and participants, to show you.

The War on ‘Microaggressons:’ Has It Created a ‘Victimhood Culture’ on Campuses?

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Larry Mantle, a radio host in California was moderating a discussion last month at UC-Irvine on the fraught subject of “microaggressions,” words, though uttered innocently by white people, are said to deeply offend those who are less privileged when he made a big mistake: As he called on the first questioner, he asked “Where are you from?”

That’s a standard question for talk show hosts. But the audience froze in silence, briefly and uncomfortably, before breaking into a nervous laughter.

Katrina, the questioner, explained: “People are laughing because of the question,” she said.

But she forgave Mantle. “I don’t need to take offense at that,” she said, “because I’m part of the privileged majority who don’t constantly have to put up with questions of where I am from.”

The reason “where are you from?” was considered offensive by some was explained on the very list of “microaggression” guidelines , a “tool” for recognizing microaggressions provided by the University of California to be used in seminars to educate faculty members, that was the subject of Mantle’s radio discussion.

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Asking someone of color or any minority “Where are you from or where were you born?,” the guidelines suggested, could send the message that “you are not a true American. You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.” The same for comments like “you speak English very well” and “What are you? You’re so interesting looking!” Saying to an African American, “When I look at you, I don’t see color” is a kind of “color blindness” that denies “the individual as a racial/cultural being.”

Once kids were taught about “sticks and stones,” which break their bones, but that “words will never hurt me.” Now, on some campuses, they and faculty as well are being taught the opposite, innocently uttered words can and do hurt, and speech codes and guidelines about what to say and what not to say, are all the rage.

The latest controversy is also at the UC system, where the Board of Regents is considering whether saying that Israel has no right to exist, or that Israel is mostly to blame for the troubles in the region, is a form of anti-Semitism, worthy of being placed on a list of offensive language..

The debate over hurtful words, microaggressions, what can be said and what shouldn’t be said has been roiling campuses across California as well as places like Oberlin, Wesleyan, Ithaca, Columbia and elsewhere for several years now, complete with “microaggression” blogs, reserved strictly for those who are not “privileged,” meaning white people, in which the offended call out the offenders, for any number of perceived microaggressions, defined in the proposed UC tool as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

To critics, all this is petty and worse, stifling, and when supported by state university administrations, very much an imposition on free speech. “This concept is now being used to suppress not just, say, personal insults or discrimination in hiring or grading, but also ideas that the UC wants to exclude from university classrooms,” wrote Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who leads the Volokh Conspiracy blog hosted by The Washington Post.

Fighting microagressions “has become a cottage industry in academe,” wrote Malcolm A. Kline on a conservative Web site called “Accuracy in Academia” earlier this week, pointing to, among other places, “The Microaggressions Project” where grievance is piled upon grievance.

“Each event, observation and experience posted,” the site explains, “is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt – acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult. Social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.”

At “I, Too Am Harvard,” which does not explicitly bill itself as a microaggression project, African Americans make similar points and provide similar examples.

Derald Wing Sue, a professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, the best known scholar of microaggressions and the developer of the microaggression tool used at UC and elsewhere, remains a strong defender.

He said in an interview with the Washington Post that he has no desire to “silence” anyone, and does not see it as an issue of suppressing free speech by whites but encouraging speech by minorities to voice their grievances.  “It’s interesting that many white people on campus see this as an issue of being silenced,” he said. “When people raise this, I often say this: That people of color have always been under the gun of forced compliance. They’ve not been about to talk about” their concerns. The microaggressions movement “frees people to say what’s actually happening.”

Likewise, the backlash to the anti-microaggression movement has become a cottage industry as well.

Much of it focuses on examples from the guidelines, like “Where are you from?,” “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” and “America is the land of opportunity,” which critics consider mystifying or even absurd. The latter phrase, about the “land of opportunity,” was said to be harmful in the California “tools” document because it advances the “myth of the meritocracy”  deemed to send a message that “race or gender does not play a role in life successes.”

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A conservative Web site published by college students, called the College Fix, is among those leading the charge against what one of its recent articles called “microaggression madness.”

A Daily Beast article on some of the micro aggression examples was headlined “The University of California’s Insane Speech Police.”  “How are students and faculty supposed to have an intellectual discussion about the merits of affirmative action if anyone making the opposite case is automatically branded a racist?” asked the writer, Robby Soave. “It’s not that every assertion in the seminar materials is wrong. Certainly, some of these statements, when uttered with sufficient malice, could cause offense. But when university administrators make preventing offense the paramount goal—and automatically apply the terms ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ to perfectly mild forms of speech—free speech enthusiasts have every reason to worry.”

The most discussed and provocative dissection of microaggressions recently is a much broader critique published in the journal Comparative Sociology by Bradley Campbell of California State University and Jason Manning of West Virginia University. In “Microaggression and Moral Cultures” they see the anti-microaggression movement as a “a new species of social control,” which when “present in high degrees,” produces a “culture of victimhood.”

It’s very different than, they argue, than earlier movements like civil rights, because of its focus on otherwise unintentional slights, words alone, rather than concrete injustices, like being denied the right to vote or sit at a lunch counter. And its motive, they said, is not so much to educate offenders but elevate the offended.

“….When the victims publicize micoaggressions,” wrote  Campbell and Manning “they call attention to what they see as the deviant behavior of the offenders. In doing so,” they “also call attention to their own victimization.”

And that, they concluded, is one of the reasons they do it. Because it lowers “the offender’s moral status” and “raises the moral status of the victims.”

“Comparative Sociology” not being widely read outside sociology circles, the paper went relatively unnoticed for about a year. Then it was discovered by Jonathan Haidt’s the Righteous Mind  blog and, in September, by the Atlantic in a piece by Conor Fredersdorf called “The Rise of Victimhood Culture.”

“I don’t consider myself an opponent of this stuff,” Campbell said in an interview with The Washington Post. “But it’s not a secret that I have moral concerns about the way it can limit academic freedom. I worry,” he said, “when people get in trouble because they’ve said something people consider offensive.” And “I worry when administrators feel like they have to do something about it.”

The Campbell-Manning paper has also been critiqued in articles and blogs across the country since the Atlantic publicized it, including in the Atlantic itself, where Simba Runyowa wrote a piece entitled “Microaggressions Matter.”

“When I was studying at Oberlin College,” she wrote, “a fellow student once compared me to her dog. Because my name is Simba, a name Americans associate with animals, she unhelpfully shared that her dog’s name was also Simba. She froze with embarrassment, realizing that her remark could be perceived as debasing and culturally insensitive.

“It’s a good example of what social-justice activists term microaggressions—behaviors or statements that do not necessarily reflect malicious intent but which nevertheless can inflict insult or injury. I wasn’t particularly offended by the dog comparison. I found it amusing at best and tone deaf at worst.

“But other slights cut deeper,” she wrote. “As an immigrant, my peers relentlessly inquired, “How come your English is so good?’—as if eloquence were beyond the intellectual reach of people who look like me. An African American friend once asked an academic advisor for information about majoring in biology and, without being asked about her academic record (which was excellent), was casually directed to “look up less-challenging courses in African American Studies instead.”

“There is nothing glamorous about being subjected to racism, and certainly no social rewards to be reaped from being the victim of oppression in a society that heaps disadvantage on historically marginalized groups.”

Sue, at Columbia, recalls hurts similar to Runyowa’s, as he rose in his academic career. He grew up in Portland, Ore. Yet, he said, throughout his career “they’ll tell you,  professor Sue, you speak very good English” and then “wonder why would that offend you? The message to me is I am a perpetual alien. Not a citizen in my own country.”

“Why are people of color raising these issues,” he said in an interview with the Post. “Not because they see themselves as victims,” as Manning and Campbell suggest. “Microagressions have empowered them by giving them a language of expression. It allows them to say this is happening, and given the fact that it’s happening, and doing all this harm, do they not have a right to say ‘this has to stop?’”

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Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.

The Diaspora Puerto Rican vs. The Isleño

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Cultural Relativism and Self-Determination Views

By Eric Medina

diasporaAs a child in Puerto Rico goes to school, interacts with his pals, develops into adulthood and ultimately assumes his place in Puerto Rican society, not much will have changed. All he would have seen would have been Puerto Rico, the island, thus, becoming the center of his universe.

As a Puerto Rican child growing up in Ciales, I remember thinking no other place even existed outside that of my Isla. And if it did, surely it was not remotely as good as Puerto Rico. After all, we weren’t called “Rich Port” for nothing. Laugh all you want, but this once child literally thought that our land being called Puerto Rico meant that we were wealthy beyond all measure. As per my logic, didn’t we have to be extremely rich to bear the name Puerto Rico, “Rico” being the key word? Nothing, therefore, was quite as grand as the land of my fathers. I saw vianda and bacalao at the same level as caviar.

In time, I had a vague idea that there was some sort of a world out there. All the same, still nothing was quite Puerto Rico. I was too busy hearing from family members and friends alike of how great we were to even begin to consider acknowledging other places and cultures, all the while growing up with a sort of idea that we were just superior. This became so casual in my upbringing that Dominicans, some of whom lived in the neighborhood when we first moved to Santurce, were never quite as good as us. They talked, dressed, and acted a little funny, a view I picked up from others and carried over to the United States when I first entered the country as a teen. Thankfully, I would grow to see how wrong I was.

You see, ethnocentrism plays a big role for a person being raised in a particular culture, especially one not so polarized. When we’re ethnocentric, we think and behave as if the whole world revolved around our own culture, making us go as far as wondering what the hell could be wrong with people in England that they drive on the “wrong” side of the car or what would make people from India arrange marriages. After all, “don’t they believe in love like we do“? Ethnocentrism, thus, is defined as the tendency to judge other cultures in terms of our own, ethno meaning “people” and centrism meaning “center.” Us at the center is the ultimate idea and result. It was William Graham Sumner, a leading sociologist, who coined the term, and we live and breathe it every day of our lives in ways of which we may not even be aware.

Cultural relativism, in contrast, rests upon the idea that no culture is better than another (only different). The attitude here is that we look at others in terms of their way of life, putting on a type of lens that allows us to appreciate a particular group or society in the same way that an insider would. Cultural relativism, therefore, stands as the counterpart to ethnocentrism, its critical thinking nemesis, if you will. Under this principle, we see it as perfectly normal for people in England to drive on the left side of a vehicle and respect the views of other countries and governments as to what connects their citizens in matrimony. It’s just what they do.  It’s a view that makes us part of a larger world instead of at its center.

 What Changes for the Puerto Rican who leaves the Island?

A person leaving his homeland to live someplace else goes through a very humbling experience, the first of which is the realization that his culture is only one of many. The Diaspora Puerto Rican, having been exposed to a vast number of different ways of life and cultures once leaving the island, is more likely than the Puerto Rican who stays home to see his culture measured against that of the cultures of his global neighbors. Suddenly, you’re neither as alone nor as special. There are Colombians, Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Italians and Chinese to consider as you look to find peace within a much larger and complex community, one whose dynamics are now international.

In the spirit of this, I can’t help but go back in time to the rising levels on my puertorriqueñometer when I first entered high school in the Bronx, as a fellow Boricua classmate asked me where I was from on that very first day in homeroom. And how great it felt to know that I was Puerto Rican, as oppose to anything else. Ecuadorians, Colombians, Hondurans, and Peruvians were all right, but I was Puerto Rican! All my new Boricua classmates came over and celebrated the arrival of yet another one of their own. That was quite an overwhelming experience, providing a profound sense of belonging. I was glad to know that I wasn’t the only jibarito who had drifted too far away from home.

But in the irony of such things and as I would soon learn, the diaspora Puerto Rican, in contrast to those on the island, is the one more likely to have to hear, see or be confronted with how Puerto Rico does not quite enjoy the prestige in the community of nations as do its sovereign counterparts. The island being all he sees, the Isleño does not quite have to contend with such feelings of international inadequacy as does the Puerto Rican who lives abroad and sees the pride and splendor of all other cultures as each celebrates a day of independence. Leave it to Univision and Telemundo, by the way, to remind us all of that.

And so you have the Grito de Lares of 1868, which was organized from New York by exiled Ramon Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Velvis, the Young Lords and the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN), born out of the streets of Chicago, along with the more recent efforts made by the diaspora in the organization of protests in favor of freeing Vieques from the U.S. Navy that makes one think of the passion that the diaspora has brought to Puerto Rico’s liberation struggle, a passion that very likely has a connection with looking at the island from the outside in.

But from an environment in which all that exists is ourselves and negative implications brought about by political subordination may not be immediately recognizable, as would be the case within the island, it might be harder to embrace principles of political independence. Our Isleño just doesn’t quite see what those exposed to other cultures are able to see, is not quite as confronted with the existence of other international groups as is his diaspora brother. From within the island everything would seem to run according to the island’s own standards, as would be expected in any society not known for high levels of polarization. Its citizens would most likely go by what’s immediately seen, not so much by global dynamics. What would prompt one, under this scenario, to adopt such a territorial protective stance as would prompt deeper sentiments of national sovereignty? My gospel here is that national pride becomes more pronounced when nation is a factor.

And more so this late in human history, when societies have long since accommodated themselves as sovereign, nation is not as much a factor from within as it is once you’re out, touching foreign land and having other flags and their respective histories pointed right at you. This is where your ethnocentric views run into a solid wall, in our case not only bringing us to the realization that we are not inherently better than anyone, but instead, and given our subordinate political position within the international community, we’re missing a fundamental achievement of which every other nation has been able to accomplish.

Consider the following: the world is arranged along borders that divide entire cultures, each flag representative of a given culture and its history. Within that structural arrangement, nations are aligned equally (Think of a line in which all nations are positioned at the same level). Within this order, there are variations of wealth, education, political policies, power, influence, etc. But all nations agree that there is a respect that is owed a nation based upon its status as a nation alone.

As such, much happens in the world that is less than perfect. Many violations of ethics, morals, and even plain common sense occur every single day as we turn on the news and grab the headlines. Surely countries make war, invade lands, challenge the political and cultural stances of their neighbors and even make nuclear threats as they will. But one thing that does not occur in contemporary times is any nation stepping into the soil of another and planting its own flag.

We now see freedom as too great a value. Respect for the borders of another country, in every bit as respect for the walls and fence of our neighbor’s home, has perhaps become the greatest principle of all, a virtue largely expanded during the Renaissance period and one that points to the right of humanity to defy any limit on its everlasting path to greatness. Thus, it would seem that to refuse freedom to ourselves would be to reject our very selves. And as much as we Puerto Ricans have tried to mask our subordinate political status in an effort to make it appear as less undignified, the reality of the importance that freedom has around the world keeps staring right at us.

And so it is in the midst of all this that we Puerto Ricans have, for a long time, wanted to have our cake and eat, too. We want international recognition without international accountability, to be perceived as free while deferring to others, to continue to look at Puerto Rico as “patria” while calling for it to become a mere state of someone else’s. It is here that it becomes inherently harder for the Isleño, as a result of not being quite as exposed as the Diaspora Puerto Rican to the clearly set and inflexible boundaries of the international community, to see that a world divided by distinct histories, martyrs, borders and Independence Day celebrations calls for an “either or” commitment on the part of those who would aspire to cement a place at the highest level of international positioning. Thus, a member of a nation, regardless of where he or she might be, remains a member of a nation! And they will never, as much as they might show great diplomacy in their interactions with people coming from regions with a lesser international status, show the degree of respect they would to folks hailing from sister nations.

But the cultural relativist in the Puerto Rican is often better able to see clearly. He is the one who steps into the great beyond, facing the discrimination that plagues those who take part in this grand social stratification system of nations that constitutes the globe. I myself never heard the words, “you don’t even have a flag” while growing up in the carefree environment of Puerto Rico. All I cared about then was whether they were going to serve fried chicken for lunch at my middle School Manuel Cuevas Bacener. I surely became more patriota when arriving here. It made sense. Everyone else around displayed their pride of their own patria.

So there lies the true challenge of the Puerto Rican who wants to see Puerto Rico finally libre. There needs to be a re-education of the masses, one of which won’t likely happen overnight. He would first have to be patient, as he allows himself to see the issue of independence from an angle of those who not only were initially socialized into resisting it but made to grow comfortable with the idea of political subordination to the point of not even seeing political subordination as an existing factor. He would have to expose Puerto Ricans to the reality of all we have been missing in our absence as a nation and expect the learning process to be slow, showing sensitivity to all the cultural and emotional damage that has been done to the Puerto Rican over the years. He would have to be empathetic, visionary, patient, articulate, clear-minded and unyieldingly consistent. But most importantly, he would have to be all these things in such a way as to help him connect the diaspora Puerto Rican with the Isleño, the latter being more prone to ethnocentrism and therefore less likely to visualize us out there as a mere spec in the globe, hungering for the equality that every other society has.

So let us begin to see things as they truly are. Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the United States is morally, ethically and fundamentally wrong. That is the first thing with which Puerto Rico needs to come to terms. Puerto Rico is too great a culture not to be free to grow as it will, to take its chances and reap the rewards as well as learn from its setbacks. Freedom is a dignity owed to all living things. Every person, creature, in fact, every earthly element, gravitates towards freedom. Insofar as this is true, in every struggle that every Puerto Rican faces out there is reflected a universal standard that we keep violating. A Puerto Rican facing an emotional challenge is surely facing a cultural one before all else. He is a member of a society walking on the opposite direction of every other when it comes to a fundamental cultural value. And how long can any society stand as an outcast of such important matters before facing cultural extinction?

A time for heroes in the Puerto Rican community is calling. Is the challenge grand? Yes! Is it a tall order that Puerto Rico will rise to the occasion and claim its rightful place in the community of nations this late in the history of the world? It might very well be. But is it impossible? I say not! As much as it would certainly be a unique moment in history and our culture is bleeding now perhaps more than it ever has, anyone is capable of greatness. And I say why not us? Why can’t the Puerto Rican be that pueblo to achieve what would probably go down as the greatest cultural feat of all time, to overcome a culturally dependent mindset after all these years of political reliance?

Our Tainos gave us the name of Boriken, which means Land of the Valiant Lord. In a world where an understanding of cultural relativism as the greatest measure of cultural respect has become a common international standard, possibly waking us to the still lingering struggles of the unfree, struggles that are made all the more complex by an ethnocentric mindset, let us Puerto Ricans get to work to position ourselves in such a place in the international community as to at least be counted, then onwards to being respected and further on to being revered. But we must first become a nation.

 This essay was first published in report

Eric Medina is a doctoral candidate in public administration at Walden University and has worked as an adjunct professor of sociology at Hostos Community College. He can be reached at  ericmedina@medina.com.

Your Editor Responds:  We have heard you and will pay more attention to Borinquen and its diáspora

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