Monday, January 18, 2016

Do Like Martin. Let’s Get Real About “Radical” Change

Radical can mean a lot of things.  Literally, it means, “(especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough” (Google) or does it mean: “very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary” (Merriam Webster) or “thorough, ongoing, or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms” (   It can be used to describe the depth of commitment to change and/or the drastic nature of the measures an individual or group is willing to take to create fundamental and global change.

Today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who have championed the cause for equality in our society, I would like to present my own version of being radical.  Not because I think it’s the way everyone should approach the issue of equality, but because I’d like everyone to think deeply about the topic and make individual, informed, and dedicated choices about diversity in our world.

I am deeply committed to “radical multiculturalism,” but when I use that term, I mean something quite specific that may  not match up to existing definitions of the term.  To me, “radical multiculturalism” is the recognition that the only way to end discrimination is through the intentional deconstruction of the concept of “the other” and the commitment to understanding culture identity by viewing all cultures from an emic perspective.

Let me “unpack” that concept a little.  The intentional deconstruction of the concept of “the other” means to stop looking at cultures other than our own as “the other” as in those guys over there in an us vs. them perspective. Instead of looking at a culture from outside the culture, step inside that culture to look at how the culture sees itself (the emic perspective).  When you do this, it’s important to acknowledge

a. We can never take a fully emic  perspective because we can’t shed our own cultural beliefs when we examine how another culture sees itself. We’ll always be influenced by our own upbringing.

      b. Members of a  given culture will see and explain themselves with inherent bias.  They’ll only be able to describe themselves as they see themselves.

c. Never trust a single source on a given culture. Cultures are too dynamic, complicated, and diverse to be viewed from one perspective, so you should look at many different expressions/interpretations of that culture before developing a working understanding of that culture.

d. Cultures are fluid and constantly changing, so you need to commit to expanding and revising your understanding of a culture overtime

Let’s take a look at an article about MLK and injustice as an example of taking an emic perspective.  What is your reaction to the article based on its title which is
The Legacy of Martin Luther King: Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere

Do you agree or disagree?

How does your opinion change when you learn that it was published in Electronic Intifada which, according to their website, is “The Electronic Intifada is an independent online news publication and educational resource focusing on Palestine, its people, politics, culture and place in the world” (

Does your opinion change when you hear that , according to Wikipedia, the periodical is an online publication which covers the Israeli–Palestinian conflict that is ‘aimed at combating the pro-Israeli, pro-American spin’ that it believes to exist in mainstream media accounts. It also claims that it is not-for-profit and independent, providing a Palestinian perspective” (Wikipedia).

Allow me to add another opinion, “Gerald M. Steinberg, head of the pro-Israel NGO Monitor, described Electronic Intifada as ‘an explicitly pro-Palestinian political and ideological Web site’ that hosts ‘anti-Israel propaganda’ (Wikipedia).

Radical Multiculturalism would ask us to approach the Isreali-Palestinian conflict not from one side of the conflict or the other, but to recognize that this conflict has many facets and perspectives that should be examined equally along with our preconceived notions of the situation. It suggests that we look at the situation from as many angels as possible and try to make decisions that acknowledge and honor the perspectives, cultural identity, and human rights of everyone who is affected by the conflict.  It asks us not to take sides, but to try to find peaceful solutions that honors all of the cultures involved.

Taking this approach is hard, especially when there is so much violence perpetrated to achieve the goals of individuals on all sides of the conflict whether we’re in the streets of Washington D.C., Jerusalem, or Damascus or sitting in a classroom or around a kitchen table.  On the other hand, history has proven that violence does not bring about positive global change. Here are two links that explore just two of a multitude of perspectives on this idea:

"The Proven Superiority of NonViolent Resistance"

"What Martin Luther King Throught About Urban Riots"

  Perhaps, if we approached cultural conflicts with the goal of shared understanding and the aim of mutual benefit and growth, we might be able to fulfill this directive from Martin Luther King, Jr. “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”  Because if we do, we might be able to create “radical” change that makes the dream of universal equality a reality.

Even if we can’t do that.  We can make a commitment to being “radically multicultural” and develop a greater understanding of ourselves and those around us in a supportive, collaborative, and non-violent way.  Martin was willing to work peacefully to achieve the dream of equality, knowing it wouldn’t happen in his own lifetime, are you?

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