The relationship between language and culture is a fundamental principle of communication studies. While this relationship can seem obvious in examples, it can be difficult to identify language barriers and cultural influences that can easily divide people.

With Challenge #5 our team was challenged with the design question, “How might we support culturally aware engagement practices when interacting with businesses in communities new to the SWOT City program?”  Our team spent three weeks exploring Hamtramck, interviewing entrepreneurship business leaders in immigrant communities, and learning about the culture, practices, and traditions of Islam. We documented our experiences and conversations over the five weeks to share with partners at SWOT City as way to improve outreach and engagement in the Hamtramck community going forward. It wasn’t easy, mostly because we did not know what we did now know and struggled to ask questions we did not know how to ask.

I have recently taken on an interest in sign language. Through research I have learned that the deaf community shares a very unique culture, one of social behaviors, art, literary traditions, history, values and institutions that are influenced by deafness and which use sign languages as the main means of communication (Cripps, 2017). What is particularly interesting about the deaf is that their difference is not visible to the eye and often a person of hearing will engage a deaf person in conversation without realizing their deafness. This example is so clear in laying out a barrier in communication that is has made me realize that other cultural and social differences exist that are not always visible, and are often associated with a unique language or ways of communicating that are distinctive to their community. This makes it particularly difficult for different cultural groups to be identifiable by sight. Another example for instance, within the Arab American community it is often the case that woman-to-woman interaction and man-to-interaction is viewed as appropriate and respectable, but woman-to-man interaction is more sacred and requires much more delicacy and consideration. Often a woman will raise her right arm and place her palm over her chest in place of shaking a males’ hand because personal space and touch are usually avoided between sexes. We had to let our curiosity lead us throughout this challenge, asking questions like “how would conflict be resolved between two members of different groups?” or “why is it important to understand and be able to recognize these differences, especially why trying to solve a particular problem in a community”. As a result we learned to identify assets that surround a community (like cultural resources already present within the community, or long-term customs, behaviors, and activities), and that it is imperative to create a safe place to live, work and play by promoting understanding of diversity within the community and protecting and conserving traditions, customs and resources. “It is not our difference that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences”, once said Audre Lorde.

#unite #community #celebratedifferences