Cultural Profile and Intercultural Experiences
I am an African American male in his early 30s. I currently reside in New York City where I work as a paralegal in a mid-size law firm. I have four sisters, Donna, Renee, Tracey, and Lisa and two brothers, Kaymon and Damon. My father Antoine Jordan is a prominent lawyer and environmental activist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My mother, Elizabeth Renee Jordan owns a windsurfing shack in Milwaukee. She is a retired chiropractor but still has her practice, which she attends to part-time.
We are a mixed-race nuclear family as both my parents are bi-racial. My maternal grandmother is white while my maternal grandfather is African American. My father also has Native American roots. Our extended family has many members from different ethnic, religious, racial, and national cultures. The maternal side of the family i.e. my mother and her sister are half-black half white. The paternal side of the family has traces of African American and Native American roots.
One of my maternal aunts, Raycee, is married to a Nigerian journalist and political activist. They usually come to the States for family gatherings, but they mostly live in the Nigerian city of Lagos. Their wedding was held in Lagos about five years ago. It was the first time for most of my relatives to go to Africa, and we ended up having a wonderful time. It was also the first time for any of us to attend a Muslim traditional wedding.
My eldest sister Donna, is married to a Jewish banker named Aaron while Tracey shares custody of her two year old son with her former boyfriend, Don, who has Germanic ancestry. According to my grandparents, we also have relatives who live in Mexico, Ireland, Kenya, France, and Israel. Aunt Raycee and her husband have three children who were all born outside of the United States. The children have been raised as Muslims because their father is a practicing Muslim.
There are several other religions in our extended family. Both my father and mother are staunch Catholics, while my older brother, Damon and I, are practicing Lutherans. As mentioned above, Donna’s husband is Jewish and their children observe both Catholic and Jewish religious practices.
My siblings and I grew up and went to school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was very shy growing up so I hardly participated in sports and other social activities. However, I loved poetry and I used to write poems for the school paper in middle school. I still write poems today and several of them have been published in poem collections and newspapers across the country. I also recite my poems at poem and word of mouth conventions every other weekend.
My Intercultural experience revolves around international communication with peoples from outside the country. When I was 15, I was enrolled in a student exchange program in our high school. I ended up going to Kampala, Uganda for two months through the exchange program. It was my first time in Africa but certainly not my last.
I was living with a wonderful family of four. The matriarch of the household was a teacher while the father was a lecturer at the prestigious Makerere University, one of the oldest and premier universities in the continent. The couple has a set of twins, Akia and Achen who go to the school that had an exchange program with my school back in Milwaukee.
While in Africa, I travelled to Kenya with my hosts and we visited several of the country’s parks and wildlife centers. I also had a chance to cross the border from Uganda into Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. I had the opportunity of learning about the different ethnic groups found in every African country that I visited. I was also given a crash course on the histories of such countries and how they gained their independence.
I was a bit apprehensive about travelling to Uganda because I was not quite sure if I would be able to communicate with my hosts. I even searched the Internet for the languages that were spoken in Uganda, but there were hardly any tutorials on how to speak them or even understand them. However, as soon as I arrived, all my fears dissipated because the family and I shared a common language, English. We understood each other perfectly from the get go except for my occasional usage of slang words during conversations. Therefore, English as an international language facilitated my communication with the gracious hosts.
Communication did in fact become a barrier when it came to going to school in the country. Most of Akia’s and Achen’s friends spoke a mixture of urban ethnic languages, Swahili, and English. The twins literally had to translate most of the conversations for me, which was a bit hectic since nearly every student wanted to talk to me. I was the only foreign student at the school at the time.
The cultural differences had a huge impact on how my hosts and I communicated within those two months. Adler (1991) also concurs with the observation that communication, through perception, is determined by an individual’s culture. The culture of the individual affects his perception of the person that he is talking to, which inadvertently influences how well he will be able to communicate with the person.
Cultural differences abound between my hosts and me during my stay in Uganda. For instance, in my culture, we do not pay much attention to soccer as a sport. However, in Uganda, everyone seems to be a soccer fanatic. People are divided based on their preferred soccer team and around Kampala; one can find men and women of different ages adorning themselves in t-shirts with logos of different European football teams. The Cranes, the country’s national football team, also has a religious following in the country.
Communication problems were exacerbated during the football matches. I really did not understand what all the fuss was about, and I received several skeptical looks from the members of the family when I alluded to the fact that soccer was a stupid sport. However, communication was more effective during the national basketball championships because everyone, including me, loved basketball.
I had to deal with a lot of stereotyping from the locals because of my race and nationality. According to Scollon, Scollon, & Jones (2011), stereotyping is an extension of social categorization that can blind people from engaging with others from certain categories and actually become a communication barrier. The twins told me that most parents were anxious about their children hanging out with me because I am black American. They believed that most black American children abused hard drugs and were constantly listening to gangster rap. The notion that all blacks do marijuana and cocaine is a negative stereotype. I for one have never done any drugs including alcohol and my favorite genre of music is classic country music.
Another prejudice I encountered that made communication more difficult in my stay in Uganda is the notion that all black people are lazy. Ting-Toomey and Chung (2012) define prejudice as social antagonism, favoritism of certain groups of others, and ethnocentrism. The parents of some of my temporary classmates were asking their children if I am as lazy as the blacks they see on television.
Adler, N.J. (1991). International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: PWS-KENT Publishing Company, pp.63-91.
Scollon, R., Scollon, S.W., & Jones, R. H. (2011). Intercultural communication: A discourse approach.
Ting-Toomey, S., & Chung, L.C. (2012). Understanding Intercultural Communication. New York NY: Oxford University Press.