Re: Amerindian resistance mode (was: amerindian an offensive

Len Piotrowski (
Thu, 12 Sep 1996 14:58:52 GMT

In article <> writes:

>[interesting analysis on the cultural power clash of meanings, snipped]

>Kind of wordy but I hope it makes sense.


It made terrific sense! Several of your points particularly resonated with me:

>But can Euro-Americans do that? Part of childhood is enculturation; we
>internalize a world-view that shapes not only what we see but how we see
>it. I doubt that it is possible to completely discard all of the
>cultural baggage we carry as adults so that we may percieve the world as
>other cultures do. But I am a Euro-American, which means I have felt no
>social pressure to discard the cultural perspective in which I was
>raised. Natives (and African-Americans and Hispanics and so on) do feel
>that pressure. (I doubt the difference of gender is as significant as
>that of culture, at least in this case). I suffer no penalty if I refuse
>to try to internalize a non-Euro-American world-view. On the other hand,
>if Native Americans did internalize Euro-American culture, would they
>really be Native Americans? (Is culture separable from biology?)

>That is sort of a moot point, because translation involves two entities;
>and it is more than whether a Native American has internalized
>Euro-American culture: it also matters how much Euro-Americans will
>accept her even having done so. The point here is that difference is
>beyond the individual.

The question, "Is culture separable from biology?" is an interesting one,
especially when considered in conjunction with the processes of acculturation.
I submit for consideration the observation that children from one culture
adopted into a family unit of another culture still become fully enculturated
into that other culture, despite any lineal, biological, or natural forces
having acted upon the several generations of genetic variation held by it's
ancestors. It would be interesting to examine the sociobiologist's reaction to
this cultural fact.

Another is the interesting situation posed by the interaction of members of
two cultural groups over the definition of a mutual situation. Power, it
seems to me, comes into play through the control of the context and processes
of negotiating the definition of the situation. For the sake of simplicity,
lets imagine the negotiation is over the meaning of one and the same thing,
like an animal. In as much as a dialog takes place solely among members
of a single culture within their familiar cultural contexts, one of a set of
meanings may be expected and predicted to result. Problems arise when the
membership of the interacting group are mixed between two different cultures,
and/or the contexts in which the negotiation is carried out is controlled by
one or the other group. The relative mix between cultural membership and
cultural contexts maps to a kind of power and dominance space that suggests
the number and kinds of outcomes possible from such a negotiation for
meaning. In the case of one culture being numerically, geographically, and
systemically commanding over another, the shape of the dominance space
relative to possible definitions of the situation would likely be favorable to
their modes of thinking. But this perspective is really only relativistic,
and not necessarily persistent from situation to situation over time.

I was a "volunteer" to an interesting experiment in race relations at school back
in the '70s when the struggle for Civil Rights was still a hot topic. It aptly
illustrated the role of power and dominance in the control of contexts of
meaning. White students were asked to attend a special discussion group (I
believe the class was Comparative Lit) which was designed to place them in a
minority position and face the consequences of their felt meanings in conflict
with those in control of the situation. Three or four white students were
seated in the middle of the front row while the room was filled with volunteer
Afro-American students, thereby shifting the dominance space away from the
normalized white perspective. We were then asked our opinions about such
things as inter-racial marriage, drug use and drug policy, voting rights,
etc., which were designed to illicit differences and conflicts of meaning. The
force behind control of the situation over the expression and possible
internalization of meaning was vividly made apparent to me.

However, once the context evaporates, what ensures the persistence of any
emergent meanings? In the case of acculturation, it's persistence of the
context and situation in which the learning process is carried out. In the
case of the dominance of one culture's ideas over another's, it seems to me it
is a matter of control of similar contexts and situations in which social
negotiation over meanings takes place.