Melissa Harris-Perry Cautions Translating Cultural Norms

Melissa Harris-Perry, host of her self-named show on MSNBC and professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University, devotes her professional research to exploring the issues placed on black Americans in society and the ways in which black Americans react to these issues.

Harris-Perry has a black father who grew up in the “Jim Crow South” and a white mother who was raised Mormon. Like many children of multi-racial families, Harris-Perry takes aspects from both backgrounds to build her identity as she researches African American political thought at Wake Forest and received an honorary doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School.

From Martin Luther King Day and throughout the month of February, Harris-Perry travels frequently to universities and public gatherings to speak on the importance of continuing conversations about Black History Month and black Americans’ role in society.

Harris-Perry noted that some cultural aspects in black American culture do not need to be translated for the masses because they are significant to that specific group for a reason. The more you know about the cultural norms, the more you identify with a culture. Cultural norms exist for specific people to make them feel like they belong.

At Culturs, speaking the right language is about understanding that there are aspects of each culture that outsiders won’t understand. Just like an Asian American might not identify with black American culture, a white American might not identify with the culture of a Caribbean/Italian, Russian born TCK.

Harris-Perry makes the argument that not all aspects of a culture should be translated to fit every other group’s cultural needs. Being a TCK, it is difficult to not always have cultural norms translated to you, especially when others expect you to know them.

However, being a TCK, you know more aspects about many different cultures, making it easier to connect with a more diverse group of people. And you don’t have to have grown up in the same regional culture to understand the TCK culture; the TCK culture encompasses all who have been accustomed to transition- moving from one culture to the next, evolving at each step of the way.  Sometimes knowing everything about one culture is the mainstream archetype but identifying with many different aspects of a diverse set of cultures is what sets you apart.

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