Being part of the cultural majority means that we have the ultimate bias. It means our version of reality is the correct one and that we get to decide what norms everyone else has to aspire to.
My ethnic background provides all the advantages of being part of the cultural majority while also giving me relevant perspective on what it’s like to not be part of the cultural majority.
My dad is from Argentina and my mom is from Kansas, and they met in Spain. Go figure.
Ethnically, they’re both European. My father’s family in Argentina all immigrated there from Calabria in Italy. My mom’s family came to America from Guernsey, a little island between England and France.
That’s why when you look at me, you see a white man. That’s what I am.
That said, I grew up speaking English and Spanish, traveling to Argentina often, learning and living by cultural norms my dad grew up with, and generally looking at the world from what felt like two distinct perspectives.
The school I went to growing up was about 65% Latino, and I was ‘one of the white kids,’ while still enjoying some of the benefits of being part of the cultural majority within that community.
I was in while being out.
I enjoyed the upside and the downside, and it made me keenly aware of what either side felt like, as well as what assumptions we make when we have no reason to see things from the another point of view.
I don’t say that to solicit sympathy the way some in the cultural majority do for those few seconds when they don’t enjoy that perch. I say it because this experience provided me with a glimpse into the dynamic of cultural majorities from a very early age.
When I went to a white majority high school I enjoyed the benefits of being part of that cultural majority, while also being able to score a few bonus points for being bilingual and having a dad with a cool accent.
It wasn’t until after college that I came up with the term ‘cultural spy’ as an explanation of my experience, but it feels so apropos.
I don’t think any of us, regardless of grouping, have any type of monopoly on virtue. I do think that experiencing both sides of the cultural majority coin is a hugely important experience. You don’t have to be multiethnic to experience it either. Travel provides the opportunity to not know the local language or be the cultural or racial exception, and it’s important that we embrace those experiences as welcomed discomfort.
I’ve used the term ‘cultural spy’ a lot over the last few years, so I thought it was about time I write it down.