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Tribal Guys in Funny Hats

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #17, 1997.

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Mary Pride


Multiculturalism. What does it mean? Actually, today the word "multiculturalism" has two meanings. One is good, and one is bad. Let's look at them.

A Palette of Ideas

Many of us, when we think of multiculturalism, think of the arts and sciences. We think of

  • architecture
  • clothing
  • fine arts
  • music
  • food
  • math

and all the other areas of human endeavor where we are enriched by what other people have discovered or invented. These are areas in which diversity is good. The "palette of ideas," however, can be taken too far. That's why we need . . .

A Filter, Not a Pot

You have heard the phrase, "America is a melting pot," meaning that many cultures are blended together into one. This is not the happiest choice of words - who wants to lose his identity in a homogenous blend, anyway?

But the opposite extreme - pretending that every behavior and belief of every culture is equally good and valid - is just plain wrong. That would mean we have to accept

  • slavery
  • women as chattel property
  • the murder of twins because "the devil must have begotten one of them and we can't tell which one it was"
  • cannibalism
  • suttee (the practice of burning a wife alive when her husband dies)
  • ritual human sacrifice
  • treating serious illnesses with animal dung and loud yelling
  • the caste system

and many more evil practices as right and valid. In fact, we wouldn't even be able to criticize our own society when it goes astray.

The solution? Think of a filter, instead of a melting pot. Many things, such as national foods and most clothing styles, go through the filter. These are good, and can be incorporated into our culture. Other things, such as slavery and cannibalism, get filtered out.

Other cultures can act as examples that cause us to bring out the filter and reexamine what we're doing. Homeschooling is a good example. Several decades ago, some people noticed that kids were taught differently in other cultures and in our own culture before the early 1880s. Home teaching was rediscovered!

We can argue about what the filter ought to be. I believe it should be the Bible. Maybe you agree; maybe you don't. But at least we won't be pretending we're accepting everything. After all, it is OK to change the world. Provided it's for the better.

So the good definition of multiculturalism is "a palette and a filter."

Those Tribal Guys

All of us are descended, fairly recently, from Tribal Guys. In the conditions prevailing after the fall of the Tower of Babel, small kinship groups formed. This "tribal thing" was the way of life for your ancestors until between 1,000 and 100 years ago. Its dominant feature: "my" tribe versus "thy" tribe. Wars. Fussing and feuding. Serbs and Croats, to use a modern example.

Returning to tribalism is a bad thing. When we start worrying about how many of "our" people are in the history books (seeking recognition for truly important, but overlooked, individuals is different), it's a step backwards.

It's All Yours

  • Thanks to George Washington Carver, a black man, you can eat peanut butter, even if you're not black.
  • We use dollar bills with George Washington's picture on them, and most of us are not British. In fact, my Irish and French ancestors fought the British.
  • You can eat tacos and burritos, even if you're not Hispanic.
  • My dad can chug Tabasco sauce, and he's not Cajun.
  • I often wear a dashiki (an incredibly comfortable cotton caftan), and I'm not African.
  • I like to decorate "pysanky" Easter eggs, and I'm not Ukranian.
  • I have attended a Reformed Presbyterian church, and I'm not Scottish.
  • I use Arabic numerals (1-2-3 etc.) everyday, and I'm not an Arab

Everyone's achievements belong to all of us. We are all related, after all.

One Set of Morals

Tribalism is bad multiculturalism. So is using "diversity" as an excuse to throw away the filter - to indoctrinate kids in moral relativism, or drag them unwittingly into pagan rituals. You can love and appreciate people without approving of or converting to their religions. If you have to accept all religions, we're back at human sacrifice and slavery again. That's bad multiculturalism.

Keep one set of morals, and many sets of practical inventions. And don't worry about who invented what. It's all yours!


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