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  • 27 Jul 2021 6:01 PM | Emily Kawasaki (Administrator)

    It is that time prior to the conference when SIETAR USA asks you to think about the seasoned interculturalists and DEI professionals you know who are deserving of the highest award that SIETAR USA confers: the Margaret D. Pusch Founders Award.

    This is the Nobel Prize for the intercultural and inclusion world. We hold the winners to the highest standards of practice, publication, and professionalism over an extended career in the intercultural and/or diversity, equity, and inclusion fields. Past winners are listed on Hall of Fame in the About Us section of the SIETAR USA website. As you read the following criteria for this award, think about who for you embodies these qualities, characteristics, and accomplishments. Send that name to info@sietarusa.org!!

    Margaret D. Pusch Founders Award Criteria

    All following areas must be considered and present:


    • Publication of works on intercultural and/or diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice topics, including but not limited to:

    o Publication(s) in peer-reviewed journals

    o Published articles, books, or book chapters

    o Work in educational settings, including but not limited to:

    o Teaching of intercultural and DEI subjects in degree and/or certificate programs

    • Delivery of workshops or seminars with an intercultural and/or DEI focus

    • Given presentations within the intercultural and DEI fields, e.g., keynote addresses, conference presentations, plenary sessions, and the like

    • Mentoring

    • Has an established record of mentoring young and/or new-to-the-field interculturalists and DEI practitioners


    • Provision of pro bono and/or reduced rate sessions on intercultural and DEI issues to universities, community agencies or organizations

    • Service on Boards and taskforces of organizations that focus on intercultural and DEI issues, such as service with SIETAR organizations other than SIETAR-USA

    • Service on Boards and taskforces focusing on intercultural and DEI issues within colleges and universities

    • Championing the message of SIETAR-USA to various professional organizations and associations inside or outside of the intercultural relations and DEI fields


    • Has exhibited a willingness to take on tasks and successfully complete them

    • Active service as a SIETAR-USA officer or committee member

    • Other contributions to the organization, such as chairing a special task force or project


    The candidate should exemplify the highest standards of intercultural and DEI thought and practice, such as the following:

    • Demonstrated understanding, respect for and valuing of cultural differences

    • Interacts routinely with members of diverse cultures

    • Regularly serves as a cultural bridge between diverse individuals or groups to foster intercultural dialogue and understanding

    • Continually seeks opportunities to improve their own intercultural and DEI knowledge and skills

  • 27 Jul 2021 5:58 PM | Emily Kawasaki (Administrator)

    The editorial staff of The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA considers it important to include something of special DEI interest in each issue. For this issue, Craig Storti reviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book and for those who have read it, you will appreciate his words. For those who have yet to read it, this is an excellent introduction. (Ed.)

    Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, reviewed by Craig Storti

    More often than not in this column, we try to introduce you to books you might otherwise overlook—travel writing, expatriate fiction—so you can chase them down lest they elude you altogether. This month the tables are turned: we are chasing down a book that has almost eluded us. And what a loss that would have been.

    There are no two ways about it: Between the World and Me is a deeply disturbing book. That is not a criticism; in fact, I think it is probably how Coates intends for it to affect readers—White readers to be sure, but perhaps Black ones as well. The book is framed as a letter from a Black father to his 15-year-old Black son. The purpose of the book is to explain to the boy how things are in the wider world he is about to enter, why things are that way, and what the boy will have to do to survive—not to succeed, mind you, but just to survive. Coates’ central premise in the book is that life as a Black person in America is fundamentally not “safe.” Your body is not safe—it isn’t even yours, Coates claims—for any number of reasons. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time—and there are many such places—there is always a chance, a good chance, you may be perceived as a threat—think Trayvon Martin—and threats, of course, have to be dealt with. If you are pulled over for a routine infraction, a broken headlight or for speeding, at best you may end up deeply humiliated, and you may also end up beaten, in jail, or dead. In many situations the wrong look, the wrong gesture, saying the wrong thing—or the right thing but in the wrong way—can easily lead to confrontation, and for Black people confrontation never ends well. Anytime a Black person is outside a Black neighborhood, is anywhere in the White world, there is always the possibility they will be an object of suspicion, even fear. And where there is suspicion, there is danger.

    Not being safe might not matter so much if a Back person could rely on protection of one kind or another, but there isn’t any. Parents cannot protect a Black child from the wider world (or even protect themselves), the law cannot protect him or her, the “system” certainly can't; indeed, the system is designed to exploit.

    Is it any surprise, then, that people who are fundamentally unsafe and unprotected should live every day in constant fear? Sometimes the fear is visceral and immediate, when they are in real danger, and other times it’s in the background, just waiting to be triggered. But it’s never not there; it can’t be or they wouldn’t survive because their fear is their only protection. What must it be like to live moment to moment never sure when you are going to provoke someone, to rub them the wrong way, to trigger the most frightening thing in a Black person’s world: an incident. To live in fear is to always be on guard, to never dare to be natural. If there is a single White person reading this column whose daily experience consists of this kind of ever-present fear, I would be very surprised.

    There is a heart-breaking scene late in the book when Coates takes his 5-year-old son to a movie in Manhattan. On their way home they take an escalator down to the subway stop and when the little boy gets off the escalator, he doesn't move fast enough for an impatient white woman, who pushes him aside to get past him. Coates is furious and confronts the woman, who gets angry; a crowd gathers, mostly white people, and one white man shouts at Coates that “I could have you arrested!” And that’s just the point: he could. And it would almost certainly not end well for Coates. Coates is ashamed that he has forgotten the code of behavior Black people have to learn, have to internalize, for such situations, the code he desperately wants to make sure his son learns, that you never make a scene. Because that’s the only way you can survive if you’re not safe.

    Very early in the book, Coates’ son has stayed up for the 11PM news to hear the verdict in the Michael Brown case, whether the police officer charged with Brown’s death, will be found guilty. When the policeman is exonerated, Coates’ son gets up, saying “I’ve got to go”, shuts himself in his bedroom, and sobs. He has just learned he’s not safe, that his body is not his own. “I am sorry that I cannot make it okay,” Coates writes. “I am sorry that I cannot save you.”

    I was never quite sure I understood the title of this book, but I think the reason Coates spends so much time describing his life as a Howard University student may explain it. His point is that inside Howard the world was Black, so there was nothing between Coates and the world; the world was Coates, and Coates was the world.

    There is another point Coates makes, and it is not uplifting: the world that keeps Coates at a distance, that renders him fundamentally unsafe, is based on denial. For anything to change substantially, White people would have to confront a lie, to stop believing that which is the foundation of their self-esteem.

    How likely is that?

    And remember: This book was written before George Floyd.

  • 27 Jul 2021 5:51 PM | Emily Kawasaki (Administrator)

    At the instigation of Cheryl Woehr, the SIETAR USA Professional Development Director, the group assigned to do the task has completed its first revision, revised the revision, tweaked it some more and are ready to get feedback from the membership. Under the supervision of the Ethics Committee Chair Kurt Nemes, the Ethics Committee: Alan Richter, Cheryl Woehr, Bettina Byrd-Giles, Luby Ismail, and Sandy Fowler took a hard look at the Living Code (called that because it is expected to grow and change with the times). They used a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion lens to ensure that DEI was represented in the items, the sentiment, and the language. The group also took into consideration the ethical codes from other organizations such as SIETAR Poland.

    The code was streamlined and made more readable. A process has been added for transparency regarding complaints of ethical misbehavior. This living document is something to be proud of by every SIETAR USA member. Not all similar professional associations of SIETAR USA’s size have such important statements underlying our work as Intercultural and DEI practitioners.

    The revised Code was sent to a group of reviewers and their suggestions were discussed and integrated. Following feedback from a session at the Omaha conference in which the revised Ethical Code will be presented and discussed, the Code will be published in The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA requesting feedback from the entire membership within a time limit. The final version will be published when all responses are reviewed and changes made as determined by the Ethics Committee.

    The group found that some items in the revised code were easily accepted without question. However, others generated lively debate. During the conference session participants will be invited to contribute to some of the more challenging discussions the committee had regarding controversial items within the Code, such as:

    I will speak up if I witness unethical behavior and intervene if safe to do so. Have you ever encountered a situation in the course of your work where you feel it would be important to speak up? Did you speak up? If yes: What happened? If no: What might have happened? What are the barriers to speaking up that you and others face? How might you and others overcome them?

    I will withdraw from a project when I believe that the organization with which I am engaged behaves in an unprofessional/unethical manner. How are organizations that engage in unprofessional/unethical behavior going to improve if no one helps them?  What are alternatives to withdrawal? Have you ever been in a situation where you thought the organization was engaged in unethical behavior? How did you handle it? What were the lessons learned? What kinds of organizations might you never work for, if any? And why?

  • 27 Jul 2021 5:41 PM | Emily Kawasaki (Administrator)

    What happened to the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) in SIETAR USA, you might ask? Yes, indeed, we did have several active Special Interest Groups in the early days of SIETAR USA. They provided a place for people with common cause to gather at the conference, a quiet place where they could talk about things in their work that were challenging them, breakthroughs in their thinking or research—connecting with like-minded people.

    Some SIGs who are part of the history of SIETAR USA:

    • Foro Intercultural Latino comprised of Latino/ Latinista professionals in the intercultural training, education and research field who came together to build community and share ideas, referrals, news items and any other information of mutual interest. This SIG began in January 2002.
    • Language, Culture & Worldview established in 1990 as one of the SIGs within SIETAR. Its purpose was to explore the nexus between language, culture, and worldview.  Members drew on a multidisciplinary approach to further the understanding of the explicit interconnections between language, culture, and worldview for interculturalists and language educators.
    • PAC – Pride Across Cultures with its mission to provide a forum for g/l/b/t/q/+ (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered/queer + others) and straight members of SIETAR to educate each other and the wider SIETAR community about issues related to g/l/b/t/q+ culture in the workplace and across cultures. Started: June 1996.
    • Simulation Gaming group members focused on interactive training activities such as simulation games and ice breakers. They created an ethical code for debriefing interactive training and ensured that there were simulation game sessions at each conference.

    So, where did they go?  SIGs by their nature tend to be small groups. The glue that holds them together is their common focus, an eagerness to meet at the conferences, a champion who keeps them in touch even if it is just arranging for a meeting at the conference. When any one of these are missing, the group fades. When it was evident that the SIETAR SIGs were no longer active, SIETAR USA conference planners stopped including time in the conference program for them to get together, other than designating tables at one of the lunches for SIGs. Anyone who has eaten lunch with a group of SIETARians knows that it is impossible to hear anyone more than one person away because we like to talk at very high decibels all at once. This is not conducive to holding a meeting.

    SIETAR USA feels a need within our association to bring back SIGs. Other organizations have very successful SIGs. We would like to provide that opportunity to SIETAR USA members as well. Resurgent SIGs could provide groups, such as Practitioners of Color, the opportunity to meet around their issues or just to get to know each other. We know that there are many foci within our community that could benefit from a brief time together to quietly relax among colleagues and friends, hold lively discussions, or brainstorm ideas for the future.

    What we need is a SIG Coordinator who can gather ideas for how to organize the SIG meetings at the conference, lend support to people who want to find others like themselves within the association, and be the SIG champion. Nothing happens without a champion. Are you a member of an association that has an active SIG program? Do you have time to take some of their ideas and make them work for SIETAR USA? If this sounds like something you could contribute to SIETAR USA, please contact Karen Fouts at info@sietarusa.org  to let her know and she will be sure that Sandy Fowler gets your name and contacts you within minutes. Think about it. If we hear from several people, they become the coordinating team, which makes the organizing process all the more fun!

  • 14 Jun 2021 3:32 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear SIETAR USA Members and Colleagues,

    The future of SIETAR USA depends on its members to support its mission and to provide the leadership to guide the organization. To that end, we are issuing the 2021 Call for Nominations for the Board of Directors of SIETAR USA. 

    The SIETAR USA Leadership values diversity in all of its forms and is committed to creating and fostering an inclusive environment for all SIETAR USA members. We invite and encourage all members of our community to participate in the Board of Directors election process to support our efforts to cultivate a culture that embraces and values diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. 

    You may nominate yourself or another member of the organization. Any candidate for Board positions must meet the following criteria in addition to role-specific requirements listed in each position description. 

    1. Possess a strong background and understanding of the intercultural and/or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) fields
    2. Be a member in good standing with SIETAR USA (or willing to become a member)
    3. Have attended at least one SIETAR USA conference in the past five years

    Nomination Submission Deadline

    All nominations must be submitted in writing by e-mail to boardleadership@sietarusa.org and cc: info@sietarusa.org by:

    Monday, August 16th, 2021: 5 PM CDT

    Open Positions

    We currently have three open board positions for nominations in 2021:

    • The President Elect shall succeed the President. If, for any reason, the President cannot serve out a term, the President-elect shall fulfill the unexpired term and continue through his/her own term.
    • The Professional Development Director is responsible for seeking out and developing opportunities that sustain the professional development of the membership of SIETAR USA.
    • The Membership Outreach and Diversity Director is responsible for maintaining and growing the membership of the society.

    Click on the position title to read more about the position and its responsibilities. Also see the page sietarusa website.

    Please be sure to include your resume or CV and a brief statement of intent that addresses the following:

    • Why do you want to be on the SIETAR USA Board of Directors?
    • What do you consider the primary strength(s) or skill(s) you bring to SIETAR USA?
    • What are your vision and objectives if elected as director for your portfolio of choice?

    By submitting your statement, you agree to serve out your full term and to abide by the By Laws of SIETAR USA if selected.


    The Nominations Committee identifies candidates through a call for nominations for each position. Candidates are vetted based on the required skill and knowledge sets needed for each position. Each candidate is interviewed by the Nominations and Elections Committee. The final slate is then announced to the members of SIETAR USA. Ratifying the slate takes place at the time of the annual conference. If there is more than one qualified candidate for a position, an election will be held. 

    Term of Service

    New board directors will serve a three-year term starting January 1, 2022 through December 31, 2024 and carry responsibilities for the portfolio for which they were elected. The president elect serves a 4-year term of office: one year as president elect, two years as president, and one year as the immediate past president.

    General Duties of Members of the Board of Directors

    The SIETAR USA board is a working board, which means that a certain number of hours each month must be devoted to carrying out tasks relevant to the board member’s position.

    Board members are expected to attend the SIETAR USA Annual Conference, the Annual Board Meeting (a one-day in-person meeting before or after the conference), and the Board of Directors Annual Retreat (a 3-day business meeting held each year in February or March). Board members are expected to participate in monthly Board of Directors virtual meetings. 

    We look forward to your responses to this Call for Nominations and your participation in this process. Feel free to contact us with any questions at boardleadership@sietarusa.org

    Thank you for supporting SIETAR USA!

    P.S. Please share your thoughts, comments, and ideas about the article with the Editorial Team.







  • 14 Jun 2021 3:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Back in the late 1990s, when SIETAR USA was forming, the organizing group considered the question of how to bring in new officers and board members. Potential nominations and election plans were considered. In the 1970s, SIETAR International had started with an election process that involved recruiting candidates for all open positions and ensuring that each position had at least two candidates. It quickly became apparent that it was difficult to find two people who wanted to run for each open position. Having two members run against each other for president was another tense situation often resulting in the losing candidate leaving the association.

    In an effort to improve the situation, SIETAR International decided to move to a Slate process whereby the membership would vote to approve a slate of candidates approved by the Governing Council, rather than an election where people ran against each other. They retained the election option when there was more than one eligible candidate for an open position—in that case there would be an election between the multiple candidates.

    Since this process had worked well for a number of years, SIETAR USA decided to adopt the Slate method to fill open positions—with the proviso that an election would be held in the case of two or more qualified, eligible candidates. In reality, what happens most often is that when two people express interest in the same position, they are counseled to see if another open position might be of interest. When that is the case, then there are two people willing to serve on the Board and each has a position that is of interest to them. When it is clear that they both want the same position, an election has been called.

    The process was carefully developed. Attention was paid to each detail of the process. There are two time periods when nominations are accepted: The Initial call for Nominations, which allows at around two months when people can be nominated or self-nominate. Once the slate has been prepared and published there is another opportunity to run for one of the positions. A petition period and process for anyone who wants to be included in the slate opens up with a deadline of a few weeks. Each candidate—whenever they apply—undergoes an interview, qualifications are vetted, and their standing as an active member is confirmed.

    All people who serve a full term on the Board must be approved by the membership. However, it occasionally happens that a position becomes vacant in the middle of a term and in that case, the vacancy is filled by approval of the Board and appointment by the president. Since those who fill vacant positions haven’t gone through the entire nomination and election process, they must do that when and if they decide to renew. Board members who serve a full term having received ratification by the membership can renew for up to two more terms without going through the entire process again.

    SIETAR USA has been questioned at times for a lack of transparency regarding how the leadership is chosen. The portfolio directors and officers come from and are chosen by the membership. Serving SIETAR USA on the board of directors or holding office in the association is open to all members. You can nominate yourself when you feel ready and decide that you have the time to devote to SIETAR USA. WE are a working board, which means there is a time commitment to fulfill the responsibilities of each portfolio and office. To better understand how the board works, contact a current or past board member. Everyone on the board has their own story of how they got there and what it has meant to them. For most, serving on the SIETAR USA board of directors is a rewarding experience. We acknowledge that it doesn’t fit everyone but, we try to find the right fit and by and large, that has worked well over the two decades of our existence. The 2021 nominations and elections process for serving 3-year terms starting in January of 2022, has just opened. Give it some consideration…

    Sandra M. Fowler, Editor

    The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA

    P.S. Please share your thoughts, comments, and ideas about the article with the Editorial Team.

  • 14 Jun 2021 3:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The SIETAR USA 2021 National Conference: Mind, Culture, Society

    Join us for a can’t-miss conference addressing today’s hottest topics and interactive sessions with experts from across intercultural and diversity, equity, and inclusion fields. 

    Your Conference Connection

    Very soon you will be able to reserve your space for our in-person conference in Omaha!   You won’t want to miss this great opportunity to attend an amazing and diverse range of workshops, panel discussions, keynote addresses, training sessions, and more—and to meet and greet your colleagues and friends. Access to register will be on the conference website.

    Speaking of more - in addition to the conference sessions there will be a number of social interaction opportunities to engage with other conference attendees.  Here are a few examples.

    Pre-Conference Master Workshops - there are seven Master Workshops being offered on the Friday preceding the conference.  Details are available on the website now. These are skill building sessions designed to allow for a deeper dive (4-hours sessions) into the topic and to provide opportunities for interactive learning and development. 

    Morning Wellness Activities - there will be at least one option for a wellness session each morning.  These may include yoga, meditation, or neighborhood walks.  Our wellness committee is looking out for your best interests.

    Luncheons - there will be lunch each day of the conference (Sat-Mon) and a Dine-Around on Saturday where you can gather with new friends and past acquaintances to continue rich conversations or start new ones. 

    Theater Performance - there will be a theater performance of "I Have Before Me A Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda" by World Stage Theatre Company on Saturday afternoon prior to the Dine-Around.  More details will be available soon.

    Open Mic Night - A group of interculturalists and DEI professionals are always full of stories to entertain and inspire.  Look for updates and invitations to share your stories in upcoming newsletters.  

    Gala Dinner and Awards Banquet - This event is always a hit and features good food, recognitions, and awards for lifetime achievement as well as dancing til dawn (okay, well not dawn - the hotel staff does have to get some rest too).

    Omaha Hilton Hotel Reservation: We also strongly urge you to reserve your hotel room early as our conference room rate is  considerably lower than the standard rate and once the room block is gone we cannot guarantee that you will be able to get our low rate. For your convenience, we started the SIETAR USA block on Thursday 7 October so that you could arrive the night before if you choose to attend a morning Master Workshop on Friday 8 October.

    Covid-19 Update:  At this time CDC guidelines state that it is permissible for people who are exhibiting no signs of illness and are fully vaccinated (both doses plus two-week waiting period) to meet indoors without masks.  For those who are not vaccinated we request that you wear a mask when around others indoors.  Also, there may be people who feel more comfortable wearing a mask despite being vaccinated.  We urge all to be respectful of everyone’s personal choice.  

    Do take note of the Covid-19 questionnaire on the registration page and the Conference website.  We ask that you review the questionnaire prior to registration and again just prior to the conference and engage respectfully according to the current guidelines.  Should you need to cancel due to Covid-19 restrictions you will be able to get a full refund (less a small processing fee). These guidelines will be updated periodically per CDC advice.

    Karen Lokkesmoe, Conference Oversight Director

    P.S. Please share your thoughts, comments, and ideas about the article with the Editorial Team.

  • 14 Jun 2021 3:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

     by Helen Fagan

    THE OLD MARKET: This lively 9 square block area is uniquely Omaha and filled with nostalgia and innovation.

    Cobblestone streets lined with unique boutiques, antique emporiums, innovative restaurants, local pubs and tasty sweet shops create the magic of the Old Market Entertainment District. The Old Market and its red brick warehouses were the epicenter of activity back in the 1880s, bustling with produce dealers, buyers and traders, until the late 1950s when the area was threatened with building condemnation. But Sam Mercer, the son of a prominent physician and landowner, wanted to renovate the old buildings for new uses. At the time, Mercer’s idea was said to be foolish; today he is considered a visionary. The Mercer family still runs one of the most popular restaurants in the old market, La Buvette. This quaint European style wine bar offers a French menu, grocery with bread baked daily and one of the best outdoor sidewalk cafe settings in the neighborhood. Other dining standouts in the old market include: M's Pub known for its Lavosh and Carrot Dog; Blue Sushi and its legendary happy hour; The Monster Club with its horror themed restaurant and bar; and Le Bouillon, known for the chef's take on French comfort food. To explore more visit: https://oldmarket.com/

    Editor’s Note: An easy walk from our conference hotel, I have two favorite shops in the Old Market that I stumbled upon during a visit to our conference city: Tannebaum, the Christmas Shop on Howard and Moksha, in the Old Market Passageway. Tannebaum offers holiday items and more from all over the world. If the holidays are your thing, this is a must shop to spend a bit of time.

    If the holidays are not your thing, I found Moksha to be a treat. Seema Sharma is proud of their cultural heritage offers craftsmanship that has been passed down through generations, keeping alive its authenticity & essence. It is this tradition they bring to you with carefully curated products, rich in story, craft & detail. Their products are responsibly sourced, and each has its own story—which they are happy to share.

    If shopping isn’t your thing, the Old Market is a delightful place to wander, soaking up what Omaha was like in its earliest days. For photographers, there are an abundance of interesting buildings and other things on which to focus. I include two of mine here.

    P.S. Please share your thoughts, comments, and ideas about the article with the Editorial Team.

  • 14 Jun 2021 10:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    SIETAR USA conference participants always enjoy finding unique and useful items at the annual Silent Auction, so prepare now to donate and be sure to visit the Auction at the conference!

    The Silent Auction proceeds provide scholarships to the conference for those interculturalists who might not otherwise be able to attend, such as students or volunteers in community-based non-profit organizations. Attending the conference helps these individuals gain valuable knowledge, skills, and contacts in the field while contributing their perspectives and experiences.

    You can donate items, products, or services to the auction. Some ideas of popular items include new or used books (perhaps with an autograph); videos or training tools; arts and crafts you’ve collected while globetrotting or your own artwork; collection of world music; scarves or jewelry. Consultations, trainings, certification courses or workshops are always welcome. Special mementos or theme baskets from your hometown, region, or country are often the first items to go. Suggested minimum value of $20.

    To donate your items, please contact the Silent Auction Team ahead of time and pledge items(s) with the description, value, and donor information for proper display. All items can be shipped in advance to Omaha (between September 27-October 4) or brought with you to the conference if you are attending.

    PLEASE NOTE: We are unable to accept donations after 5:00 pm on Thursday, October 7th, 2021.

    For instructions, to ask questions or to get further information:

    Contact the Chair of the Silent Auction Team at silentauction@sietarusa.org.

    Visit the Silent Auction page on the SIETAR USA website at https://www.sietarusa.org/silent-auction-2021/

    We thank you, in advance, for your generosity in supporting our scholarship program!

  • 14 Jun 2021 10:50 AM | Emily Kawasaki (Administrator)

    Nearly 250 years ago, the French and the Americans forged an unlikely friendship against a common enemy: the English. When the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau crossed the Atlantic to fight for the American cause, and subsequently, when Thomas Jefferson exerted an influence on the writing of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, inspired in part by the American Declaration of Independence, the fate of the two countries was sealed forever. However, despite these points of convergence between modern France and the newly established United States, both defining themselves as staunch defenders of Equality and Freedom, their respective visions of these values ​​were and still are enigmatic to each other.

    Although the French Revolution eradicated France’s feudal past and the Monarchy became a Republic, the State remains highly centralized and the head of state still enjoys unequivocal power. Equality became a real rallying cry, but authority remained in the hands of the elites and the much-maligned privilege system was maintained in new ways. This elitism still exists today through the education system, in the Grandes Écoles system, similar to the Ivy League in the US, which is the subject of much debate. In essence, admission to one of these prestigious “Schools” still seems to be a condition of access for young French people who aspire to positions of economic or political power. Education is certainly less expensive than in the United States, even free sometimes, but the academic requirements and forms of self-censorship make access to these elite schools difficult for children from families of lower social classes, often of immigrant origin. Meritocracy is mainly academic in France: a diploma from a top school is seen as the sine qua non for success in life.

    In the United States, the Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all Men are created equal,” so meritocracy is enshrined from the founding of the country by the early settlers. This belief, more aspirational than realistic, nonetheless attracts populations from all over the world. They immigrate to the United States with the hope of starting new lives thinking that their social or economic class, ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation will not prevent them from succeeding or, at the very least, will not be an obstacle to their success. Millions of people risk their lives, abandon their families and roots to pursue the “American Dream.” They come with the hope that hard work and unwavering determination will be enough for them to improve the future of their children. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. American-style meritocracy is not determined by birth but by success and money.

    This American egalitarian system was fueled by a strong ideal of freedom. The Declaration of Independence states Americans “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These words still resonate with Americans today, but many of them also realize that a segment of the population has not been granted these basic rights because of their race or ethnicity. The protests across the country following the death of George Floyd and other people of color are unique in bringing together both white and black people to denounce systemic racism, injustice, and police violence due to the color of a person’s skin. Many realize that these core ideals do not apply to all Americans equally and how “discolored” the collective perspective is (pun intended). The current pandemic is bringing to the surface these socioeconomic disparities by dramatically and disproportionately affecting people of color. For many, the realization of the discrimination suffered by their friends, neighbors, or co-workers is a real shock. As a result, thousands have protested in the streets in recent months to demand that the principles of the Founding Fathers finally apply to all Americans, without exception. However, another perspective is exemplified by the recent uprising at the United States Capitol, the symbol of Democracy. This incident revealed the willingness of a predominantly white crowd of Americans to take up arms to safeguard what they consider a threat to their freedom and privilege, a sort of backlash to the advancement of equality.

    Likewise, in France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, partly inspired by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, proclaims: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good… All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all high offices, public positions and employments, according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and talents.” However, the French system, paralyzed by centuries of social stratification, mainly benefits the elites. Added to this are the colonial heritage and the impact of globalization that has changed the face of the increasingly multicultural population. Many French citizens have felt abandoned, unheard, and unrepresented by the elite, which resulted in the “yellow vest” movement, that led to violence and damage to monuments and other symbols of French Democracy.

    Thus, in both countries, we are attached to the notions of Freedom and Equality, of which different interpretations have recently tested the strength of our respective democracies. A line of thought to explain the difference in interpretation of these values ​​is the relationship with the Collective.

    In fact, the French state was built on the preponderance of the community. Fraternity is institutionalized. The system is based on the sharing and redistribution of wealth by the state, which allows all citizens to have free access to education and health care. France believes in the welfare state with a social contract to protect its citizens and thus ensure their freedom and equality.

    In the United States, the Founding Fathers wanted to mark a break by limiting the role of the state to sovereign functions. The current of thought was deliberately liberal and anti-interventionist in principle. According to Americans, the market and the private sector are the best way to guarantee individual freedom. One example of this is the healthcare system which was mainly private and primarily available to Americans through their jobs. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) attempted to provide universal health coverage, which remains an individual choice. Americans generally do not wish to pay taxes to finance the needs of the community, as the French understand it. American logic is to pay individually according to one’s respective needs, which explains the importance of philanthropy in the United States. Historically, the richest Americans have no objection to redistributing their wealth. However, they wish to choose themselves in the name of freedom but also of a core value that is belief in individual and personal responsibility. Fraternity is assured by individual initiatives. Equality is not guaranteed by the American state, but there is a belief that anyone can succeed. With equal opportunity, a person just has to take control of his or her destiny and is free to work toward his or her goal through self-determination. Many believe that minimal government intervention can guarantee the full development of Americans and too much intervention by the state could be the main threat to the country.

    The two different approaches to managing the pandemic are a good illustration of this different perspective.

    In France, there was initially a nation-wide lockdown; decisions were taken in Paris by the centralized state. When the government proposed to decentralize, leaving it to the regional prefects to make decisions adapted to their specific context to avoid a second wave of Covid-19, voices rose accusing the government of not fulfilling its responsibilities. And yet, the measures announced by the Minister of Health demanding the closure of all restaurants and bars in Marseilles triggered real hostilities between Paris and the French regions.

    In the United States, as a result of federalism, lockdown and its rules vary from state to state. While Washington DC underestimated the effects of the virus, California decided to lockdown (shelter in place) as of March. Initiatives have been carried out at the local level and on an individual basis. Some American brands have donated their premises to carry out free screening campaigns. Celebrities have mobilized to act in place of the government. In April, Lady Gaga, supported by the Global Citizen movement in collaboration with the World Health Organization, hosted an 8-hour live virtual event, “One World: Together at Home”. Major international musicians performed from their homes and raised $128 million for the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund and local NGOs including food banks and housing providers.

    These two countries are linked by their shared love of democratic ideals, but their respective historical roots lead to different interpretations of Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. However, we find similarities on both sides of the Atlantic in their response to current events: identity crisis, demonstrations against police violence and racism, anti-mask movements and the freedom to work. So, is it love-hate or are they just different in the way they deal with current global upheavals? Looking back, we note that serious crisis situations are key moments for a culture to evolve. Thus, we notice that some Americans are beginning to realize the interest of institutionalized solidarity, and the French are beginning to notice the benefits of more local decision-making. Will our two great transatlantic democracies grow stronger as a result of the events of 2020?

    This article is the result of a Franco-American collaboration: Sylvie Day, Julia Gaspar-Bates, Barbara Mattison, and Pamela Strawgate.

      Sylvie Day, Intercultural Consultant

        Julia Gaspar-Bates, Intercultural Alliances LLC

    Barbara Mattison, Psychotherapist, Consultant, Trainer, Coach

    Pamela Strawgate, Coach & Trainer at “Managing Diversity”

    P.S. Please share your thoughts, comments, and ideas about the article with the Editorial Team.

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