#89. Find and read from cover to cover a magazine or newspaper whose content is about a cultural, religious, or gender group that is not your own

IDEA #89. Go to a library or bookstore and find and then read from cover to cover a magazine or newspaper whose content is about a cultural, religious, or gender group that is not your own: The Advocate, Essence, Savoy, Ebony, Latina, aMagazine, or a local or regional paper or magazine devoted to the Jewish or Roman Catholic religious community. If you are a member of a cultural or ethnic minority, you might look at “mainstream” publications like Time or The Atlantic or even Outside or National Geographic. How does the publication that represents or focuses on a culture different your own seem different from and the same as—content, layout, advertisements—magazines or newspapers that you normally encounter?

Like viewing films or television broadcasts from other cultures, looking at magazines with a specific ethnic, cultural, or spiritual focus opens, for many of us, a window into a hitherto little-known world. Along with explorations of the aesthetics at work in these publications—their graphics, their layout, the nature of the images displayed in both editorial and advertising copy—there is also an opportunity for thoughtful content analysis. What issues are being addressed? What editorial stance can be discerned? How are the topics of articles like or unlike articles in publications that one might commonly read that represent that majority culture or that would be readily associated with one’s own culture?

In addition, some analysis of the advertising content would be interesting. What “mainstream” products are being advertised, and how are the ads for these products like or unlike products in mainstream publications? What products seem to be unique to or directly connected with the culture or group at whom the magazine is aimed? How are these products advertised?

As we live in a society in which the dominant, white, European culture makes up a shrinking majority of our population, reading about and understanding the concerns of other groups as these are represented in their own media can be a powerful tool for building cross-cultural understanding. It can also be reassuring to know that the same brands of automobiles one drives or cottage cheese one eats are equally a part of the experience and aspirations of other Americans whose “differences” are often more emphasized in society than the characteristics we all share.

The possibility exists here that the young reader may encounter editorial opinions or content that will surprise or even unsettle. We would hope very much that this activity would be undertaken entirely in the spirit of empathy and open-minded curiosity, but it is true that historically marginalized or oppressed groups may express positions in their publications that may be hard for complacent or untutored readers to digest or appreciate. The reader and his or her adult guides must be ready to discuss what the reader encounters and to work hard to understand and make sense of unfamiliar or unsettling points of view. This, after all, is the point of the exercise: to build the child’s capacity to recognize, understand, and respect other viewpoints, even if they conflict with his or her strongly held beliefs or unexamined positions. But history demonstrates that nothing kills real thought and the prospects of a truly democratic society more effectively than allowing the survival of unquestioning intolerance.

#74. Find the closest piece of Native American territory to where you live and pay a visit

IDEA #74. Find the closest piece of Native American territory to where you live and pay a visit. Perhaps it’s a large reservation, or just a casino. Stepping onto what is legally Indian territory is a good reminder that half a millennium ago the whole continent had that status, and that American Indian people today represent a vibrant and important part of our population.

This might well be a family activity, especially if the nearest Native American destination is a either far away or a standalone gaming casino. But it is more than a little healthy as well as humbling to be reminded that American Indians are still very much a part of the American landscape and that they maintain sovereign control over at least some territory in about forty states. As inadequate and even pernicious as the reservation system may be, it is a part of the national experience. A trip that includes travel on reservation land is essential for giving children an understanding that the Native Americans who seem to disappear from history books some time around 1890 are still very much present in our society.

It is critically important that travel to Indian land be undertaken in a spirit of healthy interest and respect. It may be possible to support Native American enterprise by making purchases at Indian-owned stores or gas stations (in some areas state taxes are not applied to purchases on reservation land), and there may be cultural events or institutions with an educational or entertainment mission. The bane of American Indian tourism is that so many Americans seem unable to move past the stereotypes of Indian customs that have long been prevalent in our entertainment media and even in our schools. Sadly, some Native Americans who rely on tourism have found it expedient to play into those stereotypes out of sheer inability to overcome the apparently inexhaustible ignorance of visitors; we hope that no readers of this blog would be party to such a travesty.

There is also the matter of what social scientists call “appropriation of culture”: the utilization of Indian-made objects with cultural or spiritual significance by members of the dominant culture as entertainment or decoration—e.g., Indian devotional objects used as ornaments in homes and automobiles. How or even whether a white person can respectfully own and display an Indian-made “dream catcher,” for example, would be a great adult–child conversation in conjunction with this activity, and this might even be a question that could be broached to a Native American seller of such objects.

White America has a long and unfortunate record of dismissing—and much worse—Native American cultures and people. The interested child of any age or race who is willing to make an effort to correct, or at least repudiate, this history, will be deepening his or her own understanding of an important issue as well as helping our society make progress toward a better place.

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