You know you’ve seen them. Maybe you saw them out wearing their Uggs with leggings or ordering their favorite signature drink from Starbucks. Yes, I am talking about #BasicWhiteGirls. If you look up “basic white girl” on Urban Dictionary, it tells you that a stereotypical white girl is someone that likes Starbucks, Instagram, Snapchat, taking selfies, heart emojis and Mean Girls.
I have always hated it when someone called me a typical or basic white girl, but to be honest, I love Starbucks, Uggs feel like warm pillows on my feet, and I can quote Mean Girls with the best of them.
But I have done everything in my life to become more culturally aware with the hope that people would see me as more than basic or typical. I mean, for goodness sake, I even majored in Intercultural Studies!
I have always been interested in learning about different cultures. And I have never stopped seeking out opportunities to experience cultures different than my own. But it took some time working in a cultural consulting firm for me to learn how much I was trying to hide my own cultural identity from myself and the world around me.
One of the coolest things I think this cultural consulting firm does, is give Intercultural Development Inventory™ assessments, IDI for short. The IDI is used by companies and organizations like Microsoft, Target, Disney, the YMCA, Duke University, the Canadian Federal Government, and the U.S. Air Force. After a participant answers 50 questions, the IDI is able to show you, on a scale, how well you are able to view and understand cultural differences between yourself and others and also where you think you are located on that scale. It even shows you if you have a sense of disconnection or detachment from your own cultural group.
I took the IDI test in the summer of 2014, right after I graduated from college. I did not do as well on the IDI as I thought I would, which happens to most participants. The assessment showed me that I was too focused on cultural commonalities (not the differences) and that I had a sense of disconnect from my own culture.
While I was in college I was lucky enough to travel to a few countries and get to know different cultures and, of course, I loved it. What was difficult for me though was grasping my own white girl culture in my small, southern, liberal arts school. My time abroad and time at college gave me some very negative views of my own white girl culture. I viewed people in this cultural group to be selfish, judgmental, and even vain. I would see other white girls make racist comments and look down on others who didn’t have the same religious views as them, which made me think: If this is what it means to be a white girl, that’s not me, and that’s not my culture.
It has taken me a lot of conversations with many people to realize that even though there are people in my culture that are selfish, judgmental, and/or racist that doesn’t mean that my entire culture is those things. Because those type of people are in EVERY culture! I need to embrace my culture just like Black men, Hispanic women or transgender Asians need to embrace their cultures as well.
I hope to be a person that can show others that just because there are people in my culture who have negative qualities, that doesn’t mean those qualities define what it means to be a part of my cultural group, and definitely not a part of what it means to be me.
My time in college and living abroad showed me how important it is to learn about the differences surrounding us. Many people realize this, but what is often neglected, and what I have overlooked for many years, is the equal importance of understanding one’s own culture. Without understanding one’s own culture it is almost impossible to truly relate to other cultural groups.
When we begin to gain knowledge about dimensions of our own culture, we are better able to understand why our mind almost automatically goes certain directions. For example, Asian culture tends to be more focused on peace, while white American culture tends to be more focused on truth. If an Asian male and a Caucasian male are roommates and get in a quarrel, the Caucasian might say something like, “Why do you always back off when the discussion gets to a critical point? What are you trying to hide?” And the Asian roommate might say something like,”Why are you being so aggressive about this?”
The Caucasian would never be able to see that the Asian roommate was just trying to keep the peace unless he took time to learn about his own culture and realize that valuing truth over peace has been engrained in him. When we actually take time to learn and embrace our own culture, we develop a baseline for making comparisons about cultural differences and understand why we respond in different situations the way we do.
Even though I may still cringe if you call me typical or basic, I now embrace the”basic white girl” lifestyle as one of the many cultures I am apart of. And yes, there are still many parts of it that I disagree with or want to show people that the stereotypes of the culture aren’t me, but it is my culture. And thanks to my time of personal reflection, I know why sometimes certain things with other people bother me the way they do and I am able to see them as cultural differences and navigate my way through them.
Today’s interconnected and globalized world make it more important now than ever to learn about cultures different than your own. And honestly, as cheesy as this may sound, I do think the world would be a better place if people took the time to learn about different cultures. Before you make my mistake and get a degree in intercultural studies and/or live abroad assuming that will make you a cultural expert, remember that those things alone do not make you a culturally adept. You also have to analyze and learn about your own culture.
I wish I could tell you that I am now a pro at embracing my own culture, but to be honest, I’m still working on it. I have to keep reminding myself that I can actually use my inner “basic white girl” to make the world a better place, because the more I realize that’s my culture, the better I will be at being able to relate to other cultures. And I push you to do the same. Embrace and learn more about your own culture, no matter what stereotypes come along with it; It will allow you to better relate to people different than yourself.
And that ladies and gentlemen, is a way we can make the world a better place, one person at a time.