Feb 082017
Ohio KKK member with gun

When Trump unleashed his Muslim ban on Jan. 27, many liberal friends and I re-circulated a 2015 New America Foundation report showing that, since 9/11, alt-right extremists have killed more people on U.S. soil than have radical Muslims. Our point was that Trump is missing the point: A Muslim ban will not keep out the terrorists because the terrorists are already here. But then I worried, did I just post fake news? Could the 2016 Orlando nightclub attack have put the jihadists ahead of the right-wingers?

To get the actual facts, I downloaded the New America Foundation’s publicly available dataset. My analyses indeed revealed that the Orlando attack, which claimed 49 lives, raised the jihadists’ death toll to 94 victims, compared to the 50 victims whom right-wing extremists have murdered.

Yet a closer look at the data confirms that the biggest terrorist threat is still U.S.-born fanatics, not foreign-born zealots. The two most lethal terrorist groups are U.S.-born jihadists (69 victims) and U.S.-born right-wing extremists (50 victims), who have murdered a total of 116 people. Foreign-born jihadists are only the third most lethal group, with a total of 25 victims.

These numbers not only suggest that an immigration ban won’t fix America’s terrorism problem, but also raise a second question: Why do homegrown Americans break bad and join the jihad or the KKK?

To this question, my fellow cultural psychologists Sarah Lyons-Padilla and Michele Gelfand have intriguing answers. Their research shows that what drives Muslims to radicalize is believing their lives don’t matter, a belief that is fed by feeling they don’t really belong anywhere. Discrimination, racist rhetoric, and xenophobic policies only exacerbate these feelings of “cultural homelessness,” as Lyons-Padilla explains in this TEDx Stanford talk.

Enter radical Islamic groups, which target young men who are feeling alone and adrift, and then restore their sense of belonging and meaning.

A similar psychological process seems to drive European Americans to join White supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups. The slow death of manufacturing, the contraction of American towns and rural areas, and the tanking of working- and middle-class incomes have left a broad swath of Americans feeling unmoored and insignificant. The widespread acceptance of redneck jokes, white trash impressions, and “basket of deplorables” comments only salts these wounds.

Like radical Islamic groups, White supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups offer their members the sense that they are important and welcome. Same psychological phenomenon, Different culture war. And thus the KKK keeps pace with ISIS.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Memphis and still have deep ties there. One of my relatives recently posed a question to my diverse friends on Facebook: “[How can we] keep our families, friends, and people that we haven’t meet yet safe [from terrorists]? I’m not asking this to be funny or degrading. I didn’t graduate from college and live in a small town in Mississippi. I’m not trying to debate with scholars.”

I think the timbre of her question holds a large part of the answer. If the grand U.S. experiment in multicultural democracy is ever to work, we must make everyone feel included and respected, even if they have not shown us the same regard.

Photo CC Paul Walsh

Nov 232016
Trump Turkey Vulture political art by DonkeyHotey

This holiday season, several people have asked me how to deal with friends and family who voted for Trump. I am an unlikely advisor on matters of civil discourse, as my first language is sass. But growing up a White girl in working-class Memphis, where I received a public school education from smart Black women, in classrooms with mostly Black kids, and tried mightily to practice what Jesus said about loving all the neighbors (not just the White ones), but then returned home every day to friends and family who subscribed to White supremacy, anti-Semitism, and gender norms straight outta The Handmaid’s Tale, I did learn a thing or two about discussing race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, and politics with people I love but do not agree with.

Since then, I’ve been refining my techniques as a social scientist who studies how to heal cultural conflicts. So below are a few tips for navigating conversations about politics with your Trump-electing friends and relatives, should you desire to do so. I think you should give it a try, if you have the stomach for it. Many folks are saying that the Democrats lost White working-class voters because the two groups forgot how to talk to each other. I am inclined to believe this analysis, and so I encourage us all to start working on our cross-cultural conversation skills. Bipartisanship begins in the home.

1. Act Like an Anthropologist

Approach the conversation as an occasion to learn how people different from you think and feel, rather than an opportunity to change their minds or hearts. People can smell a missionary a mile away, and they usually don’t like the scent.

Instead, assume the posture of an anthropologist. Ask, who are these people, and why do they think, feel, believe, value, and act they way they do? Maybe you already know some of these answers. Likely you don’t know them all. In any case, just giving the other side a chance to share their heads and hearts makes them more favorable to hearing from your side of the aisle. Plus, you are likely to learn something new.

2. Ask “Why?”

Pursuant to Step 1, ask a bunch of open-ended questions like “Why do you think that is?” and “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” Get ‘em talking. Gently explore all the nooks and crannies of their belief system. “Why” questions are especially useful when you are angry, because they buy you some time to recover.

3. Honor Emotion

Understand that no one, not even you, is wholly logical. Most people routinely make false assumptions, and then clumsily reason from them. Having gone through this fraught and faulty process, we then don’t even use this “logic” to make most of our decisions. Instead, we base most of our decisions on feelings—many of them unconscious. Honor that fact, instead of deriding people for their lack of logic. This means all of us need to

4. Use I-Statements

Own what you think and feel, rather than portraying your thoughts and feelings as incontrovertible facts. That means using I-statements: I think, I feel, I believe, I read, I learned in school, I heard at the beauty shop, etc.

I-statements are particularly good for conveying when and why you are hurt, angry, and scared to people who just don’t get why you are upset. Rather than saying, “How could YOU, a parent of a daughter, vote for Trump? He’s clearly a misogynistic psychopath!” you may get more traction with a statement like, “When a presidential candidate admits to grabbing women’s pussies and forcing them to kiss him, I feel afraid and angry, for myself and for my children.” People can quibble over whether Trump is actually a misogynist, but they can’t argue over what you feel.

I-statements are also good for dealing with divergent notions of the facts. For example, a relative of mine who is a recovering addict recently said that he couldn’t support Clinton because Obamacare pays for marijuana. My first impulse was to respond with something like, “That’s a load of hogwash.” But instead, I said something more like, “Hmmm…that’s interesting. I read that Obamacare can’t cover marijuana because the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Why do you think otherwise?”

And then we had a calm discussion about where we get our information and why our sources might disagree and how we could get information we would both trust. Conversations about whose knowledge and sources are more right or wrong, rather than which person is right or wrong, usually go over better.

5. No Name-Calling!

Which leads to my next point: avoid commenting on other people’s fixed, essential, dispositional traits, especially if your judgment of these traits reeks of negativity. In other words, don’t call people names or attack their personalities.

In particular, calling people racists, sexists, or xenophobes will get you exactly nowhere. When people feel insulted, they shut down and cannot listen, even if your scintillating analysis of their soul is both accurate and eloquent. So you just expend a lot of oxygen and effort for nothing—at best. Meanwhile, observers of your tirade will think you are just being mean. Name-calling simply doesn’t change people’s minds or hearts, nor does it warm people to your own way of thinking and feeling.

6. Build Common Ground

Repeatedly affirm your similarities. What do we agree on? What do we share? Many times I have witnessed how identifying seemingly insignificant similarities—Your people are from Pontotoc? So are mine! You are against the apocalypse? Me, too!—paves the way for deeper sharing.

I admit: Other than our common status as homo sapiens, I have a hard time finding similarities with some of the n-word-dropping, climate-change-denying, bitch-slapping, gay-hating folks I know. And of course I might feel more comfortable and righteous if I cut them out of my life altogether. But what if, in my absence, in my negligence, those folks never hear another way of looking at the world? It’s worth it to me to hang in there, find common ground, however shaky it may be, and then build upon it.

7. Check Your Head

Even with the best intentions, people who are different from you can easily get your goat. We seldom express ourselves or listen well when angry. So keep a finger on your own pulse and excuse yourself to get that second slice of pie if you get too irritated.  And note that threats to your person entitle you to a fast break for the back door.

I realize that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I am, after all, a well-educated, heterosexual, middle-aged White woman living in the Bay Area. Although Trump’s actions and words offend me to the core and instill fear in my heart for myself and the people I care about, I am not first on his list for deportation, registration, incarceration, or assassination. And so I get it when people who are high on those lists don’t want to engage Trump supporters in an exploration of beliefs and values. But for me, the aim is to use the privilege I do have to make the changes I want to see in the world. Using what I have learned to reach out to my own people is a first step toward that change.

Art CC DonkeyHotey

Oct 042013

I was chuffed to give a talk about CLASH! at the inaugural TEDx Pacific Palisades, whose theme was “From_____ to _____.” I shared, among other things, tales of my harrowing transition from working-class Memphis to Yale, a photograph of my grandmother with 17-year-old me, and the story of how I got mixed up with Hazel Rose Markus in the first place. Kindly stab yourself and pass the dagger (which is an old British adage meaning “take some for yourself then pass it on”)!

Jun 122013

This one was fun to make: A Huffington Post multimedia slideshow illustrating the 8 culture clashes, plus a scorecard readers can use to figure out how independent and interdependent they tend to be. PLUS: pics of Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence, and LL Cool J, not to mention video of Michael Moore and Merida. Hope you enjoy this one as much as we do!

Jun 112013

The Washington Post named CLASH! one of “Eight Books to Make You Smarter” on its innovator’s summer reading list. “This might just be the perfect summer book to read before a family vacation to visit the in-laws,” wrote Dominic Basulto. “Any book that gets props from Amy Chua of ‘Tiger Mother’ fame is worth reading to understand the deep cultural conflicts that determine how we raise our kids and who we choose to govern us.”

May 162013

MSNBC’s “The Cycle” featured CLASH! on May 16. Alana talked about religion, politics, and why migrating from Tennessee to San Francisco makes you lose weight and change your hair. Special bonus: smart hosts Touré, S.E. Cupp, Ari Melber, and Krystal Ball. Click this post to watch the clip. N.B. When Alana says “global working,” she means “global warming.” Total rookie action….

May 152013
Clash! by Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner

Clash! gives a simple explanation of why cultures collide and what everyone can do about it. We first reveal that underlying many of the 21st century’s fiercest conflicts is a single root cause: the clash between independence and interdependence.

Each of us has an independent, individual, and in-control side of our self, and an interdependent, relational, and conforming side. Depending on our cultural backgrounds, though, we use one side more than the other. The collision of independence and interdependence ignites not only everyday clashes between genders, races, and social classes, but also larger conflicts between regions, religions, and nations.

We aren’t doomed to squabbling over our differences, however. Instead, our book demonstrates how we can use both independence and interdependence to bridge cultural divides and to understand our own selves better.

For more about Clash! check out our website: www.cultureclashes.org.

May 072013

Conservative radio host Stu Taylor and I discussed race, class, and gender. Although I had to open the can of statistical reasoning, no one got hurt. Instead, we both did a good job of demonstrating how to negotiate the clash of independence and interdependence.  Click this post to hear a recording of our May 12 conversation.

May 022013

Kara Platoni of Stanford Magazine sat down with Hazel and Alana to discuss Clash! in “About Our Antagonisms.” Among the morsels, Hazel talks about the Japanese art vendor who praised her for picking out the watercolors “that all the American women like,” and Alana reveals “an excellent project for the 21st century.”