Excerpt: Culture Matters — Race, Gender, and Scholar Identity

The following is an excerpt from a piece in the Summer 2021 issue of Variations2e magazine, which is now available for purchase.

Girl getting on busWHAT IS CULTURE? Should culture be considered a variable of learning?

My daughter Nona Gai wrote her first book at just eight years old. In 2019, her collection of poems, And What Would You Say If You Could, was published and for me it answered both of these questions. Often singularly viewed as customs or artifacts, culture also includes the intellectual achievements of a group, the triumphs despite the turmoil.

My job as a university professor allows me certain freedoms. The most important of these is flexibility with my time. From the day my youngest daughter came home, I vowed to take her to and from school every day I could. Along the way I read somewhere that eating meals together was important. So, I made her breakfast every morning and we ate a family dinner every evening. For me, this was a way to stay connected to her and also let her know that she was not alone. I always told her, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

Her primary school was a wonderful K-8 taught in the Waldorf culture. It provided an environment where outside learning (play and group activities) was as important as the classroom. However, she was the only African American child in her class, and for several years the only one in her school. I knew we had to be vigilant about the cultural foundation of the school and what habits, beliefs, and ideas they would, like breakfast, feed her every day. Some days I would cook eggs, others it was pancakes; I even learned to make authentic French crepes. For some, it’s huevos rancheros, grits and eggs; for others it’s cereal and milk. Each day, my exceptional child was given a daily meal of culture. We begin the most important meal of the day with culture.

Culture matters. How families, teachers, and communities respect or disrespect others’ culture strengthens or weakens a child’s identity and self-esteem. My goal for the past 13 years was to do all that I could to make sure that my daughter’s identity as a scholar was resilient.

From my childhood, I recall my friend Charlie. He was possibly the most popular kid in the neighborhood …

To read the entire piece, please purchase the latest issue of Variations2e. 

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About Gilman Whiting

Dr. Gilman W. Whiting is the director of the Scholar Identity Institute and chairs the Achievement Gap Consortium. He also directs graduate studies in the department of African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University. His published research includes topics such as psychological and social behaviors of underperformance and disparity with students in special and gifted education; sociology of race; qualitative research methods; and young fatherhood initiatives.

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