The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Dominic Repucci '21 RGLP Reflection: To Help the World, You Must First Understand Yourself

RGLP students reflect on the remote spring term.

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Early on in the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program, our small cohort of students learned the difference between ethnocentrism and ethno-relativism.  Whereas someone who is ethnocentric has a narrow-minded view of the world and considers their own culture to be that of all humans, someone who embodies the ethno-relativist mindset thinks in a different way.  Rather than being blind to cultures of the world, an ethno-relativist is aware of their own culture and how it impacts their viewpoints, while also exhibiting the same consciousness for other cultures.  For a person like me, this requires the recognition of my own cultural identity as being a straight white male from an upper middle-class family, who after attending a local public high school, ran for his college cross country team, enjoys music, and is excited to continue learning about history from all periods of time and all regions of the globe.  All of these factors make me who I am today, and influence how I make decisions, interact with others, and go about my daily life.  I am aware of the potential bias that my own cultural identity can have on the opinions I share, and now analyze my interactions to try to remove privileged aspects of my opinion whenever possible.  This self-awareness is paramount to developing an adequate level of adaptability when interacting with other cultures, not in the sense that the adaptability is to mask who I really am, but to ensure that privileged parts of my upbringing are not limiting factors in my interactions with any culture, and that I become a more respectful, understanding, and welcoming human being. 

To reach this ethno-relativist awareness stage will be an important step for many Americans to make in the coming months, given the myriad of protests in relation to police violence and systematic racism in the United States.  To fix both of the aforementioned problems, there must be dialogue across cultural differences, with representatives from all races, genders, and cultures taking part.  For people with my identity to become valuable participants in the elimination of both of these problems, we must do the following.  Young white men need to understand that we have not had to cope with the harsh realities of police brutality and racism in our lives.  When white men realize this part of their cultural identity, they will allow themselves to become better allies, friends, supporters, and activists, in a first step towards promoting complete and thorough equality.  Hence, to help the world, we must first understand ourselves. 

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