The following true story illustrates, informally, how enculturation is passed down through generations. When I wrote this story years ago, I titled it Painful Playmates.
When my Mother came home early from work and found me playing with my black friends from school, I knew I was in trouble. The language she used as she forced them to leave, and the tree branch she applied to my bare little legs has never left my memory.
How innocent we were. Six-year-olds squatting on our haunches to observe the bugs after we had just overturned a rock in my front yard. That was in the very dark days of segregation in my neighborhood in America.
We lived in a three-story apartment house, with one bathroom on the middle floor, and one furnace in the basement, in the inner city of Louisville, Kentucky. Our neighborhood was made up of grossly poor inhabitants, in which my single mother and I barely survived. There were an equal number of poor whites as poor blacks, and my black friends lived just around the corner.
Blacks and whites did not speak to each other in the drugstore, the corner market, or on the bus; but we children went to school together and played together at recess. When we left the school playground, however, it was a different world that we faced. My friends ran home screaming, “Mama, mama,” that day; and I ran screaming into our shabby apartment. At that moment I hated my mother, and loved my friends more. Sometimes I still mourn over that experience. We children did not know, at the time, that it was all about culture.
It was then a culture of prejudice. It was a culture of discrimination; and it was a culture of hatred. In our little six-year old world it was a culture of discontent, which we knew nothing about.
I have told this story often to my college students, trying to give them a picture of what it was like to live through those times. It was my childhood reality; and one that makes me sad for myself and my small friends from yesterday.
Many of my parents’ generation passed on these cultural negatives, and some, in my own generation, still do. This is the primary reason everyone, everywhere, needs to learn about culture and how enculturation processes play a huge part in how we behave towards others.