Cultural Chauvinism

Confluence South Asian Perspectives|November 2019

Cultural Chauvinism
Cultural myopia is unacceptable in a world where communication is narrowing the gap s between people and their religious and social practices.
Devi Rajab

And yet on a daily basis in all walks of life we seem to struggle to really accept and to fully understand each other as fellow South Africans. Our reactions towards the other may range from naïveness to ridicule and even to open hostility. Academics teaching students of all hues and cultures struggle with the challenge of knowing or getting to know their students.

In my diversity workshops I use as a case study the incident of a UCT student who sought permission from her lecturer to break her fast during her examination. His answer was: “by breaking your fast do you mean a 5-course meal followed by dessert or a snack”?. His response displayed a gross insensitivity to the students religion and culture as he trivialised her beliefs. It was clear that fasting was a practice completely foreign to his experience. His inner thoughts possibly went something like this. Now why would anyone want to fast when they are writing exams? Unfamiliar with the sanctity of her religious beliefs he may never have known the extent of her commitment to her religion. I recall once trying to dissuade a student who wanted leave to go on Haj in the midst of her exams. “But what about your studies I asked and her expression was one of total shock. What could be more important than Haj she retorted? Clearly for the educationist, education is the priority in line with the first injunction of the Koran “Icra”(Read).

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November 2019