As a way to follow-up on the idea of ascribed identity and explore a little more about what this means for us, today we will talk about cultural norms with a lesson plan inspired by the novel Americanah. This novel brought home to me the idea that my cultural identity really influences the types of things I take for granted and how strange these things might seem to someone with a different cultural identity, so I decided to build this lesson plan around that idea of cultural norms. On June 27, 2013, interviewer Terry Gross hosted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on her NPR show Fresh Air. Adichie is a novelist who grew up in Nigeria before moving to America to attend college. Her most recent novel is called Americanah, and in the interview she reads an excerpt based on events from her own life. We will listen to the first 12 minutes or so of this interview, found here, then we will talk about how people learn “norms” — acceptable and unacceptable behaviors for or society. (Here is a link to the transcript, in case you want to follow along.) These vary widely depending on cultural traditions and cultural identities and history. As a way to explore this idea further, students will meet in groups and create a list (using pictures or words) of norms for a particular place. Then the group will come back together, check out each others’ work, and discuss whether we all agree with the norms represented, or if there are different norms even within this classroom.
The take-away for today is to remember that norms are very specific to a time, place, and society or group. As Adichie says, “Race is a social construct.” The implications of that statement can be quite broad, so I’m really interested to see what comes out in this conversation and to see what comments you have about this idea.