Culture: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Over the past few years, conversations surrounding Global Challenges have proliferated around me and have been the catalyst for my critical thinking, researching, and processing of not just my own culture but culture on a global scale.
Have you been privy to conversations about how to tackle issues that arise globally? Or are you from a part of the world where culture only exists to be put on display on occasion and at a cost?
If you answered yes to any of those questions. Then you are in the right place.
If your question is why care? In a world where global issues like poverty take center stage with more than 70 percent of people in the world own less than $10,000 — or roughly 3 percent of total wealth in the world, you might wonder why bother with nature and genetics? Why not pick apart an issue like religious Conflict & War? Political Polarization? Education? Even Food and Water?
All great points and I’ll tell you why I care. You, like me, are a solution seeker.
“We all jump to narratives, and culture shapes them. They influence how we interpret actions, how we think, and how we behave.” (Karla Hoff, 2016)
Culture is one of the most significant building blocks of human identity. It is not merely something we put on display when the occasion arises. Culture is literally what we call ourselves and what we inherently answer to. A culture is built on the preservation and translation of experiences across space and time. It is that collective memory commonly called culture through which opinions can be changed, values can be instilled, and society as a whole can shift.
The global challenges are transnational in nature and trans-institutional in solution. They cannot be addressed by anyone government or institution. They require collaboration.
Without recognizing the issues of continuing racial, economic, and structural inequities that are inherent in the colonizing history of the world, it is impossible to move forward in the research areas of change. Furthermore, since economy & trade, arts & literature, religion, science, technology, law & government, etc all makeup elements of culture. I like to think of culture as the base. Culture effectively contributes to policies, strategies, and programs targeting inclusive social and economic development, environmental sustainability, harmony, peace, and security.
I am from Liberia.
Liberia is unique amongst African states in that it was founded by freed slaves from the American south, bringing with them their own culture and displacing that of ancient tribes who’d lived, farmed and traded in the western coastal nation for centuries.
So, here we are in times of bounding change and innovation, on the edge of the new world, and this is Liberia, a garden that the gardener left to tend to itself. A nation shaped by diverse customs and unique history. A land rich in every sense of the word, yet home to some of the planet’s poorest people. A country that non-Liberians, especially other Africans have tagged “cultureless” or “Americanized.” Liberian culture, a miasma of other West African cultures, and Caribbean cultures because it is. The question is, what happened to Liberian culture?
Ever since Liberia’s 14 year-long civil war that started in 1989 and ended in 2003, was prompted by tribal discrimination, the country has yet to reach a point where Liberians unite to celebrate a culture inclusive of every Liberian ethnic group. In a nutshell, Liberians have not yet realized the impact that culture has on socio-economic development.
This division has been the driving force of civil unrest, the lack of inclusion, and disguised oligarchies.
Hence, the crisis: a people powerless to resolve its dilemmas, a country incompetent in civil discourse, a nation bogged down in a quagmire of conflict and lagging exponentially in the world of global innovation. These challenges exist in politics, economic, health-care, commerce, and so forth. It is impossible to deny that many of these challenges are closely related to an abandoned cultural and creative economy.
The global cultural and creative industries in 2015 were recorded to cumulatively generate around $3,820 Billion and nearly 5% of the world’s GDP. According to the World Economic Forum, the creative industry provides jobs for more people than the US, Europe, and Japan’s automotive sectors. These industries are not only impactful to economic growth but also social impact and inclusivity. The cultural and creative industries have proven to be inclusive of all ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Culture As a Unifier
“Any discipline that has to do with human behavior needs to take into account how humans think and how society, history, and context shape this thinking.” (Asli Demirguc-Kunt, 2016).
I find that the Nigerian economy in comparison to a country like Liberia flourishes in part because of investment and how they hold firm grounds on culture.
Look at the Nigerian entertainment industry and how many borders they’ve crossed. It is that understanding and pride that has pushed Nigerians together into a tighter bond as a people and put them on the global stage where some of the world’s biggest entertainers and leaders can meet and by choice, collaborate.
We have seen a mix of high praise and criticism about the spread or hommage or appropriation of cultures, but these conversations which I see as critical and a necessity won’t be had if it wasn’t for the role that culture is playing.
Do you see the link there?
No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.Mahatma Gandhi
Why is it that a country like Nigeria is trending globally still with religious conflicts, poverty, access to quality education, and such issues on the rise while another nation in the same region with rich cultures struggles?
Now, envision that you are in Morocco, for example, years back. COP 22 (22nd Conference of the Parties) in full effect, cool breeze brushing against your face. You are all set to present your case study and solutions for sustainability. On a scale of nine to ten, how much do you think Culture weighs in when it comes to creating problem solutions and strategically tackling them?
I would say Culture is a key player. I say that indigenous knowledge of leadership and ways of knowing the world, a deeper understanding of the aspects of cultural change are necessary to inform effective policy-making and implementation.
Simply put, I see Culture as a Unifier; both a driver and an enabler.
Culture As A Goal
Better shifts are on the horizon, with the likes of Juli Endee https://www.queenjuliendee.org/, Korto Momolu https://www.kortomomolu.com/, the late Tokay Tomah https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokay_Tomah among others making strides in the music, art, design and fashion industries.
I dream of a day when I will stand with pride and tell the world that Liberia is my home. To mesmerize by the storytelling; vivid colors and stunning imagery woven into lavish, opulent scenes in Liberian language and costumes. We deserve to be proud of where we come from, to say that we are changemakers too. In order for that to happen, to understand our current state and better impact the future, we have to re-immerse ourselves in a varied, rich culture that seems to have been almost completely forgotten.
This, in my opinion, is paramount and is the backbone on which we will build all our aspirations for development.
How can we remain a part of the fast-paced, progressive world and simultaneously seek out our roots?
How can we collectively ensure we leave a legacy that the next generation can be proud of?
How do we form narratives or join the current narratives if we aren’t sure of our culture?
If we lose our culture, aren’t we then lost?
What are your thoughts on Culture?
World Economic Forum. 2020. What Is Creativity Worth To The World Economy?. [online] Available at: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/12/creative-industries-worth-world-economy/> [Accessed 11 December 2020].
koloquadialogues. 2020. The Liberian Cultural Identity Crisis: Where We Lost, And How We Can Find – Koloquadialogues. [online] Available at: <http://thekoloquadialogues.com/the-liberian-cultural-identity-crisis-where-we-lost-and-how-we-can-find/> [Accessed 11 December 2020].
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2020. Liberia – People. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/place/Liberia/People> [Accessed 11 December 2020].
World Bank. 2020. Yes, Culture Matters For Economic Development. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2016/03/28/yes-culture-matters-for-economic-development> [Accessed 11 December 2020].
Ssir.org. 2020. No Art? No Social Change. No Innovation Economy. (SSIR). [online] Available at: <https://ssir.org/articles/entry/no_art_no_social_change._no_innovation_economy#> [Accessed 11 December 2020].