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Driving cultural change

Melvin B. Miller
Driving cultural change
“Unlike those homeboys, I’m trying to get ahead.”

Sociologists have long believed that once a behavior pattern is established in a group it becomes part of the culture and cannot be readily changed. Consequently, some scholars believe that because of harmful cultural traits, the prospects are limited for black youth to attain a high level of academic and professional achievement. However, Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociologist, has recently published a book entitled “The Cultural Matrix” in which scholars conclude that cultural patterns are not so indestructible as formerly thought.

This is good news because the progress of black youth can be improved by minimizing cultural bad habits and developing new traditions that are helpful to the process of academic achievement and the commensurate affluence. Patterson defines cultural change as simply “an alteration of people’s values, norms and beliefs about the world, a practice now so widespread in the American system of education that it is rarely admitted as a massive project of cultural change.”

A belief in the indelible aspect of culture has been bolstered by a lack of understanding on how to achieve the change. Patterson points out that “a fundamental prerequisite for successfully persuading people to change are change agents who are either role models or are persons with skills that are both admired and considered achievable.”

Essential to the success of any effort for culture change is an effective means of communication. With the emergence of numerous technology-based media, it is not always clear what is the best means to reach the desired audience. Although general reliance on newspapers has declined, the Bay State Banner with its digital website has significantly breeched the divide.

With the plethora of so-called news information being directed to African Americans and others, it is important for sociologists to guard against harmful ideas being dumped on the culture. With the media appetite for information, both good and bad, black leaders must remain en garde against being patronized.

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