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1 Running head: CULTURAL BIOGRAPHY: MINI ASSIGNMENT B

Cultural Biography: Mini Assignment B Mini Assignment B Charlie Vaughn Georgia State University

Author Note This paper was prepared for Social Work 3000, Communications and Cultural Diversity, taught by Karen Watkins, PhD, LMSW

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Abstract The events we all faced in our past, the upbringings we all cannot escape, are the influences and foundations of who we are today. Regardless of our differences in the past, what we learned and how we interpret what we experienced can not only affect the way we perceive life and the perceptions we have on the world, but also determine our paths in the future. My past has been a rewarding one and a struggle. My past is something I cannot change about which I am, but it can be used as a strengthening tool of who I become. The upbringing I had, the relationships I created, and the ideological beliefs behind the family of which I belong have shaped me, have broken me, and taught me the lessons on life which I have embraced and used as an effort to become culturally aware and a successful social worker. In this paper I will express the forms of racism I have encountered, discrimination and oppression that I experienced, and also other personal factors that have been a guiding force to who I am today.

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Cultural Biography: Mini Assignment B In this paper I will address my experiences in life, the issues that I have faced, and some important milestones which have impacted me and led me on the path to become a social worker. Through this assignment I was able to gather information about my life and the life of my family so will also present the knowledge and the in-depth awareness that I gained. This paper will also address the many emotions and feelings that I felt as I relived these events and how I will use this experience to better serve the people of my community. Positionality/Multiple Identities I am Charlie Vaughn, a 33 year old White American and also a middle class citizen. My journey through life has been both a rewarding and troubling experience. Throughout my later teen years and all of my twenties I suffered from active substance abuse addiction and alcoholism. My addictions led me to homelessness, poverty, and loss of spiritual faith. For many years I spent my life moving from state to state trying to find peace, happiness, and hope. The hardest but most relieving fact of these experiences was realizing in all my attempts to run from the past and my problems, I was constantly running from myself. After eight attempts of entering treatment centers and returning to my addictions, my life finally hit a bottom which it had never reached before. I lost my family, I had run out of friends, and the medical professionals that attempted to help me had given up hope. The feelings of sadness, guilt, and shame that I felt during these years are feelings I never wish upon another. These feelings which controlled my life and led me down a road of darkness eventually led me to being sincere and true to myself by honestly asking for help. A social worker who had lived a life similar to mine was the one that brought me the opportunity for change. He taught me the necessary life skills, coping mechanisms, and the courage to fight through my illnesses. Since August 31, 2009 I have not used a drug or had a sip of alcohol. Being clean and sober for 4 years has been the most rewarding experience and a reality I could have never dreamed. From my past I have been able to establish a relationship with a God of my own understanding, I have been able to build and repair broken relationships, and most importantly I have freed myself from my own prison. Where Am I From? I was born in 1980, and I was the youngest of two children the oldest being my sister. As a child I was well taken care of, nurtured, and experienced much love from my parents and relatives. Both of my parents were hard working adults, both had full-time jobs but the earnings they made stressed and worried them on what and how much they could provide for the family. At the time I was born neither of my parents had graduated college, neither held professional positions in their careers but rather had labor intensive lower middle class wages. Both my mother and fathers parents never graduated high school and both families made their living from agriculture and working on farms.

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My family was very intense on their religious and political beliefs. I was never given the opportunity to choose my own beliefs in terms of religion, but rather I was forced to attend a church and believe what my mother and father believed. This in itself has been one of the most major life impacting and struggling factors I have dealt with throughout my life. I remember questioning the beliefs that were taught to me at a very young age. Whenever I questioned or expressed criticism of the religious teachings and lessons that were spoken to me, I was severely punished. These experiences as a child always made me feel less than and gave me the sense that something was wrong with me. These experiences made me feel alone, isolated, and unaccepted from my family. I also experienced racism, discrimination and segregation in the house of worship that my family attended. The church I was forced to attend was all white. If ever a person of color or different ethnicity entered into the church it felt as if the world had stopped and you could hear a sigh of stress, disapproval, and even disgust throughout the congregation. I heard sermons that discredited the social programs that had been established to help those in need. I heard sermons which discredited the use of anti-depressants and therapy. I also heard sermons putting the blame on individuals rather than societal and biological factors, stating that people of poverty, addiction, and broken families, were all a consequence of not believing in God. The town I was born and raised was very racially and socially divided. There was a railroad track that divided the city into two sides; the White side and the Black side. My parents always attempted to shield me and avoid exposing me to the lives of the black and poor, what they called people from the other side of the tracks. Throughout my life I have always had many questions about the people from other backgrounds as mine. As a child I was always drawn to having friendships with people of color. Throughout my schooling I always recognized that I was easily accepted and treated with welcoming arms and respect from people of all backgrounds mostly including the non-privileged. Some of the closest relationships I had growing up were from people of color and lower socioeconomic class backgrounds. Although these relationships meant a great deal to me while growing up they were never accepted and encouraged by my family. My parents did not allow me to publicly socialize with people of color, would never allow a person from a different race or social background other than my own to enter into our home, nor allow me to enter theirs. Where Am I Going? Because of my life experiences and the new perspectives I hold on life, I have devoted myself to helping others. I have found that my story and knowledge can help others who are suffering just as I have. Through the social work program I have also started a process of being culturally aware and gaining a broader knowledge of the diverse population that is present in America. Despite my troubling past I have been able to develop an empowered self; a sense of encouragement, and self-worth which I will embrace to provide service and help to all of those in need. The lessons and tools that have been taught and shared with me throughout my life have

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enabled me to become a humbling person. The skills, lessons, and awareness will guide me as I provide an ethical and professional service to my community and all those in need that I serve. Dilemmas of Americanization Family Culture Some issues I have faced and struggled with throughout my life have been upward classism, stigmatization, and being culturally aware of the greater society. From a very young age my parents always wanted the best for me and they displayed this through private education and enrollment of certain social events. Because I was from a middle class family, attending private school where the majority of peers were from upper-class family, I had to deal with the issues of envy, upward-classism which brought about many negative feelings and displacement. These dilemmas of upward classism and struggling with Americanization gave me the sense that I was less than, or subordinate to my peers which caused much anxiety, depression, and shame on the person I was. My family enrolled me into a group called Cotillion which was to teach mannerism, dance, and societal attitudes which they thought would help me succeed. These events again put much pressure on me to keep up with the other members of this group and also created a barrier or wall which left me isolated and ashamed. As a child trying to compete on social status terms was very difficult and confusing. These experiences did not at the time strengthen me or encourage, but instead created a rebellious behavior which I used against my parents and peers. I began attaching myself and creating more relationships with those who had less with me because it gave me a sense of belonging. When I graduated high school and was able to move freely to where I wanted, I relocated to Atlanta, GA where I experienced a huge culture shock. In an article by Junzi, X. (2009) he describes culture shock as disorientation experienced by people psychologically that suddenly enters drastically different cultural environments. The emotional stress and puzzlement I experienced was overwhelming because of the diversity and presence of oppressed groups which my family prevented my exposure to as a younger child. I began learning that the ideological beliefs that my family had such as racism and homophobia were not natural or genetically predisposed beliefs, but rather they were feelings of fear and ignorance which had been passed down through many generations. I also found it hard to overcome these fears and the negative perceptions I had of others and I found myself struggling in establishing relationships, communicating with others, and accepting others of which I did not understand. Through the experiences of me moving and becoming more aware and involved in the urban life which I was now a part of gave me a new insight and new understanding of diversity. I began appreciating the LGBT group members which I now had friends, I began appreciating minorities as I began being there coworker and supervisor, and I also began appreciating people of all backgrounds because I began developing an awareness that we all have a story and purpose. Cultural Awareness of Other Inventory

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In my twenties I began traveling around the United States and living in different cities. I spent time in Colorado, California, South Carolina and Florida. Looking back on my travels I notice that there are many similarities in my cultural involvement regardless of where I was. I noticed I predominantly spent most of my time with White Americans, dated only white women, and the neighborhoods I lived were also predominantly white. Although I feel that I did not consciously try to avoid persons of color or ethnic backgrounds, I do see a trend. As I have matured and settled in Atlanta, Georgia, I do currently live in a predominantly white neighborhood and work for company that is owned and operated by White Americans. The differences in my past and present are that today I have many relationships and involvement with people of different backgrounds other than my own. I have developed a broad appreciation for diversity as well as respect for people of all cultures and backgrounds. I have created great friendships with people who are gay and lesbian, as well as established great friendships of people of color and of the Latino population. Three years ago I met woman who I would soon be married. Although our connection and love for each other was so strong, passionate, and understanding, we came from very different social backgrounds. During the planning of our future wedding we both experienced personal struggles on the differences of our families and the past that we had lived. My wife came from an upper-class family, her father being a very successful lawyer in the Atlanta area. During the planning of our wedding, and the binding of our two families together, I felt much anxiety and stress on feeling accepted and a part of the higher social class lifestyle. I also felt the pressures on my parents in trying to keep up with the financial demand in planning. I also got to experience the struggles of my wife as she dealt with her divorced parents. All my life my family members especially my parents have had a strong belief on the importance of marriage. My parents had never separated neither have either set of my grandparents. Observing the difficulties my wife faced I realized how hard it is for children of divorced parents. During this process I learned that the pain and frustration of having separated parents never completely goes away. I was able to learn from this experience to have a better understanding of what it is like to be from divorced parents and the issues that the children face. I also gained a better understanding of people from a higher socioeconomic background and realized that much of the negative feelings and opposition that I had felt towards them was mostly out of fear and envy. I noticed that people of wealth can be very loving, generous, caring, and concerned of the overall wellbeing of society. Intersectionality Through this assignment I have become aware of the many internal and external intersections which I have experienced throughout my life. These crossroads which I have experienced and the beliefs and identity which all are important factors for who I am now, have all impacted me and influenced me to become a social worker. The upward mobility I have experienced and currently achieving has been affected by both internal and external conditions.

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In an article by A.V. Zagrebina (2013), he found through a study and survey of college students that the majority of college students want to achieve a higher social level than that of their parents. Zagrebina also went on to state that based on his findings, the opportunities for those who want to achieve a higher social status than that of their parents depends greatly on a families current social statues and location of residency (Zagrebina, 2013). Some of the internal intersections, characteristics and beliefs which have impacted my life, which I think are most relevant to me becoming a social worker are my spirituality beliefs, educational background, and family background. My growth and the experiences in these categories have all provided me with an awareness of myself and the desire to help people that is in need. Developing spirituality was an important milestone in my life. Not only did it give me the sense of hope and direction, but showed me that this part of my life is intimate, personal, and regardless of the exterior pressures or opinions, my choice was mine alone and could not be wrong. Finding myself through spirituality led me to the path of becoming empowered. I used my insightfulness to return to college and become further educated so I could become a social worker. Although my family background was conservative in terms of political beliefs, I grew to have a great appreciation of the social welfare programs in place and I felt a calling and opportunity to use my story and experiences to make a difference in the lives I encounter. The external characteristics which have been the most important in life and related to my desire to bring about change in the world and me becoming a social worker would be most associated with my experiences of social class, my experiences and transformation of personal appearance, and my experiences and obstacles facing disabilities. Because of my issues with substance abuse, non-employability, and issues that I faced due to my social class, all of these experiences have provided me with knowledge, an open mind, and awareness. Transforming from a homeless person to a person living in the upper middle class has been extremely hard work but also very liberating. These challenges that I have faced taught me many lessons about the situations many oppressed and disabled people experience, and have also taught me that there needs to be more effort in preventing, intervention, and promoting opportunities to the many that are suffering. Conclusion This assignment and paper has been a very emotional and learning experience. By looking at my past many negative feelings and events that I have buried within were resurfaced and became real again. It was important for me to experience this because it helped me see things in a whole new light and also be aware of the world around me. Even though my story seems so unique to me, the truth is it is not. So many people all around the world are facing the same dilemmas and illnesses every day. This assignment also gave me a better understanding of my cultural heritage and a more depth understanding of why I believe and think the way I do. I was able to see how the actions and teachings of others, especially of my parents, have shaped me, strengthened me, and at times oppressed me. Asking my family about my past and where we are

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from, I was able to gain a lot of information which helped me better understand of who I am. Although my upbringing and life has been extremely difficult at times, I have learned to be grateful for all my experiences. This process has helped me to unravel some of my myths about the world, especially issues on race, poverty, and homophobia.

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References Junzi, X. (2009). Analysis of Impact of Culture Shock on Individual Psychology. International Journal Of Psychological Studies, 1(2), 97-101. Zagrebina, A. V. (2013). Mechanisms of Upward Mobility as Perceived by Students in an Institution of Higher Learning. Russian Education & Society, 55(6), 26-38. doi:10.2753/RES1060-9393550603