Thursday, December 06, 2007

Regarding Sinterklaas and a fascinating test

One of the undiscussed advantages of a trans-national family is that every month there is something to celebrate, coming from une culture or another! Today is Sinterklaas in Belgium and the Netherlands; tonight we will sing along the rhyme below while we will set the little shoes by the fireplace, before going to bed, hoping that Sinterklaas will fill them with sweets...

Sinterklaas Kapoentje
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje,
gooi wat in mijn laarsje
dank u, Sinterklaasje.

Nicholas I beg of you
Drop into my little shoe
Something sweet or sweeter,
Thank you, Saint and Peter

Although I love this tradition and the Sinterklaas figure (who's none but the ancestral figure of Saint Nicholas, hence Santa Klaus's grandfather), I am always a little wary of the illustrations featuring Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas' morish helper. In this day in age, should we start censoring traditions and bed-stories and make them politically correct? I would instinctively not think so, but then again, I just read something that might change my mind: the Belgianite has recently given me a fascinating book called "Blink," by Malcolm Gladwell. One chapter introduces the The Implicit Association Test (IAT) , a mind-blowing experiment developed by Harvard University, to measures implicit attitudes and beliefs that people are either unwilling or unable to report. One of the tests associates images of white and/or black people to words which belong to either 'good' or 'bad' categories. Testers are asked to respond rapidly to different sets of associations, and the categories are alternatively associated to the white or the black race. It turnes out that 75-80% of self-identified Whites and Asians taking the test, show an implicit preference for racial White relative to Black. In other words, as Gladwell brilliantly puts it, even if we do not consider ourselves racist, we are somehow wired or brainwashed to associate negative words, sentiments, elements to black people, as well as the good ones to the white race.
One of the items that the test measures is also the attitude toward uniculturalism and multiculturalism. Similarly, pictures of multicultaral and unicultural groups are showed alternativel together with the category 'good' and 'bad', and a series of words have to be associated accordingly. I took the test confidently, thinking that my passion for multilingualism and multiculturalism would certainly have defeated any trick that those Harvard brains could have come up with. And sure enough, the astonishing response was:

" Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Unicultural compared to Multicultural. The interpretation is described as 'automatic preference for Multicultural' if you responded faster when items representing Multicultural and Good were classified with the same key than when items representing Unicultural and Good were classified with the same key. Depending on the magnitude of your result, your automatic preference may be described as 'slight', 'moderate', 'strong', or 'little to no preference'.

I invite you to take the test as well, and let me know what do you think about this. As for me, I'm just hoping Sinterklaas will leave me some more open mindness in my shoes tonight...


Lilian said...

WOW, fascinating! I read the whole Wikipedia entry on Sinterklaas before proceeding, so I had already been briefed about the Zwarte Piet problems. I'll take the test and let you know later the results. Wow.

Lilian said...

I thought the tests were interesting. I first did a demonstration test about gender and science versus humanities and unfortunately I "failed" it terribly :) I guess it's just ingrained that physics and math are guy stuff. Terrible.

But then... I kinda cheated a bit on the multicultural one. First off, it wasn't hard at all for me, like it *was* on the math/science and gendered names, to very quickly associate the multicultural groups with the good words. Then, when the turn came for the unicultural associated with good, I just took my time, I didn't count or anything, but I kept a steady pace, the same speed for every click. And in my results I got the "Strong automatic preference for multicultural" ;).

I do prefer multicultural groups anytime, really deep down and unconsciously too, I think. These years here in the U.S. have actually brought me closer and closer to ethnic minorities because (sorry if I'm being kind of impolite) I've had a hard time becoming close friends with Caucasian Americans (only with very few people), it just doesn't happen. (only online, I should add, I've become close friends with people, over blogs, not in real life).

So, I don't really think it's "wrong" that I consciously didn't click quickly, but I do sincerely think that the all-white groups were boring, drab, etc...

All right... I feel a bit guilty, but, there you go, you wanted to know! :)

P.S. I did my BEST to "cheat" on the other test, but it didn't work -- I just had a really hard time associating women with science :(

Sarah said...

Your post on this Dutch tradition makes me think of the brilliant and hilarious David Sedaris essay "Six to Eight Black Men." It's wonderful! Do you know it?

Thanks for dropping by my blog. Would you be willing to let me profile your polylingual family, perhaps, please? You can email me at babybilingual (at) gmail (dot) com.

Clo said...

Lilian, thank you kindly for your enthusiastic participation. And congratulations for your truly multicultural views! I think I'll keep taking the test periodically to see if there is any variance in the performance and score...
As per your experience living as an expat in the USA, I can understand your point. Taking the test had reminded me also about the whole issu of ethnicity that in the US keep on recurring for bureaucratic reasons. I had't had to identify myself as a "Caucasian" for almost a decade, I wonder if Europe will ever embrace those definitions as well...bur that's a whole other topic.

Sarah, thanks for stopping by, I do not know that essay and I'll look it up!

Lilian said...

Yes, I think it's an interesting idea to take the test again and see if there's any variance. If it was the very first IAT test you took then if you take it again, it might be different, like it was for me.

Hmmm, David Sedaris? I've heard of him in the blogs now and then. Here's the essay, I googled it for us:

I'm SO GLAD you're back to blogging! (and so sad Alice decided to drop it :( )...

Lilian said...

hmmm, let me leave a real link:

Six to Eight Black Men""

I hope it works! :)

Zorglub said...

Well, to speak bluntly Clo, I find all of this too PC. That white people tend to show preferences for white culture or people doesn't represent any type of racism I believe. Don't humans strive on what they know vs what they less know? And besides, I believe white (dominant) cultures like the Europeans and the Americans are the more mixed and tolerant cultures you can find. Other societies tend to be yet very homogenous or social class-parted.
I find Europeans, in a generalised way, to be very heterogenous and mixed. Yeah, in the US things are a bit different, fewer mixed marriages and mingling. But African Americans are *very* own community-centered as well as (Asian) Indians for example. You hear racist comments from minorities that are accepted because they are from "oppressed" people when you would scream if a white guy would just say he's proud of his western culture or what not.
I think that is what true multiculturalism is: accepting others' culture as well as your own.... and not the "white man complex" kind of speech.

My result in the test: "little to no preference".

Clo said...

Zorglub, I agree with you in principle, but I am nevertheless uncomfortable in showing my kids a Santa Klaus strolling around with black slaves, in this day in age. If the "helpers" would have been white perhaps I would have not thought much about it, and this frightens me too. But we cannot deny the hystorical reference to black slavery and the immense suffering that it caused to hundreds of thousands of people. It's beyond being PC, I think, it's a little too obnoxious for me...but I appreciate your corageous inputs.

Lilian, thanks for tracking the essay!

Zorglub said...

Sure Clo, some traditions should be updated. It is not acceptable anymore to conceive the world that way.

santi d said...

I looove Sinterklaas, both as a child and as adult. Yes, zwarte piet is a bit outdated ... will his role ever changed to the same level as Sint?
The link to the test is still busy .. curious to know the result.