The Same and Different: Crossing Boundaries of Color, Culture, Sexual Preference Disability and Age
By Letty Cottin Pogrebin
This Article Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Letty Cottin Pogrebin, "The Same and Different: Crossing Boundaries of Color, Culture, Sexual Preference Disability and Age," in Bridges Not Walls, ed. John Stewart, 6th edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), pp. 445-459.
Pogrebin observes that cross-cultural friendships involve a lot of explanation. Individuals must examine their own motives in seeking such friendship. Friends must engage in ongoing explanation to each other, clarifying their intentions and reactions. Finally, each must explain the friendship to their own communities of origin. These explanations are often the most difficult, since boundary crossing friendships can threaten the group's identity.
Cross cultural friendships are usually formed, like any friendship, around some shared interests or characteristics. Pogrebin cautions that such friendships form around the appearance of sameness, but the individuals are never quite the same. Because the other is "the same but different," one needs to maintain a "double-consciousness" which acknowledges "the importance of feeling both the same and different, of acknowledging 'the essence of me,' of understanding that friends need not transcend race or ethnicity but can embrace differences and be enriched by them."[p.450]
Cross-boundary friendships face special barriers. Language differences and perceptions of accents can block friendship. Americans tend to perceive having an accent as a sign of ignorance. Alien styles of socializing may also make it difficult to begin friendships. For example, strongly sex-divided social spheres make couple-couple friendships difficult. Finally, unconscious racism is a potent barrier to friendship.
Even established boundary-crossing friendships may encounter unique pitfalls. One party may try too hard to "go native," and assimilate completely into the other's culture. Misinterpreting intentions behind behavior is a regular problem. Such misunderstanding may be compounded by hyper-sensitivity or hyper-vigilance, an exaggerated sensitivity to possible slights, or an exaggerated and over-protective fear of giving offense.
Cultural boundaries are not the only differences which pose difficulties for friendships. Gay-straight friendships must cross boundaries of both oppression and different culture. Disability raises issues around dependency and vulnerability, and fears of dependency and vulnerability. Popular stereotypes of the "supercrip" who completely transcends her disability, or of disabled persons as childlike and asexual, both tend to block friendships between disabled and nondisabled people. Places which are not handicap accessible can also make such friendships difficult to negotiate.
Age difference present another type of boundary. Older people are often stereotyped as sick, boring, and inactive. Miscommunications may occur due to age-based psychological differences. Most basically, the author notes that there is a general preference for friends of the same age. This tendency is reinforced by widespread social age-based segregation.