Critical philosophical discussions on cultural identities – a caring approach


 Presenter (s) Tammy Shel (Aboody)
Title Critical philosophical discussions on cultural identities – a caring approach

In the city Tel-Aviv-Jaffo, in Israel, there is a unique K-12 public school, in which the majority of the students are offspring of refugees, undocumented and documented immigrant workers from countries such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and more. To make things more intriguing, an Arab male social worker from Jaffo was appointed as the new principal. The school is located in a Jewish neighborhood, which means, that the children study in Hebrew. For many of them, just as for the principal, it is not the prime native language. Likewise, most of them do not have any Jewish affinity. And yet, they have to celebrate Jewish holidays and symbolic events such as the Holocaust and Memorial days and the Independence Day. Some students were born in Israel and some were not; some are susceptible to be deported with their parents, and some are fortunate to be considered as residents (not citizens). Regardless of their status, the state must allow them to attend school, and cannot access the parents (at least officially) through them, because Israel has signed on the children international covenant.

This school reflects by large, the complexed and enmeshed challenges related to cultural identities in Israel and worldwide, in particular in an era of a flux of immigrants and refugees from war zones, in non-western regions. On one hand, there is a celebration of cultures and yet, industrialized western societies continue to cultivate standards that are based on the hierarchy of cultures. And unless these underprivileged, mostly from low economic status, succumb to the hegemonic “white” cultures, it will be hard for them to develop a more independent identity.
Standardization of the human value, represses critical discussions on cultural identities, in particular, of the white western hegemony concerning occupied cultures. If western academic institutes and activists celebrate and endorse myriad cultural identities, the question is who governs the discourse and who benefit from it? Likewise, are there seeds of western remorse and an attempt for reparations and compensation for past violent colonialization of non-white and non-western regions, which induces the adamant embracement of multi-culturalism? More importantly, is there a genuine critical and open discourse on cultural identities in educational institutes such as the academia, while the liberal and repressive tolerant discourses, as Marcuse suggested, is predominant?

Israel is a multi-cultural state that possesses dual and conflictual identities: Jewish and democratic. Within that, the dominant Eurocentric identities marginalize and eclipse a critical discussion on cultural identities on behalf of cultures celebration. To complicate matters, I add that even the Jewish identity is not unanimous and has western hegemonic dominance. For example, the overruling criterion to validate one’s Jewishness leans on two major categories: birth and conversion based, solidly, on orthodox and ultra-orthodox rabbis’ approval, and in particular Ashkenazi’s (European’s). Even one dominant orthodox political party, of Jewish Moroccan descendants, follows the Ashkenazi’s ruling. That means, that the hegemony is still western just as much as the establishment of the state of Israel. Likewise, some citizens comply with the divine law prior to the state and those who comply with the state’s and consider themselves as westerners.

To complicate matters, even more, the state has also dual nationalities: Jews and Arabs. Although there is more mutual bonding than it may be portrayed via popular media, there are challenges, in particular to Arabs, whose cultural identities are a hallmark to their future. For example, in what language to speak, what to wear, where to live, what music to listen to and the like. Israeli Jews, also face similar challenges such as the practice of western secularism despite the post-trauma of the Holocaust; the desire to speak English fluently but simultaneously to restore the Hebrew language, and more. Moreover, whether European or Middle Eastern or Ethiopians Jews, the Holocaust serves as a political component that restrains any critical discourse and attempts to make Israel a more inclusive state. Under such circumstances, cultural identities become a political identity that does not necessarily serve the oppressed and marginalized people. Predominantly, women have to bear the consequences. For example, Arab women in Israel, are caught between loyalty to their Arab identity and their marginalization just by being Arabs, and their attempts to set themselves free from patriarchal dominance. Similarly, with Jewish women. And thus, the supposed celebration of identities becomes also a political apparatus to sustain the separation between Jews and Arabs in separate geographic areas for the benefit of external and internal hostile and oppressive forces. Although things change, it is yet conflictual and dialectical. And thus there is an entangled and enmeshed hierarchy of cultures, in which western cultures still rule.

I will discuss the topic through the lenses of the approach of caring in the philosophy of critical education and will examine ways to address the tension in education.

Tammy Shel (Aboody) has a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in the philosophy of education, from UCLA. I incorporate cultural and gender aspects, and ethnography. I examine the meaning of caring, through philosophy and ethnography, which I title, ethnophilosophy. In the recent decade, I have pursued the study of additional diverse topics through the lenses of caring and the philosophy of critical education.

Nowadays, I teach at several academic institutes in Israel and study social work at Tel-Aviv University. I also taught drug addicts, prisoners, women who recover from prostitution, and various other underprivileged populations, philosophy, and philosophical discussions. I grew up in Tel-Aviv, where I currently reside.

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