Air Date: April 23, 1996 Program 9617


Moorehead Kennedy, Principal, Moorehead Kennedy Group
Martha Keys, Executive Director, Moorehead Kennedy Group

MOOREHEAD KENNEDY: A society that is torn—that has to spend resources keeping people apart and that has trouble developing common ground on things of concern to everyone—is a society that is not going to function effectively.

KEITH PORTER: A new educational tool tackles the issues of racism, prejudice, and stereotypes on this edition of Common Ground.

MARTHA KEYS: What we're doing here is using the humor and the spontaneity of laughter to open people up.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Keith Porter.

(Video...Excuse me, I think you may have my bag.

I don't think so. This looks like mine. This must be yours.

Like, oh my God, I can't even believe you totally didn't even see that. This clearly is your bag.

What are you talking about?)

PORTER: This is the opening scene of a new educational video called "Cultural Baggage." The video is produced by the Moorehead Kennedy Group.

KENNEDY: "Cultural Baggage" is a video which uses comedy and music to make a very basic point. The way we stereotype people is: (a) harmful and (b) ridiculous. If you see the utter folly of putting people in little boxes that don't really fit their individuality, then you'll see the humor in "Cultural Baggage." I'm pleased to say that all over the country, and indeed worldwide now, people are learning to laugh at themselves by laughing with "Cultural Baggage."

PORTER: You may remember Moorehead Kennedy as one of the American diplomats held hostage for over a year at the US Embassy in Tehran. The other force behind the "Cultural Baggage" video is executive director of the Moorehead Kennedy group, Martha Keys.

KEYS: We feel that when things are humorous and funny, people learn. What we're doing here is using the humor and spontaneity of laughter to open people up, so that within that opening they can see the situation for what it is and laugh at themselves and see another viewpoint for how to address the issue.

PORTER: What led you to produce this educational tool?

KEYS: Well, Keith, we've been doing role-play simulations for a number of years and always searching for ways to engage young people and adults in their own learning process. So it was the natural evolution from the role-play method into looking at perhaps a new medium. So when I started researching this as to what young people are watching, particularly on television, because television is such an important and significant medium in their lives, I came across the concept of what they watch as they watch sketch comedy. They like to laugh as we all do. So we decided to put the two together and come up with what, in a sense, we call social comedy.

KENNEDY: My colleague Martha is an old school teacher and emphasizes the kids, but if "Cultural Baggage" is selling anywhere it's selling to corporate audiences—to adults—and very well. Because corporations and other institutions realize that racial ethnic discrimination and tensions in the workplace are harmful to productivity and people in companies, and other institutions are so bored with the kind of lectures they get; i.e., how they all should like each other better and be mindful of each others' differences and cultural diversity and all this stuff. So the big companies are realizing [this]. You show them this, and they get a good laugh out of it. You can really have a lot more mileage in the direction that we all want our country to go.

PORTER: You're exactly right. It seems as if this topic is treated with dead seriousness most of the time. People are afraid to talk about it, because they're afraid they'll make a slip-up.

KENNEDY: That's exactly right.

PORTER: Afraid that they'll inadvertently offend someone.

KENNEDY: Whereas in "Cultural Baggage" people just let themselves go.

KEYS: We tried to get a setting that was a universal setting. I mean, we've all been in airports. We have all been standing at the edge of the belt waiting for our luggage. When you look at luggage and you look at people, almost unconsciously you start making the connection of who's who. So it was a playoff on a very universal theme, which I think is one of the reasons for the success of this across the board.

PORTER: Mr. Kennedy, maybe you can summarize for us some of the feedback that you've heard from schools.

KENNEDY: From all over, the humor. I think the other [feedback] is that it's so manageable. It's not too long. Also, it's accompanied by a facilitator manual, which is my colleague Martha's great contribution. There are follow-on exercises for all ages. In other words, this can be used in schools; it can be used in a company. It gives whoever's running the program—a teacher or a training director in a company—enormous flexibility. I think that's what helps to market it very successfully.

PORTER: Ms. Keys, maybe you can tell us how this might be used in a classroom. Just sort of run through the scenario from the time the bell rings until the next bell rings, how you might go about using this in your class.

KEYS: The bell rings; students come in. They're noisy. All this adjusting in their seats and so forth. Then I would start with a running commentary with them about where they came from—their background. What does he look like? Does he look Greek; does he look Mexican; does he look like he's from Asia? What do you think? What country from Asia? In other words, get them a little bit into the whole racial ethnic discussion and also possible stereotypes that people already have about someone. Then I would just put it on.

PORTER: And the video runs about...

KEYS: The video runs seven minutes. It starts with a little animated circle rolling through a maze and then goes right into it. Then they see the belt with the luggage coming out. After the video, then there's a number of exercises in the facilitator manual. One of my favorites is having the students create a culture. That's really fun. So you take some volunteers out of the group. If you have a group of students—25 or 30—you take maybe two groups of seven, Group A and Group B. Have them split up, and have them quickly come up with a culture which has some characteristics like a handshake or a greeting, things that they always like to do and maybe some kind of silly quirk which they invent.

Then you bring both groups together into a scene like the first date, the grocery store, or restaurant, and so forth. And they're playing this out in front of the rest of the room. Again, it highlights differences among people without them knowing about the differences ahead of time. It invokes a lot of laughter; because, again, people are seeing how absurd these differences are and essentially how funny a situation is.

PORTER: You mentioned earlier in the debriefing session after the video that there are different activities for different age groups. Is that correct?

KEYS: Right.

PORTER: How does that differ? What is it that's different about the debriefing that goes on for the youngest potential audience to the adult corporate audience? What are the differences in the questions? What kinds of things are you trying to get those two different audiences to get out of the experience?

KEYS: There are different levels on this. You do different things in a classroom than you would with entry level positions, in a corporation for example. Because always in a debriefing you want to have the participant apply to their own life. After they go through the experience, then in a sense what's the application? What are we learning from this, and how do we apply it? How does it make sense in our own life? The students, you get the interpersonal, you get the school, neighborhood, and family. With entry-level people in a business corporation, you would get more on-the-job interactions, ways of treating people, and so forth.

PORTER: Mr. Kennedy, anything you want to add to that?

KENNEDY: I think the remarkable thing about this facilitator manual is that there's a lot of overlap. The cultural exercise can be used at many levels. We've noticed, particularly with our simulations, that we've used people on different levels—and people bring to that exercise their own backgrounds and their own needs.

PORTER: In our program we cover international affairs, so I need to make some connection here. You spent so many years in the foreign service and Americans are familiar with you as one of the hostages in Tehran, what is the connection here between the lessons and the issues taught in this video and relations between nation states or how US foreign policy is formulated? Is there a connection between the issues in "Cultural Baggage" and the way we interact with the rest of the world?

KENNEDY: Your question is particularly apt in view of the sudden ascendancy of Mr. Buchanan, because isolationism is not only breaking relations with people in countries abroad but excluding immigrants and excluding foreign products. He is reacting against the way this country is going, which is a country that honors diversity. Now, turn that inside out. A country that honors diversity, which is what we're trying to do here with these programs, is a country that will be more effective in dealing with the many problems we have abroad. It's diplomacy will be more responsive to what is really going on and not what we think is going on in foreign countries. Our corporate representatives starting investments in foreign countries will be more respectful of local cultures. We will be able to export our educational message more effectively.

So I think that the old difference between America that was going to outlaw the teaching of foreign languages and was going to be self-contained and self-sufficient is no longer possible internally or externally. We've got to work on the internal problem or challenge, we say, of diversity in order to be effective overseas.

KEYS: I'd like to add to that, Keith. The feedback we're getting from the use of this exercise—when you ask people who have gone through it, what are the problems to stereotyping—they say the problems are lack of communication, lack of cooperation, and lack of getting together. They talk about its limiting factor. These are all values, values of cooperation, communication, and so forth, are all values that we all have no matter what political party we are. That's the message they're getting from it.

PORTER: What are the negative outcomes—the negative aspects of racism and lack of respect for diversity? How does that affect us down the road both politically, economically, and in our relationship with the rest of the world?

KENNEDY: Economically, a workplace that is torn by anger and tension is one that is less productive. Companies have learned this over the years. On a larger plane, a society that is torn—that has to spend resources keeping people apart, that has trouble developing common ground on things of concern to everyone—is a society that is not going to function effectively. Particularly when you get to foreign policy, it's terribly important that Americans be able to think as one. We have to agree on things like Bosnia or, at least once we've debated it, to agree. Therefore, the harmony we can build at home is one that's going to make us a much stronger nation abroad. The only way we can have harmony, as I see it now, is not as in the twenties to deny the existence of hyphenated Americans and all the exercises that the isolationists went through but rather to honor it. That's what we're trying to do.

PORTER: We're talking in this edition of Common Ground with Martha Keys and Moorehead Kennedy about the educational video they produced called "Cultural Baggage." Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

KEYS: There's a basic premise here about respect. Respect of people on an individual level, on a national level, and on an international level. I feel that's a very common value. That's what stereotyping racism, going into racism, cuts off. It cuts off respect. People feel that, and it's a very large problem in our school population. As Moorehead says, "It extends beyond the school population, but it's certainly something that school teachers every day are dealing with in this country."

PORTER: Mr. Kennedy?

KENNEDY: One thought. We started as a nation, have been a city set on a hill and a light under the whole world. The way countries are breaking up all over the world at a time when we need more unity is a real problem which we have to set the example for. I feel very strongly that the work we are doing is an important step, not only for our country but for the example we give.

PORTER: Mr. Kennedy, any chance that something like "Cultural Baggage" might be useful for foreign service officers or people who are involved in making foreign policy?

KENNEDY: When I left the foreign service, retired (a service that I'd loved but it was time to move on), I wrote a book. A lot of people who read the book in the foreign service said, "Well, that's just what we need." And a lot of people said, "He's broken ranks; he's said things he shouldn't have said." So I haven't really tried very hard to get back into the foreign service institute side of things. But I'm always willing. If they're willing to listen to me, I'm willing to talk to them. I'd like to do it before I get very much older (chuckle).

PORTER: A couple of last questions for you. Ms. Keys, one question I had as I was watching the video was is it possible that among maybe some younger students, you might be introducing them to stereotypes that they hadn't yet known before? And is that bad, on the other hand?

KEYS: I am always amazed at what the younger students know and, believe me, they watch what their brothers and sisters watch. You have ten-year-olds who essentially are more savvy about what's on TV than adults, and just for that reason. I don't think we really understand the power of this medium yet in terms of what's going on, and so it would be interesting to do a study on it. But I don't really feel that it's setting up anything improper in their minds. They're seeing so much of the comedy with a satire that really makes fun of people and Beavis and Butthead is only one example. And as an example, that got moved off prime time when children started imitating the acts of Beavis and Butthead. So there I think you really do have the negative influence on the child's behavior.

PORTER: Mr. Kennedy?

KENNEDY: I don't believe children need to be taught. I think they are natural stereotypers.You know how cruel in a classroom they can be to the one or two members who are a little different in any way. There's a lot of cruelty. Education has to take this into account, and I think that you're telling them nothing new. What you're trying to do is to say, forget it kids. And that's what we're trying to do.

PORTER: Now you were telling us before you did this at Newark that you had to wait until after midnight until the last international flights had come through. You were in Terminal B. Then you pretty much had the place to yourself there for a few hours?

KEYS: Right. Twelve.

PORTER: Who put together the bags? The bags are all very distinctive. The bags themselves are stereotypes. You look at the bags in this video and you know where they came from. Who put those together?

KEYS: Right. Well that was the production company. They had a very ingenious prop lady. That's the writer by the way, Michael Naiburn.

PORTER: Oh, playing the airplane pilot.

KEYS: Right.

PORTER: Okay. Who was mistaken for a luggage handler, basically.

KEYS: Right.

PORTER: Because he's black. He was the stereotype there; he was mistaken for the baggage handler, and he was really the pilot.

KEYS: Exactly. You know airplane pilots aren't black.

PORTER: What we see here...I think some of the stereotypes that are acted out...we have the white blond, he looks like a college fraternity house brother who does the stereotype of the...

KEYS: Yuppie.

PORTER: He's doing the stereotype of the black man here, which you don't often see on television. Are you worried at all that at this point you're in some dangerous territory? I mean the white man doing the jive stereotype?

KEYS: No. Actually people love to hear it. They love to hear that crossover.

PORTER: Okay. Then the next thing you see is the young black man doing his impersonation of a white yuppie.

(Sound of video)

PORTER: Now we have the Irish bag here, the green bag with the shamrock on it that's real obvious.

KEYS: Right.

PORTER: Sounds like an Irish Spring commercial.

KEYS: Yes. That's what we wanted it to sound like. So here we go with the Chinese.

PORTER: Okay. They see someone who looks Asian, and they try to force the Chinese bag on her.

KEYS: ...force the bag on her.

(Sound of video)

PORTER: The one tag says angry urban black youth. No one wants to claim that. A bunch of fingerpointing goes on.

KEYS: Right. Particularly the young black man is pointing away from himself.

PORTER: The suspicious Korean deli owner. Again, everyone looks as if they want no part of that.

KEYS: Right.

PORTER: Now in the end here, the climax, we find that they're at the wrong baggage carousel. Their bags are all being held somewhere else.

KEYS: Exactly.

(Sound of video)

PORTER: Ah, flight 817, stereotype airlines.

KEYS: So that's what they came to.

PORTER: The video is so well done. This looks like a network or—maybe these days I should say—better than network-quality production. I understand you've won some awards already for this.

KEYS: Yes. Just recently we captured a gold Hugo at Cinema Chicago. It's a very prestigious award. It was for the talent. It's the International Communication Film and Video Festival. The gold Hugo hasn't arrived in the office yet, but we're very pleased and happy.

PORTER: I think you should be. It seems like it's been a while since I've been in school, but the productions that you often see in school don't measure up to the television experience that the students in the class have. You see them, and they're amateur league, amateurish sort of productions. As a student who grew up watching Sesame Street or MTV, you expect something much higher quality. When you watch something on television kids instantly know what is done well and what isn't done well. So the fact that you've won those awards should speak very highly of the production. It's something that the kids will be able to put some credibility into it from the minute it comes on the screen.

KEYS: That's what we were trying to achieve, because the standard is very high. They watch these very slick productions. So we knew we needed to fund it at a very high level, so we had investors come in who believed in the project. They enabled us to do it.

PORTER: Ms. Keys, why don't you tell people how they can purchase "Cultural Baggage"?

KEYS: People can call directly to Pyramid Media. The number is 1-800-421-2304.

PORTER: Mr. Kennedy, anything you wanted to add about the production of this?

KENNEDY: It was indeed expensive, but we had a lot of very generous donors and investors. Everybody got behind it. I look forward to many years of not just the material rewards but the psychic and educational rewards that are going to flow from this to a lot of people.

PORTER: One of you or either of you like to run through the other educational resources that you offer here, especially the simulation activities? Ms. Keys?

KEYS: We have role play simulations in which participants actually play the role of various people. One very popular one, "Fire in the Forest," which is an environmental simulation, takes place in Amazonia which is a country we created but based on Brazil or Bolivia. As an example, students play the roles of settlers, of the Occahippa which is our native tribe down there, of government officials, of the media. They get to play World News Network, which is our parallel to CNN, and Global Rescue, environmental organization. They learn pretty quickly what looked good in a board room in Manhattan coming down into the rain forest can have some problems.

In the role-play everyone has to not only see what their own individual team wants to do but also work for a larger and more cooperative whole answer to the problem. That's the basic paradigm that's in all the simulations—whether they do one on human rights, death of a dissident, or atomic (which is on Southeast Asia nuclear problem), or hostage crisis (which was our original one).

KENNEDY: Or indeed a grocery store. We were commissioned to do that by the YMCA. It's a classic Korean grocery store with an African-American teenager accused of pinching fruit, literally. She pinched it just to test it for ripeness. There were no witnesses. There was a rumble and an attempt at mediation. To watch young people organize a town meeting and how naturally they do it is for me always a cause for optimism.

PORTER: That is Moorehead Kennedy. Our other guest has been Martha Keys, executive director of the Moorehead Kennedy Group. For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

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Our theme music was created by B.J. Liederman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.


Copyright © 1996, The Stanley Foundation