Mukami McCrum discusses racial and cultural differences in communication



Mukami McCrum was born in Kenya and moved to Scotland in her twenties. Here she talks about how she has negotiated being a woman in different cultures.

Do you think that people from different countries and cultures have different ways of communicating? Can you think of examples?

Do you think different cultures have different expectations about the ways that men and women communicate? Can you think of some examples?



My mother said I was a very happy child, and I recall how one time I went back from the UK and we were all talking and she said, ‘Something changed about you, you sound aggressive, angry, sad’. She was saying - I can’t get the actual word, and there’s no direct translation, but she said, ‘I remember you as a very happy child and what happened?’ And it’s something that’s lived with me. Because of that I try to make sure that things, bad things that happen to me or to people I know or around me, whether it is racism or discrimination, don’t take root inside me. I deal with them and do anything possible to make sure they don’t become part of me ‘cos I think they were slowly destroying me. And I remember a meeting somewhere in Trinidad, a group or gathering of women, and in my group we had, we also had a huge conference and we had what we were calling home groups and I was also in charge of my home group, and a woman from Australia, Aboriginal woman was very quiet in the group and I’m always trying to make sure everybody get a chance to speak because my experience, early experience in UK is that I would go to meetings and I would leave without saying anything because I was waiting for my chance to speak but it never came because nobody gave you a chance to speak. And it’s not like somebody says, ‘Freya, speak now,’ there is invisible way of engaging and people recognising each other and noticing that you haven’t spoken or you are acting as if you’ve got something to say but not, and giving you space to do that. And I, after I kept giving her space to speak and then she would contribute and after the meeting I asked her, I said, ‘I notice you are very quiet, are you okay?’ And she said, ‘No, I’m okay,’ and then I said, ‘You weren’t speaking a lot,’ and she said, ‘Well, yes because in my culture if people are talking too much, we always take it, or assume they have more important things to say than the rest of us and you don’t jump in’. And it wasn’t so much as they take it in a good way but it’s actually, it’s actually recognising that person is assuming too much importance, assuming that what they’re saying overrides everybody else’s need to communicate or to share. And she actually thanked me for making sure that everybody was included in the conversation. And that comment and my mother’s comment are things that I remember, because I changed from when I came here I would have been like her where – and also the age – age decides also when you need to interject. Like if I’m in a group of women my mother’s age group, I would not be taking the centre stage. I would be giving them space because they are older and mature. And equally they would give me space because they know I have knowledge they don’t have. And the invisibility, it’s really difficult to define how that works, because it just seems to be there and it’s something you grow up with, it’s a kind of etiquette which is not taught. And I realised how not being in that environment, being in a different environment where you don’t get that space, I had changed to somebody who almost bangs the table to make sure that my, I get to say my piece because I’ll not say it if I don’t do it.
Mukami McCrum discusses racial and cultural differences in communication
8 - 9 December 2011
Sound recording
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
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