Culturally competent practices - Zach Porter

If you're reading this to find out what Culturally Competent Practice is, I'm not too much of an authority on that. I can't say much about the phrase except that my friend made it up as a phony book title for an art school project. The full title was something along the lines of "Culturally Competent Practice, Understanding Faith and Family Values in America." It was quite catchy and I always wanted to reuse it in some fashion and now is as good a time as any. However it does relate vaguely to today's forthcoming topic which is the first of the three words in the aforementioned phrase.

I hear the word "culture" more often than not being misused all the time. People tell me, "You should get over there to Europe, they have culture." or "There is no culture here in America." They are confusing the merits or progress of culture with culture itself. Better yet, you could say they are equating a perceived lack of richness in culture with not having one at all, which by the way is impossible. Sociology you can't escape being defined by some type of culture wherever it is you live on earth. Don't worry. Paid sociologists and anthropologists will help you define the culture in which you live.

When people start on the topic of culture it's usually snooty talk aimed at setting oneself apart from the rest. When I lived in New York I interned at a prestigious photography galley on the Upper East Side.

Over lunch everyday I suffered listening to the owner explain she had more culture than anyone else in this country because she still got her produce and house hold products from 20 different neighborhood stores.

Shopping with the small business owners is great but it's not a measure of culture. Making one trip to Wal-Mart and being set for life is a far more fascinating topic concerning culture.

As far as culturally competent travel in the U.S. goes, I'm a big fan of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Flat with a 40 percent chance of cliffs or rock faces but always, dry, wide open, and wonderfully sparse. The lonely cracked asphalt of Route 66, the rusted metal and weeds of the defunct Twin Arrows gas station. And who could forget "The Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere," the greatest attraction in Groom, TX, save for the tumbleweeds rolling by. I'd rather drive cross county on I-40 than eat chocolate snails in France, and no, I'm not taking a jab at them because of that whole Iraq mess where we renamed french fries to "freedom fries" and wasted perfectly good wine.

If I did get out of the country for vacation it would be straight to the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Not "hosteling it" all over Europe. I don't want to be a big dumb tourist, visiting Big Ben or the Leaning Tower of Pisa because that's what I'm supposed to want to do. Because that's just what people do, taking pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower to fill up that old shoe box with meaningless photos.

When in Rome, being there will remind me of the slides I saw during Survey of Western Arts II. And when I see the Mona Lisa in France I will say to myself "The color reproduction in my art book is better than the real thing". Someone else will say, "Be sure to visit the gift shop on your way out" and "Buy a better looking color reproduction post card for your friends at home." You saw it live on TV in high definition. You already read about it in the glossy pages of your magazines. Around the world in 5 minutes on CNN. Everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Zach Porter is a photographer for the News Daily and can be reached at zporter@news-daily.com.