As the American population becomes increasingly diverse, issues of race, class, and culture become more pronounced. Daily, the effects of misunderstandings, discrimination, and damaging preconceptions are played out in our country—and our neighborhoods—too often leading to further separation and even violence. On all levels of our society, people struggle with challenges of communicating across cultures.


These video clips from the feature documentary “American Textures” take a close look at youth from diverse backgrounds addressing the challenges of understanding others. The documentary follows six American youth of Latino, Caucasian and African American backgrounds, as they travel together through North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. Together these young heroes develop the courage, skills, and trust to risk entering frank dialogues. Their shared travel experiences, emotions of empathy, honest confrontations, and discoveries about each other become doorways to deepen their understanding of themselves, of the others, and of society.


Clip Summaries:

Confronting Stereotypes: Frank Discussion”: The students engage in open dialog about their experiences of feeling misunderstood and stereotyped by other cultures. The clip illustrates communication that supports the development of intercultural empathy and critical thinking skills.


Breaking Down Barriers: Tarrah & Kenya”: The students share first impressions of each other—impressions often based on preconceptions or stereotypes—and openly confront the realities of these impressions. They honestly share their feelings and risk feeling vulnerable in order to get to know each other on deeper levels.

  1. What strategies do you see the youth in the videos using in their conversations to elicit honest responses to difficult questions?

    • Answer

      Responses will vary, but may include carefully constructing respectful questions, responding with honesty to others’ comments, not responding with defensiveness, curbing judgment, and letting others respond fully to questions.

  2. What role does nonverbal communication play in the conversations shown in the videos?

    • Answer

      Students may respond that effective, genuine communication was facilitated by nonverbals such as keeping eye contact, leaning forward when listening or speaking, maintaining an open stance (rather than crossing arms, for example), and nodding in understanding

  3. What insight is provided by the short reflection pieces at the end of the “Frank Discussion” video?

    • Answer

      Answers will vary. Responses might include understanding that being willing to be truly open in communication carries risks and can be difficult and painful, but also can lead to opportunities for deep understanding.

  • Conflict mediation is not about avoiding conflicts. It is learning about and understanding the different sides of a conflict and deepening relationships in the process.
  • Demographics of the U.S. are changing dramatically. Scientists project that within the next three decades ethnic minorities will grow to be more than 50% of the U.S. population.
  • According to the 2012 U.S. Census, 20.5% of Americans lived in a home where a language other than English was spoken.
  • Languages reported by the 2000 U.S. Census were English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7%. Although the U.S. has no official national language, English has acquired official status in 28 of the 50 states.