Globalization is nothing new. We need only look to the ancient Silk Road linking the Far East to the Mediterranean in order to find some of the earliest recorded impacts of people and goods crossing borders. Yet in the current cultural moment, tensions are high due to increased migration, economic unpredictability, complicated acts of local and global terror, and heightened political divisions all over the world. Because it is the moment in which we are living, it is all too easy to perceive globalization as "new" and therefore a threat to our ways of life, to our nations, and to our cultures. Britain's unexpected vote to leave the European Union in June 2016 is just one indicator—albeit a stunning one—of the degree to which individuals, communities, and nation-states are concerned about the impacts of border crossings, cross-cultural relationships, and the global economy.
The current response to globalization is nothing new either. Like the ebb and flow of time, our awareness, understanding, and valuing of cross-cultural relationships fluctuate according to the cultural climate in which they are shaped. For example, if we look at the lead-up to World War I in Europe, many of the tensions we are currently experiencing may feel like echoes of that time. Similarly, a bit closer to home, the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election, and unexpected win for Donald Trump, is reminiscent of previous populist campaigns and, more specifically, the cultural climate in the United States in 1968, with all its divisiveness and volatility. Despite decades of perceived growth and change, ostensibly impacted by such historical markers as the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Gulf War, 9/11, and subsequent crises in the Middle East that are ongoing, we find ourselves in a time of increased division and skepticism toward migrants and refugees, global economic and political relationships, and our ability to find solutions to both international and domestic problems.
Contributing to this divide is the increased rate at which information is dispersed. While it means that we can be informed more quickly of significant events and movements across the world, there is also a risk of media [End Page 5] saturation, false information, and our immediate ability to share knee-jerk responses to complex social and cultural issues that cannot be meaningfully communicated in 140 characters or less. For example, accusations have been directed toward Black Lives Matter here in the United States for being too politically correct in their responses to the "All Lives Matter" counter-campaign. Yet, rather than perceiving Black Lives Matter as a necessary response to police violence and high incarceration rates that specifically target people of color in the United States, "All Lives Matter" works as a means to minimize the lived experiences of African Americans and oversimplify or dilute the dialogue. The perceived political correctness that emerged during the US cultural and identity revolution of the 1990s is passed off as being weak and unfair rather than acknowledging its original intent: increased cultural sensitivity and thoughtful dialogue.
Cultural moments such as this one are a stark reminder that for some, empathetic and sensitive communication unnecessarily detracts from the power of the dominant culture. Perhaps even more disturbing, it seems to be a strategy to curtail cross-cultural dialogue that acknowledges complexity. When right-wing politicians characterize all refugees and migrants as potential terrorists, denigrating their liberal counterparts for refusing to use the term "radical Islamic terrorist," the strategy is to deny complexity and, more poignantly, to portray such attempts at cultural sensitivity as being "weak on terror." In one fell swoop a serious global issue—increased migration due to civil unrest, ongoing wars, dwindling resources, climate change, and, in some instances, terrorism—impacting millions of innocent people, is reduced to its most politically charged component. Cultural sensitivity, by association, is perceived to be a bad idea, signifying weakness. Meaningful cross-cultural dialogue that is sensitive to our shared histories, cultures, and perceived differences is reduced to pandering by those who would make a mockery of it. Dialogue becomes impossible. Saying anything becomes too great a risk.