In addressing racial and cultural differences, other ideas and terms immediately come to mind – prejudice, racism, discrimination, and minority – all of which have evolved with the topic. In a large measure, these concepts reflect the problems that have accompanied increased diversity as both a consequence and a cause of a great many of the social problems Americans are experiencing. Racial and cultural diversity presents some of the most critical issues and problems facing modern nation-states, and culture rests at the core of such difficulties and discussions.
The current upsurge in interest in racial and cultural diversity does not mean that people have not been interested or concerned with the ideas of culture and diversity in the past. Rather, it means that the significance of these things in the lives of people has changed considerably. No longer can such things be taken for granted or simply ignored. The role that culture plays in the lives of individuals and groups is substantial, impacting nearly every aspect of the human experience.
Government agencies and leaders, educators and scholars, businessmen and corporate officers, and even the individual American, all must now face racial and cultural differences in ways they rarely thought about just a few years ago. The constantly growing interdependence of nations and peoples of the modern world, the development of a global economic system, and the rise of transnational business and international corporations, have brought all people of different cultures into face-to-face interactions on a scale unequaled in history.
All of these things have significantly highlighted the need for increased awareness, understanding, and sensitivity to racial and cultural differences, for racial and cultural difference is something found in every nation-state, in the context of international relations, in the workplace and in the daily lives of all peoples. Therefore, this work considers how racial and cultural differences affect a society.
While racial and cultural differences have been one of the primary concerns of anthropologists, perhaps even the cornerstone of the discipline, many other disciplines and scholars also have been concerned with it, or aspects of it. Educators have explored the cultural basis of education and the school curriculum. Historians have been concerned with explaining or documenting the history of it, while sociologists have emphasized society and its social conditions.
Various groups throughout the history of the United States have recognized their own cultural uniqueness within the larger nation-state context and argued for acceptance of that uniqueness. Major business corporations have had to consider differences in cultures as they expanded their markets abroad and/or attempted to reach potential consumers – consumers who obviously were not part of the mainstream “American Culture” as they commonly understood it. Seemingly, most Americans have always recognized differences among “races” or groups they created by categorizing people together on the basis of physical characteristics.
They are quite used to speaking of minority groups and cultures, and they are certainly familiar with such related concepts as stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and racism. Racial and cultural differences in the health-care system touch the lives of many Americans in one way or another. No matter what our own cultural background is, when we go to receive medical care, we may encounter a care giver who comes from a different cultural background than ours. This can lead to cultural misunderstanding, mistrust, and miscommunication.
The problems of racial and cultural differences long have been recognized as important in the ethnographic study of schooling (Reed-Danahay & Anderson-Levitt 1991), but only recently have begun to be noticed in the ethnography of long-term, institutionalized care of the elderly in nursing homes. In the field of anthropology and education, it has been documented that when teachers and students fail to share the same culture, there can be problems in learning, and that when teachers become sensitive to the cultural backgrounds of students, many communication obstacles can be overcome.
Culturally diverse societies such as that of the United States face the problem of balancing the diversity of behaviors, ideas, and attitudes of its citizens with the solidarity of the idealized American culture. Adding to the ever continuing saga of immigration to America, we are confronted with the daunting task of passing on a continually changing and diversifying culture to succeeding generations. Where do the traditions of the older generations fit in? How about languages? How can we balance American’s highly valued respect for individualism with the need to define what it is to be an American?
The relationship of educational and cultural settings is fundamental to both anthropological and educational literature, where teaching and learning have been shown to be particularly sensitive to cultural diversity. Immigrants come with their own varying beliefs, attitudes and expectations. Voluntary immigrants are inclined to reject their traditional culture and language for one or two generations, after which they often try to reclaim it. As involuntary immigrants of color, African-Americans have developed different coping strategies for dealing with long-term discrimination and oppression (Ogbu 1991).
What is common to all immigrants is the centrality of education in their assimilation (or lack of assimilation). This being the case, they often find themselves embroiled in the educational debate of the time. Diversity and immigration continue to be tied intricately to America’s continuing discontent with its educational system. The dilemma of American education as it deals with the diversity of our country reflects our society’s schizophrenia about its multicultural basis and the role of our educational system in the process of creating an American culture.
We are, on the one hand, proud of our immigrant history and the success and strength its diversity brings to our society. At the same time, the ever-broadening problems brought on by cultural and technological changes often are laid at the feet of the multicultural nature of our society. Education is caught in this dilemma as it increases access, services, and standards. Education is aimed at a cultural target that is moving on several axes. The first axis might represent standards, the second diversity, and the third culture change.
Accepted standards and cultural diversity continuously change and usually broaden the objectives of education. These shifting educational objectives must pass through a constantly changing culture that redefines the relationships between generations and the way they interact on a regular basis. Society is concerned with diversity that comes from new religious groupings and, more precisely, with an example of the new religions as unique cultural groups in America. New religions throughout the world vary widely but also exhibit many similarities.
These new religions make up one of the constituent cultural groups in the diversity of the U. S. culture. Cults whose participants form “intentional communities” become sufficiently different to warrant calling them separate constituent cultures. Members attempt to transform their physical, social, and psychological environment by consciously seeking an alternative life-style, exhibiting innovative values and beliefs. This cultural grouping becomes their key source of social-psychological attachment and begins to have more influence on the participants’ behavior than does the larger society.
Members develop ideas of in-group versus out-group, and tend to judge others by their standards and values. Intentional religious communities in America vary from one another in beliefs. They may be looked at on a continuum with most falling somewhere in between. On one end, a group may adhere to traditional, authoritarian moral absolutism. In other words, it may sharply distinguish between good and evil, tend to be politically conservative, and have rigorous expectations regarding social conduct.
On the other end, a group may envision an alternative social order, often drawing from Eastern religions and psychotherapy. It may evaluate morality relativistically, is concerned with the importance of individual consciousness, and hopes to recreate loving relationships as an extended family (Anthony & Robbins 1982). Public fears have forced both state and federal levels of government to consider anti-cult legislation at one time or another. Official studies of the “cult problem” have been sanctioned, which usually consist of efforts to deny them religious freedom.
Solicitation of funds may be regulated, and decisions are made about tax freedom based on ideas about legitimate versus illegitimate religion. There have been hundreds of court cases concerning various aspects of these groups, and some of these cases have made it to the U. S. Supreme Court (Richardson 1994). Business and occupational cultures represent special interest culture groups that contribute to the cultural diversity of the United States. Business culture usually is called “organizational culture” or “corporate culture.
” Organizational culture is the study of an organization as if it were a culture in order to understand better behavior in the organization. Organizational cultures represent very complex special interest groups. The first reason for this is that the work force is very diverse. The cultural makeup of the work force in the United States is a reflection of the cultural makeup of the United States as a whole. In addition, the United States is part of a global marketplace and many business organizations are multinational.
The second reason why organizational cultures represent very complex special interest groups is that organizations are structurally divided into many subunits. Organizational culture has been defined as an integrated system of shared ideas (thoughts, ideals, attitudes), behaviors (actions), and material artifacts (objects) that are characteristic of an organization. Not only does the organization as a whole have a culture, but it also consists of an intricate web of interacting cultural groupings representing many ethnic, regional, gender, occupational, and other special interest groups.
The task of the anthropologist in understanding organizational culture is to act as culture broker and assist the diverse cultural groupings in the organization in understanding what behavior is cultural for each grouping and what behavior is natural to all humans. Although these observations about racial and cultural differences evidence a concern by Americans with racial and cultural diversity over the years, recent events at home and abroad have changed the degree of importance attached to such things.
Violent conflicts among culture groups are increasing. Social problems, which have defied resolution through the years, now promise even more conflict and upheaval, threatening the stability and comfort of local communities and the nation at large. While Americans are becoming more conscious of their culture or cultures, conflicts and seemingly irresolvable social issues appear to being getting worse. This has forced them to think about such things as they never have before.
But just what racial and cultural differences are, seems to be less and less clear every day. The actual diversity of the U. S. culture (known throughout the world as the American Culture) has become a central concern of every group and every individual in America. Political correctness, cultural sensitivity, and a whole host of seemingly intractable social issues and problems touch everyone. The laissez-faire, and almost “cavalier,” attitude of most Americans to the idea of culture and racism has been altered almost overnight.
Across the nation, in its classrooms, its universities, in nearly every government and business circle, in the everyday life of every American, at home, work, or their leisure activities, racial and cultural differences are making their presence felt. While racial and cultural differences clearly are becoming a major focus of the twenty-first century, just what these things mean is not all that clear. People find culture difficult to understand, and they experience great difficulties in applying it to their lives.
Anthony D.& Robbins T. 1982. Spiritual Innovation and the Crisis of American Civil Religion. Daedalus 111(1). Ogbu J. 1982. Cultural discontinuities and schooling. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 13(4). Reed-Danahay D. & Anderson-Levitt K. M. 1991. Backward countryside, troubled city: French teachers’ images of rural and working-class families. American Ethnologist 18(3). Richardson F. 1994. Mission to mandate: Self development through the black church. In “The State of Black America”. B. Tidwell (ed). New York: The National Urban League, Inc.