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Multicultural Concepts And The Significance Of Understanding Cultural Differences

Updated on September 12, 2012

It is common knowledge that there are many different cultures throughout the world. Each culture has its similarities and differences. For example, a similarity would be the United States class system and India’s caste system. While it is a similarity because it shows the different classes of people, it could also be a difference because they are significant to the two cultures in different ways. Each culture has a similar structural system such as political, military, religion, and social structures. I am going to examine and discuss two multicultural concepts, cultural identity and racial identity, while providing the significance in understanding cultural differences.

Many people throughout the world indentify themselves by their cultural background. They may be defined by their culture through their cultural beliefs, morals, values as well as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. This also includes political, religious, family, and social views. All of these views help to define each culture and provide distinct differences between them. While some cultures have some similar views, there are many that set them apart from other cultures. For example, in the United States, we believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” While other countries have similar thoughts in their culture such as Canada’s “peace, order, and good government”(Belanger, 2001), other cultures such as German culture during the holocaust were basically forced to believe that anyone who was Jewish was not worthy of existence. During that time, the German culture was led by Adolf Hitler, and his idea of good government seemed to be world domination of one race. Adolf Hitler’s ideology was very ethnocentric and racist against other cultures. Other things that help to define a culture are family and social structures. Going back to my original example, in the United States, we use the class system, which includes upper class, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class, and lower class. Depending on a person’s ambition, education, and their success determines what class they will fall under. The upper class tends to be the wealthy elite while the lower class of society is the poor. In this social class system, you are able to associate and marry people from other classes. However, in India, they use the caste system, which is made up five different levels: Brahman (priests), Kshatriya (ruler, warrior, landowner), Vaishya (merchants), Shudra (artisans, agriculturists), and Harijans (untouchables). (Callaham & Pavich, 2007). Their system of social class is similar to the United States in that it breaks down society from wealthy to poor. The difference between the U.S. class system and India’s caste system is that in the caste system, they are not able to marry outside of their caste. “People are born, marry, and die” within their caste level. (Callaham & Pavich, 2007). Both of these examples are ways that cultures are able to identify and distinguish themselves from other cultures.

Race as well as physical features are things that are predetermined biologically before being born. They are in a person’s genetic DNA. While human beings do not have control of their race or physical features, these features may have a significant role in their culture and may help to distinguish them from other cultures. “Racial identity seems most often, however, to be a frame in which individuals categorize others, often based on skin color” (O’Hearn, 1998). Because a person’s racial identity is often based on skin color, it frequently has an effect on how people who are in a minority group are treated. For example, before the civil rights movement in the United States, black men and women were mistreated, abused, and encountered much cruelty because of their skin color. They were not allowed to use the same restrooms, drink from the same water fountains, or eat in the same restaurants. All of this terrible mistreatment was due to their racial identity and caused a lot of unneeded violence as well as many deaths. Caucasian American’s had ethnocentric views of their culture and were scared of anything or anyone who was different. However, these black males and females were nothing more than human beings and did not deserve the racist treatment that they endured during that time. After desegregation, black men and women were supposed to be equal. Unfortunately, there are still Caucasian males and females who distance themselves with black men and women specifically because of their skin color today. Since the time of segregation in the United States, there have been many racial identity development models. “Cross (1971, 1995) developed one of the first and most prevalent models of psychological nigrescence, a “resocialization experience” (1995, p. 97), in which a healthy black progresses from a non-Afrocentric to an Afrocentric to a multicultural identity.” (Chavez & Guido-DiBrito, 1999). Also, J.E. Helms created a model for white racial identity. “[She] refers to the status of white racial identity. Her first three statuses outline how a white individual progresses away from a racist frame before moving to the next three statuses where they discover a nonracist white identity” (Chavez & Guido-DiBrito, 1999). Both of these models discuss “an intersection between racial perceptions of others (racism) and racial perception of self (racial development)” (Chavez & Guido-DiBrito, 1999). These models are both significant because they help us to get a better understanding of each culture and how a person identifies themselves and others racially.

Throughout the world, there are many significant things that help to define a culture. Two of those concepts being a person’s cultural identity and a person’s racial identity. A person’s cultural identity may consist of many different things such as race, ethnicity, religion, cultural beliefs, morals, and values. Although they can be similar, this type of identification is often unique to each culture. Another significant concept of cultural differences is through racial identification. There are so many different races in the world, and how each culture identifies is significant to the differences between cultures. Hopefully, with more cultural research and these significant concepts, we can get a better understanding of cultural differences and become a unified race where ethnocentrism or racism is nonexistent.


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