People in various parts of the world differ in certain hereditary features, including the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, their facial features, their stature, and the shape of their heads. But by the same token, the features that humans everywhere share are substantially larger and of considerably greater importance than their differences. The disparities between blacks and whites are not virtually as remarkable as between carnivores and humans. But physical distinctions, such as a handicap or race, become strengthened by societal insights, which consequently generate bigger spaces between people (Carbaugh, 1990).
Most people belong to a number of groups, some voluntary, some by birth, adoption, or selection into those groups. Salient groups, the ones we consciously value, provide a source of identity. Structurally, these are microcultures or co-cultures within a macroculture. A person might identify an elderly microculture, a cowboy microculture, an Appalachian microculture, or a volunteer association microculture. Each group exhibits some similarities to the large culture, but also some differences (Locke and Stern, 1942).
Within the United States, blacks, Hispanics, Indians, Asian-Americans, and Jews have been the victims of prejudice and discrimination. Throughout much of the nations’ history, they have been confined to subordinate statuses that have not been justified by their individual abilities and talents (Frazier, 1957). The conceptual baggage we often carry with us, such as stereotypes of other racial groups, can easily blind us to the fact that, in many instancesm few significant differences exist between two people.
Real cultural differences do not always exist beyond ethnicity and race, In a diverse society, we simply magnify the immediate through stereotypes (Frazier, 1957). The great merit of culture is that it permits human beings to circumvent the slowness of genetic evolution. Behavior patterns that are wired into organisms by their genes do not allow rapid adaptation to changing conditions. In contrast, cultural change can be rapid. Indeed, some social scientists contend that cultural evolution has swamped biological evoulution as the chief source of behavior change for human beings.
The functioning of the human brain is no longer rapidly prescribed by genetic programs (Locke and Stern, 1942). Instead, genes have allowed the construction of a liberated brain, one that permits a flexible repertoire of responses. The more culture human beings have acquired, the more biological capacity for culture has then evolved, leading to more culture, and so on. The fact that culture has increasingly usurped nature as the primary moving force in human development has implications for cultural unity and diversity (Locke and Stern, 1942). Cultural diversity may also be found within a society.
In many modern nations, the members of some groups participate in the main culture of the society while simulatenously sharing with one another a number of unique values, norms, traditions, and lifestyles. These distinctive cultural patterns are termed a subculture. Subcultures abound in American life, and find expression in various religious, racial, ethnic, occupational, and age groups (Locke and Stern, 1942). Generally, when we communicate with members of our own culture, we have internalized the cultural rules that govern the behavior within the context, and we are able to communicate without giving much thought to those rules.
But when we are engaged in intercultural encounters, we must be aware of how our culture influences the communication context; otherwise, we may stumble upon a variety of surprises (Castro, 2003). Obviously, there are large global regions and national cultures that are structurally and organically bound together in a social system where people have developed a cultural network. Examples include what might be globally described
These global differences, marked by geopolitical factors and national identity, fit into the study of culture influence on diversity (Harris and Moran, 1979). Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of a multicultural society, though, is the form of acculturation used. There are three processes through which disparities between the dominant culture and minority cultures can be treated (Castro, 2003). The first of these, assimilation, is a unilateral process by which minority culture members adopt the norms and values of the dominant group in the society (Harris and Moran, 1979).
The second, cultural separatism, is a situation where there is little adaptation on either side. Finally, pluralism is a process by which both minority and majority culture members adopt some norms of the other group. Perhaps, the pluralistic form of acculturation is the defining feature of a multicultural society. It is only through pluralism that members of any society can come to understand and truly value cultural and gender diversity (Harris and Moran, 1979). A shared cultural background makes people feel more comfortable with other people from their own culture.
Many people initially may feel confused and uneasy when they deal with people of another culture. The discomfort that people often feel when they have contact with an unfamiliar culture is called culture shock. Culture shock usually passes if a person stays in a new culture long enough to understand it and get used to its ways (Lambert and Taylor, 1990). Immigrants need to cope with the cultural changes brought about by continuous firsthand contact with another culture. One of the chief characteristics of the acculturation process is that elements of the original culture can never be completely erased.
An awareness of American culture along with examples of contrasting cultures contributes to the individual’s understanding of her- or himself as a cultural being (Chiswick, 1982). The Old Order Amish are a case in point. The Amish are a religious sect that originated in Germany and Switzerland during the reformaiton conflicts of the sixteenth century. Because of religious persecution, many Amish families live on farms, although a minority work in skilled crafts like carpentry, furniture-makingm and blacksmithing.
They believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and turn their backs on modern standards of dress, “progressive” morality, “worldly” amusement, automobiles, and higher education. Above all, the Amish value hard physical work and believe that those who do not find joy in work are somehow abnormal. Far from being ashamed of their nonconformity to worldly standards, the Amish pride themselves on being a peculiar people who separate themselves from the world (Castro, 2003).
Within the American society, there exist many subcultures, or ways of life that differ from one another in many important respects. Some of these subcultures exist partly because the nation has been settled over the years by people from many different parts of the world, bringing with them their own particular customs and values. Whatever the customs and rules may be, every culture and every subculture molds the settlers accordingly (Harris and Moran, 1979). Learning how to be open and flexible helps facilitate strangers’ adaptation by enabling them to endure stressful challenges and maximize learning.
Openness implies the immigrant’s willingness to accept change and exposure to new ideas (Chavez, 2001). Flexibility also means that communicatively competent immigrants develop a repertoire of interpersonal tactics. As sociologist Foster put in an analogy, “the better international negotiators are ultimately pragmatic. They are not oaks; rather they are more like willows. Unable to predict every situation, every twist and turn, even in domestic situation, they know that it is nearly impossible to do so in a cross-cultural one” (Locke and Stern, 1942).
The immigrant’s efforts at being adaptable will be greatly facilitated if he or she learns how to tolerate a degree of ambiguity while trying to analyze what role to play. The intercultural encounter is full of potential ambiguity. The ability to react to new and ambiguous situations with minimal discomfort has long been thought to be an important asset when adjusting to a new culture. If the immigrant is self-conscious, tense, and anxious when confronted with the unknown, he is apt to use his energy to alleviate his frustration instead of trying to decide how best to adapt to the person and situation (Locke and Stern, 1942).
Some non-Hispanics in the United States fear that the country’s rapidly growing Hispanic population will not adopt the language, customs, and viewpoint of the dominant, English-speaking culture. Some of these people fear that their way of life will be replaced by the “foreign ways” of Hispanic Americans (Sanchez, 1995). Others worry that a large Spanish-speaking minority will become a permanent underclass, locked out of economic advancement by a lack of fluency in English. Many historians and sociologists discount such fears. They point to the many immigrant groups that have become part of American culture.
They also note that except for recent immigrants, most Hispanic Americans can speak English (Hinkle, 1994). No society is so isolated that it does not come in contact with other societies. When contact occurs, societies borrow cultural traits from one another. As a result, cultural traits and patterns tend to spread from the society in which they originated (Chavez, 2001). It seems logical therefore that a change in an attitude, caused by new beliefs or new emotional responses, should a cause a change in behavior. Yet, the sequence of events is often exactly the opposite.
In many cases, the change in behavior comes first, and this new behavior creates the change in attitude (Locke and Stern, 1942). New social situations often push the immigrants in the direction of changes in behavior, and these in turn often lead to changes in attitudes. This has been especially noticeable in recent years in the attitudes of whites toward blacks and of blacks toward whites. In general, it has been found that people who have worked with members of the other race hold more favorable attitudes, while those who have had no interracial contacts tend to feel less favorable.
Undoubtedly, the explanation is that new forms of behavior have produced attitude changes (Chavez, 2001). At times, the norms, values, and lifestyles of a subculture are substantially at odds with those of the larger society and constitute a counterculture. A counterculture rejects many of the behavioral standrads and guideposts that hold in the dominant culture. The hangloose orientation found among some youth in the early 1970s had a good many countercultural overtones.
The young people questioned the legitimacy of the Establishment, rejected the hard-work ethic of their elders, turned to drugs in a search for new experiences, and dropped out of middle-class life. Controversy surrounding youthful involvement in the hangloose counterculture resurfaced in the late 1980s when Judge Douglas H, Ginsburg was compelled to withdraw as a Supreme Court nominee after it was disclosed that he had used marijuana as a youthl the debate widened when Democratic presidential contenders Senator Albert Gore, Jr. , and Bruce Babbitt admitted that they too had used marijuana in te 1960s. Delinquent gangs, Satanic cults, and the survivalist right are other illustrations of counterculture groups (Hinkle, 1994).
People of one culture who move to a country where another culture dominates may give up their old ways and become part of the dominant culture. The process by which they do this is called assimilation. Through assimilation, a minority group eventually disappears because its members lose the cultural characteristics that set them apart.
Assimilation is the process through which one social and cultural group becomes part of another social and cultural group (Locke and Stern, 1942). In a diverse society, dominant groups and minority groups often approach assimilation differently. Within the United States, two views toward assimilation have dominated. One, the melting pot tradition, has seen assimilation as a process whereby peoples and cultures would fuse within the nation to produce a new people and a new civilization.
The other, the Americanization tradition, has viewed American culture as an essentially finished product on the Anglo-Saxon pattern, and has insisted that immigrants promptly give up their cultural traits for those of the dominant American group (Hinkle, 1994). To sum it up, recognition of multiculturalism and cultural diversity are key to developing a climate of a healthy relationship and respect among the peoples. While racial anxieties exist in modern society, the sundry peoples may blend merely with others of common cultural upbringing.
Works Cited Carbaugh, Donal. Cultural Communication and Intercultural Contact. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990. Castro, Vanessa Smith. Acculturation and Psychological Adaptation. Greenwood Press, 2003. Chavez, Leo R. Covering Immigration: Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation. University of California Press, 2001. Chiswick, Barry R. The Gateway: U. S. Immigration Issues and Policies. American Enterprise Institute, 1982. Frazier, Franklin. Race and Culture Contacts in the Modern World. Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 1957.
Harris, Philip R.and Moran, Robert T. Managing Cultural Differences. Texas: Gulf Publishing, 1979. Hinkle, Gisela J. The Development of Modern Sociology: Its Nature and Growth in the United States. Random House, 1994. Lambert, Wallace E. and Donald M. Taylor. Coping with Cultural and Racial Diversity in Urban America. Praeger Publishers, 1990. Locke, Alain and Bernhard J. Stern. When Peoples Meet: A Study in Race and Culture Contacts. Progressive Education Association, 1942. Saney, Parviz. Crime and Culture in America: A Comparative Perspective. Greenwood Press, 2000.