In many languages culture usually refers to art, music, history, and literature. In the United States, these would be viewed as the results or artifacts of culture. Our definition of culture is much more anthropological. In American English “culture” simply means the way of life of a group of people passed down from one generation to another through learning. It includes fundamental beliefs, values, thought patterns, and worldviews that are shared by most Americans. We can examine these external aspects of culture and infer that they reflect our internal values, beliefs, and worldviews.
Being fully American, as the United States defines its citizens, does not presuppose an ancestral linkage to the nation or to its predominant ethnic cultures or religious traditions. Americans, as individuals, participate in a multitude of historic cultures, but what they share with one another is something quite different. At the heart of their nationhood is an enduring social contract and the energetic process it sets in motion. When immigrants first arrived to America, they brought their European beliefs and values to the “New World.
” They had landed in a place where there appeared to be unlimited natural resources and vast opportunities to excel. In Europe, if you were born poor you died poor. The combination of European beliefs and values and the abundant supply of resources and opportunities created a new set of cultural values that we call “American. ” These new beliefs and values of individual achievement and class mobility were rewarded and reinforced. Americans then began to identify themselves in terms of what they do. People from many other cultures, however, identify themselves in terms of who they are.
His status is based upon family and heritage, not what he does as an individual or what he may do in the future. Many people believe that the United States is a mixture of many different cultures without a dominant or mainstream culture. The metaphor often used to reflect this assumption is the “melting pot. ” People from around the globe bring their cultures here and throw them into the American pot. The mixture is stirred and heated until the various cultures melt together. The United States is certainly a culturally diverse society; however, there is also a dominant culture.
Immigrants became a part of this culture by giving up many of their differences so that they could fit into the mainstream of society. However, not everyone could fit the cookie-cutter mold. People can’t change their gender, skin color, or hair texture. Some people melted more easily than others. Of course, the United States has changed. Most Americans would no longer accept a melting pot or a cookie-cutter culture. These days it is now acceptable to keep one’s differences and still be part of the overall society. Today, it is easier to keep your differences.
Differences in gender, race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation are acceptable and need not be abandoned to have an equal opportunity to achieve your life goals. People with dual identities reflect the belief that one can keep one’s ethnic, national, religious, or racial identity and still be an American. Mexican-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans or Black Americans, Arab-Americans, Muslim Americans, and American Indians all reflect the practice of being a true American but also maintaining a co-identity.
Of course, what holds the country together is not only a set of common values and beliefs, but also the English language and common experiences. This reflects a multicultural model and the assumption is that not only are differences welcomed, but they are even valued and viewed as strengths. Very few people would want to go back to the past when minorities had to give up their differences to fit into the mainstream culture. Diversity is an opportunity to be embraced, not an obstacle to be overcome.
The issue facing America today is not how to get rid of differences, but rather how to manage a society with so many differences. The United States has always been very diverse, but it is no longer simply a matter of bringing together different European nationalities and ethnic groups. Today diversity means all races and ethnic groups, various nationalities, men and women, the disabled, employees of all ages, and people of various sexual orientations.
Because of the reality of the demographic changes, increasing global interdependence, and the obvious benefits of diversity, Americans will adapt and develop the necessary skills to communicate and work with people of all cultural backgrounds. Although a passion for choice is the engine of American individualism, it also provides a corrective to selfish behavior. From the vantage point of more traditional societies, Americans may seem to be a nation of atomized individuals in social free-fall; but, in fact, they have not eliminated a sense of social obligation.
They have merely replaced its hereditary base. A negative aspect, which makes it difficult to embrace and at times even tolerate, cultural diversity is ethnocentricism. Ethnocentricism is when people of a given culture view their particular culture as being better, or even the only one truly worthy of existence. As concerns this evil, one is right to remember the plight of people who have been historically harmed by the ethnocentric ideals of others. There is the open disregard for the native people of this land.
Also, there is the handling of African-Americans who were forced to come to this country in bondage. It would be remiss to overlook the Native-American and African-American populations, however these cultures are not the only ones that have suffered from the ethnocentricism of others. There are many cultures represented under the headings of both Native-American and African-American people. Sadly, many of these cultures are now extinct. Those that remain have been enculturated by ethnocentric pressure from the European colonizers of North and South America, Asia, and Africa.
American society has married an ethic of choice to an endless variety of traditions, ideas, and opportunities. The mix of peoples and customs encountered in American daily life and the dramatic interruption most communities have experienced in their emigration from their homelands has led to a practice of sampling and borrowing and intermingling of styles, rituals, and, above all, foods. This eclecticism, which may seem messy to more historically unified cultures, becomes in America a value and a signpost of vitality. It is what gives national shape, ultimately, to much of the country’s art and literature.
America’s artists, writers, and architects have taken as their prerogative picking and choosing among elements in foreign and domestic cultures and combining them into a new American whole. Therefore, a typical person from the dominant culture of the United States is one who’s tolerant of diversity. A typical American now is open-minded, knowledgeable to the reality beyond American shores. Though ethnocentricity and ethnic exclusivity still exist in this modern age, the typical American has already willingly embraced people other than their own.
Due to this, Americans have become more eclectic and liberal, too accepting as to change and adapt one’s values every so often. I can’t say that I differ much from the typical person in the dominant culture of America because though our behaviors and thoughts as a people differ from one person to another, our beliefs and view of the world are influenced by the culture we’ve grown up with. If there is one aspect that I differ from the typical American, it is that I keep my values intact no matter how many and strong other perspectives and new beliefs or traditions introduce me with.
I have a broad view of the world, as brought to me by the dominant culture of American, as have other Americans, and this shall keep me free and never encapsulated by conservatism. Americans can see the advantage they have in their long history of political openness and change, tolerance of conflict, entrepreneurial energy, and cultural mix. Their flexible history can serve as a formula for stability during the ongoing shocks of global modernism, confirming rather than undermining national traditions. Reference Locke, D. C. , A Model of Multicultural Understanding.