This paper is based on the topics of race and culture. It seeks answers to the question of whether people’s identity is defined by race or by culture. It is argued that culture plays a greater role in influencing people’s identity than race. The reason is that people’s identity is a product of the interaction of genetic and environmental factors. As a result, race plays a minimal role in defining people’s identity and in most cases; it is used negatively through discrimination.
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Current Research on Race and Culture
Race is a culturally constructed concept just like gender and ethnicity. It means that the definition of race may differ from one culture to another. During the 20th century, race was commonly used to refer the physical characteristics of people from different parts of the world. Such characteristics included skin color, dialect, eye color, and type of hair.
However, contemporary sociologists and psychologists have argued that there is no mechanism of associating race with physical characteristics due to emergence of the concept of cultural diversity. As a result, the 20th century definition of race has been rejected in the 21st century on the basis that it is not only narrow but also vague and ambiguous. The contemporary sociologists and psychologists have provided a new definition of race based on cultural orientation.
Their definition is based on the fact that race is a product of culture as opposed to 20th century scholars who argued that culture was a product of race. The contemporary sociologists and psychologists have refuted this earlier argument due to absence of proof that race is able to influence a culture of people.
Instead of perceiving culture as a product of race, contemporary sociologists and psychologists have argued that all human beings belong to the human race and therefore, there are no classifications of races but only one race. This shift in reasoning is largely based on the fact that people in a given culture are able to give meanings to various concepts and as such, race is an aspect of culture.
During the 20th century, race was used negatively to classify people into various skin categories in the United States. However, in the 21st century, race has been used as a synonym of ethnicity. For instance, all forms of censuses in the United States rarely ask people their race but their ethnicity because ethnicity is not associated with discrimination and negative stereotypes like race.
The cultural construction of race makes the concept of race mean different things to people of different cultures. These meanings may be interpreted from sociological, political, psychological, and economic perspectives. In most cases, race is used negatively in various cultures depending on the socialization, economic, social, and political ideologies in those cultures (Andreatta & Ferraro, 2013).
In Africa for example, white people are associated with superiority especially because they colonized Africans and provided political and economic support to many African countries after colonization. As a result, many Africans have internalized the idea that all whites are superior to blacks. However, this idea is not true because there are many blacks who are better than whites in many aspects such as intelligence, wealth, sociological, and political imaginations.
A good example is the current President of the United States Mr Obama who is of the African descent. But due to his natural ability coupled with socialization as a white, he was able to become the President of the world’s super power which is predominantly occupied by whites. If Obama was born and raised in an African country, perhaps he would not be able to rise to such heights but would be a normal African with little or no recognition.
Further more, if he was raised as an African child and contested for presidency in an African country, the people in that country would not have voted for him despite his natural leadership abilities. However, if Obama decides to contest for presidency in an African country after his second term as president of the United States, he would be voted for unanimously due to the perception that he is white and superior to blacks in that country.
This example of Obama confirms the argument by contemporary sociologists and psychologists that race is a product of culture. The reason is that even though Obama has African genes, many Americans voted for him based on his ability, which many believe is a product of his genetics and socialization as a white not as a black. If he was socialized as a black child, then he would not have attempted to contest for the presidency due to inferiority and the internalization of the idea that blacks are inferior to whites (Sewell, 2009).
Culture comprises those things which are cherished or are important to us as people. It is defined as a people’s way of life or of doing things and comprises the accepted and patterned behavior of people (Martinez, 2010). It is also a body of common understanding which encompasses attitudes, values, and history shared by a group of people through language, traditions, and music (Eleftheriadou, 2010).
Another characteristic of culture is that it is learned. Babies are born with a genetic capacity to learn and absorb what is in the surrounding environment. They are born without any culture but their genetic predisposition enables them to learn language and other cultural traits. It is for these reasons that babies are said to have no tribe, ethnic group or race but are socialized to be members of a given ethnic group or race (Bhui, 2012).
Cultures do not exist in isolation. In the world today, there are virtually no societies living in isolation due to the integrative role of the state, improvement of infrastructure, and cultural reorganization which has enhanced unity among different cultures (Worsley, 2009).
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My personal opinion is that culture is a great agent of socialization and it outweighs all other agents of socialization, race included. Our identity is therefore a product of the culture where we live in. People learn and acquire specific behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes depending on the sociocultural environment in which they find themselves in. If for instance a child born of white parents is adopted by black parents and brought up in Africa, that child adapts to African culture, learns and acquires an African language.
The fact that the child carries genes for the white race may not make him or her hate people of the black race. Consequently, the color of an individual is just a pointer of his or her genetic make up and should not be used to define the individual in terms of behavior, values, and abilities.
Race and culture are important concepts when it comes to defining the identity of a person. Race has to do with physical characteristics such as skin color while culture has to do with the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions which people acquire from the environment where they live.
According to current research on the topics of race and culture, culture plays a crucial role in defining the identity of people with race playing an insignificant role. The reason is that race is a genetic make up of an individual and therefore it may not influence the behaviors, beliefs or values acquired by the individual but culture is capable of doing so.
Andreatta. S., & Ferraro, G. P. (2013). Elements of culture: an applied perspective.Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage.
Bhui, K. (2012). Elements of culture and mental health: critical questions for clinicians. London: RCPsych.
Eleftheriadou, Z. (2010). Psychotherapy and culture: weaving inner and outer worlds. London: Karnac.
Martinez, R. (2010). On race and racism in America: confessions in philosophy. University Park, PA. : Pennsylvania State University Press.
Sewell, H. (2009).Working with ethnicity, race and culture in mental health: a handbook for practitioners. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Worsley, S. M. (2009). Audience, agency and identity in black popular culture. New York NY: Routledge.