Culture is not a simple term to define, especially without limiting it. However, it is necessary to narrow the word in order to better understand it. Culture refers to “shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialization.” With this definition, it can also be inferred that culture directly interacts and hastens the growth of a group’s identity as well as their social patterns.
Culture as a whole is too broad of a term to define, but a narrower, simpler culture of hierarchy and how culture directly interacts with determining one’s place in society. Conscious or not, where we hail from plays a crucial role in who we are not only as individuals, but as an educated society. A society that knowingly utilizes culture to establish a hierarchy as a way to distribute power among classes will regress faster than it can hope to grow.
Cultural practices have often played a large role in the determination of one’s race. For instance, identification of one’s ‘whiteness’ can be traced back to when people who left Europe as Calabrians or Bohemians came to America and were classified as ‘white’ That designation is one that has had a tremendous impact on our society thus far (Rivkin & Ryan, 2004 pp. 981). Rivkin & Ryan mentioned how the idea of culture has also helped perpetuate ‘whiteness,’ which in turn placed people viewed as ‘white’ on the top of the social totem pole.
This dangerous idea perpetuates the idea that in order to find success, the color of one’s skin should preside over their intelligence. It is not to be assumed, however, that color should be discarded; rather, race and culture should work in harmony to give background and characteristics to virtually everyone in the world. Culture, as we know it, is a way to grow as a society and give rise to social patterns. Culture is inherently important to determining one’s personality and ethnic background.
However, it should not be stressed or determined to be the most important factor to consider when determining someone’s success or place in society. The idea of correlating one’s skin pigment with their personality can be found all throughout history, but it presides mainly in the 1800s.
Formation of Racial Prejudices Within Society in the 1800S
Racial prejudices harmed not only the minorities in question, but the overall society as well. Physical violence often erupted towards people of color, or these people suffered verbal abuse, widespread racism, and stigmatization. “In the early 1800s, people in the United States ascribed to Latin Americans nationalities and, separate from these, races. By the 1840s and 1850s, however, US Angolos looked with distaste upon Mexicans in terms that conflated and stigmatized their race and nationality…War propaganda from the 1830s and 1840s purporting to chronicle Mexican ‘atrocities’ relied on racial disparagements” (Richard & Delgado, 2000, p. 969).
Rather than express any interest in determining the worth of someone and their possible contribution to society, the color of their skin often made that decision for them. It was a detrimental practice to take a minority’s culture and twist it into merely a stereotype. The result of this unfair judgement was often a lower position in society, due to highly stigmatized racial profiling and cultural prejudice. Though modern civilizations have made advances as a society that tend to limit the racial bias and prejudices, it has not been completely eradicated and continues to affect how people are ‘ranked’ in their society.
Implications of Racial Bias in Modern Society
“Human fate still rides upon ancestry and appearance. The characteristics of our hair, complexion, and facial features still influence whether we are figuratively free or enslaved. Race dominates our personal lives. It manifests itself in our speech, dance, neighbors, and friends…Race permeates our politics. It alters electoral boundaries, shapes the disbursement of local, state, and federal funds, fuels the creation and collapse of political alliances, and twists the conduct of law enforcement.
In short, race mediates every aspect of our lives” (Richard & Delgado, 2000, p. 965). Race, and with it, culture, permeates our mainstream media and affects the lives of the minority races (anything other than white). For instance, a black person walking down the street may be targeted because they looked “suspicious,” whereas people who are white generally do not have to worry that they will be shot and killed over the pigment of their skin. Misconduct within the police department is widespread, especially in the Sandra Bland case. Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman wrongfully treated due to the blackness of her skin.
Negative aspects of bias and prejudice regarding culture “If it is not precisely the heated debates, transferences, and countertransferences generating emotional distress and anxiety that should be the essence of such courses, in which part of learning about ‘culture and race and privilege’ involves speaking about that which is normally unvoiced and sometimes arguing very loudly about it” (Good, 2013, p. 392). In order to find a solution to the problem that is cultural bias, that same culture needs to be discussed in depth, with no bias or prejudice.
Ignoring a problem hastens its demise, rather than cultivating a cure. Good mentioned that distress and anxiety might be a byproduct of talking outwardly about race, especially if someone is not accustomed to speaking about race and ethnicity. However, she also referred to how it is important to have those discussions as a society in order to maintain an educated view versus feeding into the stereotypes.
Finding a Solution to Widespread Racism and Cultural Bias
The way to combat a society that believes one race, culture, or any other bias is ‘above’ one or the other is to educate the masses, while acknowledging that not everyone will hold the same belief system, and may interpret the information differently than how it was meant to be interpreted. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away, it will simply make it worse. “By choosing to resist racial constructions, we may emancipate ourselves and our children.
Unfortunately, uncoerced choice in the arena of US race relations is rare, perhaps nonexistent….choices [that] are made in a harsh racist social setting that may facilitate but more likely forestall freedom; and that in our decisions to resist, we may shatter but more probably will inadvertently strengthen the racial structures around us. Nevertheless, race is not an inescapable physical fact. Rather, it is a social construction that, however perilously, remains subject to contestation at the hands of individuals and communities alike” (Richard & Delgado, 2000, p. 972).
As Richard & Delgado mentioned, if our society altogether ignores race, it will not bring us any closer to finding a solution to the problem of racism, which stems from a lack of education. Cultural sensitivity and knowledge as well the need for cultural competence are factors that weigh in heavily on the current cultural bias and hierarchy.