Over the past few decades, there have been many important trends that affected the development of contemporary society. Globalization and diversity were among these trends, and they had a significant impact on the cultural composition of society. Increased diversity and cross-cultural collaboration are evident in all aspects of our lives today. We go to school, work, and build friendships or romantic relationships with people from diverse backgrounds. While diversity can lead to positive social developments, it can also create issues related to discrimination, prejudice, and unfair policies. These problems are evident all over the globe in workplaces, classrooms, and communities, and they have a serious negative impact on individuals and society. As young adults, millennials will have a significant impact on the development of society in the next decades. As a result, people who belong to this generation will have to face and address issues pertaining to modern society, including those associated with increased diversity. The awareness of cultural and social issues, as well as the appreciation of diversity, can help them to build a stronger society that values and accepts differences that exist among people. Hence, cultural and social literacy is critical to millennials because it will help them to navigate the complex sociocultural environment and contribute positively to the world.
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To begin with, it is essential to note that America is one of the most diverse countries that exist today. The wave of immigration in the 20th century has contributed to the plurality of cultures that characterizes American society today. At that time, people from European countries, including Italy, Spain, Ireland, and many others, flooded into the country, establishing new cultural communities. The increased immigration from Asia was also a major trend in the 20th century, which resulted in the creation of many Asian American groups. However, immigration remains a prominent trend in the 21st century, thus continuing the cultural enrichment of society. While the inflow of European and Asian immigrants is moderate, the unstable political situation in the Middle East contributed to the enlargement of Muslim communities in America, making the country more diverse than ever before.
Cultural diversity has a powerful influence on society because it provides a foundation for cross-cultural communication and collaboration in work, education, and daily life. Today, it is impossible to find a single person in the United States who has never worked or studied with a person from a different culture. The technological advancements that occurred in the past decades facilitated this trend by providing opportunities for people from different countries and cultures to study and work together as part of global virtual teams. For instance, many universities today offer distance learning programs, which are suitable for people who live in a different country but still want to receive a degree from an American or European university. There are also many companies where employees from various backgrounds can work as part of virtual teams. Hence, to succeed in education and work, people are forced to break through cultural barriers while maintaining respect for one another’s cultures.
Nevertheless, in the absence of cultural and social literacy, diversity can result in serious issues that affect people living in contemporary society. The primary concern associated with diversity is discrimination, which can have negative consequences for people and society. Even in countries where discrimination on the basis of all individual differences, including race, religion, and gender is prohibited by law, it remains a critical social issue impacting the lives of many people. Potter et al. define discrimination as “the differential or unfair treatment experienced by individuals or groups because of a devalued individual (i.e., stigmatized) attribute or group identity (i.e., prejudice)” (38). As evident from this definition, discrimination stems from stereotyping and stigmatization faced by certain groups. For the vast part, discrimination targets people from minority backgrounds. In countries where the largest share of the population is white, people from different ethnic backgrounds are likely to be stereotyped and face discrimination. People from the LGBTQ community are also subject to stigmatization and discrimination in most countries of the world, including the United States. Discrimination against minorities is dangerous because it alienates them from the rest of society and makes it more difficult to achieve social, economic, and political equality for all.
Discrimination also has significant consequences for individuals and can influence their health and well-being. In a study by Potter et al., researchers found that discrimination on the basis of race is associated with poor mental health outcomes due to the fact that it increases stress and anxiety (55). Discrimination based on sexual orientation, on the other hand, led to increased odds of depression and suicidal behavior as well as poor self-esteem (Potter et al. 56). While discrimination has an adverse impact on people’s mental health, there is evidence that it can influence the physical health of people who face it, too. In the same study, Potter et al. found that experiencing discrimination in their daily life could lead people to develop somatic symptoms, including aches, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory issues (56). Some people who faced discrimination on any basis also had poor health-seeking behaviors (Potter et al. 56). This was particularly evident among people from the LGBTQ+ community, who reported experiencing discrimination, stigmatization, or refusal of care by medical professionals.
Discrimination in response to increased diversity can also result in more serious problems, such as police brutality and hate crimes towards minorities. In the United States, the issue of police brutality against black persons is particularly prominent. Instances of white police officers using excessive and sometimes lethal force when dealing with unarmed black citizens receive national attention on the news, and I am sure that any person living in America can remember at least two such cases over the past year. The problem also received consideration in scholarly publications, with researchers confirming that it stems from prejudice and stereotyping that causes racially biased policing (Payne et al. 876). According to studies, “two-thirds of Black youth and young adults reported either personal experiences with or observations of others who have unnecessarily experienced police harassment or violence” (Payne et al. 876). Apart from physical injuries and psychological distress resulting from such encounters, the issue of police brutality also causes division in society. Negative relationships between the police and people from specific cultural backgrounds can reduce their willingness to cooperate in improving public safety.
Social division is also increased by hate crimes perpetrated against certain populations based on religion, sexual orientation, race, or even gender. In recent years, the rate of hate crimes against Muslim people has grown substantially due to widespread Islamophobia in Europe and the Western world. Considine shows that the “war on terror” caused the stigmatization and discrimination of Muslims and led to an increase in hate crimes, harassment, and abuse against this population group (165). In this context, Muslim people are excluded from the rest of society because they are ultimately seen as a threat because of their faith (Considine 165). This trend has a significant influence on Muslim communities in the United States, Europe, and other areas because it supports the culture of discrimination and social division.
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In a diverse environment, all of the trends described above create a foundation for social inequality, which is the most crucial problem faced by contemporary society. People from various cultural backgrounds are at a disadvantage in employment, education, healthcare, and daily life. For example, it is common knowledge that women of color are paid less than white men working in the same job. Many medical professionals will refuse to treat trans persons because of their personal or religious beliefs. Certain businesses refuse service to people from ethnic minorities or the LGBTQ community. Latino and Muslim people are often harassed and verbally abused in the streets. We read about these stories on the Internet and see them on the news all the time, but our society is not getting any closer to addressing these problems.
The primary reason for our failure to eliminate discrimination and appreciate cultural diversity fully is the lack of cultural and social literacy. On the one hand, we often see people who are different from us as the “other” or as a threat to our safety and social order. I believe that this is because we do not strive to learn about and understand other people’s cultures. Cultural diversity is an amazing opportunity that can benefit all members of society if we show mutual respect despite recognizing the differences in values, attitudes, and opinions. On the other hand, the lack of social literacy means that we are often unaware or ignorant about critical issues pertaining to our society just because they do not affect us personally. It also influences our attitudes to specific social and political movements. For example, many people misinterpret the meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement, seeing it as a threat to or an attack on white people, when in reality the message is utterly different. Social and cultural illiteracy affects how we perceive and interpret particular messages, and thus can help us to power important sociopolitical initiatives and become stronger as a society.
Why do I believe that cultural and social literacy is the key for millennials to address these issues? I come from a multicultural Cuban-Irish family, which allowed me to experience diversity and the issues associated with it first-hand. During my time in school and the military, I studied and served with people from a great variety of backgrounds. Having extensive knowledge of two very dissimilar cultures enabled me to understand other people’s cultures, traditions, and viewpoints better because I was introduced to diversity very early in my childhood. I had also developed my social literacy throughout the years, which has helped me to understand other people’s opinions and attitudes. On the one hand, my parents raised me in rather liberal culture and taught me to avoid prejudice and preconceptions when dealing with other people. I believe that this is an essential attitude to have when considering the contemporary social and political landscape. On the other hand, having faced social issues associated with the negative attitudes to Spanish American populations in the 1960s and 1970s, I became more aware of the various trends affecting society.
My cultural and social literacy has helped me to make sense of the issues that affect society today and to see beyond the differences that distinguish one group of people from others. It added to my interest in sociopolitical movements and provided me with a multi-faceted view of challenges that we face as a society. People who lack cultural and social literacy, on the other hand, only focus on issues that affect them directly and experience them from a sole viewpoint. This prevents different groups of people from engaging in meaningful dialogue and resolving critical social problems, including the ones I described in the previous paragraphs.
Millennials will play a major role in the future development of society because they tend to be politically motivated and have a genuine desire for achieving change. Increased cultural and social literacy will be essential for them to understand the trends in contemporary society and address them for the benefit of all those involved. Hence, it will help them to build a stronger, more unified and engaged society in America and beyond.
All in all, the diversity of contemporary society has resulted in a number of critical issues that affected many people’s lives. Discrimination remains a prevailing trend that often escalates to more severe problems, including violence and hate crimes. Numerous efforts to address discrimination and achieve equality for all people often fail because they are misunderstood and misinterpreted. Personally, I believe that the lack of cultural and social literacy is to blame for this because it causes people to be ignorant. For me, cultural and social literacy was instrumental in understanding other people and accepting their viewpoints despite our cultural difference. As millennials are the social and political future of our society, I think that cultural and social literacy is essential for them to address cultural barriers and issues evident in society today. Increased awareness and understanding of others will help millennials to engage people from all cultural backgrounds in meaningful conversations, thus finding solutions to discrimination and inequality through unity and collaboration.
Considine, Craig. “The Racialization of Islam in the United States: Islamophobia, Hate Crimes, and ‘Flying while Brown’.” Religions, vol. 8, no. 9, 2017, pp. 165-183.
Payne, Yasser Arafat, et al. “‘Why I Can’t Stand Out in Front of My House?’: Street‐Identified Black Youth and Young Adult’s Negative Encounters with Police.” Sociological Forum, vol. 32, no. 4, 2017, pp. 874-895.
Potter, Lindsey N., et al. “Biopsychosocial Correlates of Discrimination in Daily Life: A Review.” Stigma and Health, vol. 4, no. 1, 2019, pp. 38-61.