Cultural identity is a complex concept that is associated with a person’s understanding of his or her cultural roots, language, and community beliefs. From this perspective, cultural identity can be viewed as the person’s acceptance of belonging to a certain group that follows specific practices, visions, and traditions (Kuper 235). It is possible to speak about two dimensions of accepting cultural identity. The first dimension is associated with the collective identity when a person accepts that individuals are rather diverse, and they belong to different cultural groups. The other dimension is associated with accepting oneself as having a specific cultural identity. In this context, the focus is on the self-identification, self-perception, and self-image (Morris, Mok, and Mor 761).
The problem is in the fact that in spite of the social struggle with stereotypes and prejudice, these phenomena are still observed in the modern society, and people can be prejudiced because of their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or language among other factors. As a result, those persons who cannot accept their specific cultural identity or choose the multicultural identity often report the identity confusion that is associated with their flexibility but can be very painful for an individual. Although people tend to adapt to different cultures or judge one’s identity according to certain cultural patterns, it is important to perceive cultural identity as a multidimensional phenomenon and accept it positively and with the respect in the context of globalization and diversity typical of the American society and world community.
The problem of stereotypes and prejudice in the context of discussing the acceptance of cultural identity can be considered as a result of developing the cultures centered on certain ideologies and visions. People belonging to some cultural communities can develop the vision of other cultures as less significant because the religious or historical background of cultures can be different. Discussing the threats to cultural identity, Morris, Mok, and Mor state that this situation can create the basis for numerous conflicts, as it is observed in the case of Christian and Islamic cultures (762). Jared Diamond, the American scientist, notes in his work that, centuries ago, the focus was on the Eurocentric cultures, and the American nation experienced the tension of the European cultures’ dominance during the period of its formation (402-405).
It is important to state that in the Islamic and Asian cultural worlds, the focuses can differ, and these variations make people accept the diversity of cultures, adapt to this diversity, or reject it while claiming the dominance of one culture among others (Morris, Mok, and Mor 762). Therefore, the personal acceptance of cultural identity is based on the specific cultural and historical background that people have. If the person’s culture allows accepting and respecting other cultures, this man will not experience difficulties with the self-identification and acceptance of other people’s diversity and vision of the world. The opposite situation is observed when a person is inclined to refer to stereotypes regarding different cultures and avoids globalization in terms of cultural development.
It is important to state that people all over the world became ready to accept different cultural identities and adapt to various cultures since the period of Colonialism and development of the Eurocentric cultures. Even though globalization in the sphere of culture is associated with the recent decades, it was most obvious during the period of Imperialism and Colonialism, when people in the Asian and African countries had to adapt to the new cultural world and accept the persons with different cultural identities (Diamond 112). During that time, the Europeans aimed at influencing the cultures of the other nations with the focus on their education, social orders, and policies.
The nationals adapted to new features, and they accepted some of the cultural elements, but they did not forget about their personal and collective cultural identities (Diamond 114). It is important to note that in most cases, the colonized nations or migrants remember about their cultural roots and their cultures can assimilate, creating the background for accepting different cultural features and identities. The similar processes are observed today in the United States and globally in the context of creating the multicultural societies were all diverse cultures are accepted and supported without any prejudice.
Thus, cultural identity is influenced by a variety of external processes, and it is often formed under the impact of political environments, in which a man lives. According to Adam Kuper, the British anthropologist, “cultural identity goes hand in hand with cultural politics. A person can only be free in the appropriate cultural arena, where his or her values are respected” (236). If a state proposes and follows the effective cultural politics, it is possible to expect that a man will accept these policies and rules, and he will feel comfortable in the country which is a motherland or a new home for him.
The problem is in the fact that political processes and national cultural policies can influence the person’s identity and self-image significantly. In a state where the person’s cultural values are not addressed or respected at the level of politics, there are threats to the development of many racial or ethnic conflicts (Morris, Mok, and Mor 763). In the United States, the environments for accepting and respecting the cultural identity are most complicated because different ethnicities make efforts to live peacefully together despite the permanent racial tensions. The numbers of immigrants tend to increase, and the concept of the American culture acquires new features. In this context, the issue of accepting cultural identity is closely connected with the issues of prejudice and discrimination.
During centuries, the American nation strived to develop the concept of the cultural identity that would be acceptable in such unique social environments. However, the problems of prejudice and discrimination still exist because people can make a different choice: to accept or not the other people’s cultures. Discussing the cultural constructions typical of the American cultural identity, Mukherjee, Molina, and Adams state that such visions and ideas “may exclude immigrants from being a part of the nation-state; however, this exclusion focuses on racial or cultural “others” who do not assimilate to Anglocentric understandings of American citizenship” (24). From this point, those people who have the obvious features of belonging to the non-Anglocentric culture can be regarded as “outsiders” in the United States. As a result, the Muslims often remain to be prejudiced because of their culture and religion and African Americans can be prejudiced because of their skin color.
The history of the African Americans’ fight for their collective cultural identity and rights in American society is rather long. In 1963, Martin Luther King, the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he argued against the position of the church leaders who seemed not to protect the interests of the people because of their race. King noted in his letter: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.
Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider” (“Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail” 267). Supporting the African Americans’ rights for the nonviolent demonstration of their disagreement with the policy of segregation, King points to the impossibility to divide the American society into “outsiders” and the dominant race or culture. From this perspective, it is possible to state that the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement made the important steps in order to protect the rights of the Americans for their cultural identity.
Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the main achievement of the Civil Rights Movement was the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the acceptance of the cultural identity is still a controversial question. Thus, prejudice or discrimination can be observed in the American society despite the focus on protecting the persons’ individualism and freedom. The most dramatic situation can be discussed with the focus on workplace relations, where the acceptance of the diverse culture can be only part of the diversity training program, and prejudice or discrimination are often hidden. According to Dr. Leo Parvis, the specialist in cultural diversity, “the cloud of discrimination over employment gradually moved away but never disappeared entirely although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in many aspects of the employment relationship” (66).
The employers and co-workers are prohibited discriminating people openly because of their culture and identity. However, the absence of direct discriminatory actions does not mean that all ethnicities are accepted equally in educational institutions and the workplace, as it is noted by Mukherjee, Molina, and Adams in their work (23). Nevertheless, the orientation to accepting other people’s cultural identity and avoidance of discrimination are priorities for the Americans who live in the country where racial diversity is one of the main features and where the flow of immigrants increases annually.
From a large perspective, the high flows of migrants are observed over the world, and it is a logical consequence of globalization. As a result of such processes, interactions of people increase, as well as their acceptance of each other’s cultures (Morris, Mok, and Mor 767). People’s cultural identity is also associated with their usage of languages. However, the problem is in the fact that in multicultural societies, such as the American society, one language can be dominant. Diamond states that “minority efforts will continue to face an uphill struggle if strongly opposed by the majority, as has happened all too often” (409). The scientist also notes that the people’s “motives for doing so include ultimately selfish motives as well as the interests of minority groups themselves: to pass on a rich and strong world, rather than a drastically impoverished and chronically sapped world, to our children” (Diamond 409).
To address this goal, the society can protect some dominant cultures and languages instead of others to guarantee a kind of the social and cultural stability. The dramatic outcome of this process is that “groups whose language and culture disintegrate tend to lose their pride and mutual self-support and to descend into socio-economic problems” (Diamond 370). Consequently, respect for diversity and cultural identity becomes a challenging question. On the one hand, globalization leads to protecting the multicultural environment and accepting diversity. On the other hand, there can be an individual opposition to the processes because of the necessity to protect the personal identity.
In this context, the issue of the cultural identity is closely related not only to the question of the collective identity but also to the idea of the personal identity and personal acceptance of cultures. Persons need to accept their cultures, understand the roots, and follow the traditions. However, the situation of interconnecting cultures can mean that they develop actively, and the person’s task is not only to become aware of the personal cultural identity but also to accept the other people’s visions (Parvis 84). From this perspective, cultures develop, and people adapt to environments, creating the new dimensions of their native cultures. Thus, America should be viewed as a multicultural society where the focus is on individualism, freedom, and equal opportunities (Diamond 134). The American culture developed under the impact of diverse traditions, and in such a “multicultural society, cultural difference must be respected, even fostered”, as it is noted by Kuper (236).
The reason for fostering cultural diversity is that no person should feel guilty because of having a particular cultural background. Moreover, many people came to the United States to complete their American Dream, and any stereotypes and problems with the acceptance of cultures seem to be limiting and rejecting the further development of the nation. Speaking about their cultural identity, the Americans should feel the pride and accept themselves as having multiple cultural identities that are equal in their significance. According to Kuper, “we all have multiple identities, and even if I accept that I have a primary cultural identity, I may not want to conform to it” (247). Each individual has a choice regarding the vision of the personal and cultural identity. From this perspective, the personal acceptance of the cultural identity is more related to the concepts of courage, dignity, and pride.
Having discussed the issues of accepting both collective and personal cultural identities, it is necessary to note that there is no such notion as the specific cultural identity anymore. The globalization processes influenced the development of this concept significantly, and today people are ready to accept diverse cultural elements, stating that the culture is rather adaptive. However, in spite of references to global trends and universalism, the problem still exists, and many persons suffer from prejudice and discrimination while being forced to reject their cultural identity. Persons should distinguish between accepting their cultural identity and respecting the cultures of others. In both cases, the focus should be on understanding the roots of diversity and advantages of multiculturalism in the modern American society and globally. From this point, the actual identity of a person can be based on his ethical visions and his awareness of the differences of people living around.
Diamond, Jared. The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.
Kuper, Adam. Culture: The Anthropologists’ Account. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.
“Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” American Political Rhetoric: A Reader. Ed. Peter Augustine Lawler and Robert Martin Schaefer. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. 263-269. Print.
Morris, Michael, Aurelia Mok, and Shira Mor. “Cultural Identity Threat: The Role of Cultural Identifications in Moderating Closure Responses to Foreign Cultural Inflow.” Journal of Social Issues 67.4 (2011): 760-773. Print.
Mukherjee, Sahana, Ludwin Molina, and Glenn Adams. “National Identity and Immigration Policy: Concern for Legality or Ethnocentric Exclusion.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 12.1 (2012): 21-32. Print.
Parvis, Leo. Understanding Cultural Diversity in Today’s Complex World. Raleigh: Lulu Press, Inc., 2013. Print.