Culture plays an important role in understanding diverse populations (Betancourt & Lopez, 1993) and in making sense of the complexities of human psychology, feeling, cognition and behavior, and interactions between people and their environment. People from different racial or ethnic groups or cultures have different or varying interpretations of self and others and the interconnectedness of humans (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). In the 16th century, African Americans were separated from Africa at the cultural surface level, which included their original ways of life such as customs and languages; however, they have retained their worldviews which have been anchored by their cultural deep structure, or their philosophies of life (Myers, et al., 1996).
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The relationship between culture and identity has fascinated scholars since these notions first came into usage in the field of social sciences. How they influence each other, what provokes changes in their correlation, and their application to the lives of real people – all these research points are being closely watched and developed. It might be challenging to imagine an individual who would not be guaranteed to possess a societal identity formed through their connection to the outside world and their place in it. Conceivably, a person’s identity is possibly one of the leading forces forming their behavior and the attitudes towards them both from the members of in-groups and out-groups. This issue became the focus of the interview with my co-worker, Guylaim Bukas (a Nigerian male), which serves as a foundation for this paper.
The identity may be formed by peculiarities of a person’s upbringing, which is dependent on a specific society. Nigerian culture consists of numerous ethnic groups that have determined attitudes towards the process of growing up, thus having a different impact on their representatives. In this way, Guylaim identifies himself as belonging to Nigerian and North American cultures with an additional association with the organizational one.
According to Guylaim, his present description of himself and the one from ten years ago revolve around his cultural background, which also has the most impact on how he sees himself and communicates with others. Inside these large units exist social groups that produce effects on the identity – their mannerisms, self-perception, and even linguistic behavior. According to Guylaim, his cultural background has an omnipresent impact on his communication strategies. Moreover, the interviewee explained that being a part of an organization influences his vocabulary choices.
The transition from one culture to another, even if they are quite similar, affects identity formation. One of the significant historical events that may help to understand the differences between Black Americans and African American cultures and identities is the disconnection of African Americans from Africa that happened in the 16th century (Ajiboye 69). When describing this historical event, Ajiboye emphasizes that “African Americans have retained their worldviews which have been anchored by their deep cultural structure, or their philosophies of life” (70). In this way, the retained cultural units constitute the commonality between Black Americans and African Americans.
They may be critical during the first impression formation when two individuals from the discussed cultures meet and appear to have various similarities with each other. As Guylaim explained, his opinion of me change since our first meeting: some stereotypical ideas were replaced with more in-depth personal observations.
Culture being a complex system, has its building bricks – language, norms, practices, values, and forms of communication. These components also work in the cultural systems on a smaller level – organizations. Wood states that “the relationship between communication and organizational culture is reciprocal: communication between members of organizations creates, sustains, and sometimes alters the culture” (253).
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These components work together to create the basis upon which an organization’s members construct their behaviors. Additionally, belonging to a specific organization influences the mode of decoding psychological categories of “self” and “other” that may manifest themselves in the language behavior between co-workers. Guylaim said that he always knew how he was supposed to act in an organization and what behavior was expected. Organizational culture establishes a verbal report of its employees, their supposedly formal tone of communication when they get together, and also corporate.
Notwithstanding numerous similarities found between the cultures and identities of Black Americans and African Americans, there are several differences, mostly in terms of values and worldviews that may be found among members of these communities. According to the research conducted by Ajiboye in which he compared Africans and African Americans based on their worldview, there is a difference in the attitudes towards nature, patriotism, personal prestige, and altruism, among others (74).
For instance, African American participants determined the value of nature at 84% and African participants at 70%. Additionally, taking into consideration the perceived value of altruism, African American participants of the research scored 80% compared to 25% by African subjects (Ajiboye 75). These differences in world perception may not be noticed in small talks or surface-level communication. Nevertheless, they are perceived through an interview when it serves as a research method. That is perhaps why Guylaim’s opinions have changed since we got to know each other better. In essence, surface-level impressions were replaced by deeper mutual understanding that sometimes emerges by recognizing differences.
The relationships between an interviewer and interviewee may be essential to interpret its results as well as their cultural differences. The commonalities between the identities of Black Americans and African Americans possibly help to alleviate the first stages of communication. Consequently, the described above differences in the worldviews are formed through historical events and peculiarities of respective social groups.
It is worth noticing that disconnection from an individual’s motherland or migration processes forces this individual to go through acculturation (Schwartz and Unger 18). When the acculturation process is completed, an individual can balance several cultures, as in Guylaim’s case. In this way, the components of the interview subject’s identity combine aspects of both Black American and African American cultures and further blur the line between them and eliminate the perceived differences.
The relations between two cultures that possibly share certain standard features (be it language or parts of history) may seduce one to view them as the same. These similarities may tend to eclipse differences when the subjects of perception share certain features. Accordingly, searching for differences between cultures and identities could be helpful to establish more effective communication strategies and eliminate perceived “otherness.”
Ajiboye, Shola. “Black Africans and African Americans in the United States Of America: Differences and Similarities”. The African Symposium: An online journal of the African Educational Research Network, no.15, 2015, pp. 69-79.
Schwartz, Seth J., and Jennifer Unger, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Acculturation and Health. Oxford University Press, 2017.
Wood, Julia T. Communication Mosaics. An Introduction to the Field of Communication. 8th ed., Cengage Learning, 2016.