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1.3: Ethnicity and Religion

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    104035
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    Ethnicity

    Because of the meaning attached to race, many social scientists prefer the term ethnicity in speaking of people of color and others with distinctive cultural heritages. In this context, ethnicity refers to the shared social, cultural, and historical experiences, stemming from common national, ancestral, or regional backgrounds, that make subgroups of a population different from one another. Similarly, an ethnic group is a subgroup of a population with a set of shared social, cultural, and historical experiences; with relatively distinctive beliefs, values, and behaviors; and with some sense of identity of belonging to the subgroup. So conceived, the terms ethnicity and ethnic group avoid the biological connotations of the terms race and racial group and the biological differences these terms imply. At the same time, the importance we attach to ethnicity illustrates that it, too, is in many ways a social construction, and our ethnic membership thus has important consequences for how we are treated.

    Native American boy in ceremonial clothing
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): "Native American Son," young boy Pow Wow dancer in full regalia. (CC BY 2.0; Bob.Rosenberg via Flickr)

    People who identify with an ethnic group share common cultural characteristics (e.g., nationality, history, language, religion, etc.). Ethnic groups select rituals, customs, ceremonies, and other traditions to help preserve shared heritage (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Lifestyle requirements and other identity characteristics such as geography and region influence how we adapt our ethnic behaviors to fit the context or setting in which we live. Culture is also key in determining how human bodies grow and develop such as food preferences and diet, and cultural traditions promote certain activities and abilities including physical well-being and sport (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Someone of Mexican descent living in Southern California who is a college professor will project different ethnic behaviors than someone of the same ethnic culture who is a housekeeper in Las Vegas, Nevada. Differences in profession, social class, gender, and region will influence each person’s lifestyle, physical composition, and health though both may identify and affiliate themselves as Mexican.

    Not all people see themselves as belonging to an ethnic group or view ethnic heritage as important to their identity. People who do not identify with an ethnic identity either have no distinct cultural background because their ancestors come from a variety of cultural groups and offspring have not maintained a specific culture, instead have a blended culture, or they lack awareness about their ethnic heritage (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). It may be difficult for some people to feel a sense of solidarity or association with any specific ethnic group because they do not know where their cultural practices originated and how their cultural behaviors adapted over time. In some instances, individuals may practice symbolic ethnicity, emphasis on ethnic food and ethnically associated political issues rather than deeper ties to one's heritage (Gans, 1979), such as an Irish American celebrating St. Patrick's Day as the only measure of their Irish ethnicity. What is your ethnicity? Is your ethnic heritage very important, somewhat important, or not important in defining who you are? Why?

    Race & Ethnicity

    Like race, the term ethnicity is difficult to describe and its meaning has changed over time. And like race, individuals may be identified or self-identify with ethnicities in complex, even contradictory, ways. For example, ethnic groups such as Irish, Italian, Russian, Jewish, and Serbian might all be groups whose members are predominantly included in the racial category “white.” Conversely, the ethnic group British includes citizens from a multiplicity of racial backgrounds: Black, white, Asian, and more, plus a variety of racial combinations. These examples illustrate the complexity and overlap of these identifying terms. Ethnicity, like race, continues to be an identification method that individuals and institutions use today—whether through the census, affirmative action initiatives, non-discrimination laws, or simply in personal day-to-day relations.

    This section licensed CC BY-SA. Attribution: Sociology (Boundless) (CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Altar at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, during Dia de los Muertos celebration, November 2019.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Altar at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, during Dia de los Muertos celebration, November 2019. (Sofia Beas)

    Mexican Americans comprise an ethnic group, and their ethnicity may be measured by any of the following: Spanish language, holidays such as Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), food such as tamales, adoration of the Virgin de Guadalupe, and values such as familism, higher emphasis placed on the family unit in terms of support and obligation,(in contrast to dominant culture's individualism). Mexican Americans comprise the largest ethnic group under the racial-ethnic umbrella group of Latinx Americans; Latinx in itself though is not an ethnic group as there is great diversity of different ethnic groups under this umbrella such as: Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Argentineans, etc. all of which may have distinct history, language, religion, and values. As discussed in the next section of this chapter, Latinx would also not be considered a distinct racial group, according to the U.S. Census.

    Native American or American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) is also an umbrella racial-ethnic group rather than a distinct ethnic group. There are more than 500 distinct AI/AN nations or ethnicities with Navajo/Dine, Cherokee, and Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Sioux being three of the largest. Each of these nations retains some aspects of their cultural heritage. For example, in Arizona, the Hopi Nation is located "inside" of the Dine reservation (which extends into Utah and New Mexico), but the Hopi and Dine nations have distinct cultural patterns, including language, religion, food, and housing.

    Traditional Navajo hogan
    Hopi House
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): (left) Traditional Navajo hogan in Monument Valley, Arizona. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Jim Crossly via Flickr) Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): (right) Traditional Hopi house is on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. (CC BY-NC 2.0; dev2r via Flickr)

    Another umbrella group is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) with a large number of ethnic groups under this category including Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, etc. Following the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the U.S. has experienced increasing immigration from a variety of Asian countries, and it is common for AAPI groups to maintain many aspects of their culture, not the least of which is language. As shown in Table 1.3.5, of the top 10 languages spoken in the U.S., several emanate from Asia or the Pacific Islands: Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean.

    Table \(\PageIndex{5}\): Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over: 2009-2013 (Chart created by Jakobi Oware from Census.gov)
    Language Population Percentage
    English 231,122,908 79.29%
    Spanish 37,458,470 12,85%
    Chinese 1,867,485 0.64%
    Tagalog 1,613,346 0.55%
    Vietnamese 1,399,936 0.48%
    French 1,253,560 0.43%
    Korean 1,117,343 0.38%
    German 1,063,275 0.36%
    Arabic 924,374 0.32%
    Russian 879,434 0.30%

    Not all Black or African Americans identify with specific cultural traits of their African or Caribbean ancestors. Nonetheless, signifiers of Black ethnicity may include the following: food such as collard greens, language such as Creole, Southern Baptist religion, annual family reunions, and the musical genre of jazz. Certainly, recent African or Caribbean immigrants from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jamaica, and Haiti often maintain aspects of their ethnicity, including language and food, in contemporary U.S.

    The sense of identity many people gain from belonging to an ethnic group is important for reasons both good and bad. As one of the most important functions of groups is the identity they give us, ethnic identities can thus give individuals a sense of belonging and a recognition of the importance of their cultural backgrounds. The term ethnic pride captures the sense of self-worth that many people derive from their ethnic backgrounds. More generally, if group membership is important for many ways in which members of the group are socialized, ethnicity certainly plays an important role in the socialization of millions of people in the United States and elsewhere in the world today.

    A downside of ethnicity and ethnic group membership is the conflict they create among people of different ethnic groups. History and current practice indicate that it is easy to become prejudiced against people with different ethnicities from our own, particularly if those ethnic groups are not "white." Around the world today, ethnic conflict continues to rear its ugly head. The 1990s and 2000s were filled with “ethnic cleansing” and pitched battles among ethnic groups in Eastern Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. Our ethnic heritages shape us in many ways and fill many of us with pride, but they also are the source of much conflict, prejudice, and even hatred, as the story about George Floyd's lynching that began this chapter so sadly reminds us. Do you also recall that the day President Donald Trump declared his candidacy for President was also the day he castigated the Mexican nationality with derogatory labels, thus justifying his appeal for a border wall?

    Ethnic Enclaves

    Ethnic enclaves are neighborhoods with high concentrations of one particular ethnic group, usually resulting from immigration patterns. Ethnic enclaves tend to share these characteristics: 1) live in close proximity; 2) support the traditional values customs and ways of life of that ethnic group; 3) maintain social services such as employment networks, political clubs, civic organizations and houses of worship; 4) establish retail stores where traditional foods clothing household goods and utensils are sold; 5) develop and sustain native language newspapers and sometimes radio and TV stations; 6) provide employment and social and sometimes financial support for new immigrants; 7) permit new immigrants to adapt to a new country without experiencing serious levels of culture shock and homesickness. In general, ethnic enclaves provide a safe haven with a variety of social supports for new immigrants that serve to ease their transition into a new and different culture.

    Chinatown
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Busy Chinatown ethnic enclave with many people walking on sidewalk. Various store signs (in English and Chinese). (CC BY 2.0; koles via Flickr)

    These enclaves offer economic opportunities to immigrants and mechanisms for maintenance of immigrant cultures, but also the potential exploitation of immigrant labor, often based on gender. The enclaves of Asian and Latinx immigrants emerging since the 1960s, compliments of the 1965 immigration policy, compare to earlier enclaves of Jewish and Italian immigrants at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. In recent decades, enclaves can potentially serve as agents for social mobility of immigrant populations. Enclaves may also hinder assimilation into mainstream U.S. culture. A preponderance of ethnic enclaves are found in urban and suburban parts of the country such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York. These enclaves can be characterized by a host of benefits and challenges.

    Sociologists Alejandro Portes and Robert Manning have studied ethnic enclaves and have argued that for an ethnic enclave to survive, it requires early immigrants to arrive with business skills and funds or access to funds. Ethnic enclaves survive over more than two generations only when there is a constant migration stream from the country of origin that lasts over more than two generations. Ethnic enclaves, once they have served their purpose of socializing new immigrants into American culture, tend to disappear as later generations follow the traditional assimilation pattern and move further and further out into the wider society.

    Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

    People have a tendency to judge and evaluate each other on a daily basis. Assessing other people and our surroundings is necessary for interpreting and interacting in the social world. Problems arise when we judge others using our own cultural standards. Sociologists call the practice of judging or evaluating others through our own cultural lens, ethnocentrism. This practice is a cultural universal. People everywhere think their culture is true, moral, proper, and right (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). By its very definition, ethnocentrism creates division and conflict between social groups whereby mediating differences is challenging when everyone believes they are culturally superior and their culture should be the standard for living.

    The ethnocentrism of Europeans, and then later Euro-Americans, led to an ideology, based primarily on the low-technology hunter-gatherer lifestyle and animistic religion of the Native Americans, that the Native Americans were inferior, "savages," and sub-human. As discussed further in Chapter 5.1, this ideology eventually led to “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” philosophy which began with such events as the Trail of Tears in the 1830's and culminated in the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. The “butchering” at Wounded Knee as Black Elk describes it (Neihardt, 1932) marked the last battle between Native Americans and the military forces of the United States. However, there were still skirmishes between farmers and ranchers and Native Americans as late as the 1920's. In fact, the term “Redskin” comes from a bounty set aside by the United States government for any Indian found outside a reservation without papers. The policy was for Indians “dead or alive” and the bloody, red, skins of the Indians brought as much bounty as a body. An extension of this ethnocentrism is found in another ideology popularized by the educator William Henry Pratt, "kill the Indian, save the man." Operationalized in the treatment of Native American children during the boarding school era, any cultural aspect of one's Native American nation (e.g., language, food, dress, religion, hairstyle, etc.) was replaced with Euro American ways (i.e. English language, Christianity, etc.). Children were punished for attempting to practice the culture and language of their ancestors.

    Textbook author practicing cultural relativism in Battambang, Cambodia where woman shared the local way to clean teeth: chewing betel leaves, areca nutes and tobacco.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Textbook co-author practicing cultural relativism in Battambang, Cambodia where a woman shared the local way to clean teeth: chewing betel leaves, areca nuts, and tobacco. (Janét Hund)

    In contrast, cultural relativism is understanding a culture on its own terms. From a culturally relativist lens, judging a culture by the standards of another is objectionable. It seems reasonable to evaluate a person’s values, beliefs, and practices from their own cultural standards rather than to judge against the criteria of another (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Learning to receive cultural differences from a place of empathy and understanding serves as a foundation for living together despite variances. Like many aspects of human civilization, culture is not absolute but relative suggesting values, beliefs, and practices are only standards of living as long as people accept and live by them (Boas, 1887). Developing knowledge about cultures and cultural groups different from our own allows us to view and consider others from their cultural lens.

    Sometimes people act on ethnocentric thinking and feel justified disregarding cultural relativism. Overcoming negative attitudes about people who are culturally different from us is challenging when we believe our culture and thinking are justified. Consider the issue of language. Countless anecdotal stories from various parts of the U.S. reveal that people speaking a language other than English have been shouted at to "speak English here!" Consider an even more controversial issue such as female circumcision or female genital mutilation. From a culturally relativist lens, female circumcision is a rite of passage in some cultures and confers a sense of identity and participation in one's community, as described in a biographical account, Aman, by a Somali woman. However, this Somali woman would view a Westerner referring to this cultural practice as female genital mutilation as ethnocentric. This example reveals how challenging it can be to consider different cultural practices that may be in conflict with one's own values. Still, the tool of cultural relativism is an important one that students of sociology can consider when developing a deeper understanding of ethnicity.

    Religion

    Religion is malleable and adaptive for it changes and adapts within cultural and social contexts. Human groups have diverse beliefs and different functions of their faith and religion. Historically, religion has driven both social union and division (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). When religious groups unite, they can be a strong mobilizing force; however, when they divide, they can work to destroy each other. Religion may be formal or informal (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Someone who is a member of an organized religious group may attend religious services. Whereas, someone participating in informal religion may or may not be a member of an organized religious group, yet may experience a communal spirit, solidarity, and togetherness with others through shared experiences. Religion is a vehicle for guiding values, beliefs, norms, and practices. It can be an important measure of an ethnic group.

    Seeking religious freedom, Puritans migrated to the U.S. to practice their religious devotion, an act which was persecuted or denied in their homeland. Yet, American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN), such as the Lakota who practiced the Ghost Dance in 1890, have not always experienced religious freedom in the U.S. In its early centuries, the U.S. was a Christian nation. Sometimes, as in the boarding school experience which was generally forced upon AI/AN children, Christianity replaced traditional AI/AN beliefs. Increasingly so, the U.S. has become less Christian, though Christianity is still the dominant religious group. According to the Pew Research Center (2019), the percentage of individuals in the U.S. who identify as Christian is 65% which represents a significant decline from 2009 in which 75% identified as Christian. Additionally, immigration from Asia and Latin America particularly, has impacted Christian and non-Christian faiths. A brief introduction to some of the diversity of religious denominations follows.

    Hinduism

    The oldest religion in the world, Hinduism originated in the Indus River Valley about 4,500 years ago in what is now modern-day northwest India and Pakistan. It arose contemporaneously with ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures. With roughly one billion followers, Hinduism is the third-largest of the world’s religions. Hindus believe in a divine power that can manifest as different entities. Three main incarnations—Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—are sometimes compared to the manifestations of the divine in the Christian Trinity. Multiple sacred texts, collectively called the Vedas, contain hymns and rituals from ancient India and are mostly written in Sanskrit. Hindus generally believe in a set of principles called dharma (reflected in the above figure), which refer to one’s duty in the world that corresponds with “right” actions. Hindus also believe in karma, the notion that spiritual ramifications of one’s actions are balanced cyclically in this life or a future life (reincarnation). As illustrated in Figure 1.3.8 below, in the the prayer to Saraswati, goddess of knowledge for wisdom, in Indian philosophy there is a distinction between Jnana (knowledge) which is sterile and pointless unless transformed to Bhakti, where the knowledge gained is applied to everyday life, how we relate to people with love and care, how we perceive the world around us and protect its life-giving resources, how we solve day to day problems for oneself and others through the application of knowledge to work for solution.

    Prayer shrine to Saraswati, goddess of Knowledge for wisdom.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Prayer to Saraswati, goddess of knowledge for wisdom. (Dr. Ramchandran Sethuraman)

    Buddhism

    Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama around 500 B.C.E. Siddhartha was said to have given up a comfortable, upper-class life to follow one of poverty and spiritual devotion. At the age of thirty-five, he famously meditated under a sacred fig tree and vowed not to rise before he achieved enlightenment (bodhi). After this experience, he became known as Buddha, or “enlightened one.” Followers were drawn to Buddha’s teachings and the practice of meditation, and he later established a monastic order. Buddha’s teachings encourage Buddhists to lead a moral life by accepting the four Noble Truths: 1) life is suffering, 2) suffering arises from attachment to desires, 3) suffering ceases when attachment to desires ceases, and 4) freedom from suffering is possible by following the “middle way.” The concept of the “middle way” is central to Buddhist thinking, which encourages people to live in the present and to practice acceptance of others (Smith, 1991). Buddhism also tends to de-emphasize the role of a godhead, instead stressing the importance of personal responsibility (Craig, 2002).

    Buddhist Temple in Richmond, California.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Buddhist Temple in Richmond, California. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; su-lin via Flickr)

    Judaism

    Judaism is the religion, philosophy, and way of life of the Jewish people. Jews with European heritage are called Ashkenazi Jews, while Jews from the Middle East are called Sephardic Jews, or Mizrachim. American Jews, also known as Jewish Americans, are American citizens of the Jewish faith or Jewish ethnicity. The Jewish community in the United States is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe, and their U.S.-born descendants. Individuals from all Jewish ethnic divisions are also represented, including Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, and a number of converts. The American Jewish community manifests a wide range of Jewish cultural traditions, as well as encompassing the full spectrum of Jewish religious observance. In fact, many Jewish people identify as secular rather than as religious. American Jews are more likely to be atheist or agnostic than most Americans, especially so compared with Protestants or Catholics. A more detailed discussion of the diversity of Jewish Americans is provided in Chapter 10.

    Hanukkah Meal on the table.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Hannakuh, Jewish festival of lights, meal on table. (CC-BY 4.0; Ksenia Chernaya via Pexels)

    Islam

    The followers of Islam, whose U.S. population is projected to double in the next twenty years, are called Muslims (Heimlich, 2011). As Chapter 10.1 explains, American Muslims come from various backgrounds, and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States according to a 2009 Gallup poll. Immigrant communities of Arab and South Asian descent make up the majority of American Muslims. Native-born American Muslims are mainly African-Americans who make up about a quarter of the total Muslim population, and many of them associate with the Nation of Islam. Many of these have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prison and in large urban areas has also contributed to its growth over the years.

    Emblem of the Nation of Islam in Indianapolis
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Nation of Islam crescent moon and star emblem in Indianapolis, Indiana. Inscription reads: In the name of Allah, Nation of Islam. (CC BY 2.0; sarahstierch via Wikimedia/Flickr)

    Christianity

    Today the largest religion in the world, Christianity began 2,000 years ago in Palestine, with Jesus of Nazareth, a charismatic leader who taught his followers about caritas (charity) or treating others as you would like to be treated yourself.

    The sacred text for Christians is the Bible. While Jews, Christians, and Muslims share many of same historical religious stories, their beliefs diverge. In their shared sacred stories, it is suggested that the son of God—a messiah—will return to save God’s followers. While Christians believe that he already appeared in the person of Jesus Christ, Jews and Muslims disagree. While they recognize Christ as an important historical figure, their traditions don’t believe Jesus to be the son of God, and their faiths see the prophecy of the messiah’s arrival as not yet fulfilled.

    There are at least 24 denominations of Christianity in the U.S., with Catholicism being the largest. The remaining groups fall under the label of Protestant.

    Table \(\PageIndex{12}\): Christian Denominations in the United States. (U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012)
    Denomination Name Inclusive Membership
    Roman Catholic Church 68,503,456
    Southern Baptist Convention 16,106,088
    United Methodist Church 7,774,931
    Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints 6,058,907
    Church of God in Christ 5,499,875
    National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. 5,000,000
    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 4,542,868
    National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. 3,500,000
    Assemblies of God 2,914,669
    Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2,770,730
    African Methodist Episcopal Church 2,500,000
    National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 2,500,000
    Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) 2,312,111
    Episcopal Church 2,006,343
    Churches of Christ 1,639,495
    Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 1,500,000
    Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. 1,500,000
    African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 1,400,000
    American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A 1,310,505
    Jehovah's Witnesses 1,162,686
    United Church of Christ 1,080,199
    Church of God (Cleveland, TN) 1,076,254
    Christian Churches and churches of Christ 1,071,616
    Seventh-Day Adventist Church 1,43,606
    Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000

    Race-Ethnicity and Religion

    A Mexican Church
    Figure \(\PageIndex{13}\): A Mexican Church. (CC BY 2.0; Tri Nguyen | P h o t o g r a p h y via Flickr)

    The patterns of religious identity among major racial and ethnic groups vary significantly. According to Jones (2017) and as shown in Figure 1.3.14, nearly 70% of white Americans identify as Christian, and 3/4 of African Americans identify as Christian. More than 1/4 of white Americans are Evangelical Protestant, with 1/5 identifying as Protestant (non-Evangelical), and less than 1/5 are Catholic. Over the past few decades, the Catholic religious denomination has become less white and more Latinx. A greater percentage of African Americans identify as Protestant (nearly 70%) with only 6% identifying as Catholic. Latinx are also predominantly Christian, with almost half identifying as Catholic and only 1/4 identifying as Protestant. Amongst Asian Americans Pacific Islanders (AAPI), more than 1/3 identify as Christian and more than 1/4 are not affiliated with a religious denomination. As AAPI reflect the most religious diversity of all the groups featured in the above figure, more than 1/10 of AAPI identify as Hindu and a lesser amount identify as Buddhist or Muslim, approximately 6% in each respective group.

    69.1 % of Black non Latin x are Protestants 49.5 % of Latin x are Roman Catholic37.3 % of Asian and Pacific Islanders are Protestants48 % of White non Latin x are Protestants

    Figure \(\PageIndex{14}\): Religious affiliation by ethnic groups in the United States. (Charts created by Jonas Oware with data from the PRRI)
    Thinking Sociologically

    Is there an ethnic enclave near you? Have you ever visited there? What are the identifying characteristics of this ethnic enclave, such as food, language, religion, music, holidays?

    Alternatively, have you ever visited a religious house of worship (e.g. temple, mosque, synagogue, church) outside of your own religion, if you have one? If you have visited a different house of worship, how did you feel during your visit? If you have never visited a different house of worship, would you consider doing so? Why or why not?

    Cultural Intelligence and Cultural Competency

    In a culturally diverse society, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to interact effectively with others. Our ability to communicate and interact with each other plays an integral role in the successful development of our relationships for personal and social prosperity. Building cultural intelligence requires active awareness of self, others, and context (Bucher, 2008). Self-awareness requires an understanding of our cultural identity including intrinsic or extrinsic bias we have about others and social categories of people. Cultural background greatly influences perception and understanding, and how we identify ourselves reflects on how we communicate and get along with others. It is easier to adjust and change our interactions if we are able to recognize our own uniqueness, broaden our percepts, and respect others (Bucher, 2008). We must be aware of our cultural identity including any multiple or changing identities we take on in different contexts as well as those we keep hidden or hide to avoid marginalization or recognition.

    Man Looking in Front of Mirror.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): Man Looking in Front of Mirror (CC BY 4.0; Min An via Pexels)

    According to the National Education Association, cultural competence is having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference in addition to having the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families. Three concepts that characterize cultural competence are self-awareness, education, and interaction (Young Adult Library Services Association - YALSA). Self-awareness involves recognizing the significance of culture in one’s own life and in the lives of others. Education relates to an individual’s ability to fully integrate members of diverse groups into services, work, and institutions in such a way that the lives of the individuals being served and those of the people delivering service are enhanced. Interaction concerns understanding and respecting cultural backgrounds other than one’s own through engaging with individuals from diverse ethnic, linguistic, and socioeconomic strata.

    Active awareness of others requires us to use new cultural lenses. We must learn to recognize and appreciate commonalities in our culture not just differences. This practice develops understanding of each other’s divergent needs, values, behaviors, interactions, and approach to teamwork (Bucher, 2008). Understanding others involves evaluating assumptions and cultural truths. Our cultural lenses filter perceptions of others and condition us to view the world and others in one way blinding us from what we have to offer or complement each other (Bucher, 2008). Active awareness of others broadens one’s sociological imagination to see the world and others through a different lens and understand diverse perspectives. Becoming more culturally intelligent and culturally competent can ultimately help us to interact and work together more effectively and compassionately.

    Key Takeaways

    • Ethnicity and ethnic groups are characterized by common culture, language, religion, food, holidays, traditions, history, ancestry, nationality; race and ethnicity should be understand as distinct though possibly related concepts.
    • Ethnic enclaves are neighborhoods with high concentrations of one particular ethnic group, usually resulting from immigration patterns.
    • People may employ any of the following when responding to other ethnic backgrounds: cultural relativism, ethnocentrism, cultural competence.
    • Religion (e.g. Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity) may overlap with race and/or ethnicity.

    Contributors and Attributions

    Content on this page has multiple licenses. Everything is CC BY-NC-SA other than Race & Ethnicity which is CC BY-SA.

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