At the end of the module, students will be able to:
- explain the influence of culture on collective and self-identity
- discuss how personal, social, and cultural identities shape perceptions
- illustrate the relationship between social labels and categories on status and stratification
- evaluate the intersectionality of race and other forms of identity
- assess the impact of technological advances and innovation on identity
- understand the connection between identity and the reproduction of inequality
KEY TERMS & CONCEPTS
Global Electronic Cultural Communities
Looking Glass Self
Power for Patronage
Socialization and culture shape who we are and how others perceive us. The history and experiences of our lives are directly related to our identity. Our personal and social identity have a major impact on the opportunities, challenges, and inequities we face in everyday life.
Among humans, there are universal cultural patterns or elements across groups and societies regardless of racial-ethnic composition. Cultural universals are common to all humans throughout the globe. Some cultural universals include cooking, dancing, ethics, greetings, personal names, and taboos to name a few. Can you identify at least five other cultural universals shared by all humans?
In thinking about cultural universals, you may have noted the variations or differences in the practice of these cultural patterns or elements. Even though humans share several cultural universals, the practice of culture expresses itself in a variety of ways across different social groups and institutions. When different groups identify a shared culture, we often are speaking from generalizations or general characteristics and common principles shared by humans. The description of cultural universals speaks to the generalization of culture such as in the practice of marriage. Different social groups share the institution of marriage but the process, ceremony, and legal commitments are different depending on the culture of the group or society.
Cultural generalities help us understand the similarities and connections all humans have in the way we understand and live even though we may have particular ways of applying them. Some cultural characteristics are unique to a single place, culture, group, or society. These particularities may develop or adapt from social and physical responses to time, geography, ecological changes, group member traits, and composition including power structures or other phenomena.
In further examining the cultural universal of marriage, we may find commonalities in ceremony and celebration but identify differences in the language or presentation of the marriage ceremony and the ways and methods marriage is celebrated. Even though many of us socially relate to understanding the concept of marriage and have seen depictions of it in our own families and the media, it is our differences about marriage that tend to influence our social perceptions, attitudes, and interactions with married couples. For example, interracial couples prompt social attitudes and practices including racial boundaries directly impacting racial-ethnic relations. Interracial couples, because of their racial-ethnic composition, often witness or face racialized responses from people within their own groups and others (Childs, 2005). Needless to say, interracial couples create multiracial families thus changing the racial dynamic of the family as an institution which in itself is the source of hostility for some toward interracial relationships.
Social & Cultural Bonds
By living together in society, people “learn specific ways of looking at life” (Henslin, 2011, p. 104). Through daily interactions, people construct reality. The construction of reality provides a forum for interpreting experiences in life expressed through culture.
Minimizing the experiences and contributions of African American, Asian American, Latinx American, and Native American communities in the United States communicates that their lives are insignificant to the history and culture of our country (Anderson & Collins, 2010). This ongoing practice of excluding the lives and experiences of people of color from social, political, and historical narratives legitimizes and justifies racial-ethnic conflict including the former enslavement of African Americans, genocide of Native Americans, and laws restricting refugee status to Asian Americans and Latinx American people. Omitting the work and involvement of people of color in the construction of America denies equity and inclusion “as citizens” guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution while further instilling and propagating racial prejudice and discrimination against these groups.
Emile Durkheim (1893, 1960) believed social bonds hold people together. When people live in small, integrated communities that share common values and beliefs, they develop a shared or collective consciousness. Durkheim referred to this type of social integration as mechanical solidarity meaning members of the community are all working parts of the group or work in unity creating a sense of togetherness forming a collective identity. In this example, members of the community think and act alike because they have a shared culture and shared experiences from living in remote, close-knit areas.
As society evolves and communities grow, people become more specialized in the work they do. This specialization leads individuals to work independently in order to contribute to a segment or part of a larger society (Henslin, 2011). Durkheim referred to this type of social unity as organic solidarity meaning each member of the community has a specific task or place in the group in which they contribute to the overall function of the community that is spatial and culturally diverse. In this example, community members do not necessarily think or act alike but participate by fulfilling their role or tasks as part of the larger group. If members fulfill their parts, then everyone is contributing and exchanging labor or production for the community to function as a whole.
Both mechanical and organic solidarity explain how people cooperate to create and sustain social bonds relative to group size and membership even among diverse racial-ethnic groups. Each form of solidarity develops its own culture to hold society together and function. However, when society transitions from mechanical to organic solidarity, there is chaos or normlessness. Durkheim referred to this transition as social anomie meaning “without law” resulting from a lack of a firm collective consciousness. As people transition from social dependence (mechanical solidarity or collective support) to interdependence (organic solidarity or dissociation), they become isolated and alienated from one another until a redeveloped set of shared norms arises. We see examples of this transition when there are changes in social institutions such as employment, marriage, and religion. For example, transitions in employment across America have shown a lack of jobs that pay a living wage; as a result, some people become homeless or turn to criminal behavior to earn a living, both are forms of anomie, as they move from social dependence to interdependence.
Social bonds are only formed through social acceptance and appreciation. How have people of color garnered social acceptance even though their work and contributions have been historically unappreciated, ignored, and rejected by American society? Is it possible to strengthen social bonds and acceptance between people of color and White Americans when human life in America is not equally valued? What happens to society if people continue to perpetuate prejudice and discrimination based on racial-ethnic composition?
People develop an understanding about their culture, specifically their role and place in society through social interactions. Charles Horton Cooley (1902, 1964) suggested people develop self and identity through interpersonal interactions such as perceptions, expectations, and judgement of others. Cooley referred to this practice as the looking glass self. We imagine how others observe us, and we develop ourselves in response to their observations. The concept develops over three phases of interactions. First, we imagine another’s response to our behavior or appearance, then we envision their judgment, and lastly, we have an emotional response to their judgement influencing our self-image or identity (Griswold, 2013). Interpersonal interactions play a significant role in helping us create social bonds and understand our place in society.
The looking glass self reflects the accepted norms and roles for people to occupy within social contexts. For people of color, the looking glass self establishes the self-consciousness of “two-ness” or a dual identity, one accepted by the dominant group and its culture, and the other embraced by their own native or indigenous culture (DuBois, 1903). It is through this social development that people of color learn code-switching or double consciousness where they anticipate accepted norms and roles based on the social setting and power dynamics of those they will be interacting and change the way they speak, appear, behave, and express themselves. Research shows code-switching generates hostility from in-group members for “acting White,” depletes cognitive resources from performing or trying to avoid true culture, and reduces authentic self-expression (McCluney et al., 2019).
What social image do you visualize when you think of yourself as an American? What social image do people of color have to reference or emulate to develop social bonds with White Americans? What racial-ethnic behaviors, appearances, and interactions are accepted in the dominant culture? Which ones are rejected?
BIOGRAPHICAL REFLECTION 2.1
WHEN DID YOU BECOME BLACK?
This picture makes me smile. I love my twin brother. Through the challenges of our childhood, it was a blessing to have a twin. Our father is African-American and Italian, and our mother is Mexican. As a result, our racial identity was ambiguous.
Many times, as children, my twin brother and I would be in public together and people would comment on the disparity of our looks. As you can see by the photo, my twin brother is very fair in comparison to me. People would comment, “He is adorable with his curly hair and big eyes, and what happened to her?” To say I felt ugly is an understatement. I hated being dark.
How could a four-year-old already feel this way? Four-year-old children are the cutest and sweetest people walking the planet. I felt that way because I was constantly bombarded with the White America standard of beauty. A standard that even the Hispanic community adopted- light skin, light eyes, and blond hair, was beautiful.
As a child, I strictly identified with being Mexican as coached by my maternal grandfather and my mother. He would say in a demanding tone, “You are NOT Black, you are Hispanic. Your skin is dark, but there are lots of dark Mexicans, and your hair is not kinky, you have Mexican hair.” I would adopt this message as my own, and I would not tell people that I was African-American until I developed a deep sense of who I really was.
I left California and went to Alabama A&M University (a Historical Black College) for a year. It was the biggest culture shock of my life, in the most beautiful way. I loved the African American culture: the food, the music, the soul, the faith, and the deep sense of community. The Southern African American culture was very different than my limited experience with the African American community in California. Most of my professors were African-American and my best friend, Bonita, had a sister who is a dentist. It was stunning to see progressive, educated, faith filled, illustrious of people who embraced me as beautiful. According to their standard of beauty, I fit in. My Spanish professor, Senor Goggins, was funny, smart, world traveled, and a kind man. He was not what I was socialized to believe that African-Americans were, none of my newfound community was.
I found faith at this point in my life. The kind of faith that sees the beauty in all people. I learned how broken people are and how what you see in others reveals so much about who you are.
When I came back to California, my mother could not stand that I had a new identity that included embracing being an African American as well as a Latina. “When did you become Black?” she asked. It would take years before I could answer this question in a way that she could understand.
Today, I identify with being an African-American, Latina. I have a deep love affair with culture of all kinds. My family is a multi-racial family that embraces every aspect of who we are. We go to church on Sunday and make tamales for the holidays and gumbo for the New Year. We listen to Los Tucanes de Tijuana and Aretha Franklin.
I was recently having lunch with a group of girlfriends that I’ve been friends with for over 35 years. We were discussing what we love the most about each other. Then the question became, what physical characteristic do you like about yourself the most? My answer… “My skin.”
This story “When Did You Become Black?” by Guadalupe Capozzi is licensed under CC BY NC ND 4.0
Levels of Culture
There are three recognized levels of culture in society (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Each level of culture signifies particular cultural traits and patterns within groups. International culture is one level referring to culture that transcends national boundaries. These cultural traits and patterns spread through migration, colonization, and the expansion of multinational organizations (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Some illustrations are evident in the adoption and use of technology and social media across continents. For example, computers and mobile devices allow people to live and operate across national boundaries enabling them to create and sustain an international culture around a common interest or purpose (e.g., Olympics, United Nations, etc.).
In contrast, cultural traits and patterns shared within a country are national culture. National culture is most easily recognizable in the form of symbols such as flags, logos, and colors as well as sound including national anthems and musical styles. Think about American culture, which values, beliefs, norms, and symbols are common only among people living in the United States? How is national culture developed? Which social group has the status and power to create and sustain U.S. culture? How does this group maintain its power and influence?
Subcultures, another level of culture, are subgroups of people within the same country (e.g., doctors, lawyers, teachers, athletes, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx Americans, Native Americans, White Americans, etc.). Subcultures have shared experiences and common cultural distinctions, but they blend into the larger society or cultural system. Subcultures have their own set of symbols, meanings, and behavioral norms, which develop by interacting with one another. Subcultures develop their own idioculture or self-culture that has significant meaning to members of the group and creates social boundaries for membership and social acceptance (Griswold, 2013). Think about social cliques whether they be categorized as jocks, nerds, hipsters, punks, or stoners. Each group has a particular subculture from the artifacts they wear to the values and beliefs they exhibit. All groups form a subculture resulting in group cohesion and shared consciousness among its members.
Groups and Organizations
The term group refers to any collection of at least two people who interact frequently and share identity traits aligned with the group (Griffiths et al., 2015). Groups play different roles in our lives. Primary groups are usually small groups characterized by face-to-face interaction, intimacy, and a strong sense of commitment. Primary groups remain with us throughout our lifetime (Henslin, 2011). Secondary groups are large and impersonal groups that form from sharing a common interest.
Different types of groups influence our interactions, identity, and social status. George Herbert Mead (1934) suggested specific expectations of influential people in a person’s life are conceptualized as “significant” others, and common social expectations by being a member of a group as termed “generalized” others. Mead’s theories explain that primary groups or significant others develop specific expectations or roles for us to learn for social acceptance. Whereas secondary groups define general expectations for acceptance. Someone who identifies as African American may be expected to acknowledge and celebrate Kwanzaa (primary group norm) and Christmas (secondary group norm).
Different types of groups influence our interactions, identity, and social status. Group dynamics focus on how groups influence individuals and how individuals affect groups. The social dynamics between individuals play a significant role in forming group solidarity. Social unity reinforces a collective identity and shared thinking among group members thereby constructing a common culture (Griswold, 2013). Commonalities of group membership are important for mobilizing individual members. When people attempt to create social change or establish a social movement group, solidarity helps facilitate motivation of individuals and framing of their actions. The sense of belonging and trust among the group makes it easier for members to align and recognize the problem, accept a possible solution, take certain actions that are congruent and complementary to the collective identity of the group (Griswold, 2013). People accept the group’s approach based on solidarity and cohesiveness that overall amplifies personal mobilization and commitment to the group and its goals.
An organization refers to a group of people with a collective goal or purpose linked to bureaucratic tendencies including a hierarchy of authority, clear division of labor, explicit rules, and impersonal (Giddens et al., 2013). Organizations function within existing cultures and produce their own. Formal organizations fall into three categories including normative, coercive, and utilitarian (Etzioni, 1975). People join normative or voluntary organizations based on shared interests (e.g., club or cause). Coercive organizations are groups that people are coerced or forced to join (e.g., addiction rehabilitation program or jail). People join utilitarian organizations to obtain a specific material reward (e.g., private school or college).
When we work or live in organizations, there are multiple levels of interaction that effect social unity and operations. On an individual level, people must learn and assimilate into the culture of the organization. All organizations face the problem of motivating its members to work together to achieve common goals (Griswold, 2013). Generally, in organizations small group subcultures develop with their own meaning and practices to help facilitate and safeguard members within the organizational structure. Group members will exercise force (peer pressure and incentives), actively socialize (guide feelings and actions with normative controls), and model behavior (exemplary actors and stories) to build cohesiveness (Griswold, 2013). Small groups play an integral role in managing individual members to maintain the function of the organization. Think about the school or college you attend. There are many subcultures within any educational setting and each group establishes the norms and behaviors members must follow for social acceptance. Can you identify at least two racial-ethnic subcultures on your school campus and speculate how members of these groups are pressured to fit in to the dominant culture?
On a group level, symbolic power matters in recruiting members and sustaining the culture of a group within the larger social culture (Hallet, 2003). Symbolic power is the power of constructing reality to guide people in understanding their place in the organizational hierarchy (Bourdieu, 1991). This power occurs in everyday interactions through unconscious cultural and social domination. Like in society, the dominant group of an organization influences the prevailing culture and provides its function in communications forcing all groups or subcultures to define themselves by their distance from the dominant culture (Bourdieu, 1991). The instrument of symbolic power is the instrument of domination in the organization by creating the ideological systems of its goals, purpose, and operations. Symbolic power not only governs the culture of the organization but also manages solidarity and division between groups. We see examples of symbolic power in U.S. institutions (i.e., banks, schools, prisons, military, etc.), and each has a hierarchy of authority where administrators serve as the dominate group and are responsible for the prevailing culture. Each institution socializes members according to their position within the organization to sustain the establishment and fulfill collective goals and maintain functions.
There are external factors that influence organizational culture. The context and atmosphere of a nation shapes an organization. When an organization’s culture aligns with national ideology, they can receive special attention or privileges in the way of financial incentives or policy changes (Griswold 2013). In contrast, organizations opposing national culture may face suppression, marginalization, or be denied government and economic support. Organizations must also operate across a multiplicity of cultures (Griswold, 2013). Culture differences between organizations may affect their operations and achievement of goals. To be successful, organizations must be able to operate in a variety of contexts and cultures. Griswold (2013) suggested one way to work across cultural contexts is to maintain an overarching organizational mission but be willing to adapt to insignificant or minor issues. Financial and banking institutions use this approach. Depending on the region and demographic composition, banks offer different cultural incentives for opening an account or obtaining a loan. In the state of Michigan, affluent homeowners may acquire a low interest property improvement loan, while low-income homeowners are restricted to grants for repairing, improving, or modernizing their homes to remove health and safety hazards.
Working across organizational cultures also requires some dimension of trust. Organizational leaders must model forms and symbols of trust between organizations, groups, and individuals (Mizrachi et al., 2007). This means authority figures must draw on the organization’s internal and external diversity of cultures to show its ability to adapt and work in a variety of cultural and political settings and climates. Organizations often focus on internal allegiance forgetting that shared meaning across the marketplace, sector, or industry is what moves understanding of the overall system and each organization’s place in it (Griswold, 2013). The lack of cultural coordination and understanding undermines many organizations and has significant consequences for accomplishing their goals and ability to sustain themselves.
All people are cultured. You have culture. Social scientists argue all people have culture comprised of values, beliefs, norms, expressive symbols or language, practices, and artifacts. This viewpoint transcends the humanities perspective that suggests someone must project refined tastes, manners, and have a good education as those exhibited by the elite class to have culture. The perspective of social scientists reinforces the ideology that culture is an integrated and patterned system and not simply desired characteristics of the ruling or dominant group.
Cultural patterns are a set of integrated traits transmitted by communication or social interactions (Kottak and Kozaitis, 2012). Consider the cultural patterns associated with housing. Each cultural group or society maintains a housing system comprised of particular cultural traits including kitchen, sofa, bed, toilet, etc. The cultural traits or each individual cultural item is part of the home or accepted cultural pattern for housing.
Not only do people share cultural traits, but they may also share personality traits. These traits are actions, attitudes, and behaviors (e.g., honesty, loyalty, courage, etc.). Shared personality traits develop through social interactions from core values within groups and societies (Kottak and Kozaitis, 2012). Core values are formally (legally or recognized) and informally (unofficial) emphasized to develop a shared meaning and social expectations. The use of positive (reward) and negative (punishment) sanctions helps in controlling desired and undesired personality traits. For example, if we want to instill courage, we might highlight people and moments depicting bravery with verbal praise or accepting awards. To prevent cowardness, we could show a deserter or run-away to depict weakness and social isolation.
Doing culture is not always an expression of ideal culture. People’s practices and behaviors do not always abide or fit into the ideal ethos we intend or expect. The Christmas holiday is one example where ideal culture does not match the real culture people live and convey. Christmas traditionally represents an annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ; however, many individuals and families do not worship Christ or attend church on Christmas day but instead exchange gifts and eat meals together. The ideal or public definition of Christmas does not match the real or individual practices people express on the holiday. Throughout history, there have always been differences between what people value (ideal culture) and how they actually live their lives (real culture) regardless of racial-ethnic background.
IDENTITY FORMATION & POLITICS
Trying to figure out who you are, what you value and believe, and why you think the way you do is a lifelong process. In the first chapter of Thinking Well, Stewart E. Kelly (2000) suggests, “we all have lenses through which we view reality, and we need to know what our individual lens is composed of and how it influences our perception of reality.” Take a moment to reflect and hypothetically paint a picture of yourself with words. Try to capture the core of your being by describing who you are. Once you have formulated a description of yourself, evaluate what you wrote. Does your description focus on your personal characteristics or your socio-cultural characteristics you learned from other people in your life (i.e., family, friends, congregation, teachers, community, etc.)?
Identity, like culture itself, is a social construct. The values, beliefs, norms, expressive symbols, practices, and artifacts we hold develop from the social relationships we experience throughout our lives. Not only does personal identity make us aware of who we are, but it also defines what we stand for in comparison to others. Identity is relational between individuals, groups, and society meaning through culture people are able to form social connections or refrain from them. It is real to each of us with real social consequences.
We develop our identity through the process of socialization and enculturation. Socializing agents including family, peers, school, work, and the media transmit traditions, customs, language, tools, and common experiences and knowledge. The passage of knowledge and culture from one generation to the next ensures sustainability of a particular way of life by instilling specific traits, attitudes, and characteristics of a group or society that become part of each group member’s identity.
Identity shapes our perceptions and the way we think about and categorize people. Our individual and collective views influence our thinking. Regardless of personal, cultural, or universal identity people naturally focus on traits, values, attitudes, and practices or behaviors they identify with and dismiss those they do not.
Generations have collective identity or shared experiences based on the time period the group lived. Consider the popular culture of the 1980s to today. In the 1980s, people used a landline or fixed line phone rather than a cellular phone to communicate and went to a movie theater to see a film rather than downloaded a video to a mobile device. Therefore, someone who spent his or her youth and most of their adulthood without or with limited technology may not deem it necessary to have or operate it in daily life. Whereas someone born in the 1990s or later will only know life with technology and find it a necessary part of human existence.
Each generation develops a perspective and identifies from the time and events surrounding their life. Generations experience life differently resulting from social and cultural shifts over time. The difference in life experience alters perspectives towards values, beliefs, norms, expressive symbols, practices, and artifacts. Political and social events often mark an era and influence generations. The ideology of White supremacy reinforced by events of Nazi Germany and World War II during the 1930s and 1940s instilled racist beliefs in society. Many adults living at this time believed the essays of Arthur Gobineau (1853-1855) regarding the existence of biological differences between racial groups (Biddis, 1970). It was not until the 1960s and 1970s when philosophers and critical theorists studied the underlying structures in cultural products and used analytical concepts from linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology to interpret race discovering no biological or phenological variances between human groups and finding race is a social construct (Black & Solomos, 2000). Scientists found cultural likeness did not equate to biological likeness. Nonetheless, many adults living in the 1930s and 1940s held racial beliefs of White supremacy throughout their lives because of the ideologies spread and shared during their lifetime. Whereas modern science verifies the DNA of all people living today is 99.9% alike and a new generation of people are learning that there is only one human race despite the physical variations in size, shape, skin tone, and eye color (Smithsonian, 2018).
As we explore the aspects of identity formation, it becomes evident that we are more than our racial-ethnic composition. By examining the influence of culture on our lives, we can understand how other identity labels or categories operate together in people’s lives and affect our values, attitudes, norms, and practices. There are many elements of our identity that work simultaneously and intersect that impact our understanding of ourselves and others as well as influence our experiences, social interactions, and relationships.
Race-ethnicity with class, gender and other identity labels or categories of sexuality, religion, spirituality, national origin, immigration or refugee status, ability, tribal citizenship, sovereignty, language, and age intersect within a social context creating stratified social arrangements and systems of power. The interconnected nature of social categories overlap and have a cumulative effect on our lives. Your identity or social location in a society can shape what you know, what others know about you, how you are treated, and how you experience life (Anderson & Collins, 2010). Social labels and categories we use to define identity such as race, ethnicity, class, and gender matter because they are and continue to be the basis for systems of power and inequality. As people are stratified into social categories along identity lines, the persistent reality of inequality is evident.
The dominant group has historically served as the gatekeeper to resources, opportunities, and knowledge in the United States. Intersectionality exists within a matrix of domination or social structure with multiple, interlocking levels of power and control that stem from race-ethnic relations, gender, class and other social categories (Anderson & Collins, 2010). Those who identify and are accepted as members of the dominant group have access and privileges associated with their power and status, whereas others do not.
Examine each of the identity labels or social categories that intersect in our lives, are you able to determine which label or identity-type is associated with dominance, power, and status? For instance, explore gender identity. Describe the power and status of those who identify as male in comparison to those who identify as female? Now, evaluate the identity label for those who are non-binary. How is power and status different for non-binary people as compared to those who identify as male or female? How is social dominance, power, and inequality apparent and understood based on gender identity? How are life experiences different based on gender identity? Now consider gender and race. How is dominance, power, and status understood and how do gender and race labels intersect to influence life experience?
Globalization and Identity
With the advancements in technology and communications, people are experiencing greater social forces in the construction of their cultural reality and identity. The boundaries of locality have expanded to global and virtual contexts that create complexities in understanding the creation, socialization, adaptation, and sustainability of culture.
Globalization is typically associated with the creation of world-spanning free markets and the global reach of capitalist systems resulting from technological advances (Back et al., 2012). However, globalization has the unintended consequences of connecting every person in the world to each other. In this era, everyone’s life is connected to everyone else’s life in obvious and hidden ways (Albrow, 1996).
Globalization lends itself to cultural homogenization that is the world becoming culturally similar (Back et al., 2012). However, the cultural similarities we now share center on capitalist enterprises including fashion and fast food. Social researchers also recognize patterns of cultural heterogenization where aspects of our lives are becoming more complex and differentiated resulting from globalization. Our social relationships and interactions have become unconstrained by geography (Back, et al.). People are no longer restricted to spatial locales and are able to interact beyond time and space with those sharing common culture, language, or religion (Giddens, 1990; Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). People can travel across the globe within hours but also connect with others by phone or the Internet within seconds. These advancements in technology and communications alter what people perceive as close and far away (Back et al., 2012). Our social and cultural arrangements in an era of globalization are adapting and changing the way we think and act.
Globalization also influences our identity and affinity groups. Technology allows us to eliminate communication boundaries and interact with each other on a global scale. Today people are able to form and live across national borders. Advances in transportation and communications give people the opportunity to affiliate with multiple countries as transnationals. At different times of their lives or different times of the year, people may live in two or more countries.
We are moving beyond local, state, and national identities to broader identities developing from our global interactions forming transnational communities. A key cultural development has been the construction of globality or thinking of the whole earth as one place (Beck, 2000). Social events like Earth Day and the World Cup of soccer are examples of globality. People associate and connect with each other in which they identify. Today people frame their thinking about who they are within global lenses of reference (Back et al., 2012). Even in our global and virtual interactions, people align themselves with the affinity groups relative to where they think they belong and will find acceptance. Think about your global and virtual friends and peer groups. How did you meet or connect? Why do you continue to interact? What value do you have in each other’s lives even though you do not have physical interaction?
With the world in flux from globalization and technological advances, people are developing multiple identities apparent in their local and global linkages. Identity is becoming increasingly contextual in the postmodern world where people transform and adapt depending on time and place (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Social and cultural changes now adapt in response to single events or issues. The instant response and connections to others beyond time and place immediately impacts our lives, and we have the technology to react quickly with our thoughts and actions.
People can now live within global electronic cultural communities and reject cultural meta-narratives (Griswold, 2013). Postmodern culture also blurs history by rearranging and juxtaposing unconnected signs to produce new meanings. We find references to actual events in fictional culture and fictional events in non-fictional culture (Barker & Jane, 2016). Many U.S. television dramas refer to 9/11 in episodes focusing on terrorists or terrorist activities. Additionally, U.S. social activities and fundraising events will highlight historical figures or icons. The blurring of non-fiction and fiction creates a new narrative or historical reality people begin to associate with and recognize as actual or fact.
All forms of media and technology influence identity including values, norms, language, and behaviors by providing information about activities and events of social significance (Griffiths et al., 2015). Media and technology socialize us to think and act within socio-cultural appropriate norms and accepted practices. Watching and listening to people act and behave through media and technology shows the influence this social institution has on things like family, peers, school, and work on teaching social norms, values, and beliefs.
Technological innovations and advancements have influenced social interactions and communication patterns in the twenty-first century creating new social constructions of reality. These changes, particularly in information technology, have led to further segmentation of society based on user-participant affinity groups including racial-ethnic groups (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). The internet and web-based applications link people together transecting local, state, and national boundaries centered on common interests. People who share interests, ideas, values, beliefs, and practices are able to connect to one another through web-based and virtual worlds. These shared interests create solidarity among user-participants while disengaging them from others with differing or opposing interests meaning racial-ethnic groups can easily develop cohesion among like members across borders and inflate antagonism for others. Cybersocial interactions have reinforced affinity groups creating attitudes and behaviors that strongly encourage tribalism or loyalty to the social group and indifference to others.
Even though there are so many media, news, and information outlets available online, they are homogenous and tell the same stories using the same sources delivering the same message (McManus, 1995). Regardless of the news or information outlets one accesses, the coverage of events is predominantly the same with differences focusing on commentary, perspective, and analysis. Shoemaker and Vos (2009) found this practice allows outlets to serve as gatekeepers by shaping stories and messages into mass media-appropriate forms and reducing them to a manageable amount for the audience. Fragmentation of stories and messages occurs solely on ideology related to events rather than actual coverage of accounts, reports, or news.
People no longer form and take on identity solely from face-to-face interactions; they also construct themselves from online communication and cybersocial interactions. Approximately 73 percent of adults engage in some sort of online social networking extending their cultural identity to virtual space and time (Pew Research Center, 2011). Technological innovations and advancements have even led some people to re-construct a new online identity different from the one they have in face-to-face contexts. Both identities and realities are real to the people who construct and create them as they are the cultural creators of their personas.
Technology like other resources in society creates inequality among social groups (Griffiths et al., 2015). People with greater access to resources have the ability to purchase and use online services and applications. Privilege access to technological innovations and advancements depend on one’s age, family, education, ethnicity, gender, profession, race, and social class (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Signs of technological stratification are visible in the increasing knowledge gap for those with less access to information technology. People with exposure to technology gain further proficiency that makes them more marketable and employable in modern society (Griffiths et al., 2015). Inflation of the knowledge gap results from the lack of technological infrastructure among races, classes, geographic areas creating a digital divide between those who have internet access and those that do not.
CULTURAL CHANGE & ADAPTATION
People biologically and culturally adapt. Cultural change or evolution is influenced directly (e.g., intentionally), indirectly (e.g., inadvertently), or by force. These changes are a response to fluctuations in the physical or social environment (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Social movements often start in response to shifting circumstances such as an event or issue in an effort to evoke cultural change. People will voluntarily join for collective action to either preserve or alter a cultural base or foundation.
The fight over control of a cultural base has been the central conflict among many civil and human rights movements. On a deeper level, many of these movements are about cultural rights and control over what will be the prevailing or dominant culture. For example, the cancel culture or call-out movement aims to ostracize individuals out of social and professional circles as a form of boycotting or shunning someone who has acted or spoken in an unacceptable manner. Individuals ostracized call out the expression “cancel culture” or “cancelled” to protest their free speech and censorship.
The “call-out” culture developed in 2014 as part of the #MeToo movement and gave victims of sexual abuse and harassment the ability to publicly call out their abusers and be heard particularly for sex crimes committed by powerful individuals. The Black Lives Matter movement applied the same method to call-out police who killed Black men to highlight the racism and discrimination against Black communities by law enforcement. The hashtag “#cancel” was inspired by activist Suey Park when she called out the Twitter account of The Colbert Report for a racist tweet about Asians. The use of the hashtag generated outrage and debate, and the practice became widespread on Black Twitter to stop supporting a person or work. By 2019 the phrase “cancel culture” became popular to recognize accountability for offensive conduct. Recently, political conservatives in the United States have adopted the term to deflect reactions or judgements for using politically incorrect speech.
Changes in culture are either adaptive (better suited for the environment) or maladaptive (inadequate or inappropriate for the environment). During times of distress or disaster such as the COVID-19 pandemic, people made cultural changes to daily norms and practices such as wearing a mask and getting vaccinated for health, safety, and survival. The pandemic forced adaptive cultural changes in medicine (vaccines), healthcare (emergency preparedness), and online sectors and services (videoconferencing and education). However, not all cultural changes were helpful or productive such as social distancing and the lockdowns during COVID. These changes resulted in maladaptive behaviors and financial stress. Many people continue to suffer mental health and substance issues as a result of social isolation during the pandemic and the economy remains in recovery from government, business, and school closures during peak waves of illness. People adjust and learn to cope with cultural changes whether adaptive or maladaptive in an effort to soothe psychological or emotional needs.
Though technology continues to impact changes in society, culture does not always change at the same pace. There is a lag in how rapidly cultural changes occur. Generally, material culture changes before non-material culture. Contact between groups diffuses cultural change among groups, and people are usually open to adapt or try new artifacts or material possessions before modifying their values, beliefs, norms, expressive symbols (i.e., verbal and non-verbal language), or practices. Influencing fashion is easier than altering people’s political or religious beliefs.
OTHERING & BELONGING
Like racial formation, identity labels and categories are socially constructed by the dominant group. Othering is the process of inventing labels and defining characteristics of people into inferior group categories (Schwalbe et al., 2000). Symbolic language is directly and indirectly used to label and categorize inferior group members who form their own collective identity of belonging.
The dominant group defines the existence of inferior groups by practicing othering in three forms. Oppressive othering occurs when the dominant group seeks advantage by defining a group as morally and/or intellectually inferior (Schwalbe et al., 2000). Race classification schemes are an example of oppressive othering by overtly or subtly asserting racial difference of non-White as a deficit. Implicit othering uses dramaturgical fronts of power where White elites or would-be elites take on or portray powerful self-images and implicitly create inferior others (Schwalbe et al., 2000). Politicians and corporate executives often engage in implicit othering by shaping their public personas and performances to show strength and masculinity. Defensive othering is practiced by individuals seeking belonging into the dominant group or by those wanting to deflect stigma experienced by the inferior or subordinate group (Schwalbe et al., 2000). This type of othering involves accepting the devalued identity imposed by the dominant group reproducing social inequality. When inferior group members seek safety or advantage by othering those within their own group, the dominant group’s claim to superiority is reinforced by their actions.
Cultural attributes within social networks build community, group loyalty, and personal and social identity. People must learn to develop the social and cultural knowledge they need to belong, garner support, and feel embraced by their community and society at large. A person’s social status or composition dictates one’s admittance into a group or society to access cultural knowledge, information, and skills.
Sociologists find cultural capital or the social assets of a person (including intellect, education, speech pattern, mannerisms, and dress) promote social mobility (Harper-Scott & Samson, 2009). People who accumulate and display the cultural knowledge of a society or the dominant group may earn social acceptance, status, and power. Bourdieau (1991) explained the accumulation and transmission of culture is a social investment from socializing agents including family, peers, and community. People learn culture and cultural characteristics and traits from one another; however, social status effects whether people share, spread, or communicate cultural knowledge to each other. A person’s social status in a group or society influences their ability to access and develop cultural capital.
Cultural capital provides people access to cultural connections such as institutions, individuals, materials, and economic resources (Kennedy, 2012). Status guides people in choosing who and when culture or cultural capital is transferable. Bourdieu (1991) believed cultural inheritance and personal biography attributes to individual success more than intelligence or talent. With status comes access to social and cultural capital that generates access to privileges and power among and between groups. Individuals with cultural capital deficits face social inequalities (Reay, 2004). If someone does not have the cultural knowledge and skills to maneuver the social world they occupy, then they will not find acceptance within a group or society to access support and resources.
BIOGRAPHICAL REFLECTION 2.2
ONE TIME THREE EQUALS ONE
Being a person of color in particular African-American, does carry a social imbalance on the ladder to success. Educated in Middle-class, Catholic schools in the sixties and seventies for my entire first 12 years of school, I had to learn through the years that being Black meant that I was to be seen by others in ways I was unaware of, ways that signified that I was seen differently than my Caucasian counterparts. I really had no idea how true that came to be.
In 1968 I was a high school freshman at one of those aforementioned Parochial schools, and I received my first lesson in ethnic studies from a most unlikely mentor. His name was Father Kieran Cunningham, a White immigrant from Ireland. One day the two of us were out walking, and he told me of his last days in Ireland and his first moments in the airport after landing in New York. Fr. Kieran mentioned the moment he saw the first Black person in his life that first day in New York, and he related how he couldn’t keep from staring. I could only hope that the person he was eyeballing was unaware of it for both his and Father Kieran’s benefit.
I honestly wasn’t sure where this conversation was going. Then Father Kieran turned to me and said a sentence that has remained with me my entire life. “Daryl, to be a success in life you are going to have to work three times harder than the average White person, do you understand that?”
“No, I don’t understand that at all,” I thought. As far as I was concerned, why would I have to work harder than the next guy? But this very wise man was right, and time would prove him out. I have been successful professionally, but at times my expectation bar was higher than others. As a former Air Force officer, I was told by a superior that, in addition to showing leadership to all the 100-plus airmen assigned to me, I was to also show “Black leadership.” “What was the difference between that and regular leadership?” I thought.
Later on, in my early years as an elementary educator, parents removed their children from my class roster the first day of school when they found out I was Black, and told my principal to support their decision, in not very nice words of reference to me. A student teacher requested to be removed from my supervision the minute she laid eyes on me and realized I was not her race. She refused to be mentored by me. Some of my own students sent racial slurs my way when I corrected them for misbehavior. It was of course unpleasant, but I also wondered why pre-teen kids thought they had license to address their adult teacher in that manner. I was a bit naïve then, even I will admit.
And yes, Fr. Kieran was right, there were certain challenges that, as an African American I experienced that let’s face it—were due to the fact that I am African American. And it remains almost surreal to me that I first heard of this inequity not from a fellow African American, but a wise, well-meaning white immigrant from Ireland.
I don’t know if I have had to work two, three, or four times harder than Caucasians to achieve the same goal, but I will admit with some regret, that part of my success as a professional has been because I have been seen as a “specially gifted African American,” and not simply a gifted man, period. And as long as one needs to stand out from within an ethnic group, that individual will always begin from a starting point of deficit.
Do you think Fr. Kieran had a right to tell the writer what he told him? Did it help the writer, or maybe cause more harm? Do you believe that minorities really have to work harder than whites, in the same situation? Have you felt that you were seen as a “special” member of your demographic group, that deserved more than the “average” member of your group?
This story “One Times Three Equals One” by Daryl Johnson is licensed under CC BY NC ND 4.0
Obtaining social and cultural acceptance for people of color in the U.S. often results in mental and emotional injury from living in a system of White supremacy where historically racists ideas, norms, and practices have been passed down through generations. On a daily basis, people of color face racial bias, microaggressions, ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes. This racial trauma or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) lead to symptoms like those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as depression, anger, reoccurring thoughts related to a traumatic event, physical ailments, hypervigilance, low self-esteem, and psychological distancing from traumatic events (Mental Health America, 2021).
Ellis Cose (1993) illuminated the experiences of successful African Americans in their struggle with issues of racial fairness. His work documents the anger and pain associated with those who pursued and obtained the American dream. Regardless of how similar backgrounds and personal attributes align, Blacks and Whites live fundamentally different lives (Cose, 1993). Middle-class Blacks have been labeled a model minority or law-abiding productive citizens, but they have not garnered the same socio-economic respect and treatment as middle-class Whites. For model minorities, success does not carry the same social meaning or equal the same life experiences and opportunities as Whites.
African Americans continue to face the burdens of racial discrimination regardless of social status and wealth. The most common issues experienced by people of color in achieving social and economic success are the inability to fit in, lack of respect, low expectations, faint praise, maintaining true racial-ethnic identity, self-censorship on sensitive race topics not to upset Whites, collective guilt for lack of achievement of those within our own race, and exclusion from the dominant or ruling class group (Cose, 1993). The experiences of being a model minority show people of color must acculturate and develop cultural capital for social mobility and success but still face discrepancies in earning recognition and achievement in comparison to Whites.
There are four distinct ways inferior groups or people of color adapt to inequality. One way is trading power for patronage or simply stated accepting it for recompense. This method gains compensatory benefits from relationships with dominant group members by accepting their demeaning and disempowering practices in exchange for approval, protection, compensation, or autonomy from close supervision and control (Schwalbe et al., 2000).
People who share inferior status sometimes collaborate to create alternative subcultures outside the fringes of mainstream or dominant culture including the urban drug trade. Schwalbe et al. (2000) found alternative subcultures to be simultaneously subversive and reproductive of inequality by creating their own hierarchies, forms of power, and ways to earn a living. A problem with seeking success outside of the mainstream is the conflict generated with the dominant group making success economically, politically, and psychologically tenuous.
Some inferior group’s members adapt or survive inequality by hustling or exploiting the vulnerable such as the jobless, elderly, uneducated, and addicted (Schwalbe et al., 2000). Other people of color respond to inequality by dropping out of mainstream society such as the homeless. Research shows inferior groups and people of color undergo a variety of strategies to cope with the deprivations of othering, racial trauma, and inequality.
BIOGRAPHICAL REFLECTION 2.3
SINGLE MOTHER GETS A BAD RAP
The role of being a single mother has moments of pride. Pride in knowing that I worked hard in providing a loving, safe, and faith filled environment for my children. It also has its moments of insecurities. Insecurities of being seen as having a life that statistically suggests that I’m broke and unhappy.
Why would I feel so insecure about this subject? I am a strong, proud, Latin/African American woman that feels confident in the roles that I embody. The uneasiness is directly related to the overwhelming feeling I get when discussions about roles of women in communities of color come up. I read data that points to single motherhood as the culprit for delinquency of children and ultimately their life of crime. Being a single mother of color often comes with treatment that is less than respectful with a stigma that pins us as “contributing to the degradation of society.”
I contribute to society. I have never been on welfare as an adult. I was not going to be a statistic, and I was going to provide the best life possible for my children. I have been gainfully employed my entire adult life and sometimes have worked two full time jobs. I am educated, pay taxes, care for my children, volunteer my time for my church, and sit on the board of a local non-profit drug treatment program, while being a single mother. I didn’t choose the life of being a single parent; somehow it feels like it chose me.
The insecurity of being a woman of color who is a single mom fueled me to lean in and make sure that my sons had a parent that was visible. There were so many times that I was dealing with coaches that did not extend the same respect and consideration to me and my child as they did to the athletes who had fathers present.
I think of the dichotomy in the way single fathers are embraced. They experience hero status when they announce that they are single dads who have primary custody of children. When asked by other parents at sporting events or performances, “You’re a single mom?” I answer, “Yes.” Then there is a drag that I feel in my chest as if though I’m a victim in some way, and my life is incomplete.
The truth is my family and I have a beautiful life. Single motherhood is not the culprit.
This story “Single Mother Gets a Bad Rap” by Guadalupe Capozzi is licensed under CC BY NC ND 4.0
In Module 2, we examined the influence of culture on collective and individual identity. We learned how identity shapes our perceptions including the way we think about and label people. You were asked to consider how your identity informs your experiences, values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and connections to others. We also explored intersectionality as a source for systems of power and inequality. And lastly, we considered the impact of othering on racial trauma and the ongoing reproduction of inequality.
- Discuss how culture and identify shape people’s observations and assessments about others.
- Describe the ways intersectionality of race and other forms of identity persuade people’s perceptions, status, and access to resources in society.
- Explain the influence of technology on collective and individual identity.
- Analyze the impact of social labels and categories on identity, racial trauma, othering, and inequality.
- Why might people of color keep certain aspects of their identity private? What aspects of your identity do you hide or change to fit in or be accepted by others?
TO MY FUTURE SELF
From the module, what information and new knowledge did I find interesting or useful? How do I plan to use this information and new knowledge in my personal and professional development and improvement?
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