This paper is based on the topics of race and culture. It seeks answers to the question of whether people’s identity is defined by race or by culture. It is argued that culture plays a greater role in influencing people’s identity than race. The reason is that people’s identity is a product of the interaction of genetic and environmental factors. As a result, race plays a minimal role in defining people’s identity and in most cases; it is used negatively through discrimination.
Race refers to the physical characteristics of people from different parts of the world. Such characteristics include skin color, dialect, eye color, type of hair, and cultural practices. However, skin color is the most common criterion for distinguishing people by race. There are various races such as Whites, Asians, Jews, and Blacks (Sewell, 2009).
Race contributes to the formation of two groups of people in a society namely the dominant and the subordinate groups. The dominant group is considered as the most powerful in a society because it enjoys the highest social status and has access to unlimited privileges. On the other hand, the subordinate group is considered as the least powerful and is subjected to various forms of discrimination by the dominant group (Andreatta & Ferraro, 2013).
Culture comprises those things which are cherished or are important to us as people. It is defined as a people’s way of life or of doing things and comprises the accepted and patterned behavior of people. It is also a body of common understanding which encompasses attitudes, values, and history shared by a group of people through language, traditions, and music. Culture exists in three levels namely the societal, the subcultural, and the universal levels.
Another characteristic of culture is that it is learned. Babies are born with a genetic capacity to learn and absorb what is in the surrounding environment. They are born without any culture but their genetic predisposition enables them to learn language and other cultural traits. It is for these reasons that babies are said to have no tribe, ethnic group or race but are socialized to be members of a given ethnic group or race (Bhui, 2012).
Cultures do not exist in isolation. In the world today, there are virtually no societies living in isolation due to the integrative role of the state, improvement of infrastructure, and cultural reorganization which has enhanced unity among different cultures. Many groups of people who previously lived in remote areas without contact with other people are no longer there. Western Europe, America and lately China have been extremely influential in shaping the cultures of the world.
Current research on race and culture
According to Martinez, culture influences people’s identity by up to 60% while genetic factors such as race influence it by 40% during childhood. Examples of cultural factors which influence our identity include diet, the nature of the family, language, the type of settlement, and the economic level of the family as well as cultural practices. During old age, identity is influenced more by genetic factors at 60% with culture influencing it by 40%. However, what people learn during childhood has more influence on their adulthood than what they learn during adulthood (Martinez, 2010).
According to behaviorism theory by B.F skinner, John Watson, Bandura, and Ivan Pavlov, learners are ordinarily passive and for this reason, they learn through responding to the environment in which they are brought up in. Skinner belonged to a group of scholars who believed that human behavior is determined by cultural orientation and psychological profiling. For example, in a culture where girls are married at a tender age, the girls who live in that culture have no option other than to get married at tender age because the culture stipulates so. Behaviorists argue that at birth, children’s minds are like blank slates which are ready to absorb any information which they come into contact with (Martinez, 2010). Since we live in a social world, it constantly keeps on influencing our behavior, actions, and thoughts. The influence in turn shapes our identity and defines who we are and how others perceive us.
The ideas of John Locke, who argued that we are born as a tabula rasa, meaning that we are open to absorb what is within our sociocultural environments explains how experience can be a source people’s identity. What we experience also greatly shapes our identity. If we undergo through tough life conditions like war or civil strife, we may find our self not caring much about killing other people. If we live in a country where there is rampant official corruption, we may see nothing wrong with corruption (Eleftheriadou, 2010).
Culture and traditions greatly influence our acquisition of identity. In all cultures and traditions, there are specific beliefs about what is acceptable as a good behavior and what is not acceptable. New generations learn and adapt to traditions through acculturation and assimilation. Even though generations keep on changing, each generation usually has a chance to gain identity from their culture and traditions (Worsley, 2009).
My personal opinion is that culture is a great agent of socialization and it outweighs all other agents of socialization, race included. Our identity is therefore a product of the culture where we live in. People learn and acquire specific behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes depending on the sociocultural environment in which they find themselves in. If for instance a child born of white parents is adopted by black parents and brought up in Africa, that child adapts to African culture, learns and acquires an African language. The fact that the child carries genes for the white race may not make him or her hate people of the black race. Consequently, the color of an individual is just a pointer of his or her genetic make up and should not be used to define the individual in terms of behavior, values, and abilities.
Race and culture are important concepts when it comes to defining the identity of a person. Race has to do with physical characteristics such as skin color while culture has to do with the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions which people acquire from the environment where they live. According to current research on the topics of race and culture, culture plays a crucial role in defining the identity of people with race playing an insignificant role. The reason is that race is a genetic make up of an individual and therefore it may not influence the behaviors, beliefs or values acquired by the individual but culture is capable of doing so.
Andreatta. S., & Ferraro, G.P. (2013). Elements of culture: an applied perspective.Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage.
Bhui, K. (2012). Elements of culture and mental health: critical questions for clinicians. London: RCPsych.
Eleftheriadou, Z. (2010). Psychotherapy and culture: weaving inner and outer worlds. London: Karnac.
Martinez, R. (2010). On race and racism in America: confessions in philosophy. University Park, PA. : Pennsylvania State University Press.
Sewell, H. (2009).Working with ethnicity, race and culture in mental health: a handbook for practitioners. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Worsley, S.M. (2009). Audience, agency and identity in black popular culture. New York NY: Routledge.