In a modern-day workplace or school, you will meet people from diverse cultural and social backgrounds. A diverse community has members from many cultural backgrounds, and its success as a community depends on how the members interact with each other despite the differences.
But, what does cultural background mean? When a person is born, he is already a member of a certain ethnicity, race, gender, religion, language, and so on. These factors define their cultural background.
However, this is only the beginning, and as we grow up, these factors build our persona, identity, and socio-political status along with our worldview.
Before we dive deeper into the meaning of cultural background, it’s crucial for us to know what defines a culture. Then we try to understand how a cultural background is formed and its implications as well as its importance.
What We Understand By Culture?
Starting from a person’s race, language, religion to the values or ideologies he supports constitutes his culture. Culture dictates how a person dresses up, the communication techniques he uses, and even how he perceives the world. Each of the components of culture contributes to building his overall identity.
Elements Of Cultural Background
As we understood how culture comes into existence, the elements of a cultural background are also derived from cultures. Some of these factors are with you right from the moment you are born, and you are gradually exposed to others as you grow up.
To understand cultural backgrounds and coexist peacefully and respectfully, we need to have an idea about these elements and how they build up our cultural backgrounds.
Race plays a crucial role in a person’s culture and cultural background. There are two schools of thought to define race. One is through biology, and the other is sociopolitical construction.
The biological definition of race indicates that once upon a time, “pure” races existed with specific hair, facial, and skin features and can be traced back genetically. However, scientists have refuted this theory, and it has been proved that there is little to no relation between biological racial construction and culture.
By replacing DNA-focused opinions, the modern-day definition of race has focused on sociopolitical status. A race encapsulates politics, geography, migration, etc., and they largely impact a person’s cultural identity.
For example, Italian Americans, who were once considered outcasts due to their facial features, are now welcomed as a part of the majority group (whites).
Therefore, a person’s race defines which of the surrounding cultural backgrounds he would become a part of in his early childhood.
Ethnicity is fundamental to define a person’s cultural background. It is often confused with race or nationality. You can change your nationality by migrating to another country, but your heritage is still rooted in the country of your forefathers.
Your ethnic background is formed by the heritage and history of your ancestors and constitutes the behaviors, traditions, and norms you share. Ethnicity defines many of the cultural traits that distinguish you from other cultural backgrounds.
Gender Roles and Sexual Preference
In most places, gender is usually defined right after birth. The cultural background you come from has specific predefined gender roles and norms. Society has different expectations from different genders, and the cultural background sets the boundary on certain behaviors according to the gender.
For example, it is not taken as appropriate for men to wear heavy makeup in North America, while it is quite common among Native Americans.
Being heterosexual, or asexual will dictate how you will fit in or grow up in a particular cultural background. Anything other than being heterosexual is not welcome in many cultures. Your sexual preference influences the cultural background you will belong in or identify with.
You might be familiar with the terms “born rich” and “born poor.” The economic condition you are born into has a profound effect on your cultural and social background.
It dictates the schools you will go to, the friends you will make, and how you will see the world. Many factors of your cultural identity are dependent on the socio-economic state of your family.
For example, if you are born into a poor family, most of your efforts will be focused on how you can get out of poverty while at the same time, a rich person of your age might be joining an Ivy League university. And this will further shift both of you in terms of cultural identity and background.
Religion forms a major part of our culture, but it is not a definitive indicator of our cultural background. Christians from Armenia and Christians from America differ a lot in religious activities, norms, and traditions.
You will find American Christians more liberal and open to new ideas, but the same cannot be said about Christians from other parts of the world.
Nevertheless, the religion you will be born to will build your theological belief system, and you will be part of many religious-cultural activities.
For example, all Muslims, regardless of area of ethnicity, fasts during the month of Ramadan and celebrates Eid. That is part of his cultural background, just like Hanukkah is for the Jews.
Followers of each religion have certain values that dictate how they will live their lives. A devotee Muslim will never drink alcoholic beverages, even at ceremonies.
And you can already understand his certain cultural norms by observing this behavior. In the same way, you can identify an Orthodox Jew by their appearance, which is influenced by their religious values.
Cultural Background And Festivals
An important attribute of cultural background is the festivals or programs it brings upon. If you are from a cultural background of North America, you might have already seen or observed most of them.
For example, Thanksgiving is a North American cultural festival that is said to be for people from all religious, racial, or sociopolitical backgrounds, making it a festival of American culture.
In many regions of the world, for example, Arab, South Asia, China, etc., religious festivals become part of the cultural background. If you are from China, you might have observed the Chinese New Year festival that has both religious and ethnic backgrounds.
Also, Eid festivals from Muslims and Christmas from Christians have become part of cultural identity for thousands of years.
Any cultural festival, regardless of the religious or ethnic root, strengthens the bond between people with similar cultural backgrounds. They promote communal harmony and preserves heritage. As we have seen, these things fundamentally build the cultural identity of a person.
Coexisting In A Multicultural Community
In the modern world, we often have to work in a setup with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Being respectful to each other’s beliefs, festivals, and norms is fundamental to remain in harmony.
Technology has globalized the world in such a way that you cannot remain with people only from your ethnic or cultural background.
Many prejudices, injustice, and hatred stem from not understanding the other person’s viewpoint. We used the example of Italian Americans earlier in this article.
They had faced severe discrimination and racial hate when they first arrived in the United States of America. Worse happened to the African Americans, and to this date, they are not free from prejudice. In addition, we see how people from different religions are subjected to xenophobia and hate crimes around the world.
When we understand what builds the cultural background of the person standing in front of us, such hatred and prejudice will start to go away. Especially when you are working in or building a multicultural team, you cannot make jokes that may hurt the sentiment of a person from a particular background.
By accepting that people from different cultural backgrounds see the world differently from you, you can take the first step towards building a harmonious community.
It is crucial to understand the cultural background of different people to build a successful country, business, or community. But even before that, we have to know what cultural background means and our own cultural identity.
When we start to recognize the values, customs, underlying principles, and the history of different cultures, we begin to see the world as they see.
Our horizon is broadened when we have meaningful conversations with people who are different from us and study their way of life. And these little but sincere actions build the foundation of a harmonious community.
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