Defining Cultural Diversity

Instructor: David White
Cultural diversity exists in many countries around the world, but it can be challenging and, at times, problematic. Through this lesson, you will learn how to define cultural diversity and explore some of the ways in which it influences society.

What Is Cultural Diversity?

If you were to grab a collection of take-out menus for the restaurants in your area, what would you find? There are probably a few pizza places, maybe a Chinese or Japanese restaurant, and likely a sandwich shop or two. Although you've likely never given it much thought, these restaurants are usually the product of cultural diversity.

Cultural diversity is the term used to describe many different cultures co-existing within one larger culture. For instance, the fact that we have access to so many different types of cuisine in the United States is because people from other countries have immigrated to the US and brought aspects of their own cultures with them. This means that under the umbrella of American culture there are actually many different ethnic traditions being practiced in communities around the country.

Cultural diversity describes a culture comprised of people from many different racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds.

As an abstract concept, cultural diversity is fairly straightforward; however, finding a concrete definition of culture can be a little bit tricky. This is because the definition of culture can change depending on who's using it, and the context in which it's being used. For example, some people use the term to describe the creative arts like dancing or painting, while others use it in a much broader context to refer to all of the traditions, practices, and belief systems of a particular population of people. For the purposes of this lesson, we're going to look at culture as the latter of these two definitions.

The Benefits of a Shared Culture

We all belong to one or more cultures, even if we don't realize it. These cultures are formed through shared languages, traditions, values, and belief systems, among other things. For instance, in the United States, the majority of the population shares a language (English), history, and certain values like freedom and liberty. Our participation in a shared culture helps us to bond as a society and understand each other. This understanding facilitates cooperation and easy communication in social, educational, and economic environments.

The bonds and cooperation facilitated by a shared culture becomes exponentially more complex when other cultures are added to or blended with our own larger culture. For example, if you share the same American culture with all your co-workers, having a Christmas party would seem completely normal. If, however, you had many co-workers who were raised in non-Christian cultures, they might not be interested or feel included in a Christmas party because it's not something that is celebrated within their own culture.

The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

There are many benefits to cultural diversity, particularly the opportunity to learn from or about those who are different from ourselves. Yet that difference can also create a challenge when it comes to forming a cohesive unit because it requires the dominant culture to compromise and make efforts to be inclusive.

In a society, the dominant culture is the shared culture of the largest and usually most powerful group. In the United States, for example, this group has historically been white, English-speaking people of European ancestry and Judeo-Christian faiths. As a result, this group enjoys a considerable amount of power when it comes to establishing what's known as the hegemonic culture, or the social norms and expectations of a society.

As of 2000, more than 60% of the American population was of European ancestry, making them the dominant culture.

You'll recall that one of the benefits of cultural diversity is that we can learn about different cultures and people. However, when the hegemonic culture disproportionately represents the dominant group, other cultures become underrepresented, which can lead to feelings of resentment or can make minority cultures seem unfamiliar and strange. For instance, imagine that all you ever saw on television or in movies were people who looked or behaved nothing like you, would you feel as though you were valued or included in that culture?

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