The Impact of Culture, Race & Ethnicity on a Person's Identity

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  • 0:04 Culture, Race & Ethnicity
  • 0:59 Impact on Behaviors
  • 2:01 Impact on Attitudes
  • 3:11 Development Over Time
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Culture, race, and ethnicity are complex and multifaceted concepts that can impact people's lives and identities in many different ways. This lesson provides an overview of the ways these factors influence individual and group development.

Culture, Race, & Ethnicity

As a sociology student, Janice has become very interested in the different factors influencing people's identities and behaviors over time. Lately, Janice has been thinking about culture, race, and ethnicity. She realizes that these three concepts have areas of overlap as well as areas of divergence.

Janice comes to understand that culture has to do with the language, religion, and customs that characterize a particular group's way of life. She learns that ethnicity usually refers to the national background with which a person identifies. For instance, Janice identifies herself as ethnically part Jewish, part Italian, and part Mexican.

Finally, Janice understands that race is a social construct that is often associated with skin color and other physical features but sometimes overlaps with identity. Racially, Janice identifies as white because that is how most people perceive her, but she knows that some people assume she is Latina, too.

Impacts on Behaviors

Janice starts thinking about the different ways culture, race, and ethnicity influence people's behaviors. She knows that culture is something that people learn implicitly from the moment they are born. For example, babies are raised to be part of the culture they're born into.

Culture can impact so many different aspects of people's behavior, including how they handle conflict, how they express different feelings through body language, and how they problem-solve.

For instance, Janice knows that some cultures are more collectively oriented, and people from these cultures might be more likely to help each other with a difficult school assignment. Other cultures are more individualistic, and people from these cultures might consider that same sort of help to be cheating.

Janice knows that race and ethnicity can also influence behaviors. People might act differently, for instance, if their race and ethnicity have historically given them privilege within a particular society. If people have personally or historically experienced discrimination because of their race and ethnicity, they might feel cautious, suspicious, or mistrusting of the dominant society in which they live.

Impacts on Attitudes

Janice knows that culture, race, and ethnicity can impact people's attitudes, or how they feel about different issues. For example, if someone has been raised culturally to believe that babies sleep in bed with their parents, they might be shocked to learn that some people put their babies to sleep in a separate bed at night from day one. On the other hand, someone might be from a culture in which sleeping in a crib right away is normative, and she might be horrified or concerned about a parent who beds with her infant.

Race and ethnicity can also impact attitudes. Many people feel a strong sense of pride based on their ethnicity, and this is an important part of their attitudinal approach to the world and to other people. Racially, some people may feel consciously or unconsciously superior to or biased against others. If a person has never seen someone from his racial background in a position of power or represented positively in books and media, this can influence his attitude and beliefs about himself and others in negative and harmful ways.

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