Solution to Cultural Diversity Problems in America
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There is no way to deny the fact that the greater part of the world is now rapidly heading towards multiculturalism, as the globalization process and tremendous development in science and technology have truly made the world a global village with most of its parts inviting people who can deliver, irrespective of their racial or religious identity. Therefore, the societies across the globe are now bent on to acquire cultural competency, which would enable them to be active components of multicultural fraternity.
The interdependence of global economy too is gradually imposing a multicultural context in the workplaces, and subsequently, people from different origins now have their tasks to adapt themselves with the new situation away from their homes and cultures. The differences in race, gender or ethnicity are fast losing their relevance before the increasing influence of globalization, where the workplaces are emerging as newfound community centers.
Therefore, the optimistic approach would be to see cultural diversity as a resource to raise productivity and to extend the cultural horizon to garner benefits in daily lives. For example, if an American finds a certain meal from Chinese origin is high on vitamins and proteins and is easy to cook and digest, he should not be hesitant to extend his taste buds as well as his culinary skills. This practice is much like enhancing one’s knowledge base and range of experience.
However, the above instance is an over simplified statement, considering the depth and breadth of cultural diversity. In reality, the true cultural exchange in large scale between innumerable communities of America is still a distant dream, as there is huge difference between various groups on various issues. However, banking on the increasing influence of globalization, one can hope that people would gradually accommodate the positive sides of other cultures and respect the cultural differences among them.
The concrete step towards this could be the introduction of multiculturalism among children right from their formative years, where there would be free cross-cultural interactions among them, besides a playful process of learning about other cultures. However, this practice too needs the back up from parents and for that matter, the parents too need to be a part of this process, where they would set examples before their children, who usually love to emulate their parents. And the process does not stop here. The parents too need to be encouraged by government policies and government too needs to be encouraged by the political will of establishing America as an epitome of multiculturalism.
The above state of affairs thus points at the need for comprehensive and level-based cultural competency programs that can be used for multicultural orientation. Many academic and business institutions in America have already begun the process, and there are many spirited private organizations that are working on tandem to spread multiculturalism in their own ways.
Background: American Core Values and Questions of Diversity
It is a fact that the rapid advancement of globalization process has created a favorable wind to exploit the cultural diversity of America, which is also the greatest culturally diverse nation-state of the globe.
However, the task at hand is huge; since the cultural diversity contains many negative drivers, the instances of which can be found in Holocausts, racial clashes, and in the recent spurt of terrorism, which is fuelled by the intense desire of groups to establish their supremacy over other. Apart from that, there is the legacy of inter-racial hatred and ethnic differences. From this point of view, it would not be wrong to say that America is sitting atop a dormant volcano, being the home of people all around the globe, belonging to many cultures.
Paradoxically, America’s strength too lies in this cultural diversity, which has all along been its part and parcel since its inception, and maybe it is for this reason, they have a greater level of tolerance and in general are free from racial biases.
However, the process of globalization has stretched the issue to such an extent that it has overlapped the general American notion of associating cultural diversity with ethnicity, sex or gender, and has taken a far more complex shape. Most of the cultural groups of America have one or the other unfulfilled agenda, and this state of affairs, thus, needs to be handled with utmost caution and care, as a good many serious questions have emerged in the recent times and they are still unanswered. Apart from that racism is still rampant across the region, which can easily fuel the grievances of several minority groups.
The above situation surely commands a thorough understanding of cultural diversity under the present context, where even the concept of ethnicity has changed to a great degree and that added more complexity to the issue.
Under the circumstance, the first question that remain unanswered, is why a clear perception of America’s core ideas and values is still not being propagated in proper manner, so that its people can primarily be under one umbrella of common interest, which would be able to outweigh their sectarian interests.
According to the anthropologists, culture is created through mutual exchange, and thus it can be learned, it all depends on the extent of exchange. However, one might want to bring the issue of tolerance or acceptability, which are instrumental to create the necessary ambience of cross-cultural exchange. It can never be easy to erase the past experiences of enmity or conflict overnight, and thus, there should always be a consistent process towards building amity among communities/groups from the authorities.
While society is a broad based platform that accommodates all, yet the ability to bring all under the societal norms cannot be a proof of multiculturalism, as culture is a package of thousand nuances of world-view, life-view, and general perception of daily living. Maybe for this reason, the anthropologists refer the term culture as just an idea about ideal behavioral process.
Illiteracy is not directly related to cultural diversity. However, there is a relationship. Among illiterate adults in the United States, the largest group are white, native-born, who have presumably attended public schools. According to the National Education Association, adults who are not literate in English include 41 percent who are English-speaking whites, 22 percent who are English-speaking African Americans, 22 percent who are Spanish-speaking Americans, and 15 percent who are other non-English speaking people.
The proportion of the population that is functionally or marginally illiterate is higher among African Americans (44 percent) and Hispanic Americans (as high as 56 percent), than among whites (10 percent to 30 percent). According to a 1993 literacy survey by the U.S. Department of Education, African American, Hispanic American, Native American, and Asian/Pacific Islander adults were more likely than Caucasians to perform in the lowest two literacy levels.
Otherwise, the general reflection of American culture can be identified in their ability to share a large number of things among themselves in spite of differences in other planes like religious beliefs, or perceptions about life-style or religious customs. This also presents the flavor of American cultural diversity as well, because their individual identities seldom interrupt this process of exchange.
This basic attitude perhaps is reflective of its realization about the utility value of togetherness that begun from the first day of American civilization, when people belonging to different cultures came and started living together with a common dream of building a new nation. And it was that common dream which helped them to set aside the conflicting components of various cultures. Therefore, it would be pertinent to review the core values of the Americans under the context of cultural diversity.
Issues Surrounding Race, Ethnicity, Prejudice, and Discrimination
It does not take to be a social scientist to realize that there has to be some problems in a culturally and linguistically diverse population of America. Yet they are important to serve as the reflector of their core values, as problems influence the generation of ideas and assumptions about life. In this way, the interaction of American values and American diversity in the modern, urban, complex nation-state can be understood, like how cultural diversity impacts their behavior in their pursuit of the ideal life, or how the contradictions and conflicts inherently generated by the gaps between beliefs and behaviors.
Therefore, by examining the impact of American values and diversity on economic, social, religious, political, linguistic, medical, legal, and educational systems, one can decide on whether it is about time to replace assumptions based on illusion with a dose of reality for the sake of a better America.
No matter how much the value of equality is being touted in the United States, the bare fact is that it is a class-based society and like a good many countries it too has its set of class-based cultures and beliefs. This indicates that Americans too are yet to come out of the limiting ideas like people are not equal for various reasons, comments Danny Wilcox, while evaluating the general American viewpoint of cultural diversity.
This state of affairs could not have taken wings, had not the Americans themselves cherished the class difference, and had no idea in mind to exploit them. In general this is the commonest trait in all countries, yet, considering America’s increasing endeavor towards establishing multiculturalism, this trait strikes like a contrast, with the threat of producing roadblocks towards the journey of multiculturalism.
Wilcox presents another interesting observation in American culture, and that is about how everyone claims to be middle class. Though there is no element of surprise in middle-class people confirming their middle-class status or the aspiring members of the working and lower classes claiming middle-class status to raise their esteem, but there is element of surprise when the members of rich and upper-class society too claim their seats among middle class. And they object when someone points at their opulence!
These people may have many reasons behind such attitude of theirs, ranging from hiding their wealth from public eye to seek a political position, like what Steve Forbes did during the presidential elections of 1996, in spite of being the beneficiary of an enormous family fortune, and an extremely rich man.
Forbes declared in front media and a gathering, “This is a great country, where ordinary people like us can do extraordinary things.”
On the other hand, he was then in the process of spending millions of dollars of his own money to run for president on an essentially one-issue campaign platform that was geared to reducing taxes.
So it also shows that the power brokers also contributed to the culture with their practice of misleading the average working class American to garner their support, thereby highlighting the instance of how far the idealized value of equality actually applies in reality. This misappropriation of middle-class status and sentiment as tools of identity politics by the rich and power elites in this country thus causes dual damage to the society – one, by creating an illusion of equality and two, by selling the fantasy like “anybody can get rich” to the commoners.
There are many aspects of the cultural system in America that serve as instruments of stratification and social segmentation of the society into distinct classes. This state of affairs leads to significant differences and problems within and between cultural groups, where economic, social, religious, political, medical, legal, and educational systems are all severely impacted by such diversity. Admitted, that the task of accommodating all the different individual and group interests on an equitable and fair basis is a massive undertaking, yet, the tendency to hide such reality from the public eye does not go with the mission of exploiting cultural diversity to the benefit of the nation.
On the economic front, the glaring contrast in wealth and income too contributes in the formation of various layers in the society, which goes against the process of establishing equality in the lives of the millions of Americans. According to the reports, the past few decades only saw riches becoming richer and poor becoming poorer, and the middle class has seen their relative wealth and upward mobility stagnate and begin to degrade. Such inequity at the core of the society is the root cause of social segmentation in this country, and most of the other contributing factors to class stratification depend on the disparity in wealth to begin to work their contribution to the maintenance of maximum diversity in the population.
Socially, some communities are primarily segregated by income. The process of housing thereafter acts as identifier of various income groups, as the entrepreneurs find it more profitable to build large tracts of homes to be sold to people having comparable financial resources. The labeling of Americans thus take place in this fashion, where the rising middle class individuals tell their position from decent colonies of one income group, while the lower income groups’ shabby multistoried buildings sighs for themselves. Naturally, the different ring tones of culture can be heard from these different groups of Americans, which is another bad news for the proponents of multiculturalism.
However, religion is yet to make a significant contribution in class crises, as there are rich and poor in all religious groups, though there may be some segmentation within the groups on the basis of wealth, primarily because these religious organizations are either community or neighborhood-based, where the inequality of income is identifiable and that can become stressor to anyone belonging to poor income group.
However, situations like that usually remain confined within the community, and impacts little on the cultural diversity. Overall, religion cannot be identified as a negative driver of cultural diversity, and that fact is supported by studies as well, where it has been found that the large proportion of the American population claims no religious affiliation. This is surely reflective of their religious tolerance.
Historical and Contemporary Experiences of Minority Groups
Even as the operators of United Nations are busy propagating the benefit of democratic governance, America’s recent past is still capable of haunting its present. Historically, the right to vote was first linked to the ownership of property. The principle of one man, one vote was legally established and that apparently ended the domination of the landowner, but the referred man was not black and certainly was not a female. Women of America were denied to vote even 75 years back from now, save the instances of more recent past, when African-Americans were murdered for their desire to participate in the process of democracy.
Historically the political scene was dominated by the elites of America, who never wanted maximum participation in it. Perhaps that legacy still does round in the psyche of the Americans, since even in this modern times, most people who are eligible to register to vote stay away, and only about half of the registered people actually vote, which is much lower than other democracies like India or China.
Economic inequality impacts in the healthcare sector too, where the disparity in wealth also enhances the failure of the health care system to adequately respond to the needs of a diverse population. Even though all income levels experienced a drop in rates of coverage, the disparity based on wealth has become obvious.
Apart from that, the costs of technology based medical care have increased to a great extent, thus again segregating the lower-income people, who now have to use hospital emergency rooms for basic medical services, which prove even costlier in the long run. Accordingly, people in this situation seek healthcare only when they experience acute conditions, which in most of the cases take a serious turn and incur higher financial burden on them.
Impact of Laws and Public Policies
The immigration system of US is also contains enough complexity where it can diffuse the spirit of a new entrant right at the beginning with its discriminating nature. For example, the immigration laws are not the same for a laborer from third world and a white collar European. No wonder then, why some researchers observe that US has a long history of xenophobia, an attitude and behavioral prejudice toward immigrants and those perceived as foreigners, which is also known as “nativism.”
It is for this reason, some people have coined a term called “Façade Diversity”, which refers to the make-believe presentation of multiculturalism, besides raising voice in favor of maintaining the unique elements of each culture and preventing homogenization. This in fact only points at the true nature and enormity of the task.
All of the above are parts of the cultural and cultural and linguistic diversity, though there may be more to add on. However, on the positive side, two major values can be underpinned as the source of sustenance to American society, and they are, religious tolerance and individual freedom, which is the most central value to American culture.
Therefore, the situations depicted above automatically qualifies to be seriously treated under diversity management, as the above discussion clearly shows that cultural diversity of America goes beyond its goal of achieving equal opportunity for all. Among the primary objectives of managing cultural diversity are to capitalize on the strengths of today’s diverse workforce, remedy the effects of past discrimination, diminish the likelihood of litigation, and reduce interpersonal conflict and stress. Diversity training thus should be able to facilitate the fulfillment of these diversity management goals.
On the legal front the shadow of cultural diversity can be found in the financial and racial status of the prisoners. The cost of hiring lawyers is high, and people from lower income group form the major part of the prisoners, and the victims of income disparity can be identified there as blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities, since they are the majority in prisons.
Global Implications of Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity
A wonderful instance of how the flow of various cultures can assimilate in a single place can be found in the case of Middle America, whose culture has been influenced by its Amerindian, European, African, North American, and even the South Asian peoples. This is truly a complex cultural mosaic where its general ethnic pattern contains people with African ancestry including Mulattos (a person of mixed African and European ancestry), people from Caribbean island and the Caribbean coast of Central America, Mestizo (a person of mixed white and Amerindian ancestry) people of European ancestry.
Even the cultural food diversity in America is worth mentioning here, as it has become an important issue in America, as there are scores of ethnic restaurants that have become popular with dishes from various cultures. Some of them gradually made their way to the daily eating habits, while some others are emerging as favorites among the young generation.
Accordingly, most of the Americans are now familiar with a vast range of dishes from every nook and corner of the world. There are Hunan, Mandarin and Szechwan delicacies from China, there are Japanese (Sushi), Indian (Curry), Brazilian, Mexican, German, French, Greek, Spanish and many other dishes that are ready to adorn the plates of the Americans. Accordingly, there is a shift in tastes too – the earlier favorites of old European cuisines are now making way for Asian spicy foods, which are increasingly becoming popular among the young Americans.
Arguments on Controversial Issues
The controversial issues like class crises or discriminatory laws clearly seem to be the roadblocks towards achieving multiculturalism, though America has long been a multilingual nation, yet, on its educational front, economic disparity has telltale signs too, as the schools in poor neighborhoods have very poor resources and consequently, the children belonging to lower-income group cannot equip themselves to compete in the higher level of education.
Thus it mostly reflects the inner frustration of the youth of these communities when they quit studies and look out for odd jobs. To prevent this shocking trend, many community college districts have given up on many inner-city students, counseling and persuading them to enter vocational training programs instead of pursuing a more traditional university education.
On the language front too, the minorities suffer to a great extent. America has historically been a multilingual nation, and it decided at the time of inception that it would serve its documents in English, German, and French, depending on where the publications were distributed. However, the traffic of the immigrants were never limited to the speakers of those three languages; instead people from all nook and corners of globe have brought in their native languages, which denied their integration into the larger society for many decades. The linguistic heritage of America is truly diverse and many words and expressions of them have made their way to the mainstream languages.
However, the dialectical differences are still a roadblock to smooth communication, which in turn generated a peculiar effect that involves economic status of people, as people here tend to speak like the people with whom they speak most of the time, and accordingly, the communities segmented by wealth tend to develop their distinctive speech patterns and variations in the form and sentence structure. Infrequent communication is indicative of greater linguistic divergence and more specific identity conflict with others.
The most potent negative drivers of cultural diversity in America are race, ethnicity, and minority status, which make their presence felt in many forms – ranging from group clashes to the application form for a federal, state, local, or even private sector jobs.
The memory of even 30 year-old instances of slavery of the Africans and continued economic, social, and linguistic segregation of their descendants has effectively spawned a substantial, although diverse, generally poor and angry minority population that poses threats to the normalcy off and on.
On the other hand, the attitude of the proponents of nativism towards minorities also adds to their sensitivity. Asians, particularly the Chinese, at one time were regarded as no better than animals by the dominant European culture. Wounds like this would surely take more time to heal, even if they are not renewed.
The nonwhite immigrant groups have consistently been denied the type of preferential treatment some other (mostly European) groups have received, and the general mood of the country these days is that everything can be nearly blamed on a bunch of foreigners trying to come here and enjoying the cream of it like parasites. Rules add irony in them too – as the native Hispanics, who came even before the white Americans, have also been excluded from participation in mainstream culture to a great extent.
Therefore the state of affairs cannot be termed as encouraging towards establishing a true multicultural environment in America, especially when the humans are still divided on the basis of the skin color or language. The inherent economic, social, political, religious, and educational differences presented by a culturally and linguistically diverse population generate a strange mixture of senses like insecurity, hatred, deprivation and frustration.
There are more avenues of discrimination, like body weight, hairstyle, clothes, dental hygiene, physical beauty, and age. Americans also discriminate on the basis of material wealth, the neighborhood or the house of a person of maybe the car one owns or eateries one attends regularly.
Understandably, such visual judgments rob the scope of economically or socially backward people or those belonging to minority groups. And that is not all, even if they speak, another round of judgment is sure to take place, this time on the quality of verbal presentation that would include accent to the body language, save the sentence structures.
Evaluation of Strategies to Promote Intercultural Awareness
The debate would go on regarding whether it would be good to foster the separate the heritages of different cultures, or to distill their essence and merge them together to form a new multicultural concept. However, this is quite true that the inherent qualities of a culture attracts more follower in course of time, and most of the cases such cultures stem from religion. The huge numbers of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews amply corroborate this fact.
On the other hand, the rapid development in the sphere of science and technology has made the world a global village and regional boundaries are no more a constraint to the people who wish to work at another country. This process of globalization does need a common code of conduct that should be practiced everywhere, so that the cultural differences do not emerge as barriers to the communication between people who are otherwise united for a common cause like serving a multinational or teaching in a school where children belong to various communities.
One thing is for certain, necessity is the mother of innovation, and thus the recent thrust on multiculturalism cannot be labeled as something like façade diversity; on the contrary it can truly be the driver of a new world order, that would value the present and future more than looking back to protect a certain pattern of living as heritage and cultural identity.
If non-identity can save the earth from destruction, then it is always welcome. The negative impact of the desire to protect and spread one’s culture has now shaped in terrorism, which is the greatest threat to the peace loving people of this earth, and from that point of view, even if the established cultures are needed to be curbed for the sake of humanity, then that would be a welcome step.
UNDP’s projects too aim to establish democratic governance, and for that matter, it too has to evoke passion among its workers regarding the welfare of the people belonging to different races.
On the other hand, some people are worried about Americanization of the globe under the veil of multiculturalism, but America has nothing to do with such blames, and it should not stop its processes of multiculturalism.
The main idea should be to free people from all prejudice and bias about their cultures and any endeavor to establish that bias. The more the individual cultures become limited to private practice, the better. Otherwise, somewhere down the line the issue of multiculturalism is bound to receive jolts.
However, there should be a central plan based on sound logic. The evaluation of the state of cultural diversity in America provides the following points:
- America has evolved out of cultural diversity and now cultural diversity has risen to the stature of Frankenstein;
- A large number of people belonging to various minority group are feel distant from the core concept of America, i.e., freedom;
- The mainstream cultures are still bent on enjoying their privileged status;
- Certain laws are reflective of American recent past of discrimination;
- Certain practices are reflective of segregation;
- Cultural differences cannot be fully neutralized;
Banking on these clues, the following inferences can be drawn:
- A large section of Americans are not motivated to establish a workable form of multiculturalism;
- There is scope of changing laws or practices;
- Irrespective of race or religion, Americans have welcomed globalization process.
The above inference clearly brings in two fresh topics into discussion, and they are:
Motivation is the guiding engine of every human action, and motivation is dependent on needs of the humans. The history of America too corroborates this fact, when a group of people belonging to various races and origins together formed this country, then it was their level of motivation that supplied them the much-needed power to rise over the limitations of race or origin. Even then they had the difference in language, but that did not deter them to successfully communicate and achieve the desired outcome. Hence, motivation can be the primary tool towards achieving a multicultural environment.
However, there should be a clear understanding about the mechanism of motivation that there are two types of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation can be sparked by intangible elements like praise, appreciation, recognition and positive suggestion. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation depends on tangible elements like money or other object. According to the researchers, intrinsic motivation creates long-standing impression in human mind, where humans act voluntarily, while extrinsic motivation requires regular incentives.
Now comes the question of aligning human needs with the need of the nation, and for that matter it would be pertinent to take a brief look at the need structure of the humans, as prescribed by the social scientist Abraham Maslow:
Need 1: Basic needs: Humans cannot do without fulfilling basic needs;
Need 2: Safety and security need: Humans should fulfill this need to qualify for the next need.
Need 3: Social need: Humans love to interact and garner a sense of belonging with the society.
Need 4: Esteem need: This need relates to the sense of accomplishment, where humans crave for recognition to weigh their self-worth.
Need 5: Self-actualization: This is the ultimate need, when humans want to know beyond the earth and its subjects and search the meaning of life.
Interestingly, the last two needs are totally dependent on intrinsic motivation, as they deal with intangible elements like self-esteem or self-actualization.
Equally, the prime driver of multiculturalism too contains intangible elements like respect, courage, fellowship, etc. Therefore, intrinsic motivation qualifies to be the tool to motivate the Americans towards achieving multiculturalism.
Now arrives the question of leadership, that would be able to align the spirit of the Americans with the spirit of multiculturalism, and therefore be able to exploit the tool of intrinsic motivation.
Under the context, “Servant Leadership,” the new avatar of transformational leadership, would be the right choice for reasons like below:
- It offers selfless service;
- It is based on idealistic view of life;
- It aims to motivate its followers intrinsically.
Therefore, the primary solution towards achieving multiculturalism could be the adoption of servant leadership along with intrinsic motivation. Next could be steps regarding eliminating discriminatory laws, implementation of multiculturalism at preschool stage, etc.
While a big part of the problems arising out of America’s cultural diversity cannot be solved overnight due to their inherent complexity, it is very much possible to motivate them towards achieving workable multiculturalism. However, for that matter, the government too has to take certain steps like eliminating discriminatory laws, adopting servant leadership style and methods of motivating Americans intrinsically.
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