Exercise on Cultural Diversity:
True or False:
Answers: 1. F 2. T 3. F 4. F 5. F 6. F 7. F 8. T
Helping students understand and appreciate the complexity of ethnicity and race and racism is certainly a class lecture in itself. Teachers of psychology can help students recognize the influence of ethnic identity. Begin by helping them to understand easily confused terms such as “racism,” “prejudice,” “race” and “ethnicity.”
Despite evidence that there is only one human race, with many variations on that one race, the term “race” generally assumes biological differences that are most evident in physical appearances—a kind of pseudosubspeciation.
“Race” has social meaning often accompanied by stereotyping; it suggests one’s status within the social system and introduces power differences as people of different “races” interact with one another. “Ethnicity,” on the other hand, connotes common culture and shared meaning. It includes feelings, thoughts, perceptions, expectations and actions of a group resulting from shared historical experiences.
“Racism” and “prejudice” deal with the forming of unfounded and often inaccurate opinions about a group, leading to biased behavior against members of that group. From the mistaken notion that humans may be divided into clearly defined racial groups and that these groups vary in capabilities and aptitudes, racism gives permission to individuals to treat “racial groups” differently.
The power of labels
The recent and highly controversial change in ethnic classifications on the U.S. Census form could lead to a class discussion on ethnic classifications and the power of labels. Key questions for a class discussion on the topic might be:
Most Native Americans, for example, describe themselves according to tribal membership. However, in the United States we have generally used the terms “Indian,” “American Indian” and “Alaska Native” to define the original inhabitants of this continent.
The use of racial terms and their sociological and psychological implications for all ethnic groups must be understood in a historical context, which will enhance students’ understanding of the political nuances of ethnic labels. These labels were assigned and used originally to separate or define the group as different from the majority culture.
If there are ethnic-minority students in the class, you as the teacher must allow them to determine their own ethnic label and then encourage the class to honor this choice. The goal is to respect the individual’s or group’s decision about what to call itself. Having the opportunity to choose is empowering.
Whichever strategy they use, instructors need to be aware of some common, interrelated misconceptions about culture:
Bringing culture home
One way to correct such misunderstandings is to have students examine their own cultural assumptions and expectations. For example, to show that everyone 'has' a culture, a teacher might ask students to analyze norms for conversational distance, speaking to strangers in public, challenging a professor in class, arriving at a designated time for an appointment, taking care of elderly parents and so forth. Because the United States is a diverse society, students from different ethnic and national, and from different geographic regions of the country, are likely to come up with differing norms.
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