Our focus on difference follows the diversity approach, which “emphasizes the social, cultural, and other differences and commonalities among social identity groups based on the ethnic, racial, religious, gender, class, or other social categories generally recognized in the U.S. The goals of a diversity approach include appreciation of differences among and within groups in a pluralistic society” (Adams and Zuniga, 2016).
To appreciate the pluralistic nature of our society and the different social identity groups that are part of it, we must emphasize the uniqueness of each culture and subculture within our society and focus on understanding the cultural values, religious affiliations, educational experiences, families, nation and language origins for specific identity groups. Understanding concepts such as cultural relativism, cultural humility, and cross-cultural communication are key to our understanding and appreciation of the social and cultural differences in our society. The following resources provide us with some background of these concepts and allow us to appreciate and empathize with the differences we see in others, and to stand for equity in our classrooms, homes, and communities:
First, it is importance to understand the concept of culture and the importance of culture in our life. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, culture can be seen as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group, or the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time. Most social scientists today view culture as consisting primarily of the symbolic, ideational, and intangible aspects of human societies. The essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools, or other tangible cultural elements, but the ways the members of the group interpret, use, and perceive those objects. It is the values, symbols, interpretations, and perspectives that distinguish one people from another in modernized societies; it is not material objects and other tangible aspects of human societies. People within a culture usually interpret the meaning of symbols, artifacts, and behaviors in the same or in similar ways (Banks and McGee, 1989).
Ethnocentrism, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the attitude that one’s own group, ethnicity, or nationality is superior to others. In contrast, cultural relativism, according to World Atlas, is the idea that the systems of morals and ethics, which vary from one culture to another, are all equal, and that no system ranks above the other. A person’s belief and value system should be understood in the context of their own culture rather than against the criteria of another culture. Cultural relativism is based on the fact that there is no specific ground rule for what is good or evil. Thus, any judgment on what is true or wrong depends on the society’s rules, culture, and belief system. Therefore, any opinion on morality or ethics is dependent on a person’s cultural perspective. Ultimately, no particular ethical position can be considered the best. You can read more about the differences between these two concepts in Maricopa College’s Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism page or watch a short video video from Khan Academy: Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism.
Another concept related to cultural relativism currently in use at LWTech: Cultural Humility. We define cultural humility as the ability to practice lifelong learning and critical self-reflection in order to understand one’s own cultural identity and its impact on being open to and supporting the cultures of others. You can learn more about cultural humility in this video: TedTalk Video: Cultural Humility.
Please consider the following videos that address the essential part that culture plays is our life:
Adams, M. and Zuniga, X (2016). Getting Started: Core Concepts for Social Justice Education. In: Adams et al (Eds) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. Routledge, New York.
Banks, J.A., Banks, & McGee, C. A. (1989). Multicultural education. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.