Racism, Ethnocentrism and Cultural Identity

A wise woman by the name of Rosa Parks once said, “Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome”. When she said this, she was suggesting that negative values and prejudices are taught, we are conditioned by our parents, society, and the environment we grow up in, to blindly follow these sometimes questionable values and therefore become a part of our culture. Culture has complete control over how we see the world and treat others, whether it is a firm belief in our own ways, or the willingness to change in order to fit in. Although most people don’t realize it, there is much more to our different cultures than we thought, and it totally affects our cultural perspectives in almost every way.

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Something that has a huge impact on our perspectives, is the relationship and differences between our generation, and the generation that raised us. A good example of that point is in the novel excerpt, “Two Kinds” from the award-winning novel, The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan. This excerpt focuses on a young girls rocky relationship with her mother. Her mother was an immigrant and came to America with the values that you can be anything you want to be if you work hard enough at it. Her daughter Jing-mei, however quickly loses hope in that ideal after countless failures trying to become a prodigy, something her mother so desperately would like to see happen. Her mother has these values because she had lost everything in her birthplace, China, and had come to America in hopes of a better life, she raised Jing-mei in San Francisco, so the absence of that experience that her mother had immigrating to the United States, left Jing-mei growing up with more individualistic values than her mother, who came from a collectivistic culture, did. In the beginning of the story, Jing-mei is determined to please her mother and become a prodigy, but after failing many times, she rebelled and resides to be what she wanted to be instead of trying to please her mother. In paragraph 15, Jing-mei says, “And then I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me- a face I had never seen before. I looked at my reflection, blinking so that I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. She had new thoughts, willful thoughts- or, rather, thoughts filled with lots of won’ts. I won’t let her change me, I promised myself. I won’t be what I’m not.”. In this statement, Jing-mei rebels against her mother’s expectations coming from a culture that values obedient children, to reveal her new, Western ideals of individualism.

One aspect of one’s cultural perspective is ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the mindset that one’s culture is the “correct” one, this can apply to religion, language, norms, and political beliefs as well. I personally have heard many things that are completely ethnocentric as an American. In my experience, most people are ethnocentric, most people think that their way is the right way and that their values and beliefs are morally correct and that people who disagree with them are ignorant, uneducated, wrong, etc. It is very easy to fall into the narcissistic rut of ethnocentrism when you don’t really understand the culture you are looking down upon. In, “An Indian Father’s Plea,” Robert Lake ,or Medicine Grizzlybear, calls out his five year old son’s kindergarten teacher on her ethnocentrism and her reluctance to try to understand his culture before jumping to conclusions about Lake’s son’s ability to learn. The teacher has labeled Lake’s son a “slow learner,” Lake explains to the teacher that his son, Wind-Wolf, had already started his own education with his tribe, and that his son’s ability to speak many different Native American languages and his exposure to other cultures, as well as his introduction to the required Western system of education may have left Wind-Wolf with a lot to take in, thus less enthusiastic about starting public school. Lake ends by pleading for Wind-Wolf’s teacher to try to understand Wind-Wolf’s culture before making negative assumptions about him, and to encourage him to embrace his own Cherokee and Seneca tribal culture, as well as learn how to thrive in a Western society.

Cultural identity encompasses one’s religious beliefs, language, norms, and other sociological behaviours. One way that people use their cultural identity to view others is with one’s ethnicity. The article, “What is Cultural Identity?” written by Elise Trumbull and Maria Pacheco, defines ethnic identity as “an awareness of one’s membership in a social group that has a common culture.” However, ethnicity is not ‘required’ as a part of one’s cultural identity. Cultural identity can be as general as being an American or pertain to language, such as the Latin culture that many ethnic groups in South America and the Caribbean have in common.  

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Racism, Ethnocentrism And Cultural Identity. (2021, Apr 07). Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from
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