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Cultural Awareness


Cultural awareness is the open-minded ability to remain cognizant of differences between human societies, stepping back from one’s own biases and looking at others in an enlightened way and it is a great topic for a research paper. Every anthropology research paper you write should have some element of cultural awareness to it. It is important to recognize that human beings exist in different cultures. Even seemingly similar societies, such as the United States and Western Europe, have significant differences that should be taken into account. Through cultural awareness, one’s ingrained cultural biases are not projected onto people and situations that could otherwise be misinterpreted.

Cultural Awareness is Important Because:

  • Cultural awareness teaches us to be tolerant of other's differences
  • Instills respect for different beliefs
  • Allows us to understand anthropological histories
  • Gives groups a sense of belonging

Cultural Awareness and Students

Today's students get a sense of cultural history mainly because the society they are a part of is permeated by aspects of the cultural history of many different ethnic groups. The media is primarily responsible for this. For younger persons, including those of college age, persons of many different ethnic and racial groups are seen in TV programs and movies in such roles as newscasters or contestants on game shows.

In the past couple of decades, individuals from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds have come to be seen so frequently in all parts of society that their presence is taken for granted. In some cases, individuals of minority groups have been given government positions where they have high visibility. Colin Powell, former President Bush's Secretary of State, is one such individual. When others in society see Powell as a black man gain such a high and visible position, awareness of the millions of others of this racial minority becomes a part of the lives of all members of society. Minority performers in the field of popular entertainment have played an especially important role in increasing the sense of cultural history in college and high school students. Rap music has done much to make younger white persons aware not only of the talents, but also the culture and feelings of blacks. Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez have made college students more aware of Hispanics.

Cultural Awareness


Difficulty of Cultural Awareness

The difficulty in developing cultural awareness comes from the unconscious socialization each individual undergoes as a routine part of development. The modern society, however, is increasingly globalized and thus both school and work are becoming multicultural places. Through education, stereotypes can be overcome. Culture is a shared system of values and beliefs, and frequently other cultures place different value on certain ideas or behaviors. Maintaining cultural awareness allows the individual to refrain from judging a behavior or statement that at first appears alien or contradictory to one’s own identity.

Respect for other cultures must come into play beyond when the individual is traveling to a foreign spot. Each person recognizes when they are a guest in another culture. Cultural awareness permits the individual to retain respect for the vast array of differences encountered in everyday life.

There is a different mind-set among recent generations of college students than there was a decade or so ago. Basically, the culture, political views, dress, and possessions of the white majority are no longer seen as standing for the norm, but rather are seen as making up one way of life among a number of different ways. In the past decade, there has been a "historical shift way from a widely accepted notion that America is a homogeneous and singular culture [which has meant] that students do not in fact share a single literary canon or a patriotic knowledge of government." This historical shift is evidenced in colleges by the creation of departments in the areas of black studies, women's studies, cultural studies, and related areas. Most college students do not go through their college career without taking at least a couple of courses in these areas. The historical shift has been reflected in the course materials in the traditional areas of English and history, for example. For instance, in a course on the modern novel, novels by women and back authors would be included along with works by white authors. In addition, most English and history departments offer some courses concentrating on subjects coming under the general area of cultural history. Most English departments, for example, offer courses in subjects such as the feminist novel or the Harlem renaissance. The history of Africa or the Middle East is a type of course offered by history departments. That the history, literature, political systems, and culture of the Western, democratic nations provide all of the material for a college education is no longer taken for granted. Because of this, college students inevitably have a different sense of cultural history apart from one they might develop by taking particular courses in different areas of cultural history.

Another way students have gotten a sense of cultural history is the activism of members of different minority groups. This activism has had the effect of introducing members of the white majority as well as members of other minority groups to individuals from a minority group and its background and interests. bell hooks (she always spells her name without capitals) is a black woman who has been active in black interests, feminism, and politics. "When everyone first began to speak about cultural diversity, it was exciting," she writes; "For those of us on the margins....who had always felt ambivalent about our presence in institutions where knowledge was shared in ways that reinscribed colonialism and domination, it was thrilling to think that the vision of justice and democracy that was at the very heart of the civil rights movement would be realized in the academy." Inspired by the vision of justice and democracy of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, hooks was active especially in colleges to change their curricula to reflect the broad range of the many different backgrounds of the people who made up America. The activism of hooks and many others has been for the most part successful in getting colleges to offer courses in cultural diversity.

Students are exposed to cultural diversity not only by the popular culture and the courses they take. Recognizing the importance of learning about cultural diversity not only to be educated but also to work in the workplace and live in contemporary American society, most colleges regularly invite minority speakers to speak about their perspective on current issues or experiences of theirs.

Today, college students get a sense of cultural diversity in ways both informal and formal. Among the informal ways are aspects of popular culture such as entertainment and advertising which they cannot help but come upon in their daily lives. Courses and talks by minority speakers are among the formal ways they get a sense of cultural diversity.

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