The Human Race

In a past blog post, I discussed different dimensions of culture. You may have noticed that race was not included in my list of cultural dimensions. This usually surprises people because race is often the first thing people focus on when we talk about cultural diversity. However, not including race wasn’t a mistake. It was a very deliberate decision. Why? The answer is pretty simple. There is no such thing as race.

By definition, race is a divisive term created to classify people into categories based on their skin color, hair texture, facial features, and body size. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement in 1950 asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that race is not a biological reality. The idea of different races is a myth. In fact, studies have found that the genes of Caucasians, Africans, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans are 99.9% identical!

Because I do not want to perpetuate the idea that there are different races, I stopped using the word. I think it is more accurate to talk about ethnic background which takes into account skin color, as well as other physical and cultural characteristics. I also use terms like ethnicity, cultural group, and skin color to help identify different groups of people.

I realize that not using the word isn’t a perfect solution. And I am certainly not advocating a “colorblind” approach that ignores our differences. Quite the opposite. But when we talk about our differences, it is important to make sure we are not using a word that has no scientific merit and is simply a social construct.

Part of becoming culturally competent is changing our behavior. One easy step is to stop using this word. Let’s not perpetuate a myth! To practice, I encourage you to read the books I mentioned in my last blog. As you do, challenge yourself to talk about differences without saying the word race.

What can you do instead? Try describing people in terms of their skin color. No bias. No prejudice. No labels. Just an observation about the color of a person’s skin. Observations about skin color can be communicated in the same way you would describe someone’s hair or eye color. This is how we should see skin color as well. It’s a physical attribute and nothing more. While the labels white, black, and brown might not be very accurate, they serve all of us better than race. An even better option is using more realistic and accurate descriptions, like the ones you’ll find in the packs of Crayola Multicultural Crayons and Crayola Multicultural Markers.

Crayola Multicultural Crayon pack of 8

Crayola Multicultural Markers pack of 8

In the future, I will share more ideas for talking to your children about skin color. There are a lot of great ways to bring up this topic without perpetuating the myth of race. It just takes some practice and commitment to change. Are you ready to make the change and stop using this divisive word?

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Dimensions of Culture

Let’s continue exploring the question: What is culture? I hope you have spent time thinking about this important question and writing down those cultural dimensions of your life that have shaped and guided your worldview.

You’ll find that there are many different ways to teach about culture. One popular approach is to think of culture like an iceberg. The main idea is to remind people that the visible aspects of culture (food, clothing, language, skin color, etc.) often make up a small part of a person’s culture. There are also invisible aspects of culture that are below the surface and invisible to an observer. These dimensions of culture are more numerous and contain more depth. The key is to remember that people are more complex and complicated than we often realize. Assumptions based on the visible dimensions of culture often end up missing the depth and richness that culture bestows upon all of us. The iceberg may not be a perfect model, but it is another helpful way to think about culture.

Years ago, I developed a graphic to help illustrate 14 different dimensions of culture. Over the course of time and through many enlightening conversations, my list has grown and it continues to grow. I am aware that this old graphic is not all-inclusive. It does, however, provide a good starting point for our discussion about the dimensions of culture. Let’s start at the top and continue clockwise. As you consider each of these dimensions, be sure to ask yourself these questions:

Graphic with dimensions of culture

  • Ability: Do you have any physical, mental, developmental, or psychological limitations or disabilities?
  • Sexual Orientation: Do you identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender or questioning?
  • Time of Arrival in the U.S.: How long have you and/or your family lived in the U.S.?
  • Age/Cohort: How old are you? What world events have occurred in your lifetime that help define the way you view the world?
  • Education: How much formal and/or informal education do you have?
  • Religiosity/Spirituality: Do you have any religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical beliefs?
  • Family of Origin: What roles and rules did you learn from your family while you were growing up?
  • Skin Color: How would you describe your skin color?
  • Gender: Do you identify as female, male, transgender, non-conforming, or something else?
  • Social Class: How would you define your socioeconomic background?
  • Migration Experience: Did you or your family migrate to the U.S.? Why? Was it forced or was it a choice?
  • Language: What language or languages do you speak?
  • Family Structure: Who is in your family?
  • Ethnicity: What ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

I wonder how this compares to the list you wrote down. I learn something new each time I do this exercise and am truly interested in your answers. Remember, you can’t be wrong. We’ll continue to talk about the dimensions of culture in the next post. Until then, here is my question: did you write anything down that isn’t included in this graphic?

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