Why Culture and Identity Matter

In a society where the simplest action can be considered incendiary, it can be difficult to

assert one’s culture or identity without backlash. From the wearing of a hijab to the native

tongue that one is accustomed to, it seems as if nothing is safe in the eyes of those who fear

what they don’t know. But, why are people so fearful of the unknown? Is it bigotry? Is it

ignorance? Is it a need to preserve one’s own culture and shun another’s? All of these

questions have no true answers, but only assumptions. “So, what is the real question?”, you

may wonder. The real question is why do culture and identity matter? It may seem

inconceivable that two intangible ideas can be so divisive, but they can be and people go to

extreme lengths to protect them both. So, why do culture and identity matter?

For starters, culture is something that sets every person and group apart from others.

Identity sets people within cultures apart. An individual may submit to characteristics of a culture

such as the food, clothing, or language, but the fashion in which the individual identifies makes

that person a truly unique human that is not like anyone else. Culture and identity also help

disprove monolithic views that people may hold about others. A group that exemplifies this is

the Gullah-Geechee people of the South Carolina Sea Islands. Although they are of African

American descent, their culture is rich in many West African traditions. These traditions include

the use of small Praise houses and the performance of ring shouts, which are spiritual rituals in

which participants move counterclockwise and sing. These two components of their culture set

them apart from other groups of African Americans and helps to shift the current paradigm.

Identity is slightly different than culture. Identity allows like minded people to come

together, like a culture, but they come together to work towards a common goal. An example of

this is the LGBTQ+ community. Although they do have cultural ideas and values that bring them

together, they are working towards the goal of gaining equality and tolerance for all who are

within the community. An example of what the community does to gain equality and tolerance is

to host events such as Pride parades and educational events that give greater insight into who

they are as a people and a community. Also, this provides them a chance to show themselves

as individuals within a community rather than just one single representation of the community.

To our fellows, culture and identity has multiple meanings. To Jade Harris, culture is

something that makes people: “Culture is the foundation of people. It is how they act in certain

situations, what environment they were raised in, the different ways they dress, the food they

prepare, and the way they style their hair. Just the overall vibe that each person has.” To

Jahmiel Jackson, culture is what provides a connection amongst people: “Culture is a means

of identity for a lot of us. It is something we rely on and it boosts our morale. It is a way for us

to connect to people who are similar to you.” As for identity, Jade felt that it is the way that

one sees themselves or others: “You can be a female, but see yourself as a male. Therefore,

you see yourself as a male, and should be treated as such.” To Jahmiel, identity is part of

your culture: “It represents your roots and you can’t identify as something if you don’t know

where you came from.”

It is important to remember that culture and identity are two things that govern us without

us realizing it. It determines the way we perceive things in life, the way we do everyday things,

and even the way we perceive people. It can be a blessing or a curse depending on the

outcomes that they spawn. So, why do culture and identity matter? The answer to this question

is that it makes us who we are and helps us find individuality within a community.

 

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