Monday, June 1, 2009

Culture, Heritage, and Stereotyping

From Adoptive Families Magazine, a simple explanation of the difference between culture and heritage, and how they are linked to stereotyping:
Culture is what tells you how to live your life. Culture defines what you expect to eat for breakfast, how you address your boss or your teacher, how close to stand to your friends, how to sit in a chair. Culture involves values. Culture tells you whether your family or your job is more important, who would be a good choice for a marriage partner, and how much skin you can decently expose at the swimming pool.

You learn culture by living it.

* * *

Heritage is what belongs to you by virtue of your birth. Heritage includes your genetic background, physical features, and ethnic origin; it includes the history of the people who share those features with you. Heritage consists only of facts, but one's culture may place more or less value on those facts. Whether or not you know or care anything about your heritage, it belongs to you.

Classifying a person solely by heritage is what we call stereotyping. For example, when meeting a Japanese person, there is an almost irresistible urge to assign to that person the characteristics we perceive as "Japanese," such as obedience, industry, interest in computers, and lack of humor. However, if that Japanese person was born and raised in Iowa, he or she might be a lot more interested in corn farming and Saturday Night Live than in electronics or raw fish. Stereotyping unfairly assigns a person a culture based on his or her heritage alone.
The article also discusses why it is important for adoptive parents to teach their children about their heritage -- if we don't someone else will, and it's likely to be based in stereotyping rather than truth.

No comments: