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American Culture and Values
American culture highly regards individuality compared to many other cultures. For this reason, it is more difficult to distinguish the dominant values, beliefs, and traditions of American life, because the lives of Americans differ so much, depending on their race, class and beliefs. Tracy Ore, John Langston Gwaltney and Lillian Rubin each add a unique perspective to the values that dominate our culture.
Ore makes an excellent point when she says that Americans categorize each other by race and culture. In many cases, race and culture work closely to create significant distinctions among groups within a larger society.
Often, race plays a part in establishing separate cultural groups. In the United States, people are disturbed when they are unable to classify someone based on their race. If it is unclear what race someone is, they will ask one another, "What are you?" (Ore, p. 1)
According to Ore, "the culturally defined classifications are significant in that they are structured as categories that are fundamentally different from one another. (p. 1).
People expect to be able to tell is someone is black or white, for example, and are confused when someone is in between. However, while someone may be different, it is not a negative thing.
Ore believes that it is the existence of these categories of difference that adds to the richness of American culture. As a result of the presence of different cultural differences, American is filled with a variety of foods, traditions, types of music, styles of dance, and much more. This is what makes America so interesting.
These differences are a value to America and do not, in themselves, cause inequality. Rather, it is the meanings and values applied to these differences that make them harmful.
For example, it is not that people of color are defined as different from whites in America, but that whites are viewed as superior and set a cultural standard by which all others are judged. This is how racial inequality is created.
In the U.S., according to Ore (p. 5), there is a system of stratification that is based on many categories of difference, including race, ethnicity, social class, sex, gender, and sexuality. American culture is very much defined by family, education, the economy, the states and the media.
As Americans grow up in this culture, they believe that whatever they experience is the norm. However, human beings are not born with a sense of what it means to be male, female, black white, gay, poor, rich, etc. We learn these categories through social interaction and are given meaning and value by our culture and those around us.
When we define a group as inferior, this does not mean that they are actually inferior. However, this classification may result in them being experienced as inferior (p. 6). For example, people who are poor are not inferior.
Yet our culture labels them as inferior. As a result, they are trapped in a vicious cycle created by culture. They are assigned substandard resources, such as low-income housing and poor educational standards, which perpetuates their poverty.
Gwaltney illustrates many of Ore's ideas in "Drylongso: A Self-Portrait of Black America," in which he talks about the differences between white people and black people as seen through they eyes of black men and women in America, who are asked to define their culture.
Gwaltney's story discusses the everyday struggles of drylongso, which means "ordinary African-Americans fighting against racism." There are many different people speaking their minds about how life is for them and how cultural deifferences and values have defined their lives.
One woman tells Gwaltney about her experiences as a black waitress: "I can still remember how white people would leave a tip and then someone at the table, generally some white woman, would take some of the money. She would try to do it secretly, of course, but most waitresses have had this experience and, of course, they are often seen sneaking those quarters and dimes off the tables. That is something I have never done when I was being served in a restaurant. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of black people I know who have done this. It is greed, wanting to have everything and still be known as a generous person." black man describes white culture to Gwaltney, saying, "See, the white folks figure if nobody has blown the whistle then nothing wrong has gone down. As long as they can make somebody say that rough is smooth, they are happy."
The stories in Drylongso are harsh and show how people truly see different races, but they reflect the real experiences of real people. While this book was written nearly 40 years ago, it recognizes the positive aspects of individualism, as well as the enormous inequalities found in the U.S. despites its ideals and potential. The social problems that needed immediate attention linger today, as well.
Rubin's book, Families on the Fault Line, describes the experiences of everyday people and how the connection between economic decline and racial tension continues in the U.S. Unlike Gwaltney, Rubin's book includes stories from mainly white people.
Rubin, in this work, asserts that the myth of America as a classless society prevents the real problems of the working class from being addressed. She calls this group the "invisible" Americans, saying that the decreasing economy has given them feelings of fear, anger, hopelessness and helplessness.
Rubin makes an interesting point about how white people view American culture, saying that many of her white interviewees, whom are frustrated with their economic problems, blame ethnic minorities.
According to Rubin, this attitude has been encouraged by national administrations to take pressure off them for the state of the economy and declining living standards. Because the nation does not acknowledge and address the needs and problems of the working class, says Rubin, it is jeopardizing "the very life of the nation itself."
Within the classification of families, all Americans acknowledge relationships valued with each higher social class, but many are unable to reach these dreams. Race and ethnicity are both things that play a significant role in determining how a family will be able to provide for itself as it grows. In addition, social structures, including churches, political groups, and community groups can unify or separate the social classes in this country.
In the past, families could be described by race and culture. However, today, cultural diversity is deeply rooted in American society and it is extremely difficult to classify the U.S. By specific social classes. Rubin believes that gender roles play a key role in shaping children's identities and family structure, as well.
Still, as Ore, Gwaltney and Rubin describe, there are many cultural differences that are still used to define our nation and those who live in it. While it may be difficult to establish a connection between social class and the type of family relationship it creates, breaking social class into subgroups, including race, family, religion, and political influence, show clearer distinctions.
Many American values come from the ideal that hard work will bring Americans to the top of the social ladder. However, the working class is quickly realizing that this is a myth, as they often work two jobs just to make ends meet.
The American dream was established by immigrants and passed on to the future generations, yet many of these generations distanced themselves from their family and its culture. This takes away from America's cultural diversity and foundation.
The foundation of America's values lies within social class and the strong hold it has on our nation. The upper class is awarded more freedoms, and the middle class is becoming more blended, separating itself from the lower class and poor. In order to survive today, families…[continue]
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