Before going any further, let us spend some time discussing what we mean by culture. When you began reading this chapter what did you think we meant by the word culture? Your answer probably had something to do with people from different countries or of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. You are right—to a point. Culture does include race, nationality, and ethnicity, but goes beyond those identity markers as well. The following are various aspects of our individual identity that we use to create membership with others to form shared cultural identity: race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and class. In addition to explaining the above identities, we will also discuss ethnocentrism, privilege, advantage, disadvantage, power, whiteness, co-culture and political correctness as these terms are relevant to understanding the interplay between communication and culture.
When we talk about culture we are referring to belief systems, values, and behaviors that support a particular ideology or social arrangement. Culture guides language use, appropriate forms of dress, and views of the world.
The concept is broad and encompasses many areas of our lives such as the role of the family, individual, educational systems, employment, and gender.
One of the first steps to communicating sensitively and productively about cultural identity is to be able to name and recognize one’s identity and the relative privilege that it affords. Similarly important, is a recognition that one’s cultural standpoint is not everyone’s standpoint. Our views of the world, what we consider right and wrong, normal or weird, are largely influenced by our cultural position or standpoint: the intersections of all aspects of our identity.
One common mistake that people from all cultures are guilty of is ethnocentrism—placing one’s own culture and the corresponding beliefs, values, and behaviors in the center; in a position where it is