Questions of Cultural Identity in a Global World
In the world of globalization some people focus on the positive – the benefits for the economy for example. The free flow of ideas, of goods and services, the freedom of movement of the workforce. The free travel.
Some people tend to focus on the negative. The clash of cultures and the conflicts stemming from it. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Multinational corporations use criminally cheap labor overseas while accumulating huge profits. Losing jobs to immigration. Epidemics spread more easily…
Truth is, in the globalized world most people focus on the global. And too few focus on the inside.
This article will ask and answer several questions we should ask ourselves about our identity in the global world.
AM I MY NATIONALITY?
Nationality is the status of belonging to a particular nation. However, to most, the nationality is not what it says on their passport. It is more the sense of belonging rather than a legal status or a relationship.
What is my national identity?
People define their national identity differently. The Washington Post quotes a curious study that discovered less than half of America, a country of immigrants, believes that if one is born in the country, that suffices to make them an American.
Remarkably, a lot of people put more stress on speaking a particular language, or abiding by the traditions and customs in a country in order to belong.
For America, for example, speaking the language was more important than being born in the country, with 70% supporting the linguistic theory, while only 32% supported the born-into argument.
Can my national identity change?
In the UK, in a time after a referendum to leave the European Union, and with rumors Scotland will separate, the Guardian reports a risk of an ideological crisis.
When your passport says you are British, but ‘British’ does not mean the same today as it did before… when ‘nationalism’ is now associated with the notions of xenophobia and racism… you need to rethink your national identity.
Should I identify with a particular nation?
In the context of a global world the meaning of the national identity is definitely losing its significance. Identifying or not with belonging to a particular country is a personal choice.
The decision has its advantages and disadvantages.
A strong sense of belonging could be positive. It will lead to diversity and preserving heritage. Or it could lead to conflicts, based on historic unfairness.
How do I preserve my national identity?
If my national identity is not dictated by where I was born, and it could change over time, what preserves my identity?
- National symbols: The national flag. The national anthem. The national motto. Find a place and time to pay your respect. But don’t overdo it, or you risk looking fanatic. The National Day is a good time for some national pride.
- Since language is seen as one of the primary carriers of national identity, allocate some time on literature and cinema.
- Heavy traditions with roots in history, or silly things, typical for your nation, stick to what you like and don’t break it.
- Your sense of belonging is to a nation, not to a border. It is a group of people with the same language, history, traditions and mindset that can truly make you feel at home, wherever you are.
National identity in a global world.
- With high and raising rates of migration, chances are you are living in an environment of different nationalities. Embrace others but also make sure you preserve your own identity.
- Educate yourself. Learn more about the history, the politics, and the issues of the nations of people that matter to you.
- Immigration always raises the topic of losing a national identity to the culture of immigrants. Be respectful and mindful while discussing that topic.
- Immigrants should be able to practice in a healthy way traditions and rituals from both nations. One can celebrate two national days, listen to two different anthems, wave two national flags.
- In contrast to traditions, only the rule of law of the accepting country should matter.
- Withstand attack. Far right ideas have been on the rise. Some political movements claim nationalities should either be assimilated or people bearing them should go back to their country of origin. While the law is on your side, stand by your actions and your rights.
AM I MY ETHNICITY?
What is ethnicity?
Belonging to an ethnicity is quite similar to belonging to a nation. Your ethnicity is your identification with a social group that shares the same ancestry, language, culture and traditions.
What is NOT ethnicity?
Unlike nationality, ethnicity has little to do with citizenship or belonging to a particular country. Which makes it easier to preserve across borders.
It is also often confused with race. While ethnicity is largely defined by culture and tradition, in addition to ancestry, race is only associated with biological traits.
How do I define my ethnic identity?
Beverly Cross, a professor at the University of Memphis explains it could be argued that identity is formed at the age of three. Therefore the family and environment at that young age have large influence on forming one’s identity. At the same time the professor clarifies, the identity can be versatile. One can have multiple identities, including ethnic. They could relate to the country where they were born, where they live, the language they speak, to their genetic heritage from their mother, father or even the ethnic identity of their spouse.
Should I identify with a particular ethnicity?
Statistics say you should. Or, rather, you are likely to. A General Social Survey from 2004 discovered 77.5% of people feel close to a particular ethnicity or race. But there is no right or wrong answer.
According to a work, published by the university of Minnesota, this significance of ethnic identity may have its disadvantages. The stronger the sense of belonging is, the higher the risks is of conflict between different ethnic groups. ‘Our ethnic heritages shape us in many ways and fill many of us with pride, but they also are the source of much conflict, prejudice, and even hatred…’.
Ethnic and racial identity in the global world.
- Ethnic and racial identity is easier than national identity to carry through borders and through time. Find a way to preserve your traditions in a way they work with the modern world.
- Break stereotypes. Use your voice when you are being associated with either negative or positive stereotypes for your ethnicity. Be kind. Explain, don’t argue. Allow people who have wrong opinions to get to know you and show by example that you are just like anyone else.
AM I MY RELIGION?
Faith is tied to one’s most intimate beliefs. The meaning of existence. The notion of the soul.
The notion of the afterlife. Religion is the system – the structure of our most personal ideas, it organizes behaviors, traditions and communities.
How does globalization affect religious identity?
In a global world, religion is changing its face. The United States, with their great diversity, are the most interesting example.
In the United States white Christians used to be the majority. Nowadays, they account for less than half of the population. While back in 1976 as many as 81% identified as Christion, as soon as 2007 this percentage had fallen down to 43%.
Jewish Americans account for as much as 2% while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus account for another total of 3% of the public. But those are growing.
Moreover, white Christians are aging. Statistics show only about 10% of white Christians are under 30 years old.
As many as 27% identify as religiously unaffiliated. The share of agnostics and atheists is growing. And while the percentage is as low as 12% among those over 65, of the younger generation between 18 and 29, the religiously unaffiliated are the largest group with 38%.
Should I identify with my religion?
Statistics say even though the share of atheists and agnostics are growing, most people still identify with some sort of religion or spirituality.
But to answer that personal question, you need to look deep inside and find what you believe in.
According to the Religious Freedom Center your religious identity could be formed by any of three aspects.
- The organization of your beliefs about god, creation and meaning. Those may include theoretical constructs, scriptural rules, or moral commands that dictate your opinions or behavior on everyday life. Those beliefs may not be the same among the entire community that belongs to a particular religion, but believers usually do associate them with a particular religious affiliation. In other words, Weather your religion identifies with your belief is not important. It is important if you identify your belief with that religion.
- Individual or group activities, dictated by religious scripture or tradition – the holidays you celebrate, the rituals you are used to. Those could be part of your national or ethnic affiliation, or they could have a religious basis.
- The sense of belonging not just to a religion, but also to a congregation. People sharing the same beliefs, opinions, traditions and holidays. People you can reach out to and with whom you have shared moral and values.
Religious affiliation can be complex.
Multi religious households respect different traditions. Atheists often confess celebrating religious holidays with their family.
Religious identity in the global world.
- We are in a time in history when religious identity is changing a lot through generations. Make sure you know what you believe in. Do you believe it truly, or do you believe it because of your upbringing and circumstance? You are allowed to be honest with yourself.
- Embrace other religions. Because of migration and free travel you will meet people of different convictions. Religion has been the main source of moral and ethics teachings through centuries and each scripture has something to teach us.
- Be respectful of other’s traditions. Travel and exploration is beautiful, but remember while you are in someone’s country, home or church, you need to be humble and obedient of their rules.
AM I MY GENERATION?
In contrast to religion, ethnicity, race or nationality, a generational identity is a more modern concept.
The Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers, the Millennials and the new Generation Z.
Political changes, economic globalization, the free flow of ideas, and, perhaps most importantly, the lightning speed of technology development and social media, widen the generational gap exponentially.
What defines a generation?
The Washington Post distinguishes the following four generations:
- If you were born roughly between the years after World War II up to 1965, you belong to the Baby Boomers
- If you were born roughly between the years 1965 and 1980, you belong to Generation X, which through the years has also been known as Baby Bust or The 20-nothings.
- If you were born roughly between the years 1980 and 2000, you belong to the Millennials, also known as the Net Generation.
- If you were born after the year 2000, you belong to Generation Z.
But the particular year you were born in might have a lesser significance than a simple online test – ‘Every 90s kids will know these…’
Social identification is defined by one of four factors:
- The need of belonging to a particular group
- The prestige and expressed uniqueness of the group
- The image of the outsiders – the people that do not belong
- The process of group formation and acceptance
To put it simply, apart from the time periods, a generation is also defined by the individuals, who create a common sense of belonging to a group.
If individuals do not feel that they belong to a particular generational group, then they may identify themselves by the values and characteristics generally embraced by other groups.
What dictates generational identity?
A generation is defined by demographic factors, influences from policies and events that affect their lives together.
Because of globalization, generations in different countries and continents can be affected by the same social events, share the same culture.
The most common and popular difference between generations is the reaction to the changing world, including the changing technology around. Millennials have grown up with technology in a way earlier generations have not.
Hence, their other name – the ‘digital natives’. They are used to relying on digital sources for information and on social media for communication.
Millennials are very independent and are not used to complying to the rules of organizations, including political or corporate. They are demanding workers and do expect for their employers to take into account their needs.
Generation Z follow the same trend and scare employers as soon it will be their time to enter the workforce.
They are expected to be even more independent, more demanding of employers to cater to their needs and wishes and less loyal to organizations, causing a bigger clash with older generations.
Generational identity in the global world.
- Regardless of where you fall in generational identity by date of birth, you are still allowed to ask yourself the question if you feel like you belong.
- Older generations are assumed to have been affected less by technology and globalization, but feel free to break the stereotypes. You, too, can use technology, travel the world and want the best.
- Younger generations are assumed to be more laid back and demanding, to have a worse taste in music, to not take life seriously. You, too, are allowed to have career ambitions.
- Understanding is key. While race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality differences are protected, generational differences often manifest themselves in vicious attacks. Even when your generation is attacked, make sure you try to see the other point of view. And only then defend yourself with confidence and kindness.
AM I MY GENDER?
In this particular part of this article it is important to make the distinction we will not be looking at gender identity in the sense of accepting or not the gender one was born with, but rather, accepting or not the social concept of one’s gender role.
In the way girls are traditionally supposed to wear pink, and boys are supposed to wear black. Girls play with dolls, and boys play with a ball. It is good if girls are polite, quiet and nice and boys are loud and assertive.
Women are encouraged to take on professions that are considered more safe. Men should be doing the heavy labor.
Women are to be the stay at home parent, while the men should be more interested in developing their career and providing for the family.
Throughout the global world there are different stages of breaking with those traditions.
Should I follow my gender role?
Depending on the country or region, society is in different stages of gender role equality. In some countries it is already a common discussion that women should have the choice to be the stay at home parent, and should not be expected to fight to go back to their workplace, in the same way men should be offered the same choice. That would not make them less feminist and they should not be blamed for it.
In other countries women are not allowed the same freedoms as men. In Saudi Arabia women have only recently been allowed to vote and drive.
Gender roles vary through borders, based on the culture and religion. In that sense the gender role identity does not mean the same thing at every point on the globe.
Gender role identity in the global world.
- Gender roles are a societal category. It should not be a part of your life or your decision making how society thinks you need to live your life. It should be important for you what your partner thinks they could expect from you. Make sure you communicate effectively if you notice any discrepancies between what you can do and what is expected of you.
- Educate yourself about other countries and situations. In a global world you are surrounded with different cultures. It may be easier for you to understand behaviors and relationships of people around if you know where they are coming from.
- Be respectful of other people’s choices. While in the Western World women value their freedom of choice of clothes and style, in Eastern societies some women choose modesty as a form of self-expression. They are often offended if it is implied their modest clothing is a result of suppression rather than choice.
Watch Mashaal Hijazi tell a story about the complexity she has felt in her life with her religious, national and ethnic identity in the global world:
AM I MY SEXUALITY?
For the meaning of this article, we will not look into the complex question of how to define your sexual identity on the spectrum, but rather should you comply with the stereotypes that have been imposed on members of the LGBTQ society.
There is lots of stereotypes that follow men and women with different sexual orientation. Starting from assumptions about how feminine or masculine they should look or act, going through what professions they should have, how their relationships would be, what car they would drive, and other silly things.
And last but not least, LGBT are victim to more serious stereotypes – how they would be in their business or what their political affiliations would be.
Sexual identity in the global world.
- Be yourself. Sexual identity is an intimate and personal question. It is confusing enough to navigate your feelings. You do not owe society acting masculine or feminine, or conforming to whatever stereotypes people have of you, OR defying them.
- Be respectful if others define themselves otherwise. Just because someone’s personality matches the stereotypes that does not mean they are needlessly conforming to someone else’s opinions or norms. You cannot push someone out of who they are.
- Don’t be afraid to stand your ground. Sexual identity, different from straight is, unfortunately, not widely accepted. In some cases by society, in some cases by law.
- Be safe. In the global world, you will come more often in contact with people who are not accepting of your of who you are. Your number one priority is to be safe.
The global world will allow you to travel anywhere you want and live anywhere you like.
You will have the privilege to learn about cultures from all over the world and communicate with people you wouldn’t have the chance to, several decades ago.
All that privilege comes with responsibility.
Number one, be true to yourself. When you meat different people you might feel judgment, lack of understanding, even ridicule about who you are and what you do. Look deep into yourself and hold on to who you are.
Number two, be kind and understanding to others the same way you expect them to be of you.
Number three, support diversity in harmony. Work together and support initiatives that promote learning about cultures and traditions.
Number four, be safe. Unacceptance of different cultures can be harmful. Save yourself from toxic contacts and communication.
Number five, enjoy your life in a diverse world, abundant of cultures, believes and traditions.