Ethnicity & race

ETHNICITY & RACE GROUP

This section is about people’s roots. The traditions in which they were raised.

This ethnicity & race section is about belonging to a social group that has a common national, biological or cultural tradition. It is a fluid concept that can be broadly or narrowly defined.  For example, one can be born a German, raised by Korean parents living in Zimbabwe as a naturalized citizen. Or one could be an African-American born in Cuba living in Iowa. Sometimes there are smaller groups within larger ones, such as a Cherokee Native American whose heritage is significantly different from other North American tribes.

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There is often a great deal of family pressure to preserve traditions. Occasionally there is an expectation to display loyalty or allegiance when faced with other cultural options. “Don’t betray your roots. Remember where you came from.”

In the past, we grew up in neighborhoods, towns or even countries with a single dominant culture. Outsiders were easily identifiable. But today, these communities can be smaller, clustered into neighborhoods or regions. People of different cultures are more likely to live in our midst, particularly in urban environments. 

And, of course, movies, television and media bring exotic cultures into our homes. We get to know and see the universal attributes of humanity – that people are people – every day. It’s exciting and alluring, particularly to younger generations and traditionalists get concerned. They can worry that the way of life that is so important to their identity is fading away.

THEATER/ACTING/RITUALS

Gender roles

Cultural groups develop clear expectations of behavior for men and women. These can include who initiates or leads activities, how to show respect and deference, appropriate greetings.

Sometimes these role differences are profound – such as who bears responsibility for different aspects of life or who can marry whom. Others can be so subtle that outsiders may not even recognize that something has just transpired.

Because we are bathed in these cultural expectations from infancy, they reside deep within us. Moving across the globe doesn’t erase them. We can choose to live by a different code of behavior but we carry the impulses for the rest of our lives, feeling just a little bit guilty with each breach.

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Gender roles

Cross group/ visitor greetings

Crossing borders or even neighborhoods used to be fraught with anxiety. We were uncertain about the “other’s” intentions. Will we be safe? Might they worry that we bear arms?

A cultural innovation was in order. Greetings that communicated, “I mean you no harm,” were developed. Like social lubricant. Great equalizers. Hand shakes. Head bow. Eye contact.

Being welcomed into any group is a symbolic statement of trust. Symbolic greetings set the stage.

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Cross group/ visitor greetings

Business protocol

Although most business practices have become universal, there are still significant differences with each border you cross. Negotiating styles, greetings, giving and receiving business cards and levels of directness all vary.

Often these traditions are linked directly to gender expectations.

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Business protocol

Coming of age rituals

Each ethnic group has its unique way of honoring children’s coming of age – reaching the age where they begin to take on the mantle of adulthood. Many are formal and are celebrated with the full community.

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Coming of age rituals

Overall demeanor

People within each ethnic group often carry themselves in a similar way. The stride, posture, eye contact, smiling impulse and personal space expectations come together, creating a shared climate or mood. Some cultures are more demonstrative; others are more reserved.

A person who seems overly demonstrative or exceptionally reserved may be reflecting their ethnic upbringing rather than their individual mood.

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Overall demeanor

Rituals

Sometimes the rituals associated with ethnicities relate to a country’s geography and physical environment as much as to their culture or language. Seasonal celebrations, rituals related to the terrain, or historical challenges often highlight a group’s strength and resilience.

Very frequently faith and ethnicity are closely intertwined, with each nationality practicing the same faith – differently. Spain’s Christian celebrations are significantly different from those in Chile.

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Rituals

Theater Overview

Our lives are filled with scripts we follow. All the basics of ETIQUETTE and PROTOCOL keep things running smoothly and reduce social friction. RITUALS, like marriages or holidays, are repeatable ways people participate in their cultures’ values. We all adjust how we ACT in different situations. Picture how people act differently at a string quartet concert vs at an outdoor music festival. We are in control of our conduct and our cultures establish the rules. We send signals to the groups to which we want to belong by honoring their expectations. Most cultures have preferred approaches to DISPLAY OF EMOTIONS. We are able to adjust how we express ourselves and recognize that lack of adherence brings some risk. Some religious services are fully participative and emotional and others are quiet and contemplative. Children practice and prepare for adulthood in our communities by PRETENDING. Gender roles, particularly, are taught and reinforced in cultures by encouraging little mommies or daddies – or soldiers or teachers.

Theater Overview

MUSIC, DANCING & BODY LANGUAGE - Biggest

Unique instrumentation

Unique instrumentation

Often just need to hear a few notes and you are transported.

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Unique instrumentation

Dance history & traditions

Each ethnic group develops unique forms of dance and movement. Parties, weddings receptions and other social events offer local performers, sometimes getting all attendees up and participating. The more people move together, the tighter the bond between them. Children make their grandparents proud when they carry on the traditions.

These traditional forms of music and dance are often reinforced by regional and global competitions, often beginning in childhood. These events bring groups together from all around the world to celebrate their groups’ heritage.

Sometimes just a few notes will take you home.

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Dance history & traditions

High art

Cultures develop refined, almost ritualistic, forms of music and dance performed and toured by masters. These artists are the keepers of the formalized art form. You can find them in concert halls and universities around the world, giving everyone a chance to experience the unique nature of their artistic heritage.

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High art

Anthems and other nationalistic songs

Nothing stirs patriotic feelings like national anthems and all the ceremonies associated with them. No matter where a person is in the world, when the music from their home country comes on, they feel a connection.

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Anthems and other nationalistic songs

Music Overview

Humans are musical creatures. It has been proposed that SINGING evolved to facilitate social cohesion. It promotes fast connection among strangers and deeper connection with a known community. When we sing or DANCE, we SYNCHRONIZE with one another. Not just our voices or movements but our heart rates. Our breathing. We experience ourselves well beyond the confines of our individual bodies. In our brains, the boundaries between us blur. Music captures CULTURES. We need only hear a few bars to recognize genre or nationality or generation. Children are bathed in the music of their heritage from before they are born. It will always feel like home. It helps tell the stories and establish the uniqueness of the community. Each culture has its own unique choreography and dance movements that communicate history, values and life lessons. Movie SOUNDTRACKS often drive the emotional trajectory of a story. A view of the ocean is just water until you hear the two notes from Jaws. HARMONY and DISSONANCE are experienced physically. We hold our breath - together - until the phrase is resolved.

Music Overview

STORYTELLING / LITERATURE/ LANGUAGE

Language

Obviously, language is the core differentiator – and the core binder. Instantly one can tell if someone belongs to the group.

There are always rich differences, not just in the vocabulary, but in the way life is viewed and interpreted. Adages, metaphors and humor all reflect the culture as well, informed by distinctly different points of view.

Even within a language it is not one-size-fits-all. Regional differences make it possible to identify which part of the country someone is from. These differences can be the subject of teasing.

When cultures abut one another in a region or even a neighborhood, some blending emerges – language bridges – to enable easy coexistence or even ….

How we speak tells our story.

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Language

Gestures, animation

Partner the spoken word with gestures and you have a fuller experience of the culture. Words said quietly from a distance might be a cultural cue. Highly animated and in the listener’s face? A different culture.

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Gestures, animation

Ethnic pride storytelling

Every ethnic group is proud of its heritage and uniqueness. As children grow up, it is understandable that parents focus on how special their group is. “Because we are ____, here’s how we do things.”

It isn’t that other groups are bad …. Not so subtle messages are meant to keep children in the fold by accenting their cultures unique qualities.

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Ethnic pride storytelling

Storytelling Overview

GOSSIP is, perhaps, the most ubiquitous form of storytelling. What and who gets talked about (and why) feeds us all a steady stream of warnings about straying from what our culture accepts as appropriate. It makes many of us run away from our home groups to find ourselves reflected in a positive way with others. Fictional HEROES and protagonists help us understand the challenges we will all face by modeling a culture’s core values. Western stories tend to celebrate a ‘might makes right’ approach, which is contrary to some eastern sensibilities. Whoever gets celebrated in our stories serves as role models. We all want to be celebrated. CHILDREN’S BOOKS may seem to be about hungry bunnies or silly chickens, but kids pick up on all the powerful cultural messaging going on in the background. Gender roles. Consideration of others. Consequences for misbehaving (isolation?). TELLING (and retelling) THE STORY about how a group began, or how the world began, is a powerful way to induct new generations into a group. Consistent MYTHS, heroes and journeys give us frameworks for today. RELIGIONS have SACRED TEXTS where the words themselves – touching the words – is like touching lightning. Reading also broadens our understanding of the world and of ourselves. We see we are not alone which can help us heal and hold on for better days. We develop empathy for those who are different from us. We can live in their skin for a while. And, finally, MEDIA. Everywhere we turn we are exposed to stories about people who flew too close to the sun or who put themselves above others and paid the price. And endless stories about SPORTS and ENTERTAINMENT STARS – the most common heroes today.

Storytelling Overview

FASHION & APPEARANCE

Ceremonial attire

Each ethnicity has a rich fashion history – apparel that captures the spirit of their cultural heritage. Present-day fashion often gives a nod to features in that attire so viewers get some sense of the region or culture from which it came.

Pride in this heritage is often on display at important celebrations, like weddings, holidays and local parades.

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Ceremonial attire

Regional differences

In the U.S., regional differences in culture are boldly expressed in fashion as well – and may trump other drivers of trends. These developed over time in response to geographic idiosyncrasies. For example, the northeast depended on the fishing industry and the southwest was home to cattle drives, ranches and cowboys.

If someone wants to be a part of Texas culture, a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat would be in order.

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Regional differences

Hair

Many ethnicities offer a range of hairstyles that appear to be unique to their community. These styles usually complement any biological differences in hair texture and color, producing phenomenal cultural examples in full bloom.

When someone wants to assimilate into another community, they often adopt as many of that community’s styles as possible, including hairstyles. To older generations this can be seen as a rebuke to their roots. Pressure can ensue.

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Hair

Tattoos, scarification & piercings

Many indigenous cultures have unique approaches to body art, using tattoos, scarification and piercings as indelible identifiers of status or beauty or accomplishment. The ink or scarring process is often ritualized. Patterns and subject matter vary across groups.

Teens and young adults sometimes use extreme tattooing and piercing to rail against the status quo – and it works. It’s the indelible nature of the art form that many come to regret.

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Tattoos, scarification & piercings

Body art

Almost all ethnic cultures painted their bodies in ritualistic ways to prepare warriors, to beautify in stylized ways or to identify unique aspects of an individual. Hints of these patterns continue to show up in other ethnic designs.

Make up, meant to highlight sexual appeal – showing wearers to be healthy, attentive and aroused – is a ubiquitous form of body art today.

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Body art

Fashion Overview

Our bodies come pre-wired to connect. They are on high alert and ready to respond and build connections. But with billions of people milling around us, how do we increase the odds that we can find a real connection? Welcome to the world of connection marketing. We are all in the business of telling passers-by who we are. Something as simple as ATTIRE is actually never simple. It speaks volumes about our financial status or age or ethnicity. Our HAIR. Our own unique texture and curliness is ready to be fashioned (and ready to resist our best efforts to control it). We put on faces – sometimes enhanced with GROOMING or MAKEUP.  We dress to belong, following DRESS CODES, UNIFORMS and CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS. Wearing flipflops to a baptism might send a message that we didn’t respect the ceremony and the values it represents. BODY ART, including tattoos and piercings, is often an ‘in your face’ statement about resistance or belonging. Cultural expectations related to gender can dominate and intimidate. Each step into non-binary fashion invites curiosity and, in some cultures, the wearer can risk marginalization. Teens, as they work to find their niches, sort out into identifiable styles, from low-slung jeans to popular logos to $1000 sneakers. To belong means to honor the ‘code’ to the extent that you can.

Fashion Overview

VISUAL ARTS

Graphics & symbols

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Graphics & symbols

Visual Arts Overview

It’s easy to think of appreciating the visual arts as a passive activity. Looking. Not touching. Not engaging with it. But, as fast as they eye can see, we absorb the IMAGES and the stories that imagery tells. Recent research has shown how subtle an element in a picture might be and yet it can have a profound effect. Toddlers were shown a picture with an activity in the foreground and a bookcase in the background. On that bookcase, when there is an image of two people happily facing one another, these toddlers are significantly more likely to help the researcher pick up spilled toys than those who had a different picture on the shelf. What we see can affect what we do. Many religions have recognizable SYMBOLS, (the Star and Crescent, the Cross, the Star of David) which not only inform all the rituals, but also identify one’s faith to others in the community. LOGOS & BRANDS are designed to represent a company’s values, and people often wear or drive or drink the products they feel represent the group with which they want to be identified.  Some ILLUSTRATIONS & PICTURE BOOKS teach children that moms carry purses and dads have fun– even if no word is written. FLAGS symbolize what is important about nations or schools or clubs. Any damage to these symbols can stir controversy and anger.  Who and what gets hung on our walls are seen as being worthy and important. And, finally, we have FAVORITE THINGS in our lives, memorabilia – like mini-sculptures – that continue to carry warm feelings and memories for us. Simply seeing them in our space helps us feel connected to the moments and the people they represent.

Visual Arts Overview [gs-fb-comments]