America is widely regarded as a cultural melting pot. The nations’ citizens represent almost all possible backgrounds imaginable. Nearly every race, religion, and nationality are represented throughout America’s population. Given the vast differences amongst each group, there has been a history of controversy between various subsets of the American people. This is a problem in desperate need of correction. Fortunately, many of these problems are easy to solve if people from different cultures are willing to communicate with one another and learn from each other.
Cultural differences do not have to be a chasm or a source of contention between the American people. Culture, or a collection “of practices, symbols, values, and ideals that are constructed and shared by a community, transmitted from one generation to the next, constantly renegotiated and subject to change, and operating at the individual and societal level” (Causadias, Vitriol, & Atkin, 2018, p. 244), distinguishes groups from one another. Instead of allowing these cultural differences to divide the country, people should embrace these differences and use them to move forward as a nation.
While there are many cultures available to study, two of the largest cultural groups in America are the African-American (or, Black) community and the Jewish community. Both cultures are marked by distinct aspects that make them unique. However, it should be noted that an excessive emphasis on the role of culture “may dehumanize [minorities] by denying their individuality and the fact that they are agents with unique characteristics, not simply group members that wholeheartedly subscribe to, and are defined by, their heritage culture” (Causadias et al., 2018, p. 252). With that in mind, the overall study of varying cultures is still very important, but these cultural distinctions are not absolutes by any means.
While there are many factors that shape African-American culture, the most prominent and positive elements are hip-hop literacies and Black popular culture. “As an artistic, social, and cultural movement, it is diverse and reflects the local histories, cultures, and concerns of its worldwide practitioners, while adhering to hip-hops ideological and aesthetic imperatives” (Richardson & Pough, 2016, p. 129). Hip-hop and Black popular culture have become a global phenomenon in the past few decades.
Hip-hop, especially, not only has a significant cultural impact, but it also has a massive economic impact and acts as a major global influencer. The impact is based upon cultural codes that include “making something from nothing, being authentic, leaving one’s mark on the world, having aspirations, having self-confidence, being relevant and, most of all, being cool are drawn upon to sell brands and…re-write the rules of the new economy” (Richardson & Pough, 2016, p. 129). This massive force has also been used in recent years to effect social change and bring attention to additional social issues, especially those that face the African-American community.
Generally speaking, Jewish culture is rooted in the religious practice of Judaism. According to Samson, Vanderbeck, and Wood (2018), traditional views of Jewish culture include Orthodox practices and attitudes, keeping Kosher, lighting Shabbat candles, and a religious upbringing (101). However, this traditional view fails to incorporate a new trend emerging in the Jewish community that is not reliant on religious shaping. Still, much of the culture is “rooted in communal institutions such as synagogues, schools, and philanthropies, which are said to remind individuals of their culture and history” (Samson et al., 2018, p. 104). Therefore, both education and religion still play major roles in the culture of the Jewish community. More importantly, one of the key elements of Jewish culture is its communal nature. Jewish people place great emphasis on the familial sphere and their community, in general.
The Jewish community is often mistakenly believed to be predominately white. However, Gordon (2016) points out that Jewish people have expanded all over the globe (106). Therefore, it is only natural that there are “different types of Jews…such as East Asian Jews, East Indian Jews, Latin American Jews, Native American Jews, and more” (Gordon, 2016, p. 108). However, Gordon’s focus is on Afro-Jews, which is his label for individuals who may relate to both the African-American culture system as well as the Jewish community. Studies on this subject are severely limited, especially on the cultural values of this group, but it could be speculated that they have cultural roots in both communities.
In conclusion, there are many wonderful cultures existing within America’s borders. All of these cultures are worth exploring and studying. Whether this is done for academic purposes, or simply for a better understanding of one’s social sphere, it should be done nonetheless. In doing so, people from all backgrounds—all nationalities, races, etc., —will have the opportunity to learn about and from one another. Only through engaging with one another in a positive and enlightened manner, will the tensions stemming from cultural differences dissipate. Then, and only then, will the melting pot that is America be able to exist harmoniously.
Causadias, J. M., Vitriol, J. A., & Atkin, A. L. (2018). Do we overemphasize the role of culture in the behavior of racial/ethnic minorities? Evidence of a cultural (mis) attribution bias in American psychology. American Psychologist, 73(3), 243-255.
Gordon, L. (2016). Rarely Kosher: Studying Jews of color in North America. American Jewish History, 100(1), 105-116, doi: 10.1353/ajh.2016.0006
Richardson, E., & Pough, G. (2016). Hip-hop literacies and the globalization of Black popular culture. Social Identities, 22(2), 129-132, doi:10.1080/13504630.2015.1121567
Samson, M. G., Vanderbeck, R. M., & Wood, N. (2018). Fixity and flux: A critique of competing approaches to researching contemporary Jewish identities. Social Compass, 65(1), 97-113.