Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Attempting to Understand American Culture

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What is American culture? What is its significance? These two questions are extremely difficult to answer, let alone extremely difficult concepts to grasp. In fact, almost every human on this planet will derive different meanings of American culture and it will unquestionably hold different levels of significance to different people. American culture is an oxymoronic phrase because there is no such thing. It is made up of various subcultures from every country and ethnicity in the world. Ishmael Reed even asks, “What’s American about America” (Verberg ). American culture is the fusion of different subcultures which brings about an environment conducive to learning and tolerance. Not only that, but it also provides the basic moral code and guidelines that our society functions by.

Joyce Millet, an author and cultural historian would categorize the “melting pot” theory as antiquated. “America has traditionally been referred to as a ‘melting pot’, welcoming people from many different countries, races, and religions, all hoping to find freedom, new opportunities, and a better way of life. Today, the trend is toward multiculturalism, not assimilation. The old “melting pot” metaphor is giving way to new metaphors such as ‘salad bowl’ and ‘mosaic’, mixtures of various ingredients that keep their individual characteristics. Immigrant populations within the United States are not being blended together in one ‘pot’, but rather they are transforming American society into a truly multicultural mosaic” (Millet http//www.culturalsavvy.com/understanding_american_culture_.htm). Millet goes on to talk about how American culture can only be understood by running through each particular US region in order to understand what that region and the people who live there, contributes to overall cultural understanding. While I agree with some of this concept, I feel that American culture should not be looked at in regards to what each subculture has to offer and in addition, what each region has to offer, but instead as the sum of all these subcultures which invariably give American culture its significance.

One example of the significance of American culture would be the fact that it leads to a productive healthy environment in the realm of education and socialization. Through education (which is a societal standard that Americans have set for all their children) we learn to accept others who may not share the same skin color or facial structure as we do, we learn to be tolerant of different ideas and religions, and we are taught to accept people no matter how different they are. This value for all humans was taught to me in a Californian Elementary school when my third grade teacher read us a book about the people of the world. The book contained those of Asian, African, Indian (sub-continent and American), and Latin descent. After showing us pictures of the various people, the teacher proceeded to tell us that despite the fact that everyone in that book looked different and had different skin colors; it didn’t make them better or worse. They were still people just like us and we were supposed to treat them the way we would like to be treated ourselves. This idea of acceptance continued throughout my school life and carried with me to different continents and countries. For me, this exposure to different ideas brought about a certain amount of perspective and tolerance in my life. As a result of having so many different people, races, religions, and ideas prevalent in our society, our culture teaches us how to integrate, socialize, and accept all these differences in a civil manner.


American culture is also vastly significant due to the fact that it provided a basis for which most, if not all of American society lives their lives by. It provides our society with guidelines for what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated. It provides us with an unwritten morality code which is subject to change. An example would be our justice system. In our culture and society, we are taught that killing is wrong. If one commits a murder they will be removed from society and either sentenced to life imprisonment or sentenced to death. This theory of establishing right from wrong is a direct result of our culture. In other countries like Pakistan for example, in tribal areas, warlords take matters into their own hands and will kill in revenge without resorting to the justice system that is set in place by their respective villages. That is a direct result of their culture dictating their societal rules.

Culture, in conclusion, is learned, not inherited, and is therefore amenable to change. Melville wrote, “We are not a nation, so much as a world” (Verburg ). This statement rings true for America is a world a world of different ideas and of different people. We are the epitomic cross-section of the world and because of that, American culture will remain at the forefront of the world due to its overall acceptance of multiple ideas. Through education we teach what is right and wrong and we allow our children to go forth be accepting or at least open-minded to anything that one does not know and does not fully understand. American culture will never be fully understood nor will it ever be fully listed as being the product of one subculture and another. However, its significance has lived past our ancestors and will continue to live on through our children and our children’s children.

Bengali, 5

Works Cited

Millet, Joyce. “Understanding American Culture From Melting Pot to Salad Bowl.”

Cultural Savvy, 000. 1 October, 00. http//www.culturalsavvy.com/understanding_american_culture_.htm

Rayner, Richard. “What Immigration Crisis?” Making Contact Readings from Home and

Abroad. Ed. Carol J. Verberg. New York Bedford/St. Martins, 17.

Reed, Ishmael. “What’s American about America?” Making Contact Readings from

Home and Abroad. Ed. Carol J. Verberg. New York Bedford/St. Martins, 17.

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