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Cultural Awareness

III. What Culture Is Not

Cultural groups are not necessarily national origin groups, because most sizeable nations include more than one ethnic/cultural group, as in Mexico or China where there are numerous indigenous or immigrant groups characterized by significantly different cultures. The U.S., for example, incorporates many different cultural and subcultural groups, both native born and immigrant. However, depending on historical and geographical factors, a nation may shift from homogeneous to heterogeneous in ethnic composition and vice versa. A culturally aware individual, again, is alert to the possibility of numerous ethnic cultures within an overarching national identity and to shifts in the ethnic composition of a nation over time. Such shifts need to be considered, in, for example, the provision of language services in health and mental health care facilities.

=Further, cultural groups are not the same as racial groups, though culture and race are both aspects of human diversity. Race is a social construct used by scientists and the general public to identify groups of people by physiological characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, facial features, bone structure, and the like.

As pointed out by Byrd and Clayton in Unequal Treatment (p. 474), “Scientists who study race consider it a socially determined category based on shared physical characteristics … most commonly dividing the human family into three to five major “racial groups.” Very recently, population geneticists studying the genetic constitution of populations around the world have been able to link genetic heritage with the ancient geographic distribution of populations that correspond closely with commonly used racial designations. They have also been able to link disease resistance and susceptibility as well as response to pharmaceuticals to these different heritage groups.

However, it is clear that virtually none of these population geneticists still believe in “pure” races, because many groups overlap the racial classification systems that have been used. In any event, the diversity represented by race is not at all the same as that represented by culture.


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