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Statesman

Does culture influence our beliefs?

Fathma Rahman, Managing Editor of Production

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Too often, we find ourselves assuming knowledge about an entire culture based on misleading sources of information, be that the media or a misinformed friend. As a result, cultural stereotyping has grown.

Culture shapes people’s attitudes about others, and because they have these attitudes, it influences how we see ourselves, said sociology teacher Chris Salituro.

“Because you are part of those groups, you are more likely to think in certain ways, behave in certain ways because our culture influences those groups to think and behave in those ways,” Salituro said. “Being an American, being a teenager, being white, being a female—all of these are groups that you could be part of.”

Moreover, it is about what we believe to be acceptable and how we expect people to act, Salituro said. Humans are made to be social beings who tend to form bonds more easily with people who are in the same groups, also known as ingroups to sociologists. The opposite of that is an outgroup, a group one does not belong to. We, as humans, more easily develop mistrust judgment of outgroups.

“When the Irish first came to America, people didn’t even believe that they were white—but eventually, they were accepted and became part of the ingroup,” Salituro said. “Then they judged the Italians, and then the Polish, and then the Mexicans, and we see that with each new ingroup, something else becomes the outgroup.”

However, judgment based on appearance is not often as black and white as history’s examples show. Today, false cultural assumptions are oftentimes made as a result of mixed backgrounds with subtle physical indications.

Raised by a Catholic mother and Muslim father, Juli Ozmeral ’15 had a diverse upbringing in both culture and religion. Her mother was raised in Aurora, Illinois where she attended private Catholic schools from kindergarten to college. Her father grew up in Istanbul, Turkey where he lived until he came to the United States for college at 18. Her father’s family typically only practiced loosely, celebrating their faith for holidays, weddings and funerals, Ozmeral said.

At the age of 9, Ozmeral began to attend a Unitarian Church as a compromise between her parents’ faiths. She was taught about all different religions and faiths around the world and explained that any belief system she held was valid as long as she treated others with respect and kindness. The entire religious education process led to her Affirmation Speech, where she proclaimed her beliefs to the congregation at thirteen.

Ozmeral’s least favorite part of having a mixed background was the frustration and confusion it caused. Because many people tend to see things as two-sided, Ozmeral felt that she needed to be able to describe her family with a pre-defined label.

“Every time I mention I am Turkish, or that my father grew up in Istanbul, the same question always arises: ‘Oh. He must be a Christian Turk, right?’,” Ozmeral said. “And each time I must explain to my presumptuous audience that just because I have blonde hair and blue eyes does not make me any less the daughter of a Muslim man.”

Blind misconceptions, though sometimes harmless, are not always given a second chance. Seema Jain, Director of Multicultural Affairs at Marriott International, works with Marriott hotels to ensure that associates are culturally competent for multicultural guests.

“My main responsibility is to make sure that we provide our teams with the tools and resources to be more culturally competent,” Jain said. “Whether it is a Japanese, Brazilian or German traveler, we want to ensure that our associates are comfortable with all the guests who come to our hotels.”

Since her start 2 years ago, Jain’s work at Marriott has gained significant recognition. According to diversityinc.com, it is currently the 16th most diverse company. As a global company with a presence in many countries across the world, Marriott holds partnerships with various diversity organizations to build ties and help all of them gain even more awareness.

“Once upon a time, it was very important to find out what kind of pillows your guest wants, but now it’s also what kind of cultural needs might they have,” Jain said. “My philosophy is that if you can understand the mindset of a particular group, and you can become immersed in their culture, you will start to appreciate that culture—and it makes it a lot easier when you’re working with a group because you understand.”

Ultimately, there is a key difference between understanding a group and their culture and assuming knowledge through judgment and generalizations.

According to Jain, when we are genuine and authentic and truly want to learn about cultures, others will see that.

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The student news site of Adlai E. Stevenson High School.
Does culture influence our beliefs?