Culture and Race

Cultural and racial diversity may lead some individuals and societies to form prejudices about members of a particular culture or race and to practice discrimination. The term culture refers to ideas, behaviors, beliefs, and traditions shared by a large group of people and transmitted between generations. While cultural differences may also include racial differences, much diversity exists within one culture and within one race.

Race is genetically determined and refers to one's ancestry. Ethnicity, which refers to people's common traits, background, and allegiances (developed because of culture or religion), is learned from family, friends, and experiences. Only a small percentage of human genetic variation is due to racial differences; much more variation occurs between individuals within such groups. Psychologists are interested in identifying group differences (cultural diversity) as well as individual differences because that knowledge helps in understanding behavior.

Since all humans can learn and adapt, it is hoped that acceptance and understanding can replace prejudice and discrimination. To help in achieving this goal, the educational system has introduced courses on and disseminated information about cultural diversity and has included more faculty members of the less prevalent (minority) races and cultures. Cultures vary widely in their rules for acceptable and expected behavior as well as in the ways they guide the development of the individual. Knowing people from different cultures is one of the most effective ways of combating the formation of negative stereotypes and the development of prejudice. Courses on the psychology of racism examine the major terms and issues in psychology that pertain to race and racism in the United States and the general principles of racism that are universal.