Cultural Diversity: Imagine All the People

By Lisa D. Belfield, EdD, Kaplan University Adjunct Faculty
What language do you speak? What is your religion? What holidays do you celebrate?
What is your racial identification? What is your ethnic identity? What is your culture?
Culture is that which shapes us; it shapes our identity and influences our behavior.
Culture is our “way of being,” more specifically, it refers to the shared language, beliefs,
values, norms, behaviors, and material objects that are passed down from one generation
to the next.1
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2009 population in America was:

80% White


16% Hispanic or Latino origin (may be of any race)


13% African American


5% Asian


1% American Indian/Alaskan Native


0.2% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander2

Each race encompasses a multitude of different ethnic groups. An ethnic group refers to
people who are closely related to each other through characteristics such as culture,
language, and religion.3 There are many ethnic groups in the United States, due in large
part to its immigrant population; each of these groups contributes to America’s cultural
heritage. From African Americans to Russian Americans, the United States is one of the
most diverse nations in terms of culture.
What does it mean to be “culturally diverse”?
The term “culturally diverse” is often used interchangeably with the concept of
“multiculturalism.” Multiculturalism is defined as:
“…a system of beliefs and behaviors that recognizes and respects the presence of all
diverse groups in an organization or society, acknowledges andvalues their socio-cultural
differences, and encourages and enables their continued contribution within an inclusive
cultural context which empowers all within the organization or society.4
Sociologist Dr. Caleb Rosado, who specializes in diversity and multiculturalism,
described seven important actions involved in the definition of multiculturalism:5

recognition of the abundant diversity of cultures;


respect for the differences;


acknowledging the validity of different cultural expressions and contributions;

10 valuing what other cultures offer;

If we are immersed in a culture that is unlike our own we may experience culture shock and become disoriented when we come into contact with a fundamentally different culture. spirituality. We can learn from one another. vary significantly among cultures and influence behavior. and ethnic groups. and 13 celebrating rather than just tolerating the differences in order to bring about unity through diversity. educational setting. and schools increasingly consist of various cultural. In addition. workplaces. recognize that their limitations in English proficiency in no way reflects their level of intellectual functioning. and/or clinical setting. normal or abnormal. Furthermore. this diversity makes our country a more interesting place to live. passing judgment could reach a level where people begin to discriminate against others whose “ways of being” are different than their own—essentially. 3 When interacting with others who may not be proficient in English. 12 empowering people to strengthen themselves and others to achieve their maximum potential by being critical of their own biases. new knowledge. and emotional well-being. we evaluate what is proper or improper. advocate for the use of materials that are representative of the various cultural groups within the local . we tend to fear that which we do not understand. 4 Recognize and understand that concepts within the helping profession. as people from diverse cultures contribute language skills. so that as we interact with others we can build bridges to trust. however. racial. People naturally use their own culture as the standard to judge other cultures. new ways of thinking. and different experiences. Why is cultural diversity a “good thing”? Culture is the lens with which we evaluate everything around us. such as family. cultural diversity helps us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own. and helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups.11 encouraging the contribution of diverse groups. but first we must have a level of understanding about each other in order to facilitate collaboration and cooperation. and understanding across cultures. How can you support cultural diversity? 1 Increase your level of understanding about other cultures by interacting with people outside of your own culture—meaningful relationships may never develop simply due to a lack of understanding. through our culture. Learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world in which we live. 5 Within the workplace. 2 Avoid imposing values on others that may conflict or be inconsistent with cultures other than your own. gender roles. Cultural diversity is important because our country. respect.

rather than in spite of.6 Cultural diversity supports the idea that every person can make a unique and positive contribution to the larger society because of. Imagine a place where diversity is recognized and respected. bias. 6 Intervene in an appropriate manner when you observe others engaging in behaviors that show cultural insensitivity. various cultural ideas are acknowledged and valued. 7 Be proactive in listening. and differences are and the society in general.” –Anonymous7 . contributions from all groups are encouraged. or prejudice. “Diversity is the one true thing we have in common. accepting. their differences. people are empowered to achieve their full potential. Celebrate it every day. and welcoming people and ideas that are different from your own.