Assimilation to Cultural Norms
BY ANUSHA SENAPATI '23
From food to clothing, cultural norms are unique to different people and places. Though these differences ought to be celebrated, constant social ridicule and peer pressure, such as mocking traditional dress or foods, often changes people’s perception of their own cultural norms. This belittling fuels a desire to adopt the majority’s beliefs and values, ultimately compromising uniquely diverse cultural practices. Analyzing the way assimilation undermines cultural norms is crucial in the process of expanding people’s understanding and creating a more inclusive community.
Delving into the topic of cultural norms, it is important to understand what they are: ideas formed from one’s background. They can be shaped by a number of factors, including familial, societal, or even socioeconomic pressure. For example, social media platforms have recently twisted some dining methods into unnecessary controversies. In many cultures, eating with one’s hands is common, but some claim that this gesture is “ill-mannered” and that there is a “time and place for everything.” Unfortunately, these claims only undermine the significant historical background of this practice. Another example of cultural norms in today’s society is greeting others with a simple wave, when in many cultures kissing the other person’s cheek from European culture to simply sticking out your tongue from Tibetan culture are positive ways of greeting another. Sadly, these gestures can be seen being made fun of on the internet for their seemingly eccentric appearance. However these disagreements span beyond the internet; they also take place in our everyday lives. Though their peers might not notice it, these cultural conflicts take a toll on those who fear ostracism and subsequently experience pressure to assimilate.
The pressure to adapt persists among those who seek inclusion within mainstream American society so that they can relate to their peers’ conversations. Surrounded by differing environments, code switching may ensue: people often alter their speech and behavior based on the person they are talking to and the present community. However, along the way, many begin to suppress or downplay a part of their identity to assimilate when it should instead be appreciated. Forced to switch between ignoring and partaking in their cultural norms based on their environment, individuals’ self confidence can suffer. Code switching often provokes internal conflict between aspects of one’s identity, culminating in feelings of stress and confusion.
Fortunately, there are solutions to ensure that cultural identity is respected in all communities. Introducing children and adolescents to different cultures can help them learn to appreciate their peers’ customs, creating an understanding space in our community. Further, while we must try our best to make everyone feel celebrated, it is important to avoid cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is sometimes confused with cultural appreciation; however, “cherry picking” aspects of a culture only further marginalizes minorities. Further, it often feels confusing and hurtful for someone whose culture was previously mocked but suddenly has become cool or trendy. Instead, asking about one’s culture and engaging in genuine conversations can make those who face assimilation feel more appreciated, allowing them to openly practice their cultural norms.
As a society and community, we need to continuously prioritize practicing dialogue and educate ourselves so we can respect everyone’s cultural norms. Ignoring harmful stereotypes and avoiding cultural appropriation, which are unfortunately common practices, can also help dismantle the restricting environment that this assimilation creates. This way, we can nurture a space where everyone feels comfortable and included without compromising aspects of their identity.