1. What is multiculturalism? Why is it important to understand and study in the United States?
Multiculturalism is the term that denotes the coexistence of multiple cultures within one country and its society. As a rule, multicultural country is the one, where people of different religions, traditions and countries are treated equally and have equal status.
One of the most important concepts for cultural studies is the concept of ideology, because ideologies are the main reasons of subordinations and inequalities. Thus, there are certain ideologies of class, gender and race, which make people celebrate and promote some things, denigrating and utilizing other ones (Kellner, 2003).
Multiculturalism affirms the worth of different types of culture and cultural groups, claiming that black, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay and lesbian, and other oppressed and marginal voices have their own validity and importance (Kellner, 2003).
Speaking about the multiculturalism in the United States, it needs to be mentioned about the immigration, which took place in America in 19th century. This immigration gave a rise to multiculturalism in the country and led to promoting it, as well as the idea of “plural society”.
It is not a secret, that America has long been struggling for freedom of religion and thought, and nowadays this problem is considered to be the most important than it has ever been. Today the idea of multicultural society supports the immigrants, who come to the USA to study or work from all over the world. That is why it is very important for every person to understand this very idea and to accept it. In fact, multiculturalism is generating a lot of interest among the population. Americans are becoming more aware of the importance of multiculturalism in the country, and this is the reason of spending more energy, time and money on spreading the information about different cultures.
One of the most effective ways to spread the idea of multiculturalism is the proper multicultural education. As our world is getting smaller, the importance of it is growing exponentially. Such an education is integral to improving the academic success of students from other countries and preparing young people for democratic citizenship in the pluralistic society. Besides, an opportunity to study multiculturalism in the USA is a great chance for foreigners to learn something about the country they came to and the people they are to communicate with. Besides, it is easier for international students to get involved in a new community and to get used to it.
In one more meaning, the term “multicultural education” is used to denote the acceptance of various cultures in one educational establishment and a set of strategies in the educational system that help teachers in promotion of democracy. This study means to guarantee the high levels of academic achievement for every student and helps them to develop a positive self-concept by providing an appropriate knowledge about the cultures of minorities. At the same time, it is very important to prepare teachers to face students from a variety of social classes, cultural and language groups.
All Americans, as well as the representatives of other nations, understand that eventually they are to face multiculturalism, because people from different ethnic, racial and cultural groups live in close physical proximity. That is why everyone has to understand the similarities and differences between various cultures and those, of the world around. To my way of thinking, multicultural education may have various forms. For instance, it may begin with the primitive sharing about the cultures and end up with the deep study of them and direct communication with different people.
In this way, multiculturalism plays a very important role in the American life, primarily because the USA is a melting pot of nationalities and cultures. The multicultural education helps people, who live in America, to understand each other better, and teaches how to live together, to share different lifestyles and worldviews and to promote democracy in the plural society.
2. Do you agree with the premise that race and gender are social constructions? Why or why not?
Social constructionism is a sociological theory, created by P. L. Berger and T. Luckmann, which is described in their book under the title “The Social Construction of Reality”. The purpose of the theory is to explain how individuals and groups of people are involved in creating of the social reality. The social construction is a dynamic process, because society is constantly changing under the influence of the interpretation of the knowledge about it.
Social constructions (or constructs) are the ideas, which are seen as natural by people, but in reality, remain artificial inventions belonging to a certain culture or society. Among such social constructions are the constructions of race and gender, which being biologically dependent became a tool for people’s categorization and stratification. In this way, I agree with the premise that race and gender are social constructions, and I would like to support this idea with some evidence.
The social construction of race. Race is a category of people, who are treated as similar due to some common biological features, such as color of skin, hair texture, and shape of eyes. Such a definition is suitable for the today’s society. However, a couple of centuries ago the situation was a little bit different. The concept of race was “invented” in 18th century, when members of the society found it necessary to organize themselves into hierarchy based on race, with one race considered better than another one. In the United States, “white” individuals were ranked higher than others, especially than the “black” ones. Even though the situation is changing nowadays, and we try to avoid labeling, race still matters.
It is proved by some scholars that there is nothing biological about the race and all people belong to one race, which is called “human”. Thus, the term “race” is opposed to nature, and it is the result of collective agreement and acceptance. This notion was created to indicate differences in status (white – a slave owner, black – a slave). Certain stereotypes exist so far despite the fact that we use it to describe just the color of skin. This very fact proves that race is social construction, even if people are not aware of it.
The social construction of gender. Similarly, people “invented” the social construction of gender, which from the first sight seems to be completely biological. It happened that the biological differences turned into the role, which newborn baby is to perform during his/her future life. The idea of existence of two genders makes girls like dolls and means that men are to wear dark clothes and cut hair. I am sure that everyone eventually thinks over the question like “Why do women have to raise children while men are to earn money? Why not vice versa?”
The thing is that to be born a woman or a man in any society is more than just a biological fact. It is the biological fact with a number of social implications, and this idea proves that gender is social construction as well.
3. Why is an understanding of ideology important to the relationship between multiculturalism and media?
Relations between media and multiculturalism are very complex, and one of the key roles in them is played by the concept of ideology. Before the explanation why an understanding of ideology is important to these relations, I would like to give some definitions of this term. According to the simplest one, ideology is a set of certain ideas and beliefs that constitute people’s actions and goals. Ideology is a way of looking at life and surrounding things, a set of ideas, which the dominant class of society proposes to all of its members.
Thus, as ideology is certain ideas of a class or representatives of a certain race or gender, it is closely connected with the notion of multiculturalism and its main issues.
Douglass Kellner in his essay “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism and Media Culture” claims that the term ideology is central for the cultural studies, because main ideologies in the society serve to reproduce social relations of domination and subordination. In today’s society it may seem not weird that ideologies of class celebrate upper class life, while dominating ideologies of gender promote sexist representation of women (Kellner, 2003). Other forms of oppressive ideology are racism and oppression of various minority groups.
Speaking about the role of media in this interrelation we may say that the media’s main sphere of operations is the production and transformation of ideologies. Nowadays it is obvious that with the help of media people decide which dresses are in fashion, which food is healthy, which lifestyle is right, which things are wrong and so on. Media controls people’s lives and minds and dictates the ideology, which dominates in the society.
As ideology does not consist of separate concepts and it is not the product of individual consciousness, media is a perfect mean, which helps to formulate right ideological statements and to think through the dominating ideology (Hall, 1981). It is interesting that transformation of ideology is a collective practice as well. Some time earlier there were a lot of films and programs, which promoted racism and depicted the minorities in a negative light. However, the situation is rapidly changing.
Today media is a powerful source of multicultural ideology. I think that the term “ideology” in this word-combination is rather suitable, because multiculturalism expresses certain ideas that are becoming popular and people’s minds are becoming dependent on these ideas. Multiculturalism with the help of media asserts that all people, who are different in cultures, races, genders and even lifestyles, are equal and accordingly, must be treated equally. It tries to transform the dominating ideologies that produce oppression and subordination, and states that all nations with their people in the certain society are equally important.
It needs to be marked that media is not only the source of multicultural ideas and ideologies; it is the place, where these very ideas are articulated and elaborated. Liberal ideas about the good relations between the representatives of different races and classes based on open-mindedness and tolerance operate inside the world of media. They are mentioned and discussed in many TV-programs and films, as well as in different newspaper articles and accounts (Hall, 1981).
Thus, the term “ideology” is considered to be extremely important for understanding the relationships between media and multiculturalism. Besides, the fact that multiculturalism transforms (has transformed) some oppressing ideologies, it may be called an ideology itself, as it is a set of ideas that undoubtedly constitute present-day Americans’ thoughts, actions and goals.
4. What are stereotypes and why do we use them? How have stereotypes been applied at macro and micro levels?
Stereotyping is the process of categorization of large numbers of people by prejudiced individuals. Categorization is believed to be a fundamental process that gives rise to stereotyping, and the stereotypes being the results of this process consist of culturally shared forms of justification that often turn out to be false.
Gordon Allport, an American psychologist, who worked on the issue, stressed that even though the term “stereotyping” is closely connected to the notion of “categorization”, a stereotype is not identical with category. He claimed that it was rather a fixed idea that accompanied the category. A stereotype is a belief system, in which psychological characteristics are ascribed indiscriminately to the members of a group (Hamilton, 2005). According to this interpretation, stereotype acts as a justificatory device for categorical acceptance or rejection of a group, and as a selective device to maintain simplicity in perception and thinking (Hamilton, 2005).
People use stereotypes both to maximize cognitive efficiency and to explain and justify cultural and institutional forms of prejudice, in which members of some groups are accepted, while others are rejected.
Summing up the information above, we may point out the main features of stereotypes:
- Stereotypes are often distorted, exaggerated and oversimplified ideas about certain groups of people, nations, countries, races or genders;
- They are passed down over generations through culture and traditions;
- Stereotypes apply to all members of a certain group’
- In most cases, stereotypes are used to justify prejudice and discrimination;
- Often stereotypes are not based on facts.
Nowadays researchers try to explain the nature of categorization in relation to multiculturalism and to analyze stereotypes from the different points of view. The main tasks of these researches are to find out whether social group is a natural kind or artifactual category, to understand where the components of stereotypes come from, and how stereotypes apply on different levels.
At the micro level, stereotypes appear in the form of prejudice and stable beliefs about something (for instance, racism or sexism). Prejudice is defined as a set of attitudes that prejudge a certain group usually negatively, and not grounded on facts. Within the study about prejudice researchers single out the frustration-aggression theory, according to which acts of discrimination and prejudice are motivated by anger and frustration that people feel when they are unable to achieve their goals. Racism, which is an attitude that favors one race over another, is also the expression of stereotypes on the micro level and it may be of different kinds (for instance, ideological racism or symbolic one).
At the meso level, stereotypes transform into discrimination. Discrimination is a set of actions taken against members of minority groups. It may be individual (violence, avoidance, exclusion) or institutional (side effect and past-in-present discrimination). It needs to be mentioned that prejudice and discrimination are usually found working together and reinforcing one another.
At the macro level, stereotyping and categorization are present in certain nation in dominant and minority group contact. The latter is dependent upon the times, circumstances, social histories of the group, its cultural norms and concentration of power.
Policies to reduce the negative impacts of stereotyping depend upon its level as well. Thus, micro level policies include individual therapy; the meso level ones include organized group contact; and, finally, meso level policies embrace lobbying, canvassing, government commissions, different forms of non-violent resistance, etc.
To sum up, stereotypes are beliefs and ideas related to large groups of people that influence individuals’ minds and their attitudes towards the members of these groups. Stereotypes have been applied at different levels in the forms of prejudice, discrimination and racism, influencing the development of the society and provoking a number of policies to reduce them.