Module 7. Our Divisions


All humans are comprised of the same biological structure and matter. The unique distinctions among us stem from our culture (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). The differences in our values, beliefs, norms, expressive language, practices, and artifacts are which stands us apart from one another. Being culturally unique projects exclusivity that draws attention to our variations and differences. People find cultural fit or acceptance from those who share uniqueness or the same cultural characteristics. Consequently, people may find or experience intolerance or rejection from those with different cultural traits.

Cultural distinctions make groups unique, but they also provide a social structure for creating and ranking people based on similarities or differences. A group’s size and strength influence their power over a region, area, or other groups. Cultural power lends itself to social, economic, and political power that influences people’s lives by controlling the prevailing norms or rules and making individuals adhere to the dominant group culture voluntarily or involuntarily.

Culture is not a direct reflection of the social world (Griswold, 2013). Humans frame culture to define meaning and interpret the social world around them. As a result, dominant groups are able to manipulate, reproduce, and influence culture among the masses or all Americans. Common culture found in society is actually the selective transmission of elite-dominated values (Parenti, 2006). This practice known as cultural hegemony suggests that culture is not autonomous, it is conditionally dictated, regulated, and controlled by dominant or powerful groups. The major forces shaping culture are in the power of elite-dominated interests who render limited and marginal adjustments to make culture appear changing in alignment with evolving social values (Parenti, 2006). The dominating cultural group often sets the standard for living and governs the distribution of resources.


Asian man holding sign that says, "#stopasianhate"
Image by ShotPot, Pexels is licensed under CC BY 4.0

When social groups have or are in power, they have the ability to discriminate on a large scale. A dominant group or the ruling class impart their culture in society by passing laws and informally using culture to spread it. Access to these methods allows hegemonic groups to institutionalize discrimination. This results in unjust and unequal treatment of people by society and its institutions. Those who culturally align to the ruling class fair better than those who are different.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Our Lives: An Ethnic Studies Primer Copyright © 2022 by Vera Guerrero Kennedy and Rowena Bermio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book