Understanding our cultural identity requires us to think about the cultural context of our behaviors. This means understanding that our actions are no more “natural” than anyone else’s actions. Like everyone else, our actions can only be understood if we look at all of the cultural influences that surround and impact what we do. Furthermore, it is important to understand that each individual is affected by his or her cultural environment differently. For example, a number of female workers who are recent immigrants from Nigeria may each feel very differently about their priorities regarding working and fulfilling family responsibilities despite sharing a common cultural heritage. Likewise, those of us born and raised in the United States may or may not share certain values. Dr. Robert Kohls, a well-known researcher on cultural values in the United States, has identified a number of “basic American values.” These include
• Personal control over environment. • Change is seen as positive and natural. • All people are created equal.
Individuals take credit for their achievements.
Many people who work in the United States today and consider themselves “American” may not embrace one or more of the four American values studied by Kohls. They believe in the power of fate, see change as disruptive and destructive, see differences in status and authority as desirable, and believe that taking credit for what one accomplishes is boastful and inappropriate. Even though we may live in the same region and share the same general lifestyle, we do not necessarily embrace the exact same values, beliefs, and ideas. Our individual life experiences and personalities are unique. Therefore, each of us will internalize different things from our culture. Some parts of our culture we will embrace; other parts we will reject, ignore, or modify.
Multiple, Changing Identities As discussed previously, cultural identity is not one single characteristic of an individual. All of us have multiple identities, meaning we identify with numerous groups and cultures. An individual may “wear many hats,” including being a worker, student, atheist, employee, friend, and middle-aged female. Throughout life, our identities change as well. For instance, as we become more experienced
in our career and develop a passion for our work, we may increasingly identify with people in our profession. Some identities we choose for ourselves while others are chosen for us. We have no choice when it comes to our place of birth, age, or family of orientation, meaning the family into which we are born. On the other hand, our geographic location, social class, and religion may change out of choice. Being aware of our multiple and changing identities provides us with greater insight into how others define themselves. For example, my ability to understand why I now identify myself as an “American” can help me appreciate why others who have lived in the United States all their lives but whose life experiences are different from mine might not think of themselves the same way. They might prefer the term African American or Asian American. Having this understanding sensitizes us to the power of words and the importance individuals and groups attach to labeling themselves.
Visible and More Hidden Identities . popular advertising slogan in the United States proclaims “Image is everything.”