Culture vs. “Culture”

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim – An African Perspective raises interesting points on the nature of a culture, and the differences that people in the 21st century see in those “cultures” today. What appears in a small portion of the paper is an incredibly important point that summarizes one way that 21st century American’s perceive other cultures.

Mahmood Mamdani raises the question early in his article that asks if there are multiple definitions of the word culture, and he does this for good reason. Having grown up in the south, and been steeped in a culture that frowned on many religions (and by extension many cultures), I can say that growing up reading or watching the news the word culture did take different meanings for me depending on the context it was given in. Culture if presented as a term to many of the current population would inspire thoughts of Brooklyn, New York where creativity and excitement can be found, or another similarly creative metropolitan area.

This notion of culture is not wrong. Culture is in fact an aggregate of many different practices that inspire creativity and promote worthwhile living. In contrast to this however, I can distinctly remember being taught about otherworldly practices of far away “cultures”, or watching the news report on the Middle East after 9/11 and receiving information about a different “culture”. This culture however, did not inspire vivid images of creative people full of life, it instead brought to mind a prison that people were trapped in, and could not be freed from.

This difference in the meaning of this one word is a symptom of a bigger problem. American culture (especially certain parts) distances the population from other cultures by using a form of othering. By Interpreting, and perpetuating other cultures in this way that separates them from American culture, we create distance from the culture and civilization, and as a result of this we produce a method of othering different cultures that enables people to be disconnected in an important way from other nations. This ultimately leads to people hating other cultures just because they perceive them as fundamentally different, when in fact they are not. Just as in any culture the same basic things compose American, and most other countries cultures. Religion, traditions, and promoting a sense of community are traits found at the core of most of these cultures that are considered so radically different that even the word assigned to both takes on a different meaning.

This particular part of the article inspired further thought on my behalf, and I believe it is an important point that should be addressed in a drastically different way moving forward as a nation.

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