Many years ago, we asked a group of health practitioners who were from countries around the world to take turns describing their health practices and the cultural values and concepts underlying these practices. Chinese, Latino, African, and Dakota and Ojibwe people had no trouble telling us about their culture and how it informed their health practices. Then we asked European American doctors to present, and we heard, "I don't have a culture." People from the majority culture are taught that they are individuals and have the freedom to be whomever they want. This masks the influence of our culture. We are also taught that our scientific way of thinking is above culture. (Stay tuned for a list of resources challenging this idea.)
Read these resources to identify the characteristics of European American culture and and to better recognize when you are assuming something that is cultural to be universal. Knowing the dominant cultural values, assumptions, and practices at work in our systems can help us to consciously transform those that do not contribute to a healthy and equitable society.
Questions to reflect upon:
- Do you agree that these are characteristics of majority U.S. culture?
- You might not personally agree with some of these, but are greatly influenced by them, nonetheless. Which ones do you find create conflict or stress in your life?
- How do these characteristics affect your work environment and the systems you interact with?
- Many of these characteristics can be seen on a continuum, where the characteristic is a positive one, but becomes unhealthy in the extreme. Which do you see as positive and healthy, but with the danger of being unhealthy in the extreme?
- Which ones are you proud of? Which ones do you see as a positive aspect of your cultural identity?
- Which ones do you want to help transform or move to a less extreme form?