Guest post by commenter Mira of jefflion.net:
Many outsiders refer to “American culture”. This often means not acknowledging significant cultural differences between black and white Americans. It’s not that outsiders don’t see race, it’s that they don’t see the huge cultural differences Americans talk about so much.
It should be noted here that it’s not easy to define what culture “really” is. Even experts (anthropologists) don’t seem to agree on how to define it.
But it might not matter in this case. There seems to be a universal mechanism that creates an “us vs them” dichotomy, and what is considered “them” is always seen in simplified, generalized terms. As the opposite of “us”, where all the differences between subgroups, even the minor ones, are exaggerated and taken as a means of building one’s identity, “they” are always seen as monolithic group. When looking at “others”, people tend to ignore even the biggest differences between subgroups, even the things that members of said groups consider obvious.
This can be observed on many different levels. For example, if white Americans are the “us”, then we will notice all the differences between whites (based on class, political views, music taste, etc), but will claim that “all blacks are same”.
The same mechanism is at play when considering things at an international level. So, just like an American sees all Eastern European, or Eastern Asian (not to mention African) countries as “basically the same” (despite huge differences in ethnicities, languages, religion, customs), citizens of other countries view American black and white culture as “basically the same”, even if they believe there are huge natural differences between races.
The way outsiders look at it, both white and black Americans share the same common, American culture. Sure, one has country music and rodeos, and the other has rap and basketball… But it’s not a big deal, right? Even when differences are acknowledged, they are still seen as far less extreme than the differences between Americans and non-Americans. In the US, on the other hand, differences between blacks and whites are emphasized, partly because each group builds its collective identity based on its uniqueness and perceived difference from another group.
This mechanism is in no way restricted to the USA, or its subgroups. It seems to be quite common thing to view one’s group as complex, while others are seen as monolithic. Why is that? In layman’s terms, people generally don’t care about groups that don’t have anything to do with them. Others are simplified and generalized so people could have some idea about them – but that’s it. It should be noted that the way they are simplified speaks more about the group that makes stereotypes, than the group that is stereotyped.
So, what’s the truth? It seems to be somewhere in the middle: black and white American cultures are more similar than their members believe them to be, but also more different than outsiders perceive.