Do you think cultural identity and race are separated?

Michael James Brown

As I have previously mentioned, I get a lot of questions and comments sent to my inbox on Facebook ( and to my regular email address. (

It may take a little time to reply, but over the last 8 years I have answered every single question and have read every bit of information suggested.

Last week I received a question that I have answered before in the Q & A portion of presentations, but I thought it would be interesting to spend a few minutes to really expand on the answer in a longer written form.

But before I answer, I also thought this would be a good time to post this question to my groups and the people who have heard me speak before and ask them,  “How do you THINK I would answer the question?”

I’m kind of of using the question below as a barometer to see how my message is being received. This will help as I’m fine tuning my presentations for a few upcoming engagements. In March, I’m speaking to the Male Academy at Jordan High School. The academy is for students identified as being “at-risk.” A large percentage of the kids at Jordan come from the poorer neighborhoods in North Long Beach where I live. In March or April, I’m trying to put together a sponsored presentation to a middle school in Los Angeles. The school was selected because the overall class grade average is very low. In June, I’m speaking at the National PTA Convention in Orlando, FL. I’m also on track to speak once again, at the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education in San Francisco, CA.

The email below is posted just as it was sent in. (I did change the name to initials) I would like for you to answer the question the way you think I would answer, based on all you have read or seen from my website (, facebook page (, or my You Tube channel (

If you want, you can add your own answers too! I’ll post my reply (which I have already written) next Wednesday (3/2/2011)


Dear Michael,

I stumbled across your website/blog recently. I love the concept behind it.

I have a question for you. I grew up in Ireland and moved here 11 years ago. I grew up in a culture not identified by race, but by culture and more predominately religion. When I identify myself, it is as ‘Irish’, and I was curious to know what your thoughts on that were. It was not until I moved here that I ever had to identify myself as white… and it never sat well with me. I never saw/see people as a colour, rather how interesting they were or their cultural identity.

Do you think cultural identity and race are separated?

Thanks for your work

Author: otherawarenessproject

Former Director of Operations for News America Marketing, former Marketing Operations Manager for ING Advisors, former Pre-Press manager for Deluxe Check Printers. Currently self-employed and serving on the boards of non-profits in Southern California.

5 thoughts on “Do you think cultural identity and race are separated?”

  1. I think America is really stuck on color as a factor. I too like you grew up identifying myself with my culture and not my color. So coming to America and seeing my identity being changed to my color was shock.

  2. Greetings:

    My foriegn homeland too is divided by culture, yet Canada makes a concerted effort to mosiac all cultures; the anticipated result is that we feel conected bonded as Canadians, simply of a differing culture (much like a strong mosaic would be held together by grout administered by the artist).

    This is opposite of what folks refer to here as the Melting Pot in (US of) America.

    I suspect that the melting pot is to strip you of your culture and yet it cannot take your color, so what we see that we are left with is people of different color. And I am certain that it is well known that (over several generations) color has taken on a greater role in the development of USA, than any one foriegn culture (and for that matter even the culture of this lands first people ~ the Native Nations of the Greater Canada, and all respective tribes therein).

    Our history books fail to point out that those whom we quickly refer to as Indians (of America), had in fact called the greater vastness of such fertile land between the Rockies and Atlantic coast, and between Northern Texas/Oklahoma and The Canadian Sheild (north of the Great Lakes in the neighboring modern country Canada), “Big Community, or Big Village”. Hence Canada ~ or Kanata ~ or Cananoqua ~ or Kananoctuk; it was always intended to describe Big Village, by any which tongue of tribe, or Nation, OR OTHER!

    So how did we get (United States of) America instead of (say) Canada; by mistake and destiny both.

    I suspect that by compounding such a blunderous mistake ~ Cristobal Colon (Chris Columbus) announcing he had sailed West to the East and found India (when he had NOT, he found Haiti/DR) ~ that we simply ventured on in time with a mistaken identity to continue the wonderous manifest destiny, that of which a new nation began to develop, the Grand Experiment, the land of the free and the home of the brave, and hence, (the founding fathers here) deciding to pay respect and honor to Americo Vespuci (America), whom later went on record in Europe, announcing Chris had not found India, he had found a great New World of riches and wealth!

    Well to Europe, this certainly was a new world ~ to the Native nations it was already thousands of years old to them, and it was a Big Village ~ OKAY, so how did we decide we would all lose our culture and shake-down our differences of color (all too often)?

    All I can offer is that is was SO strong a feeling, an effort to genicide the pre-existing culture of this (not so) new land that the importance of culture to America, and Americans was nil, zero, zilch (and that has always permiated here, has it NOT)? But, it is not that simple, because the Irish stuck together, the Italian stuck together, the Polish, the French, the German, the blank and so on, came over and stuck together to get by in each wave of new immigration ~ so why color/race?

    It must be a sense of I see white, I see black, I see red, or I see yellow and in the vast caos of building a new nation (by eliminating the pre-existing culture) it became the simpliest and fastest form of identifying oneself with AN-OTHER.

    In conclusion, I AM AN-OTHER and I hope that the stranger on the street that I meet is alos AN-OTHER ~ after all we have become everyday people (from ONE to AN-OTHER). We can always try to extend and share our culture(s) with each OTHER (that is always great fun), as we cannot necessarily share our color, because when we do it essentially fades to a one homogeneous color (I presume, over generations); but I believe, when we are sharing culture, what we are really doing is showing the other fellow who we are and what there is to enjoy, to like, to LOVE about us ~ and in return, we (all of us) hope that our culture is recieved well and we will be understood & LOVED. It is time that we all claim Other and share culture, love and understanding, within the Family of Man, regardless of race or color.

    Good night ~ God Bless

    Thank you for this forum of thought and well meaning MJ!!!

    1. Ok SC, I made you wait long enough! Before I answer, I do want mention to everyone who visits my site or attends my presentations that the Other Awareness Project isn’t based on what I think. It is based on what I can find to support the statements I make or the conclusions I come to.

      So, can I support the statement that cultural identity and race are separate? Yes, and it really isn’t that hard to do. And by race, I’m going to assume you are thinking of race in the context of how most people in America think of race as in a person’s skin color.

      You can get your answer simply by focusing on one country or looking at various countries around the world, but since you started with Ireland, let’s start there.

      As you have already mentioned, many people living in Ireland, people who were born in Ireland, with long family histories in Ireland, don’t do or practice all or even some of the same things. The practice of trying to apply a label to groups of people simply based on what they look like has never held water. In fact, we know for the longest time, the big “problem” In Ireland had to do with whether you identified as being catholic or protestant. You can’t look at someone and tell what his or her religion is.

      Expanding to the rest of Europe and around the world, it becomes more obvious that a person’s skin color has very little to do with their cultural identity. Do German, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, or Italian people all do the same thing? No. Many of the people of Northern Italy are as different from the people of Southern Italy as Americans living in Utah and Florida! Do they things more similarly or less similarly than people from other “races?” Statistically, no.

      All of the slaves that came from Africa, to the Caribbean and then to America, didn’t all speak the same language – many couldn’t speak to each other. They didn’t all observe the same customs, or dress the same, or tell the same stories. Even today, all “Black” people don’t do the same things. “Black” people have never been all the same.

      Even in America today, all people from Indiana or Texas or Idaho, don’t do or act the same way. As I mention in my presentations, many people and organizations, especially mass media organizations often interchange the words culture, nationality, ethnicity, and heritage as if each word has the same meaning. I find most people do it innocently enough, but I find most mass media outlets do it intentionally to stir things up and help create controversy for ratings. Every word has a specific usage and they aren’t interchangeable.


  3. Thanks David and Lily for your comments, and SC for your question. I think it is worth mentioning that each one of the persons who responded are originally from countries other than the USA. Two of the people I have met in person, the third we are now friends on Facebook. We didn’t need any extra training in order to be able to freely chat and speak our minds with one another.


  4. Well, it’s very interesting that as I too am foreign born and I always think of myself as English, not white. In the UK, which is comprised of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we identify ourselves with whichever country we are from, I am always English first and the British.
    I think it is mainly in the US that culture and race and defined together, perhaps this is another form of racism, or an attempt to separate us by race. I found it shocking when I first came here too.

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