Thursday, June 24, 2021

Are We Defined by Race or Culture?

The question of race vs. culture is something that has been bothering psychologists for a long time. Are we the products of our race, culture, or a combination of both? Shen Yun Principal Dancer Kenji Kobayashi believes that it is one’s culture that plays a major role in defining a person.

A person from two cultures

Raised in Japan, Kobayashi was born to a Chinese mother and Japanese father. When he was young, Kobayashi discovered that he could not relate to his Chinese side at all. Instead, it was the Japanese side that he was most involved in. All this changed in 2006 when Kobayashi watched a Shen Yun performance for the first time. Kobayashi was mighty impressed. He now saw a side of China that he had never seen or even knew about before.

The beauty of the performance captured Kobayashi’s heart. The story, the music, the costumes, and the dances, everything left a deep impression on his mind. Before watching Shen Yun, Kobayashi had felt conflicted and pressured as if he had to choose either his Chinese or Japanese side. But after watching Shen Yun, he became proud of both his ancestries. Kobayashi soon realized that people are not defined by their race but by culture. He eventually joined Shen Yun Performing Arts as a dancer. Kobayashi works hard to perfect his art so that he can convey the essence of true Chinese culture to the audience.

Shen Yun performance
Kobayashi’s view of China changed after watching Shen Yun. (Image: YouTube / Screenshot)

Cultural impact

Kobayashi’s view that culture is more important when it comes to defining a person than race is something that is true to a large extent. No matter what race a person is, if they are exposed to a foreign culture that they are attracted to for a long period of time, the person is likely to adopt practices and behaviors of the foreign culture. This kind of cultural rewiring has to do with the brain’s plasticity, which is the ability of the brain to modify itself based on a new set of recurrent tasks.

Culture plays a huge role in how we think about ourselves and those around us. If you grow up in a specific culture right from childhood, that culture will have a strong influence on your identity. In an experiment, Chinese and Western participants were asked to contemplate about themselves and their mothers.

“The fMRI data showed that the same parts of the brain (Medial Prefrontal Cortex) were activated when both groups thought about themselves. However, unlike with the Western participants, the MPFC was also activated among Chinese participants when they thought of their mothers. These results were interpreted as suggesting that the Chinese participants (interdependent self-construals) use the same brain area to represent both the self and their mothers, while the Western participants use the MPFC exclusively for self-representation,” according to Psychology Today.

MRI machine
An fMRI scan showed different regions of the brain become activated when Western and Chinese people think of their mothers. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Such a change largely exists due to the different cultural values of the West and the East. In the West, individuality is valued, meaning that an average person is likely to make the pursuit of life about himself. In contrast, the Chinese have a collectivist mentality. As such, an average person tends to see themselves not just as individuals but as a portion of a whole family.

Now, what if a Chinese person moves to the West and a Western person moves to China during tier youth. Though they will retain the strong influence of their home culture, some influence of the new culture will seep through. And as generations pass, the descendants of the Chinese person in the West will mostly be attached to Western culture while the descendants of the Western person in China will mostly display characteristics of Chinese culture.

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Nspirement Staff
Nspirement (or Inspirement) is the act of becoming motivated, encouraged, and enthused to the point of making a significant difference or change. Our aim is to offer articles that will inspire, uplift, and educate our readers, as well as insights into all things China and China’s impact on the world today.
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