Diversity in the United States of America
Diversity means a mixture of different things. When used about people, it means people of all kinds from different backgrounds, of different ages, and with different beliefs. The US population is very diverse – it includes people from nearly every country in the world. Today in the USA, however, the word diverse is often used to mean only people of different races.
When you move to the USA, you will meet people of many races. The term race is generally used to refer to a person’s skin color or ethnic background.
White, non-Hispanic people are the majority in the USA. People of other races are often called “minorities.” Hispanics and Latino Americans are the second largest group, followed by African Americans and Asians. Other American racial groups are Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Many Americans are of mixed race.
Race is a controversial topic in the USA because of the terrible history of slavery in this country. African Americans have been oppressed through history, and it was a very important historical moment when Barack Obama was elected as the first black president.
While it is illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, the reality is that there are still many problems with racism in the USA.
Some people feel uncomfortable talking about race. It is sometimes hard to know what to call people from different races. For example, some Americans of African heritage like to be defined as African Americans, but others prefer the terms black or person of color. The same is true of people from South and Central America. Some may consider themselves Hispanic, some like to be called Latino or Latina, and others may say white or prefer another term. If you need to describe someone in terms of their race for some reason, and you are unsure how to describe, you can ask them.
You may find it strange that you are often asked your race. If you are filling out paperwork, you may be asked to check a box that says whether you are Asian, black, Hispanic, white, etc.The primary reason for this question is to monitor whether government programs are adequately meeting the needs of minorities. If you do not want to answer, you can always leave the question blank or check the box that says “Choose not to reply” or “Prefer not to reply.”
If you experience racism in the workplace, when looking for housing, or at any other time, you can email us and we will try to refer you to a resource to help you. Or, if you simply have questions or want to tell us about a cultural experience, please feel free to email us as well.
The USA is sometimes referred to as a “salad bowl” or “melting pot.” This means there are people from many different countries and backgrounds living in one country. Historically, the USA is called “a nation of immigrants,” although there were Native Americans living in North America long before European immigrants first arrived in the 1600s.
Today, some Americans have negative opinions about immigrants. Most of these opinions are based in fear or mistaken perceptions. Immigrants offer many strengths and benefits to the USA. Also, Americans who are prejudiced against immigrants have fear of or bias against different races.
In the US, older individuals are those 65 and older. At 65, Americans can stop working and receive a pension, or small retirement salary, from the government.
America is different than many other countries because older Americans often live alone or in institutions. About 29% of Americans over 65 live alone., and 47% percent of women over 75 live alone. Many others live in senior housing or nursing homes.
You may feel like Americans, especially American youth, do not respect the elderly in the same way as elders as treated in your culture. In the USA, this is sometimes referred to as a “generation gap.” Young and old people may have different opinions, like they do in other countries, but American media tends to focus on youth.
Elder Americans often face financial and health difficulties. These difficulties are true for older immigrants and refugees too. If you are an elder, you may have thought the USA would provide more care for you than you are receiving. But you may need to find work to support yourself in the USA, as many seniors do. But there are special programs to help seniors, and if you need help to find one, email us.
Discrimination is when you are treated badly because of your personal background. People can be discriminated against for many reasons, such as their race, skin color, gender, age, or religion. Discrimination is illegal in the USA. This means people must be treated equally and given the same opportunities no matter what their background is. For example, a business is not allowed to discriminate against the elderly. Even if a person is old, they must have the same chance to get a job as a younger person if they are otherwise qualified to do the work. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes many different types of discrimination. If you believe you have been discriminated against when applying for a job, you can file a charge of discrimination. It can take years for a case to work its way through the system, so plan to find other work while your complaint is being considered.
When you are learning a new culture, it can sometimes be hard to know if someone’s behavior towards you is a cultural difference or if it is inappropriate (rude or not proper). If you are ever in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, ask the other person to stop their behavior. If someone continues a behavior that makes you uncomfortable, please ask a trusted American friend for help.
These are generalizations about American culture – not facts, just ideas to help you better understand why an American may be acting in a way that is different to what you are used to. American ways and culture are not better or worse than other ways – just different.