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In the Know: Cultural Misconceptions

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pitt chapter.


Throughout our lives, we will run into people of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. With 7 billion people on this planet, it is hard to fully understand how and why people follow the traditions, customs, and lifestyles they do. However, what we can do is try to understand, stay informed, and do our best to respect the cultures of everyone. As we meet more people in college and in the workforce, it is important to differentiate ourselves from those who blindly perpetuate cultural misconceptions. So ladies and gentlemen, lets get in the know about some common cultural misconceptions.

Muslim vs. Islam

One common misconception is that there is no difference between the meaning of the words Muslim and Islam. Islam is one of the largest religions in the world, with more than 1.2 billion followers who come from areas in Africa, the Middle East, the United States, and many more. The term itself means submission or surrender.  So when you are talking about Islam you are referring to the religion. However, the word Muslim refers to the person who practices the religion. You wouldn’t hear people saying that someone practices Christian. They would actually say someone practices Christianity, so let’s not the make the same mistake with Muslim and Islam.

Grouping Africa

One common misconception is that Africa is a continent full of one giant type of culture. This misconception hits home for me because of my Ghanaian heritage. Sadly, people mistakenly think Africa is a giant “country” when it is one of the 7 continents in the world. Africa is the second largest continent with 54 countries, nearly one billion people, and over 2,000 dialects. The people in each of these countries are very different in the way that they dress, the way they speak, and in what they believe. With such a vast variety of culture, it is absurd to think that all Africans are the same. What we can do is make a conscious effort to recognize which country we are referring to when we talk about or hear of the country. If you do ever run into someone who says they are African, take the extra step and ask which country they are from. This practice can also be used for Asian cultures, because not all Asians are Chinese!

Rural v. City

In all places around the world, we have urban and rural areas. We tend to have preconceived notions about how the people in these areas think and act. I know that in this country some people have a misguided perception that those living in rural areas are less educated, with no sense of fashion, and music horizons that don’t span beyond the country genre. On the other hand, city people are rude, self-centered and too busy to care.  We really can’t make these grand judgments about people’s personalities based just on where they live. It is important not to make these assumptions, because one day you might say the wrong thing and have a huge problem on your hands. Instead, just get to know people as they are without attributing personality traits based on whether they live on a farm or in a New York pent house.

There are so many more cultural misconceptions out there that you may not even realize are incorrect. However, with the right tools you can try to avoid falling prey to the ignorance. With situations like this, all it takes to be respectful is to stop and think before you speak. In a situation when you don’t know what to say, just ask a question! It is a lot better than making an assumption that can really offend someone.  Sometimes people get offended regardless and even if they are rude to you, just know that you did the right thing because you wanted to understand. At the end of the day, you took the time and that makes a world of a difference.



Photo credit: 1

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Thanks for reading our content! hcxo, HC at Pitt