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Sometimes culture can seem invisible like when we're surrounded by signals that tell us we're with others who are like us, but if we live or travel somewhere where the traits that define social norms are not our traits, culture can suddenly seem everywhere. In the next few episodes, we're going to start exploring the fundamental aspects of culture and how those with and without power are affected by culture, from cultural mixing to cultural violence. We'll also discuss the differences between race, ethnicity, and culture, and help you can spot the warning signs that often lead to xenophobia, racism, and genocide.

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#CrashCourse #Geography #Culture
You wouldn’t think going from the US to Canada things would seem all that different.

But as soon as I moved to Montreal a few years ago, I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Well, actually I wasn’t in New York anymore.

I’ve never been to Kansas, but you get the point! Packaging on food was in French and English, people taking your order or helping you in a store have to greet you with Bonjour-Hello, and speed limits are in kilometers, not miles per hour. It’s just about a 5 hour drive to Montreal from Ithaca where I grew up, but there were times when I felt I’d stepped through the looking glass.

Sometimes, culture can seem invisible. When we’re surrounded by signals that tell us we’re with others who are like us -- like a common language or how people dress -- we might not notice culture at all. But if we travel like I did, or even live somewhere where the traits that define social norms are not our traits, culture can suddenly seem everywhere.

In the next few episodes, we’re going to start by exploring a few fundamental aspects of culture and how one way to resist the entrenchment along cultural lines is to understand the origins and beauty of other cultures. I’m Alizé Carrère and this is Crash Course Geography. INTRO.

I want to note up top that this episode will address some challenging topics like extreme violence -- including the violence faced by those subjected to assimilation and residential schools, genocide, and images of extreme violence. We believe it is important to reckon with both the ways cultures have flourished and the ways they've been destroyed, including intentionally. Like we discussed last episode, cultural geography is a major subfield of Human Geography that helps us understand how identity moves, changes, and imprints itself on the landscape.

Because they’re about identity, cultural studies also involve power and the power dynamics that come from different groups influencing each other. And as cultural geographers, we try to “read” the landscape, looking for clues about how identity, power, and values move, shaping and creating the way humans interact across space. Culture is kind of like air -- it's around us and we don’t notice it unless it changes or is gone.

Or we’re suddenly confronted with a Tim Horton’s-wielding-Canadian celebrating Thanksgiving in October. So we can start by establishing that culture is a set of behaviors, worldviews, and ways of life of a group of people that’s closely tied with their identity -- both as individuals and as a group. Culture as a whole can feel huge.

So we can find bite-sized parts and focus on the cultural traits that make up a culture and how they came to be the way that they are. These are the attributes that tell us what’s socially acceptable and what’s not and are all the pieces someone can use to build their sense of identity or who they are -- like heritage, values, and beliefs. Because culture is always changing, understanding a culture in a context is important.

Like in Malaysia. In 2021, Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia that’s spread across a peninsula -- where it borders Thailand -- and about ⅓ the island of Borneo which it shares with Indonesia and Brunei, and has maritime borders with Vietnam and Singapore. Historically, the borders of Malaysia we see in 2021 have overlapped with the territories of many indigenous groups.

And over time people moved in from what we now call China and India, and eventually dozens of other places, which brought together many different cultural traits in this site. Which have all combined to form a cultural landscape, or the visible imprint of humans in a place. They’re layered and can even change subtly from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Which we can see just by looking around Kuala Lumpur, the capital and the most populated city in Malaysia as of 2021. Think of a cultural landscape like a canvas we paint our cultural signals on -- all the signs and symbols that show certain cultural traits are acceptable there. Like the flags we fly, or the colors we paint our buildings.

In any given neighborhood, the most prominent signs and symbols will be those from the dominant cultural groups, or the groups with the most power in an area. In Kuala Lumpur, one neighborhood may feature clothes and food that’s similar to what we’d find in the Tamil region of India, while in another neighborhood we’d see architecture and hear languages found throughout China. Throughout we’d find signals from indigenous groups, along with the traditions of Islam, which 46% percent of Kuala Lumpurians practice.

Each of these groups is one of the dominant cultural groups of Kuala Lumpur. But just because someone belongs to one of these dominant cultural groups doesn't mean they belong to them all. Someone can be both Malay -- a dominant group -- and Christian, a non-dominant cultural group.

Identity isn’t an either or thing. Non-dominant cultural groups will also have signs and symbols, and in Kuala Lumpur those often represent laborers from Indonesia, Nepal, and elsewhere. But these signs and symbols might be subtler and harder to see if you're not part of those cultural groups.

Dominant and non-dominant groups can each unite people around many different things. In particular, they might form an ethnic group, which is a group of people who identify together based on a common heritage, in addition to cultural traits like religion or language. Sometimes, the ethnic group can form a cultural enclave, which is a place where there’s a large concentration of people who share an ethnic identity.

Like a pocket of a cultural landscape that reflects a specific culture. In cities, cultural enclaves might be neighborhoods where immigrants settle or are forced to settle. Like a place where Italian immigrants settle together might be called Little Italy.

Cultural anchors, like a place of worship or school, often form in these places where cultural traits are taught and encouraged, even as the dominant culture around them may discourage and isolate people for displaying those traits. Of course as geographers, we’re interested in understanding how things change across space. So if we’re trying to understand the culture of a place like Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia, we want to carefully read the cultural landscape for where cultural traits might’ve come from and how dominant and non-dominant groups interact.

Like the cities of Melaka and George Town are two Malaysian cities located on the Straits of Malacca that have been named UNESCO World Heritage Centers because of their multinational heritage. And throughout these cities, how languages, belief systems, and architecture have been mixed shows up in buildings like the mosques built by Muslim Indians containing. Chinese minarets with European tiles and lighting.

These mosques represent how different cultural traits have combined to form cultural complexes which are the unique cultures that form from traits other cultures also share. In culture, we rarely have a true “melting pot” where a bunch of cultures seamlessly combine. Cultural mixing is more like a tossed salad or lumpy stew because every place accepts and practices the dominant cultural traits to different degrees.

Like in Malaysian communities, some parts of Asian or European cultures show up noticeably and some parts melt away, creating a unique mix. This is called acculturation, which is when one culture adapts with another to create something different, but related. Traits can mix in other ways too.

Cultural assimilation is when just the non-dominant cultural group changes their identity to practice the cultural traits of the dominant group, usually through pressure or force. Like throughout North America and Australia there was an effort throughout the 19th and all of the 20th century to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples into European culture by taking thousands of Indigenous kids from their homes and placing them in assimilation schools. This is not history -- the last school closed in 1996 -- and these were not safe places.

It can be really hard to talk about these places because of the documented horrors of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that occurred. Children were not just killed, but many were disappeared -- buried without names or records. This is an example of why power is so central to human geography.

Power is never in balance and that shapes our identity and how -- or if -- we’re allowed to exist. And that’s one reason why cultural appropriation, which is when one culture adopts the symbols, customs, and knowledge of another culture for their own benefit or entertainment, can be so painful. But we'll talk more about that next time.

So as cultural geographers, studying culture takes us from eating our favorite meal at the neighborhood food stall to horrific violence. We want to understand why and where some groups have power and others don’t. So cultural conflicts are important to look for when reading cultural landscapes.

How people look can also be a way we often mistakenly assign someone to a culture and discriminate against them. Like a racial group is a group of people lumped together based on physical characteristics society has deemed important. Race is a social construction, which means it’s an idea that only exists because we’ve created it and agreed to believe in it as a society.

Genetically, we can’t separate people into different races, and there are lots of ways people’s looks can vary. A lot of the time we make categories and boxes to help us make sense of the world, but they’re always imperfect, human-made boxes that are not always right or fair or even based in a deep understanding of genetics. And people who look similar can have very different cultural traits because race is not the same as ethnicity.

But it can tell us about power struggles across space. As social scientists, one of the things we study is the way society creates power differences between people. And racism is how we create unequal access to power and resources based on how people look or their cultural traits.

So on the flip side, culture and maintaining your identity are ways of claiming power, and will look different in different parts of a community. As we learn more about Malaysian culture, we’d look for how power differences have shaped different traits. Like after Malaysia was colonized by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and finally the British, descendants of outside groups had access to more resources than some indigenous Malaysian groups.

Which led to violent civil unrest in the 1960s and eventually efforts in the 1970s and 80s to address the causes of poverty and open up economic and educational opportunities. But, once one group gains dominance it’s usually hard for others to catch up. The dominant group already has wealth, different quality schools, and better access to jobs, so once a group gains social and economic dominance the gap will continue to grow and it will be hard for another group to change the cultural landscape.

Affirmative action policies are one way different nations have attempted to reconcile the social and economic dominance of a group, but whether these policies are in Malaysia, Canada, or. Brazil, they remain controversial. Racism can also mean assigning an identity to someone that they may not claim themselves.

And when an identity is forced on another group, it’s a way of dehumanizing that group, which means denying a group the dignity of following their own traditions. And if a group of people are dehumanized enough, the place where they live can become deadly. Xenophobia is the fear of people other than those of their own cultural group.

That fear can lead to political violence, including genocide, which is the killing of a group of people because of their identity. Or scapegoating which is where one group is blamed for the hardships faced by another group. Even if it’s not at all true, assigning blame for economic or political problems is one way to create a social norm that allows another group to be harmed.

And if taken too far, that can also lead to violence or even genocide. In particular, members of stateless nations -- which are groups of people with similar cultural traits that aren’t necessarily tied to country or political borders -- are at high risk for threats because they don’t have a unified government to protect them. In 2021, some of the peoples most at risk for genocide include the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Uyghurs in China, and the Kurds, Druze, and Yazidis in Syria.

The threat of death creates immense pressure to assimilate or leave, but in many cases, there is nowhere to go. If a cultural group is already in their native lands, they have to leave and become refugees, or people fleeing violence or persecution across an international border in order to survive. These are just some of the examples of cultural violence a place can experience, and what we can try to prevent by reading warning signs on cultural landscapes -- like when people are denied opportunities for practicing their culture.

As humans interact, there are always going to be tensions between maintaining our identity and mixing it with another. Sometimes personal experiences with different cultures can be enriching, but others can be deeply harmful or isolating. As geographers we want to understand what motivates cultural mixing, and what creates the cultural landscape we see.

The constant creation and recreation of identity -- through building blocks like art, music, religion, architecture, food, and clothes and under pressure from violence and power -- create the unique meanings of the places we call home. And as we dig deeper into the cultural landscape, we’ll look at two specific cultural traits over the next two episodes: language and religion. Many maps and borders represent modern geopolitical divisions that have often been decided without the consultation, permission, or recognition of the land's original inhabitants.

Many geographical place names also don't reflect the Indigenous or Aboriginal peoples languages. So we at Crash Course want to acknowledge these peoples’ traditional and ongoing relationship with that land and all the physical and human geographical elements of it. We encourage you to learn about the history of the place you call home through resources like and by engaging with your local Indigenous and Aboriginal nations through the websites and resources they provide.

Thanks for watching this episode of Crash Course Geography which is filmed at the . Team Sandoval Pierce Studio and was made with the help of all these nice people. If you want to help keep all Crash Course free for everyone, forever, you can join our community on Patreon.