Despite being simply manifested in the Swahili Proverb “unity is strength, the division is weakness,” the central facet of human culture towards purposeful collectivity remains mystifying. Many in politics, as it seems to be especially in modern Western culture, profess an emotionally-charged drive towards unity, yet their actions reveal a divergent motivation. To this end, one may claim a profound passion for removing racial bias from one’s nation, yet one’s stances on domestic policy and immigration may suggest a contrasting posture.
Hypocritical by definition, this trend is not exclusive to present-day and has long perplexed anthropologists.
The classification and subsequent utilization of this symbolic process exist as a pivotal segment of the field of anthropology. The “great puzzle” that “humanity” possesses of “unity versus diversity” contributes to the modern conversation regarding race and its cultural implications. In the United States of America, a nation plagued by its past of immense racial injustice, this subject remains in the spotlight. Having long exploited the differences in racial appearances for political and economic gain, the United States faces a pressing problem: the bounds to which such a biologically-defying action may extend.
To this end, as defined in the field of life science, one race unites all humans—the human race. In this biologically-backed realm, no significance is placed on differences in skin color. Furthermore, these are merely contrasting phenotypes that effectively serve no functional end. It is, instead, our modern-day Western culture that exploits these differences, in turn creating a rigid system of rank based on racial subcategories.
An arbitrary framework, this cultural system fosters social unrest, particularly along these so-called racial lines. In other words, it is “impossible” to partition “humanity into racial groups” that reflect a biological significance. Furthering the idea of an arbitrary cultural construction, humans remain a single species. This reality remains true even in the presence of varying skin colors. To this end, humans of different so-called racial groups remain able to interbreed and have done so throughout the history of the species. The act of disconnecting the human race along lines of skin color, as evidenced, exists as unproductive and biologically insignificant. Despite this truth, however, Western culture has utilized this social operation—much to the downfall of the human race.
In continuation, the forms, and structures in which humans organize contribute extensively to the anthropological discussion of cultural unity versus diversity. This is especially true in the study Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, as the French diplomat explores the interpersonal nature of democratic America in contrast to his native aristocratic France. A system in which a corresponding rank defines an individual, Tocqueville signifies that while an aristocracy differs from a democracy in fundamentals, the two exist as alternative societal structures. For instance, humans “living in aristocratic ages…the notion of human fellowship is faint,” yet the citizens “often sacrifice themselves” for their fellow nationals. In a hierarchical society, as Tocqueville details, members of society possess a feeling that is larger than any motivation that serves solely the individual–an inclination towards the betterment of society. This intrinsic sentiment strengthens the collective nature of the aristocratic culture. In contrast, “in democratic times,” the “bond of human affection” is still “extended,” yet “it is relaxed.” Furthermore, “devoted service” towards “anyone man” exists as “rarer.” Unlike that of an aristocracy, the incentives placed within an egalitarian society, such as in the United States, compel its citizens to seek the improvement of themselves. Rather than existing within a web of duty-bound interactions, citizens of a democracy act out of their interest, often regardless of the societal implications, externalities, or attitudes of unity.
Interestingly, the unfortunate incidents in which the marginalized face the exclusion and wrath of mainstream society offer an unparalleled perspective on modern cultural patterns. This theme remains at the forefront of Erving Goffman’s Stigma, a book in which the immensely influential sociologist confronts the ever-present cultural tendency to dehumanize those in a supposed lesser physical or mental condition. As Goffman explains, the “good adjustment line is presented” by the so-called “normals,” or those who “take the standpoint of the wider society.” As a result, the “unfairness and pain” endured by the “stigmatized” will “never be presented” to the “normals,” and these people will “not have to admit to themselves” the limits of their “tolerance.” Humans, by cultural design, desire to feel accepted by their surrounding environment. In theory, society desires to create unity amongst people. Yet, in practice, this is far from the idealized. Those who do not fit the respective molds which society has placed on them, whether it be due to a biological, socioeconomic, or racial reason, find themselves on the fringes of modern Western culture. In turn, these subcategorized people face a stigma, leaving them to be a mere resemblance of a person, therefore effectively subhuman. As these people are not considered to be “normal” by society, this inferior classification casts aside the stigmatized. As evidence, such a cultural pattern fails to foster the unity that many unknowingly and unapologetically claim it does.
Each of the detailed passages assists the central anthropological theme of unity versus diversity.