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Cultural Diversity & Ethical Boundaries: Coping with the Challenges
Despite the United States’ ostensible commitment to universal justice and equality (Lindsay, 1997), the inescapable fact is that the United States is a race, sex, and class based society (Gapasin, 1996; Harley, Rollins, & Middleton, 1999; McGoldrick & Giordano, 1996; Wilcox, 1999). Tate (1999) referred to the United States’ structured racism, sexism, and elitism (e.g., classism) as the chronicity of oppression Although the working class in the United States is confronted with numerous components in a complex system of domination that affects the entire structure and culture of U.S. society, the three main Intersecting points are race, class, and gender (Gapasin, 1996). These components have both historical roots and contemporary support that reinforce oppression, discrimination, and devaluation. Because of the “mythical norm” in the United States, usually defined as “White, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure,” bidividuals do not stress human differences, focusing instead on human deviance (Lorde, 1992, p.496). Thus, there is an “implicit arrogance that the white man’s approach is the most superior and that others ought to learn how to assimilate as quickly as possible” (Bonacich, 1992, p. 105).
The practice of discussing minorities in terms of pathology has had a continuous history in the United States and serves to justify and reproduce the unequal distribution of power and wealth. One variant of contemporary justification ideologies and theorizing can be discerned in the culture of poverty thesis (Moynihan, 1965), which maintains that disproportional rates of poverty in communities of color come not from structural changes in the economy but rather from pathologies within individuals, families, and cultures. As Ward (1993) noted, “it seems to be an American trait to see our own history as a history of Individual events and not a product of long-term social trends which affect our economy, our politics and our daily lives” (p. 7). Culture of poverty explanations have been applied to many diverse groups, including people from Appalachia and they have explained inequalities that exist in U.S. society by pointing to deficient family structures, resignation, laziness, and immorality In minority groups. Groups are portrayed according to Immutable, fixed, and unitary cultural traits or psychological tendencies and as needing compensatory socialization. Because culture groups cannot be reduced to universal and ahistorical characteristics, any discussion of culture groups must build from the variety that exists within these groups.
Many people, however, turn to biologically based scientific racist discourses to promote notions of racial inferiority in the culture and intelligence of individuals In minority groups. For example, Herrnstein and Murray (1994) argued in The Bell Curve that the poverty that exists and the crime that occurs in low income communities of color stems from innate biological differences. Another example of this narrative of innate biological Inferiority can be discerned in the remarks of Fredrick Goodwin, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Goodwin (as cited in Haymes, 1995) linked the behavior of Inner-city males with the behavior of primates in the jungle as he compared youth gangs to groups of hyper-sexual and hyper-aggressive monkeys. Furthermore, he concluded that “maybe it Is not just the careless use of the word when people call certain areas of the city jungles” (cited in Haymes, 1995 p. 116).
Both of the aforementioned approaches result in a problem-saturated way of knowing and representing persons who are judged to be on the margins of society, thus ignoring their complexity, strengths, and dreams. Too often, there is a lack of critical reflection about the interests and inequalities that exist in the counselor—client relationship, the ideological presuppositions of the profession and its theories, class and racial differences, and expert power (Tice, 1998). Mental health professionals and counselors have the power to override, undermine, and reduce the experiences and knowledge of their clients to a constellation of symptoms and pathologies. Recent work by many scholars, Including Holbrook (1995), Gorman (1993), and Saleebey (1994) indicates that there is an emerging trend toward a politically grounded questioning of professional practice and privilege. Saleebey, in articulating what is known as a strengths perspectives in social work, urged social workers to “help individuals and collectives restore and restory themselves” (p. 358). For example, he argued that instead of merely recounting professional tales of clients who live in public housing where the predominant focus is danger, disorganization, and drugs, counselors should also provide stories of clients’ survival, strength, and possibility for success. Too often, counselors’ assessments of consumers are geared toward finding inadequacies rather than resources, which silences large portions of consumers’ stories and erases personal strengths. Scrutiny of professional concepts of signification and the privileged location of professional experts is needed to ensure that experiences of consumers are not disqualified and to assist In learning to speak and write in ways that empower consumers.
Although some educators and counselors have responded to issues of difference, diversity, and privilege in their work by challenging their own construction of race, class, and gender, others continue to engage hi uncritical practice and theory building. Furthermore, people find ways to talk themselves out of being responsible for racism, classism, sexism, and unexamined professional privilege. Mcintyre (1997), for example, observed that many Whites use a we/they, win/lose zero sum thinking, recycle the myths of equal opportunity, merit, and work ethic, or provide an exception to the rule story (Pbsifive Other). Such views help to reinforce notions that racism is psychological and assumes that problems will fade if only marginalized groups would work harder to Include themselves. That kind of thinking denies and minimizes the repercussions of structural marginalization and oppression.
Similarly, the field of counseling is not immune from the influence of ethnocentrism, classism, discrimination, sexism, and cultural racism (Hays, 1996; Jones, 1997; Robinson, 1999; Utsey, Ponterotto, Reynolds, & Cancelli, 2000). When counseling is used to restrict rather than cultivate the well-being and enrichment of consumers who are from racial and ethnic minority groups, are women, and are the working poor, it may involve overt and covert forms of bias and discrimination (Bonacich, 1992; Caplan, 1992; D. W. Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1995). Analogously, a Eurocentric middle-class counseling approach blames the consumer when counseling or intervention proves to be ineffective. One explanation for this is that in counseling, equal treatment may be discriminatory treatment (D. W. Sue, 1992). That is, treating everyone in the same way results in a denial of equal access to appropriate and individualized interventions. Consequently, people of color, women, and the working poor have been denied access to appropriate cultural, gender-based, and class-conscious intervention (Ballou, 1996; Gapasin, 1996; Zandy, 1996). If counselors want to change existing hierarchical oppressive discourses that are perpetuated in the counseling profession, reductive representations of consumers’ lives must be deconstructed (Robinson, 1999) and the effect of race, class, gender, and professional authority on the construction of knowledge and professional relationships needs to be investigated. Perhaps this inclusion will help counseling professionals to better understand the intersection of race, class, and gender in the experiences of all groups (Andersen & Collins, 1992; D. W. Sue, Ivey, & Pedersen, 1996).
Reflection Exercise #5
Ethics CEU QUESTION 12
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