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The number of intercultural marriages has increased exponentially since the middle of the last century. In 1967 the Supreme Court declared all state laws prohibiting interracial marriages unconstitutional. As a consequence, there has been "an erosion of the taboo" against interracial marriage in the last sixty years (Romano, 2003, p. 3).
In 1960, when the United States Census bureau first tracked the number of interracial couples, it found only 157,000 marriages (.4 percent of the total) that involved a white, black, Native American, or Asian American wed to a spouse of a different race. By 2000, there were over one million such marriages, representing nearly 2 percent of the total (Romano, p. 3).
The majority of intercultural marriages in the U.S. are ones in which one partner is non-Hispanic white and the other partner is of Hispanic descent (Berg, 1995). The number of such intercultural marriages in this country has doubled to more than a million since 1970 (Crohn, 1998). Intercultural marriages are more susceptible to stress due to frequent social and familial disapproval of these unions (Chan & Smith, 1995; Ibrahim & Schhroder, 1990; Negy & Snyder, 2000; Solsberry, 1994). It is not surprising that intercultural marriages have a higher frequency of divorce (Gaines & Ickes, 1997; Rosenblatt, Karis & Powell, 1995).
Despite the significant surge in the number of Latino and Asian interracial marriages with individuals of European descent, social science and psychological literature have focused on issues concerning black-white marriages. Married couples from similar racial or ethnic backgrounds still may constitute an intercultural union because of differences in levels of acculturation, social class, and emigration from an urban or rural area to a dissimilar area. Two case studies will illustrate this point.
Culture and Self-Experience
Many contemporary authors in the fields of psychology and cultural anthropology suggest that the self is socially or culturally constructed (Yi, 1999; Roland, 1988). The definition of what constitutes personhood is itself a cultural construction. We concur with many theorists, that in psychotherapy, the notion of a constructed self is more useful than a reified or "essentialized notion of the self, which treats self as if it was a substance or unchangeable essence" (Yi, 1999, p. 18). Brothers (1997), notes that: "In having selves, individuals are subscribing to the collective notion of a person, which is particular to their culture" (p. 103). In addition, she asserts that "Self-experience comes about through our participation in a network of acts and stories derived from the local culture--in other words, selves are the sum of the acts and stories that depict that self" (p. 131).
We have previously stated that "the psychological self is culturally and linguistically constructed, and personal subjectivities are created and grounded in language and culture. It is impossible to separate the cultural from the personal"(Rubalcava & Waldman, 2005, p. 130). The individual is embedded in multiple worlds of culture and experience and simultaneously is involved personally and actively in constructing meaning. Markus, Mullally, and Kitayama (1997) note that, "all selves are culture-specific selves that emerge as people actively adjust to their cultural environments, and all experience is at once both individual and cultural" (p. 15). They expand on the apparent paradox between the personal and the cultural, and are worth quoting at length. Thus a focus on the sociocultural grounding of the self does not deny the individuality, idiosyncrasy, and uniqueness that can be observed in even the most tight-knit and coherent collectives. Every person participates in a variety of combinations of significant sociocultural contexts, which in American society could include, for example, specific groups like the family or the workforce, as well as context defined by ethnicity, religion, profession, social class, gender, birth cohort, and sexual orientation. At least some of the remarkable variation among people results because they are unlikely to participate in the identical configuration of group membership. Even those living within similar configurations of cultural contexts will obviously diverge in the specifics of their everyday experiences and, moreover, will differentially attend to, elaborate, reflect on, and contest some features of these experiences and not others (p. 20).
Psychoanalyst Richard Moore (1999) asserts that "… although we are guided in our constructions by the larger society and culture, to a significant degree we actively create everything we know. It is obvious that there is an infinite variety of collective and individual ways and styles of creating our subjective experience of reality" (p. 161).
Whereas an adult observer can see that there are a multiplicity of cultures that exist in this world and therefore multiple ways of organizing experience, for a child growing up in any specific culture, he/she will experience that culture as the way the world is, and the values of the culture as the way things should be. Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange (2002), point out our common "human propensity to see one's own perspective as the measure of truth and rather automatically to judge those with whom we disagree as unrealistic and misguided" (p. 106). Furthermore, most of us are prone to act and believe as if our cultural assumptions represent the truth of things rather than our personal psychological organization.
One of the inherent difficulties in working in multicultural contexts is that what may be perceived as a cultural bias from an external point of view will be seen as the way things really are, or should be, from within a particular cultural viewpoint. Therapists working in these environments must be especially sensitive to their own cultural biases and organizing principles, lest they unconsciously distort their understanding of the client's subjective experience.
Reflection Exercise #4
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