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Mentors Among Us

Mentors Among Us

Cases in the Human Services
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Healthy Minds, Healthy Schools

Healthy Minds, Healthy Schools

Strategies and Activities for Happy and Successful Learners
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Succeeding Together?

Succeeding Together?

Schools, Child Welfare, and Uncertain Public Responsibility for Abused or Neglected Children
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Diversity, Culture and Counselling
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Chapter 1: Counselling across Cultures: Identity, Race and Communication M. Honore France

“How have Torontonians gone from around 3% visible minorities in the early 1960s to more than 50% now without any major disruption, while the people of Los Angeles, experiencing about the same degree of change over the same period, felt the need to burn down parts of their city not once but twice?”

— Gwynne Dyer (2001, p. 45)

Nega Mezlekia’s novel Notes from the Hyena’s Belly (2000), which won the Governor General’s Literary Award, begins with a metaphor of a donkey and a hyena. A lion, leopard, hyena and donkey come together to discuss why their land is in such poor state. In turn, they explain that the turmoil is due to a sin that has displeased God. Each animal, except the donkey, tells a story of attacking another animal and eating it, but each animal is told that eating an animal is an animal’s nature, so it is not wrong. When it is the donkey’s turn, he relates that while his human master was busy talking with another man, the donkey went off the trail and ate some grass. The other animals become enraged and tell the donkey that he is the one who has caused the problems by going off the path and eating the grass; they attack the donkey, kill him and eat him. Mezlekia concludes by saying that “we children lived like the donkey, careful not to wander off the beaten trail and end up in the hyena’s belly” (p. 7).

Moving away from one’s routines and traditions has a price; dangers are always present, and change is a constant. There is a subtle warning too in the metaphor: being different, like the donkey, can be dangerous. Mezlekia’s metaphor is an apt warning not to take risks while at the same time showing that undertaking new challenges is a part of being human. Despite our best-laid plans, there are dangers in the world and down the street. Since the terrorist bombings on New York City and the fallout from the war in Iraq, the challenge for counsellors is that new tensions and new alliances abound. For counsellors, these new tensions and new alliances emerge from working in the reality of the multicultural, multi-ethnic and multilingual society that is Canada today.

The rapid changes in this society need to be addressed in a realistic yet positive manner, in which differences are not homogenized but celebrated because diversity is beautiful and strengthening. Being accepting and open to differences is often elusive. But why is this so? According to Baron, Kerr and Miller (1992), it is “the human tendency to disparage, distrust and dislike groups other than our own” (p. 134). One tendency of societies in general is that people exclude others who are different. In fact, it is not uncommon for people from the majority cultural and racial group to see someone different as being a stranger in their midst. Diller (2003) relates the story of someone of Asian extraction whose family has been living in North America for over a hundred years being taken as a foreign visitor because the country is seen as a country of European immigrants. People who are different “are deeply disturbed by their second-class citizenry” (Diller, 2003, p. 26). In Canada, people of colour who are not from the original founders of the Canadian state are called visible minorities; this label includes the original inhabitants—First Nations people. Visible minorities is a distinctive Canadian term that is often used as a shorthand to describe racial minorities who are not of European origin and who have physical characteristics that distinguish them from Canada’s traditional mainstream of English and French peoples (Labelle, 2007).

The changing nature of society makes the argument for or against multiculturalism moot; but if society is to avoid cultural and racial misunderstanding, then the institutions of society need to adapt to the new realities. For counsellors, this adaptation may mean adopting a frame of reference in which counselling can be described as a working alliance. In other words, the counsellor creates a common ground with clients by establishing an avenue to resolution rather than first building on the idea of a trusting relationship. For people from some racial or ethnic backgrounds, trust of the counsellor may not be inherent, nor can it be established in the traditional manner that theoreticians like Carl Rogers suggested.

So, how does one establish a trusting relationship? Adopting the idea of a working alliance, counsellors and clients work in a collaborative way to accomplish clients’ goals. Furthermore, we must consider that all counselling is potentially multicultural in one way or another, because it always deals with a range of variables that may be contradictory from situation to situation. Sciarra (1999) provides the following example: “the personalismo of the Latino culture can require a less formal and more affective counsellor, whereas these same counsellor characteristics may be alienating to some Asian clients” (p. 10). Adapting the process to suit the situation is fundamental, therefore, because there will always be some cultural differences between clients and counsellors.

Rationale for Diversity and Multicultural Counselling

The rationale for multicultural counselling arises in part from the growing multicultural factor in everyday life and from the increasingly small world brought about by more efficient communication and transportation systems. In early 2003, as the war in Iraq began, tensions between Christians and Muslims increased, along with more tensions between the developed and developing world, which only highlights cultural differences that divide people around the world. Waging war when differences are greater may be easier and more acceptable. In counselling, the challenge is to understand differences and enhance communication across cultures. More importantly, cultural differences exist not just between one group of people in the West and another group in the Middle East, but within the borders of Canada. Therefore, Canadians have no choice but to face the challenge of diversity issues and the changing mosaic of the Canadian nation.

Do societies made up from a variety of ethnic backgrounds experience more ethnic conflict than those that are more homogeneous? Certainly; and cultural differences in a counselling group usually stem from issues in the way the members communicate with one another. In the post 9/11 political environment, the issues of culture and religious values have been important factors in how terrorism and the invasion of Iraq have been dealt with in the media and everyday life. North American society cannot close its eyes to the issue of culture, race and language. In a world where most people are not Westerners, Caucasian or Christian—and in a world that is growing smaller—becoming multicultural is not only enriching but also protective. Everyone must be aware that humanity, as a community, has the power to destroy our world through nuclear war and pollution. War has its genesis in society’s disrespect for people who are different. People have to learn not only how to control their willingness to harm those who have different customs and views, but also how to live in harmony with others and the environment.

Regardless of our language, race or culture, every community is interdependent with others. Therefore, when society discriminates, marginalizes and ostracizes people because they are different, everyone suffers. Society has come a long way in being more accepting of differences among people, yet it has a long way to go in creating a society that respects diversity. According to Suzuki, Ponterotto, Alexander and Casas (2009), when cultural aspects are added to the counselling process, the following rules have to be considered in order to be sensitive to different people:

1. A tolerance for logical inconsistency and paradox suggests a subjective definition of knowledge to supplement the more familiar rules of objective, rational logic;
2. The primary importance of relationships and collectivism contrasts with the more familiar bias toward individualism;
3. The implicit or explicit differentiation between modernization and Westernization ignores the possibility that other cultures may have good solutions to our problems;
4. The implicit assumption that change and progress are good must be challenged by clients having to deal with change as both good and bad at the same time;
5. The metaphor of a natural ecological setting reminds us of the many unknown and perhaps unknowable mysteries of the relationships among people and their environments;
6. The absolute categories of problem and solution and success and failure must be brought into question as inadequate;
7. The need to apply familiar counselling concepts to less familiar multicultural settings must be emphasized;
8. The need for new conceptual and methodological approaches to deal with the complexities of culture is apparent; and
9. The need for a grounded theory of multicultural counselling is essential to all counsellors is not an exotic or specialized perspective. (p. 23)

The world is changing swiftly where ethnic boundaries are changing. In the past, European cultural groups made up the vast majority of new immigrants in North America, whereas today Asian groups top the list. According to the Canadian Census Bureau (cited in Cohen, 2012), two-thirds of the country’s population growth is now fuelled by immigration. More than half of those immigrants are from Asia, particularly from China and India, with fewer immigrants from Europe. In addition, the Aboriginal population increased by 3.4 per cent during the period between 1996 and 2001, and if current trends continue, Aboriginal people “may well be heading to majority status in many cities within the next 25 to 50 years” from Saskatchewan to northwestern Ontario (Dyer, 2001, p. 49). The Census Bureau has also estimated that by 2030 the province of British Columbia will have a majority non-white population. Already many urban areas of Canada are composed largely of racial minorities. What is making a remarkable impact, however, is the large number of immigrants settling in North American cities. This trend can already be seen in cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, where more than 70 per cent of immigrants settle. The multicultural reality is also evident in North American schools, where large numbers of students do not come from the “founding” ethnic groups. However, the issue goes much deeper than accommodating the new multicultural fact to changing the structures of our schools that were initially designed for a homogeneous population. The multicultural reality has changed the nature of a Eurocentric counselling theory and practice that fits a homogeneous population into a system that emphasizes diversity and a world perspective. Lorde (in Siccone, 1995) says, “it is a waste of time hating a mirror or its reflection instead of stopping the hand that makes glass with distortions” (p. xvi).

The Cost of Racism

“It is hard to understand a culture that justifies the killing of millions in past wars, and is at this very moment preparing bombs to kill even greater numbers. It is hard for me to understand a culture that spends more on wars and weapons to kill, than it does on education and welfare to help and develop. It is hard for me to understand a culture that not only hates and fights his brothers but also even attacks nature and abuses her.” (George, 1994, p. 38)

The pain and sorrow in Chief Dan George’s words in describing the cultural misunderstandings between First Nations people and “white” people typifies like nothing else the nature of prejudice and racism. Diller (2003) suggests that helpers need to understand important elements of racism in order to help people work together in a multicultural society. First, racism is a universal phenomenon that exists in all societies around the world among all races. Secondly, most people are uncomfortable with talking about racism and even deny that it exists. There is a difference between prejudice and racism. Prejudice is an unfair and negative belief about the inferiority of a group of people, often based on faulty knowledge and a generalized view of others who are different. Racism “involves the total social structure where one group has conferred advantage through institutional polices . . . it is a social construction based on sociopolitical attitudes that demean specific racial characteristics” (Robinson & Howard-Hamilton, 2000, p. 58). It is not a natural response, but one learned from societal norms and observations of parents, friends and neighbours. Not surprisingly, prejudice does not result from constant negative experience with someone who is different, but through occasional contacts and reinforcement, such as a negative experience in a bar or an ethnic joke.

In Canada, minorities have been subjected to three forms of discrimination: individual racism, institutional racism and cultural racism. The most obvious forms of individual racism involve personal expressions that one race is superior to another. Institutional racism is communicated through established practices that perpetuate inequities, while cultural racism involves believing in the inferiority of one culture over another. The Government of Canada established the residential school system in order to “help” Aboriginals assimilate into majority society; however, the result was very different and demonstrates the cost of racism to individuals and communities:

“Social maladjustment, abuse of self and others and family breakdown are some of the symptoms prevalent among First Nation Babyboomers. The “Graduates” of the “Ste. Anne’s Residential School” era are now trying and often failing to come to grips with life as adults after being raised as children in an atmosphere of fear, loneliness and loathing.

Fear of caretakers. Loneliness, knowing that elders and family were far away. Loathing from learning to hate oneself, because of repeated physical, verbal or sexual abuse suffered at the hands of various adult caretakers. This is only a small part of the story.” (in Milloy, 2001, pp. 295-96)

The reason for discriminating against others is not really complex. Consider that when people are faced with evidence of prejudice, they tend to reject it: “I’m not prejudiced against Indians, but most of them want to live on government assistance.” There is of course some cognitive dissonance going on, because prejudice and racism are difficult to admit. It is easy for a society to judge situations in other nations as racist or oppressive, such as Apartheid in South Africa or the practices of the Israeli occupation forces on the West Bank. Some might respond by saying, “It’s their fault that their culture has disintegrated.” While this is not an uncommon response, it is a curious one, because it blames the victim for being victimized. Aboriginals are penalized for being culturally different, because of a system that neither allowed them citizenship nor allowed them to practice their language and culture. Chief Dan George (in de Montigny, 1972) said:

“Do you know what it is like to have your race belittled. . . — You don’t know for you have never tasted its bitterness. . . . It is like not caring about tomorrow for what does tomorrow matter? It is having a reserve that looks like a junk yard because the beauty in the soul is dead. . . . Why should the soul express an external beauty that does not match it? It is like getting drunk for a few brief moments, an escape from the ugly reality and feeling a sense of importance. It is most of all like awaking next morning to the guilt of betrayal. For the alcohol did not fill the emptiness but only dug it deeper.” (pp. 162-163)

The dehumanization of “enemies” can clearly be observed when examining the emotional demonstrations of Arabs shouting “Down with America” or the indifference of American leaders to the welfare of civilians during the first and second Gulf wars. In the war against Iraq, American President George W. Bush constantly compared Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with Stalin and other despots, ignoring the fact that millions of people in the Middle East regarded Hussein as a hero, a symbol of defiance, for standing up against the firepower of the US military. In war, the enemy has to be dehumanized in order to sustain hate; this dehumanization occurs in all wars. Such an image certainly helps to alleviate any guilt one nation may feel for waging war against another. In the same way, accepting stereotypes about a people, such as those voiced by Chief Dan George, can justify actions such as war, colonization and the establishment of residential schools. These rationalizations are really a façade for an attitude that allows one to treat the in-group differently than the out-group. Conversely, co-operative activities can reduce racial tension if both parties work in a strategic alliance. According to Baron, Kerr and Miller (1992), “cooperation may break down group boundary lines (the ‘us versus them’ mentality) to some degree” (p. 150). People must become cognizant of the effect of prejudice on others.

Ethnic stereotypes create a problem when they are inaccurate and produce a negative evaluation of other people. In a multicultural society, such stereotypes bring a sense of exclusiveness that can result in a strong feeling of superiority. Interestingly, research evidence suggests that individuals need to maintain a sense of group distinctiveness (Berry, Poortinga, Segall & Dasen, 2002). Sometimes people refer to this as “group pride,” but why does pride hinge on a feeling of superiority? Pride in doing things well or in a feeling of solidarity with one’s ethnic group is beneficial, but when it evolves into superiority, it is destructive. There also seems to be a relationship between prejudicial attitudes and people who have a disposition towards authoritarianism. People who are overly submissive, feel inadequate or are overly suspicious seem to be more prone to prejudice than others. While these examples suggest how racism may be used to deprive others of their human qualities, the process is similar for sexism, ageism, religious bigotry and homophobia.

The kind of prejudice experienced by ethnic and racial minorities, intentionally or unintentionally, is the essence of the challenge of an open society, and an insidious aspect of racism is the manner in which it is reinforced by society’s institutions. The scope of the issue is associated with integrating the culturally different into society, however: “According to a Leger Marketing poll, Canadians are divided on whether racism poses a problem for them: 52 per cent say it’s significant while 47 per cent consider it to be insignificant” (Song, 2011). These results are not comforting.

The Causes of Conflict and Prejudice

There has been a good deal of research examining what creates conflict and gives birth to prejudice. Is it a part of the human experience? Are people born feeling prejudice? Consider that when people compete for scarce resources, they form groups to help them get ahead. Often, these groups are based on similarities within the group, which becomes the in-group. Those who are different become the out-group. Differences could be based on a number of factors including group norms, language, race, religion or even goals. On a smaller scale, even people who are similar but who have different goals become frustrated with others whose goals are different. According to Baron, Kerr and Miller (1992), however, people become less aggressive, and thus more cooperative—thereby reducing prejudice—if goals are mutual. In fact, friendships develop and differences of colour or race are minimized when goals are mutual. Generally, people from one group are more generous or overcompensate for those in their group; at the same time, they may be less generous and under-compensate for those from another group. In other words, people from one cultural group will be more forgiving of those in their group and less forgiving of those from another group. For some reason, there is a tendency to exaggerate similarities with the in-group while exaggerating differences with other groups. People react to each other based on their group membership. Since they do not know the others, viewing the others as faceless and interchangeable is common. It is easy to see others in a different light than we ourselves and so differences become exaggerated (e.g., others don’t value human life the way we do).

Is it human nature to try to simplify the environment, despite the fact that most day-to-day interactions among people are positive? A good question. One bias is that members of one group will “naturally” see themselves as acting responsibly, but see the other group and its members as being irresponsible. According to Baron, Kerr and Miller (1992), this bias is a factor of the human experience. For whatever reason, people also tend to promote negative views about others who are distinct and different. Thus, the bias is reinforced with each “negative” experience one has. In the end, one’s attitude becomes more rigid and ideological, part of one’s cultural norm. This outcome means, for example, that if one’s attitudes are negative towards the police, one will see examples that reinforce this bias more often than if one does not have the bias.

There is also the reciprocity rule, or the notion of “tit for tat,” in which if one “wrong” is done, the harmed party retaliates, causing a series of behaviours that reinforce one’s beliefs. Social comparison is also a factor in creating a sense of anger, prejudice and aggression. And finally, if there is a “triggering” event, people may react on the basis of emotion and do something that produces a chain of events that can last for decades. Consider, for example, the Kosovo situation in which Serbs fought Albanians. Historical “wrongs” were enmeshed within the differing groups’ attitudes about each other. The Turkish invasion during the sixteenth century continues to be played out in the twenty-first century. People adopt these historical attitudes and make them part of their behaviour, thus creating another myth that reinforces prejudice.

Cultural Influences

Culture is a human necessity, because it is the way people establish and maintain a relationship with their environment. As people of understanding interact with those who are culturally different, they must explore the socialization forces that affect behaviour, values and language. For example, notice the dichotomy between the ways of understanding the relationship of people with nature: control and good/bad versus harmony and good. The stress of control over nature produces a feeling of seeing other people in terms of good and bad, which corresponds exactly with how humanity ought to be treated. If people are not good or consistent with societal norms, then they need to be controlled. Taking this attitude one step further, people may also seek to control the urges they feel within themselves. Even in a relatively homogeneous population, there are cultural differences that are easier to be aware of in others than in the self. According to many social scientists, culture is both a critical aspect of a person’s lifestyle and an essential element of human behaviour. While the clothes people wear and the attitudes they voice may reflect the dominant culture they inhabit, it is their cultural background that shapes their thinking and feelings, as is reflected in the expression “blood is thicker than water.” There are strong indicators that cultural conditioning reflects how people communicate with others (Pedersen, Draguns, Lonner & Trimble, 2002).

The biological force is universal: no matter who people are or where they are from, they are human beings. Some biological differences include age, shape, size, colour and gender. With few exceptions, these differences do not change nor can they be manipulated. In all societies biological differences have produced attitudes relating to behaviour and how people interact with others. For example, someone large is viewed as powerful and possibly aggressive; as a result, more deference may be shown towards that person. A big and muscular person may be seen as a brute, a lean and slight person as effeminate, someone with rough features as unrefined; in some groups, plumpness is healthy while in others it is negative. The cultural norms that dictate reactions to biological differences are infinite, with each group having its own interpretation about the meaning of physical and biological characteristics.

All cultures are affected psychologically by various influences on the group. People in the group are continuously subjected to pressures to conform to the norms of the group. In this respect, personality is to a large extent formed through group norms. The family, as a primary socializing agent, is responsible for the basic values people exhibit. This is particularly true of Asian cultural values of respect for authority, tradition and learning. Exposure to significant others, relatives, friends, teachers and peers enhances one’s repertoire, inculcating the social mores and behaviours of the entire culture. This trait is obvious if we compare the ways people feel, think and act in different cultures. For example, according to Salagame (2011), people from different places in the world have a different construct of self:

“It is observed, in general, the Western Concept of Self is of an individual who is separate, autonomous, and atomized (made up of a set of discrete traits, abilities, values, and motives, seeking separateness and independence from others). In contrast, in Eastern cultures relatedness, connectedness, and interdependence are sought, rooted in a concept of the self not as a discrete entity, but as inherently linked to others. The person is only made “whole” when situated in his or her place in a social unit.” (p. 133)

Behaviour may also be affected by ideology or one’s characteristic manner of thinking (e.g., assertions, theories or aims). The ideological foundation of an individual’s culture will, to a large degree, have an impact on his/her behaviour. It is from such foundations that people derive religious, social and political beliefs that direct and govern their behaviour. Being born in a certain culture occasions the display of certain characteristics that are behaviourally right for that culture. In other words, people have a cultural or national way of thinking and seeing the world, which is reflected in their language, values and beliefs, norms, socio-political history and the like. The ideological differences can be observed in the behaviour of group members who come from different ethnic groups.

The ideology of a nation dictates to people certain attitudes, beliefs and ways of thinking that frame their existence. Beliefs about life, death and marriage, for instance, determine relationship behaviours. People tend to respond to their environment in consistent ways that are dictated by the attitudes of their society. Minorities have partially adopted the ideology of the dominant culture in order to survive, but the adoption may or may not be fully ingrained in their personality. Consider that even after three generations of living in the United States, some Mexican-American adolescents modified their basic cultural characteristics in only a few small ways (cited in France, 2001). Yet such minorities are also dissimilar to the cultures of their origin. For example, African-Canadians and Arab-Canadians may have more in common with one another than with people in Ethiopia or Jordan. This dissimilarity creates a strain for visible minorities who can feel that they are neither here nor there. It is also true that some beliefs and values are more affected by gender than cultural differences—for instance, that men have more freedom of choice regardless of culture. Finally, ecological forces refer to how the environment has influenced culture and behaviour. Someone born on an isolated island may develop a different view of the world than someone born on a large continent. Climate, terrain, prosperity and population density can also play a role in developing distinct cultural norms. People born in highly populated areas may have to be more assertive because that is the only way to survive, while someone born in a less populous area may be more relaxed and quiet.

Class, Language and Diversity

As a primary form of communication, language is of great importance to people in groups. Language patterns reflect people’s culture or subculture (Berry, Poortinga, Segall & Dasen, 2002). Even when people are speaking the same language, there may be misunderstanding because of individual differences. Thus, it becomes easy to imagine why people who do have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds misunderstand each other. An inaccurate picture of another person’s issue formed from verbal responses—or in some cases formed from what is not said—produces real conflict. Certain phrases in one language may be un-interpretable in another or, if translated literally, may not convey the many dimensions the phrase encompasses.

Some words, phrases or expressions might have negative meanings that are acceptable to some people from a cultural group but not to others. For example, many high school and professional sports teams have names and logos like “Braves,” “Indians” and “Redskins.” First Nations communities have protested such names on the basis that they reinforce negative stereotypes, use Aboriginal images and icons in a disrespectful manner, and trivialize their ethnic background. A recent incident in greater Vancouver created controversy when the Musqueam name Spull'u'kwuks was proposed for a school. Authorities felt the name, meaning “place of bubbling waters,” could be used in a negative way because of the potential for rhyming with “the F word” or “sucks” or so on. The response from the Musqueam First Nation was “it was their language . . . and . . . it should be celebrated, not made the subject of h

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