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Cultural Diversity

Cultural diversity will continue to be an active aspect of the human services profession.  In Chapter 26 of the text, Table 26.1 breaks down “value emphasis” across four major cultural groups.  Post how you feel the human services professional can broaden their skills to meet the needs of various cultural values.  What are the challenges involved in achieving this goal? Support your discussion with a minimum of one scholarly, peer-reviewed source that was published within the last five years and cited according to APA guidelines.  Respond to two of your classmates’ posts.

We are born in families, whether small or large, with one or more parenting figures. These
families are embedded in a web of other families, all of which are part of a particular society
or culture. In the United States families share a common culture because they all live in one
country, but they also share a family culture that may or may not be like the culture of the
nation. It is virtually impossible to overemphasize the influence an individual’s family
culture has on the day-to-day activities of any given person’s life. In this country it is also
nearly impossible to overestimate the points of difference within cultures and between
cultures. Diversity itself has historically represented a core component of the democratic
fabric of that which defines American life. This position and role is as viable today in 2003
as it was during the past two centuries.
The purpose of this chapter is to broadly introduce the challenges of multicultural human
service work. These challenges are threefold. First, human service professionals need to
have an understanding of specific value areas wherein misunderstanding between cultures
is likely to occur; second, workers need to understand different cultural models of healing
and caring; and finally, human service professionals, whether they think of themselves as
bicultural or as “American,” need to understand how they are seen as “agents” of
mainstream American culture.
A decade ago the New York Times reported that the United States Census Bureau has had to
recalculate population growth (Pear, 1992). The population of the United States, it appears,
will continue to grow through 2050 rather than decline after the year 2038. To summarize,
for the years 1990 to 2025 there will be more babies born, particularly to new immigrants,
and the proportion of men to women is likely to even out, as the life expectancy of men
appears to be rising faster than that of women.
Despite this overall increase in the number of people in the United States, whites will
account for a declining share in the population. The numbers of black Americans, Asian
Americans, and Hispanic Americans will grow appreciably. Using the 1990 census, the
Bureau predicts a 412.5 percent population growth for Asian and Pacific Islanders; a 237.5
percent growth in numbers for Hispanic Americans; a 109.1 percent increase in the number
of Native American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts; and a 93.8 percent increase for black
Americans. These figures contrast significantly with the 29.4 percent projected growth of
white Americans from 1992 to 2050.
The Census Bureau makes the future trends somewhat more complex by noting that
immigration by itself will account for the expected growth in the Asian American population
and not the number of births. Birth rates are increasing among the black and Hispanic
populations. The birth rate of whites, however, is not expected to increase. In the United
States the youngest population group is Hispanic Americans. In fact, whereas the median
age of all Americans is thirty-three, more than one-third of the Hispanic
population in the United States is under the age of eighteen.
In addition to shifts in the growth of ethnic populations, other demographic variables are
also changing. For example, in the age category of 55 years or older, 13 percent are over 65,
with the quickest rate of change observed in the nonwhite population, especially Latinos and
Asian Americans (Gelfand and Yee, 1991). With this sociocultural picture and the
continuation of “urban sprawl,” jobs traditionally available to typical city dwellers will be
less available. Consequently, human service workers on the two coasts (namely New York,
northern New Jersey, Long Island, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and Riverside, California) will
likely experience more interpersonal racial and ethnic conflict because of the greater
numbers of immigrants and the greater density mixes of black, white, yellow, and brown
cultures. Other urban areas such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Houston,
Galveston, and Brazoria, Texas; and San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, California, may
also experience the effects of polarizing differences between Hispanics and Asians and
between Asians and blacks (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1991). Color consciousness and
ethnic intolerance, although longstanding and typically a white-black issue in this country,
is no less a problem between and within other racial and ethnic groupings.
Social characteristics of various cultural groups in this country add to the complexity of the
challenge of working with culturally diverse client populations. Whereas the percentage of
persons twenty-five years of age and over who have not completed an elementary school
education (zero to eight years) is lowest for Asian Americans (6.4 percent with five years or
less completed) and highest for Hispanic Americans (34 percent), the percentage of whites
is 11 percent and of blacks 17 percent. Level of education, unemployment, and poverty have
a high degree of correspondence for all cultural groups in America, except for whites. The
unemployment rate for whites is the lowest of all groups, as are their numbers in families
living below the poverty line, and this despite the fact that 11 percent of the white population
has only an elementary school education (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1991).
These population trends can help us create an accurate picture of current and future clients
seeking human services. People of color will continue to dominate the social welfare client
rolls and will continue to have multiple problems. The clients will be very young or very old,
their formal education will be limited, and they will have trouble finding work. If they are
immigrants or children of immigrants, they will likely have problems navigating family and
personal cultural issues as well.
Although individuals from this client population profile are well known to any entry-level
human service professional, the human service model of helping does not automatically
attribute deficiency or mental illness to these individuals (Schmolling, Youkeles, and
Burger, 1992; Papa-john and Spiegel, 1975). On the contrary, many such clients, although
wanting economic security, may not subscribe at all to the American values of materialism
and of being “bigger and better” or more successful than one’s forebears. Indeed, on many
levels, not only their needs and wants may be different from mainstream cultural
stereotypes presented in the media, but individual clients may be very different from the
culture or family in which they were raised (Pedersen, 1976).
We can safely assume that all people in the United States, regardless of cultural affiliation,
want to have an optimal life (Speight, Myers, Cox, and Highlen, 1991). Given that
definitions of an optimal life differ and that individuals living in an increasingly
multicultural and multilingual society will often have to interact or negotiate with members
of another culture, on what
subjects are they likely to have interpersonal misunderstandings?
Apart from differences in individual communication style and language usage (Sarbaugh,
1988; Baruth and Manning, 1991), cultural anthropologists have categorized differences
between ethnic groups in the following ways: (1) their understanding of authority, (2) their
definitions of success, and (3) their beliefs about how people should conduct themselves and
their relationships (Carter, 1991; Baruth and Manning, 1991). Understanding the values of
each client group on the previously stated dimensions can help to clarify how an individual
may be in conflict with his or her own culture or with the larger multiethnic culture. In the
next several paragraphs we will look at a number of ethnic groups’ general responses to
these questions.
What motivates human beings? Are they basically good or well meaning, or are they born
with evil intentions? The answer to this question is a basic building block of an individual’s
belief structure. Research has shown that blacks and Puerto Ricans often contrast sharply
with Eurocentric Americans in their view of human nature (Carter, 1991). Although several
studies of white, middle-class Americans provide mixed views of human nature, none offer
evidence that Euro-Americans think human beings are born malevolent in character; blacks
and Puerto Ricans are more fatalistic, believing some people do evil things because they are
Similarly, Euro-Americans tend to differ from blacks, Chinese, Africans, Italians, Cubans,
and Native American Indians in their belief that individuals exert control over life events
and that each person should use willpower for one’s own gain (Carter, 1991; Helms, 1992;
Pinderhughes, 1989). While many blacks, Cubans, and Native Americans believe people
live in nature and are partners with all of nature, other blacks, Italians, and Chinese believe
that people have little control over natural forces or what happens to people and also what
they can do about what has happened. Clearly, trying to help an individual who believes that
personal effort is futile because “that’s the way things are” and that one must comply with
fate is likely to “feel” frustrating and futile to Euro-American and Japanese American intake
workers who have put themselves through college. Euro-American culture believes in
action, in achievement, and in self-expression (Carter, 1991; Helms, 1992). Action is
centered in the individual, who not only has the right but is expected to be autonomous
from the group—to, in effect, place his or her goals ahead of those of the group (Carter,
1991). This “rugged individualism” is so widespread in the United States, it has become
almost synonymous with American culture. But not all cultures in America hold
individualistic values. Puerto Ricans, Italians, and Greeks, to name a few, do not (Carter,
1991), and, interestingly, some studies of Euro-American college students indicate a
movement away from mastery over nature and action value orientations (Carter, 1991).
What is success, and what should be emphasized in social relations between people?
Typically Euro-Americans believe success occurs somewhere in the future, that success is
usually gained through individual effort, and that success will be observable in material gain
or achievements (Carter, 1991; Helms, 1992). Few other cultures put as much emphasis on
the value of delayed gratification or material well-being as white, middle-class Americans
do. For other cultures, either traditional customs or the activities and events of the present
are of central importance (Carter, 1991). So, again, human service college graduates who
seek to help individuals from a different culture must be open to other definitions of success
and achievement (Pinderhughes, 1989).
To summarize this section, human service workers who have graduated from college have
learned how to function successfully within the mainstream value culture of this country.
Specifically, they have been encultured by others who believe in rugged individualism,
delayed gratification, material success, personal effort and
responsibility, and the basic goodness of human nature. Because human service workers
have negotiated the educational system, they can assist in educating clients about American
culture and work habits so that clients may also become multicultural. The helper’s selfknowledge can also prevent possible misunderstandings in interpersonal communication.
Still and all, there is no way to simplify cross-cultural diversity. Pinderhughes (1989) lists at
least fourteen different sources of cultural differences between people. When within-group
differences are added, as in immigrant second-and third-generation groups, gaining a
comprehensive knowledge of any single culture becomes impossible. The best students can
do to meet the challenges inherent in cross-cultural helping is to know their own culture, to
stay open and accepting of other cultures, and to keep an eye on what “works” in the
dominant or mainstream culture. C. Gilbert Wrenn (1987), a longtime researcher in crossculture counseling and therapy, suggests that students (1) read positive long-range-thinking
scholars who talk about the spiritual as well as the beautiful, (2) unlearn something every
day to make way for change, (3) trust that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and (4)
risk acceptance and validation of another’s experience. The latter point is important to the
next section, which explores kinds of caring.
Textbooks in human services usually emphasize one-on-one talking or group talking as the
most frequently used helping interventions. Sometimes the skills of brokering, advocacy,
outreach, and community organizing are also added (Schmolling, Youkeles, and Burger,
1992; Okun, 1992; Shulman, 1982). There are other ways of intervening with clients.
Madeleine M. Leininger (1987) persuasively argues for transcultural caring as an
innovative and essential approach to helping people “live and survive in diverse and
changing contexts” (p. 107). She believes that helpers must learn what “cultural-care”
behaviors are likely to be accepted by helpees before “real care” or service can be given.
Other researchers have highlighted culturally specific interventions, too. What follows are
summary findings from Leininger (1987), McGowan (1988), Vontress (1991), Prince
(1980), and Tseng and McDermott (1981) about kinds of caring in different cultures (see
Table 26.1). The summaries are not meant to be exhaustive but rather to provide evidence
of the diversity of helping methods.
Leininger (1987), from a study of thirty-five cultures, determined forty-two different ideas
about caring for others. Those on the list that are usually taught in human service classes
include trust, understanding, empathy, listening, and respect. But there were others current
education does not suggest as appropriate to American culture: touching, loving, succoring,
protecting, and sharing (Leininger, 1987). Whether there are universal elements basic to all
cultures has not been determined because the process of helping is complex, and there is
often a very hazy boundary between psychological and physical problems (Prince, 1980).
Methods are made more complicated, too, by the fact that some cultures believe
psychological suffering is a fact of living to be accepted rather than an idiosyncratic
personality outlook that can be changed (Prince, 1980).
Aside from these qualities and purposes of helping, each culture has a characteristic stance
on who can effectively do the helping. In many cultures only an expert can be a “healer.”
This point of view is true of mainstream American culture—our experts are those who have
managed to successfully complete a number of years of post-secondary education. In Africa,
as Vontress (1991) writes, the healing specialists include the herbalist, the fetish man, the
medium (usually a woman who is able to transmit messages from the dead to the living), the
sorcerer (usually one who can do evil), and the healers (perhaps an equivalent to our
generalists). Although different from our experts, they are experts nonetheless.
TABLE 26.1 Value Emphases—Four Major Cultural
In other cultures the community, using traditional rituals, acts in a collateral fashion with
individuals to relieve their suffering. McGowan (1988) described the effectiveness of a
community center providing preventive service programs for Puerto Ricans in a Brooklyn,
New York, neighborhood. In effect, the program provided sociotherapy in that it maintained
over a dozen programs for at-risk families—programs that included an after-school drop-in
center, a thrift shop, a mothers’ group, an advocacy clinic, an employment service, and a
foster grandparent program. Clearly for Puerto Ricans, being with members of their
community is important for healing. Another study (Leininger, 1987) found that family
sharing (i.e. nonrelatives living with a “sponsor” family) was a particularly important
ingredient in helping for the Vietnamese, Philippine Americans, and Mexican Americans.
Ethnotherapy is another within-group treatment used by various cultural groups to explore
and understand personal identity (Klein, 1976).
A final method of helping or caring, one form of which is currently sweeping the United
States through twelve-step programs, is the use of self-healing methods. Aron (1992)
testimonio (testimony) as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of people who have suffered
psychological trauma. This method is not unlike the “qualification” at a twelve-step recovery
meeting. There are other examples of self-healing techniques: prolonged sleep or social
isolation found in Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure,” the Japanese Morita treatment (Prince, 1980;
Tseng and McDermott, 1981), and autogenic training, a form of self-hypnosis practiced in
Germany (Prince, 1980; Tseng and McDermott, 1981).
In summary, the challenges of cultural diversity in human services include not only
differences in beliefs, attitudes, and customs between and within cultures but also varying
opinions about who can help and how that help can be carried out. Clearly the combinations
are so vast in number that any beginning professional might think working with clients
outside one’s own culture is impossible. It is not impossible, however, if the helping
professional is accepting and open to others and has the knowledge described in the next
Service professionals who are immigrants or first-generation Americans, especially if they
are fluent in a language other than English, clearly have an “edge” in working within the
culture in which they have their origins. The edge is linguistic. This is not to suggest that
anyone who speaks Spanish is going to be a “better” helper to the Hispanic client
population. Indeed, if the helper is Mexican American, she or he may have no point of
reference, other than Spanish vocabulary, with an Argentinean or Cuban client.
The question remains: Can an American-trained human service entry-level professional,
regardless of cultural background, work with diverse cultural groups? Clinicians answer
“yes” if that helper understands he or she is an agent of Euro-American culture and also a
helper who by definition has power (Pinderhughes, 1989; Carter, 1991). Although it is
important not to be “culturally encapsulated” (Pedersen, 1976), it is imperative to have
specific knowledge of dominant American values (Carter, 1991). For Helms (1992), Carter
(1991), and Pinderhughes (1989), that knowledge involves awareness that history affects
how our institutions operate and that American history is a history of racial-cultural
inequalities. Racism, sexism, ageism, and heterosexism operate unconsciously, so helpers
must work to stay open, flexible, and empathic. Central to all “isms” is power and the
underlying “better-than” or “less-than” dynamic between helper and helpee that is implicit
or inherent to American values. Americans believe in power, in influence, and in the “betterthan” ability of the expert. Although mainstream American culture does not value authority,
we paradoxically give power to our “experts.”
Thus, power exists with powerlessness, dominance with subservience, control with
helplessness, and capability with incompetence—dangerous autonyms, but ones that those
who seek help often carry within them. In effect, as Pinderhughes (1989) suggests, those
who are without status or power in American culture often identify with the aggressor and
feel doubly victimized. In other words, the “have-nots” not only don’t have things but also
hate themselves (thereby believing they deserve what they get) for not having things. Thus
helpers, by recognizing that power is built into a helping experience, can speak the
unspeakable (Ruebens and White, 1992) and clarify the needs and expectations of those
interacting. That, by the way, includes the helper’s needs and expectations of the client as
well. In short, helpers must diminish their own defensiveness (Pedersen, 1988) and
monitor and manage their feelings, perceptions, and attitudes (Pinderhughes, 1989). As
helpers we must realize we have power and be willing to acknowledge what we know and
can do and what we don’t know and can’t do.
As Pinderhughes (1989) further suggests, helpers must realize that all people need to feel
positive about their cultural identity and that it is the responsibility of the helper to
demonstrate mutuality, self-respect, and respect for clients in the helping relationship.
Helpers need to allow clients the opportunity to exercise choice, and to collaborate in
treatment goals and in treatment methods. Given that all people in America live in culturally
diverse communities, it is important that the helper help all clients become multicultural.
Learning to live harmoniously and with self-expression, both within a culture and with
others of another culture, are the great rewards and challenges of living in a democratic
Human service workers face the challenges of cross-cultural social service work. Cultural
diversity demands an understanding of possible value differences in worldview, in who can
be a helper, and how helping is experienced. The human service worker needs to be fully
aware and culturally sensitive to self, others, and the helping relationship’s interpersonal
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