Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Understanding the Dynamics of Whiteness" as Quoted from Sue & Sue.

What is written below is a direct quote from the book Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice by Sue and Sue. I wanted to post it mostly because I frequently want to quote it (especially lately), and I have misplaced my book. So as long as I'm writing it down from the copy on Google Books, I thought I would share it with anyone who will read. It is deeply thought provoking, and I simply ask that you read it with an open mind. Some of it is targeted specifically at counselors and other helping professionals, but I believe it is fully relevant to all of us, including those who go on mission trips, volunteer, and serve in multicultural communities. It has had a profound effect on me and captures much of my own process in the development of my cultural identity. All italics have been added (by me) for emphasis.

Feel free to comment, but please keep in mind the feelings of those who may happen to read your words.

"Our analysis of the responses from both Whites and persons of color leads us to the inevitable conclusion that part of the problem of race relations (and by inference multicultural counseling and therapy) lies in the different worldviews of both groups. It goes without saying that the racial reality of Whites is radically different from that of people of color (D. W. Sue, 2010). Which group, however, has the more accurate assessment related to this topic? The answer seems to be contained in the following series of questions: If you want to understand oppression, should you ask the oppressor or the oppressed? If you want to learn about sexism, do you ask men or women? If you want to understand homophobia, do you ask straights or gays? If you want to learn about racism, do you ask Whites or persons of color? It appears that the most accurate assessment of bias comes not from those who enjoy the privilege of power, but from those who are most disempowered (Hanna, Talley, & Guindon, 2000; Neville, Worthington, & Spanierman, 2001). Taking this position, the following assumptions are made about the dynamics of Whiteness.

"First, it is clear that most Whites perceive themselves as unbiased individuals who do not harbor racist thoughts and feelings; they see themselves as working toward social justice and possessing a conscious desire to better the life circumstances of those less fortunate than they. Although admirable qualities, this self-image serves as a major barrier to recognizing and taking responsibility for admitting and dealing with one's own prejudices and biases. To admit to being racist, sexist, or homophobic requires people to recognize that the self-images they hold so dear are based on false notions of the self.

"Second, being a White person in this society means chronic exposure to ethnocentric monoculturalism as manifested in White supremacy (Zetzer, 2011). It is difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to avoid inheriting the racial biases, prejudices, misinformation, deficit portrayals, and stereotypes of their forebears (Cokley, 2006). To believe that one is somehow immune from inheriting such aspects of White supremacy is to be naive or to engage in self-deception. Such a statement is not intended to assail the integrity of Whites but to suggest that they also have been victimized. It is clear to us that no one was born wanting to be racist, sexist, or homophobic. Misinformation is not acquired by free choice but is imposed upon White people through a painful process of cultural conditioning. In general, lacking awareness of their biases and preconceived notions, counselors may function in a therapeutically ineffective manner.

"Third, if White helping professionals are ever able to become effective multicultural counselors or therapists, they must free themselves from the cultural conditioning of their past and move toward the development of a nonracist White identity. Unfortunately, many White Euro-Americans seldom consider what it means to be White in our society. Such a question is vexing to them because they seldom think of race as belonging to them - nor of the privileges that come their way by virtue of their white skin (Foster, 2011; Furman, 2011). Katz (1985) points out a major barrier blocking the process of White Euro-Americans investigating their own cultural identity and worldview:
     Because White culture is the dominant cultural norm in the United States, it acts as an invisible veil that limits many people from seeing it as a cultural system.... Often, it is easier for many Whites to identify and acknowledge the different cultures of minorities than accept their own racial identity.... The difficulty of accepting such a view is that White culture is omnipresent. It is so interwoven in the fabric of everyday living that Whites cannot step outside and see their beliefs, values, and behaviors as creating a distinct cultural group. (pp. 616-617)
As we witnessed in Chapter 6, the invisible veil allows for racial, gender, and sexual orientation microaggressions to be delivered outside the level of awareness of perpetrators (D. W. Sue, 2010). Ridley (1995) asserts that this invisible veil can be unintentionally manifested in therapy with harmful consequences to minortiy clients:
     Unintentional behavior is perhaps the most insidious form of racism. Unintentional racists are unaware of the harmful consequences of their behavior. They may be well-intentioned, and on the surface, their behavior may appear to be responsible. Because individuals, groups, or institutions that engage in unintentional racism do not wish to do harm, it is difficult to get them to see themselves as racists. They are more likely to deny their racism. (p. 38)

"The conclusion drawn from this understanding is that White counselors and therapists may be unintentional racists: (a) They are unaware of their biases, prejudices, and discriminatory behaviors; (b) they often perceive themselves as moral, good, and decent human beings and find it difficult to see themselves as racist; (c) they do not have a sense of what their Whiteness means to them; and (d) their therapeutic approaches to multicultural populations are likely to be more harmful (unintentionally) than helpful. These conclusions are often difficult for White helping professionals to accept because of the defensiveness and feelings of blame they are likely to engender. Nonetheless, we ask that White therapists and students not be turned off by the message and lessons of this chapter. We ask that you continue your multicultural journey in this chapter as we explore the question, 'What does it mean to be White?'" (p. 239-241).


Janna Barber said...

I was on a trip with extended family soon after the Paula Deen rumors started and found myself in the middle of a conversation with my mother and sister about the 'n' word. Mom said there was a time when it was not used in a mean way, just another way of identifying who you were talking about. I asked, who determines if something is offensive, the one who says it or the one who hears it? I told them that noone was listening to what black people thought back then, so of course white people thought it was okay to use that word. Both of them disagreed with me and told me what I was saying didn't make any sense at all.
I think the thoughts you have posted here are spot on. Thanks for sharing.

Julia Fink said...

Everything in me wants to scream against what is being said. My parents NEVER allowed us to see color, only blood, we are all the same in God's eyes. Yet, I know it's true, because I AM afraid when I see a young black man, pants hanging down, wife beater t-shirt, walking in a dark parking lot. A young woman I know is dating a black boy, and I hate it. BECAUSE I don't know them, I say to myself. I have black friends. So I must not be prejudice, BUT I AM. Even though I wanted Zimmerman to be found guilty, I AM.
Doesn't this have to do with sin nature, higher than nature vs. nurture? We are born sinful, my one disagreement with the article was that in fact, aren't we born wanting to sin, wanting the veil so we can hide ourselves behind self denial? As in all things, must not Christ reveal our sin, weakness and limitations by ripping the veil (which HE has done) and replacing it with truth, forgiveness and love? Matt it be true in my life!

k.king said...

Rachel, I would love to read your own "White Identity". I like what you have gathered & shared, but from only reading excerpts it seems paradoxical. If a white professional admits his/her racism to his/her client, I see a definite wall built by both parties.Yet, according to the excerpts, if a white professional has truly arrived at a place where he/she is not racist & confesses that, then he/she is accused of being self deceived. Is there hope offered or just a perspective of negativity?

k.king said...

Also, I totally disagree with the idea of "not seeing color". I mean, our brains categorize data constantly.In describing a person's appearance all sorts of accurate descriptions can be used: tall, smiling, brunette, young, walks with a cane, has light skin, freckles, blue eyes, etc. To try to be "colorblind" is not only illogical & impossible, but it also robs both parties of ownership of their own identifying traits and any cultural details that race MAY bear upon them. However, it is when we assume the color of someone's skin impresses upon them certain curtural or socio-economic characteristics that we are in error. For in fact, it is quite possible--and fairly common in my experience--that given a particular setting a person's race is nothing more than one of many identifying adjectives. For example, when I lived in Spain & Morocco for 3 months, many people saw my skin and assumed I could speak French. When they realized I couldn't, they assumked I was British and would begin commenting about the British pound v. EU currency debate. When I would speak, however, they knew I was from the States.....and then they would laugh saying, "Have you even been to France?" This is a light hearted example. There are plenty more negative ones, but I don't think anyone needs to look outside his/her own experiences to see them.

Rachel said...

Katie, I think there is hope or I wouldn't be working in a cross-cultural situation myself! I think what the authors allude to at the very end (and what they expand on in the rest of the text) is that we must acknowledge our biases so that they do not effect the situation as much as it could if they went unnoticed. This is a very common approach in therapy. For example, if I know that I have a problem with a certain type of client, I am able to "control" myself a bit better when that type of client walks into the room. I can notice my emotions and reactions, then set them "aside" as best as possible. If I were unaware of them, I would simply act in ways that were congruent with my biases instead of being able to "think around them" so to speak. I think this is the closest thing to an "answer" that I have come up with yet (and I ultimately think this issue is too complex to have a simple answer, just like there are no simple answers to questions of theodicy or how the Trinity works exactly). There are many sociological studies that examine the inherent biases that we have toward certain minority groups, and that these affect our behaviors regardless of our intentions. So sadly, yes - I believe that we are all racist, just as I believe that we are all sinful. This is reality, but it doesn't preclude hope, just like the presence of pervasive sin in every human heart does not preclude hope. It's all about being aware of potential ruptures in order that they may be repaired instead of just left as open, gaping wounds.

Julia, thanks for your honesty. I'm so glad that you are at a point where you are able to acknowledge these painful things in your heart. It's true of all of us, and by acknowledging it and moving into grace and forgiveness for it, the process of redemption has already begun! Thanks for being so vulnerable.

And Jana, I'm right there with you. I think it is most painful to me when people just "don't get it." That type of racism is often much more difficult to address than more blatant kinds, because it remains outside of the person's own awareness. For the record, I think what you said made perfect sense.

Rachel said...

Oh, and Katie, a bit more of my own personal process is in the blog preceding this one, although it's more of my current process and less of a historical one.