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Buscando Americanos: Race versus Culture
General Assembly 2000 Event 357
Presenters: Rev. Peter Morales, Rev. Patricia Jimenez
Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Patricia Jimenez facilitated a
discussion and workshop on increasing our cultural awareness as part of
our Journey Toward Wholeness. The workshop was based on Milton
Bennett's article entitled "Towards Ethnorelativism: a Developmental
Model of Intercultural Sensitivity."
The author puts forth a continuum framework that describes the
level of maturity with regards to how one relates to cultural
difference. The presenters feel that it is important to look at
differences as "cultural differences" rather than "physical
differences" so that we can more easily break down barriers that divide
individuals and groups from deeper connection.
The attendees placed themselves in groups of three to discuss
the following questions: "What is a time when you have felt different?
And what did you learn from that experience?"
Rev. Morales then described the developmental model. The first
three stages are considered Ethnocentric: Denial, Defense, and
Minimization. The last three stages are considered Ethnorelative:
Acceptance, Adaptation, and Integration. Detailed descriptions of each
stage and the steps necessary to transfer to the next stage can be
With a new way to think about cultural awareness, the
participants returned to their groups to discuss the following
- Where do you see yourself and your congregation on the typology?
- What kinds of things can we do to help each other and our congregation move through this experience?
A lively discussion was generated around these questions. Participants shared experiences of their difference. Some were bi-cultural by birth or living bi-cultural lives due to marriage. What they shared was a sense of "moving between worlds." Some participants objected to the "Adaptation" phase and felt that minority groups were being encouraged to change in order to accommodate a dominant culture.
Rev. Jimenez helped put the workshop into perspective when she
asked the question: "Why do we do this work?" There were a variety of
- "to make justice"
- "to acknowledge inherent worth and dignity"
- "so that we don't live in isolation"
- "to connect with others"
Rev. Jiminez agreed with these responses from the participants and
reminded us that if we don't know people, we can not love them. Love
within interpersonal relationships is what makes us grow and is a
foundation for stable healthy communities.
Rev. Peter Morales is Senior Minister of the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, and a member of Latina/o Unitarian Universalist Networking Alliance (LUUNA). Rev. Patricia Jimenez is a hospital Chaplain in Lansing Michigan. She is also co-chair of LUUNA.
A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity
The Ethnocentric Stages
Isolation: Individuals may actually experience
actual physical isolation from anyone who is different; or it may mean
that individuals may have no way to describe cultural difference,
meaning that differences are simply overlooked. Or, individual may see
wide categories of cultural difference, such as differences between
Asians and Westerners, but not see differences, for example between
Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese.
Movement toward greater sensitivity is facilitated by simple
exposure toward difference, with attention being drawn toward
Separation: The intentional erection of
physical or social barriers to create distance as a means maintaining a
state of denial. Racially distinct neighborhoods, ethnically select
clubs, religious, economic, political and other type of groups or cults
also create strong social (and sometimes physical) barriers. Included
in this category is intense nationalism. Implicitly in the category of
denial is the relegation of people who are different into "the other," perhaps even subhuman.
Development from this stage takes the form of such activities as "cultural awareness" activities such as International Night,
Multicultural Week, history lectures, or political discussions. These
activities need to be well structured and facilitated.
Denigration: Difference is recognized, but it is
evaluated negatively, for example negative stereotyping, and may be
applied because of differences due to race, religion, age, gender, for
Movement beyond this stage is both by the institutionalization
of hatred (for example, the Ku Klux Klan), and the tendency to retreat
to denial. Development can be facilitated by framing it as temporary,
and by building cultural self-esteem.
Superiority: Cultural differences
perceived as threatening are relegated to a lower status position. An
individual's own perspective is seen as better, than another. People
who have been oppressed may sometimes be found at this stage. One of
the difficulties here is that this attitude of superiority can be seen
as healthy self-esteem. The drawback, however, is that cultural pride
can become an end in itself rather than a movement
At this stage, development is facilitated by allowing but not overemphasizing, the benefits of cultural pride.
Reversal: This particular view involves a denigration of one's own
culture. People of oppressed groups (and immigrants) often experience
subtle, and not so subtle, pressure to disavow their cultural roots in
favor of becoming "real". Americans.
The best way to deal with comments from people in this stage is to point out the attitudes of reversal beforehand.
Physical Universalism: People in this stage
make the assumption that all human behavior can be understood as
elaboration of biological behavior, and also tend to interpret any
cultural differences that they may see (usually unconsciously) from
their own perspective.
Movement at this stage may be aided by presentations in anthropology, sociology, psychology, and communication studies.
Transcendent Universalism: Individuals in this stage are comfortable
with the greatest acknowledgment of cultural differences. Cultural
differences are see as "part of the plan," and the principle or
supernatural force assumed to overlie cultural difference is usually
derived from one's own world view. Individuals at this stage may
believe that they can get along simply by "being themselves."
To get to the next stage takes a major paradigm shift. Cultural
awareness may be generated through discussion, exercises, and other
methods of self discovery. When individuals can place more of their own
behavior in a cultural context, they are less likely to assume that
the behavior is universal. Using individuals from other cultures as
resources may be useful.
The Ethnorelative Stages
Respect for Behavioral Difference: Individuals
begin to see alien behavior as indicative of profound cultural
differences. People become aware of difference in non-verbal behavior
as well as differences in verbal behavior.
In order to move beyond this stage it is important that individuals recognize a understand behavioral differences as relative.
Respect for Value Difference: At this stage, individuals accept the
different worldview assumptions that underlie cultural variation in
behavior. In addition to accepting the worldview of another, the
individual is also able to acknowledge her/his own cultural worldview
as relative. Values and assumptions are seen as a process, creative
acts, rather than as static.
Practical application of this understanding is helpful to
facilitate transformation into the next stage. For example, cross
cultural simulations can be used to show how relations can be improved.
Empathy: In this context is defined as the
ability experience some aspect of reality differently from what is "given" by one's own culture. An individual attempts to imagine or
understand from anothers perspective.
Pluralism: Indicates that not only does the
individual understand that cultural differences exist but that the
person has actual experience within that complete cultural frame. An
individual will actually operate with two or more internalized cultural
frames of reference.
Training in the practice of empathy, interaction with people of
other cultures, and any activities that allow for real-life
For people who have been oppressed by a dominant culture,
adaptation is the stage at which bicultural identity can be solidified.
Members who may maintain their own culture and who can successfully
operate in the dominant culture are pluralistic. However, individuals
may face a dilemma: they risk being perceived as betraying their own
Contextual Evaluation: An individual attains
the ability to analyze and evaluate situations from one or more chosen
cultural perspectives. Implied by this ability is both the skill to
shift cultural context and the necessary self-awareness to exercise
Constructive Marginality: Is the final stage where
an individual has no cultural frame of identity. There are not
unquestioned assumptions, in intrinsically absolute right behaviors,
nor any necessary reference group.
Adapted from Education for the Intercultural Experience by Milton J. Bennett.
Reported by Jesse Washington.