General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

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 found below.

With a new way to think about cultural awareness, the participants returned to their groups to discuss the following questions:

  • 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 answers:

  • "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 differences.
  • 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 example.
    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 communication.
    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 cultural roots.


  • 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 choice.
  • 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.