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   Multicultural Competency

A Training Resource
By James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Why the Need for Multicultural Competencies?

In the United States we have seen a change in our cultural, racial, and nationalities over the past sixty years since the end of World War II. We are quickly becoming a country in which the European Caucasians will become the minority to the corporate numbers of the Hispanic American, African Americans, Asian and Pacific Island American, Arab/Muslim American, Native American, Disabled, Aging, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgendered Americans. What we all need to do is to learn how to be supportive of one another and to live in unity, democracy, and freedom.

To get us started then have a look and listen to this Multicultural Adaptation to
Stand By Me 

Click on:

This fantastic piece is a composite audio/video song whereby additional tracks were laid in by different singers and musicians from various places around the world. The song itself is that classic "Stand By Me," originally released in 1955 by The Staple Singers, and released again in 1961 by The Drifters.

Facts Which Make Awareness of Cultural Diversity a Priority
In the 21st century overwhelming majority of world’s population & large percentage of  populations of United States & Canada, will be descendants of non-Western groups.
By 2025, developing countries will account for 85% of world’s population compared with 77% in 1992 (Kottak, 2003, p.10).

What is Multiculturalism?

Multiculturalism is being exposed to and becoming and being tolerant of, if not active in, a myriad of customs, traditions and rituals which are different from one's birth ancestry. Appropriation by Americans of symbols, styles and artifacts external to their national origins is common and it does at times create tension between and among groups who are less accepting of such customs. For example there is severe prejudice against those individuals for whom English is not their primary language. Our public and private lives are permeated by forces and influences that may have little to do with our ancestral cultures and everything to do with a common experience at a particular moment in history (Kottak, 2003, p.12).

A multicultural person is one who learns more than one culture. Whereas there are others who refuse to be open to learning about other cultures and are therefore frustrated in their 
communications and dealings with people of different cultures. These individual expect that everyone else must come to accept and adapt and adopt their own culture as the primary culture for communications and dealings with one another. This is a problem which is being addressed in the workplace today with emphasis on cultural diversity training and increasing workers multicultural competencies.
What works against Multiculturalism?
There are issues which can work against multiculturalism:

1. Ethnocentrism
assumes my culture is the center of the universe and more important than others' cultures, nationality, or race. It is the belief that one’s own cultural background, including ways of analyzing problems, values, beliefs, language and verbal and nonverbal communications is the only correct way to relate to and communicate with others. It is the belief that one’s culture is the central culture and that other cultures are incorrect, defective, or quaint.

2. Xenocentrism
assumes my culture is inferior to others and that others' cultures are more important than mine.

3. S
tereotypes which are doggedly held to perceptions about certain groups of people or nationalities and around which judgments, decision making and problems solving are deeply influenced. 

4. Enculturation
which is the socialization process one goes through to adapt to one’s society especially if the majority culture is different from one's birth and family culture, nationality, or race. 

5. Frontstage culture
which is the cultural information one is willing to share with outsiders but it is not the "whole story." 

6. Backstage culture
which is cultural information concealed from outsiders and only shared with individuals from the same cultural origins.

7. Acculturation
which is the process of adjusting and adapting to a new and different culture. It is the process of doing an number of possible things such as:

   - Integration which is to function in as an integral part of the new culture yet maintaining an integrity with  one's old culture

   - Separation by which one keeps the old culture and avoids any form of contact or communications with, or dealing with people of the new culture

   - Assimilation is where one is absorbed into the new culture completely and completely give up the old culture (which is what ethnocentric desire of all new comers to their culture)

   - Deculturation which is where one loses or gives up the old culture and yet does not adopt to the new culture as if the person is a "man without a country."

8. Cultural Relativism
which is diametrically opposite of multiculturalism and because it is the rationale by which people become opposed to all aspects of cultural variation and insist on cultural purity as the only way by which one can operate in our society.Attitudes toward cultural variation are then reflected in what we call cultural norms.

9. Cultural norms are
culturally ingrained principles of correct and incorrect behaviors which if broken carry a form of overt or covert penalty. Cultural norms are clearly and narrowly defined and those who ascribe and adhere to these norms do so dogmatically. The adherents to norms expect all people in their interactions to have complete and utter adherence and acceptance of the norms. If these norms are not adhered to then those who falter or deviate from the norms will suffer sanctions from the members of the culture in question and will be perceived by members of this culture as deviants from their culture due to their lack of adherence to the norms.

10. Rules are formed to clarify any cloudy or ambiguous areas of norms so that all are clearly aware of what behaviors, communications and beliefs are and are not allowed or accepted in one's culture

11. Roles are the explicit behavioral expectations of a position within a culture and are affected by norms and rules of the culture with sanctions resulting if the role is not fulfilled to the expected cultural standards, norms and rules.

12. Networks
are formed with personal ties and involve an exchange of assistance among individuals of the same culture and do not often cross cultural boundary lines since the need to belong to these networks is based on friendships and subgrouping within their own cultural populations.

13. Subcultures
are groups of people possessing characteristic traits that set them apart and distinguish them from others within a larger society or macro-culture in which they feel comfortable with thus by sticking with the subculture do not have the need to venture too deeply into the dominant culture in which they live.

Why Cultural Diversity?

Cultural awareness and diversity consciousness are integral in today's society. With the expanding concept of “diversity” there is an emerging need for diversity consciousness which is the “recognizing that ‘America’ includes people of differing community, ethnic, and cultural histories, different points of view and degrees of empowerment” (Kottak, 2003, p.6).

Cultural awareness includes:

1. Building diversity consciousness which means learning about various characteristics that contribute to definitions or interpretations of diversity.

2. Learning about the characteristics that define diversity which include characteristics that are not always obvious to the casual observer.

3. Identifying myths about diversity and diversity consciousness and

4. Becoming aware of personal challenges and barriers to healthy and sound cultural awareness.

Diversity Social Predictors or Social Indicators include:

1. Religion

2. Region of country grew up in

3. Whether come from town, suburb, or inner city

4. Parents’ professions

5. Ethnic origins

6. Income levels

7. Assimilation, pluralism and demographics

8. Social class

9. Gender

Apparent and hidden dimensions of diversity

1. Issues in flux regarding definitions of groups, subgroups and mixed groups 

2. Physical factors that describe “diversity,” such as age, physical abilities or limitations and gender 

3. Sociological factors that describe “diversity” such as ethnic/racial heritage or cultural heritage, sexual orientation, or religion

Sociocultural factors that may cause misunderstandings:

1. Communication styles 

2. Orientation to time 

3. Interpersonal space  

4. Interpretations of power and position  

5. Symbolic behaviors  

6. Customs

Where is the Big Silent Pink Elephant in the Room?
All these explanations of why we need multicultural competencies seems to be talking aroung the Big SIlent Pink Elephant in this room. You know that one! You know what is underneath the years of social, class, and racial discrimination! You know what is beneath the inequities in our educational system where over 50 percent in some cities children with minority backgrounds drop out of school! You know what was the reason for the Civil Rights Movement, Woman's RIghts Movement, Gay Rights Movement, the Movement for Multicultural competency itself!  You got it: PREJUDICE!

Prejudice is a learned behavior, attitude and way of thinking about people. It is learned by all of the negative anti-multicultural concepts listed above. Prejudice is what keeps each one of us locked into our own patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting when it comes to dealing with people from different cultures, races, gender, and nationalities from our own. We need to grow in multicultural competencies to lessen the impact of our seen and unseen prejudices which impact how we deal with people.

Kottak, C. P. & Kozaitis, K. A (2003).  On being different: Diversity and multiculturalism in the North American mainstream (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw Hi

Before you charge ahead with your learning about multicultural competencies stop, view and listen to Louie Armstrong!

What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong:

The message in this song is one to take to heart: What a wonderful world this is due to the fact that although we all are different from one another we all come together to make this a wonderful world on one single planet. It only works when we work together.