“If we cannot end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. “ ~ John F. Kennedy
We can only promote love and listen to other’s hearts by loving and listening to our hearts first. It is important to understand oneself; this is possible by thoroughly examining the self on a multicultural level. Through this examination, awareness can be created regarding the beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and feelings of people who are both similar and multi-culturally different from the self. The multicultural person is a topic many will avoid and do not wish to discuss or analyze due to the very nature of it is ambiguity.
We live in a country with many different cultures. Cultures located within our states, our cities, our towns, our schools, our families, and finally ourselves. The multicultural self. Within these cultures, are oppressed minority groups who face discrimination. Many clients and families I work with tend to be a part of this minority group unknowingly. Examples of the minority groups in which I work with are people who define themselves as addicts or alcoholics, people who have a mental disorder, and people who are disabled. Sociologist Louis Wirth defined a minority group as, “a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.” How can an individual learn to fully love and accept themselves if they are not aware of the oppression they have lived?
It is difficult for someone who is in a majority group to understand how they can contribute to a system of oppression unknowingly. Society teaches us, “unknowingly” from the time we are little children and as we grow into adulthood, to not discuss issues that are uncomfortable. However, the challenge becomes that, if a topic is not spoken about and explored, how can someone learn about such topic? Dr. Derald Sue questions the importance of discussing issues of oppression, sexism, racism, homophobia, and how our biases or prejudice can keep us silent and passive in a world that socializes people to be biased, prejudiced, and racist (Sue & Sue, 2013 p23). When topics come up, that create negative energy within, it is easy to suppress such energy, react to it, or defend the negative feelings. Containing this energy is not healthy nor does it challenge who we are, or our ability to change our thoughts and beliefs.
When I find myself wanting to defend or explain my feelings, that is when I know something is going on that I may want to take a harder look at and explore on a deeper level. This is also when a person can go from doing something “unknowingly” to creating awareness and taking responsibility for their thoughts and actions.
Do we as families “unknowingly” oppress our loved ones who live with addiction, mental illness, disability and other minority groups? Families must ask this undoubtedly uncomfortable question, a question where strong opinions have been formed and reinforced for generations in a society that promotes oppression. As stated earlier, to listen to the heart, it is important to understand oneself on a multicultural level. Through this examination, awareness will come about the beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and feelings toward people who are both similar and multi-culturally different from the self. Be careful, though. This examination may promote awareness, love and acceptance.
Sue, D. W. & Sue, D. (2013). Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice (sixth edition). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.