“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 essential to understand oneself; this is possible by thoroughly examining oneself 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, cities, towns, schools, 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. Examples of the minority groups I work with are the LGBTQ+ community, people who define themselves as addicts or alcoholics, people of color, people who have a mental health disorder, and people who are disabled. Sociologist Louis Wirth described 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 and even contribute?
It is challenging for someone in a majority group to understand how they can contribute to a system of oppression. Society teaches us, from the time we are little children and as we grow into adulthood, not to discuss uncomfortable issues, including oppression and racism. However, the challenge becomes, if a topic is not spoken about and explored, how can someone learn about the said topic? Dr. Derald Sue questions the importance of discussing 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, which create negative energy within, it is easy to suppress said 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 oppressive thoughts and beliefs.
When I find myself wanting to defend or explain my feelings, 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. As part of the majority, we can not allow a lack of knowledge to continue to contribute to discrimination amongst the minority groups.
Do we as individuals “unknowingly” oppress our loved ones who live with addiction, mental illness, disability, and other minority groups? Individuals must ask this undoubtedly uncomfortable question—a question where strong opinions have been formed and reinforced for generations in a society that promotes oppression. When I first started asking myself this question, I realized how my privilege kept me stuck in a place where I did oppress others. A hard pill to swallow for sure.
As stated earlier, to listen to the heart, it is essential 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.