Reaction to Cultural Difference: First Stages

Learning to Love Diversity, part 1

We know that there’s discrimination.
  • Blacks are less than 13% of the populations, yet, as best we can tell since many police departments do not report, blacks are 31% of all fatal police shooting victims, and 39% of those killed by police when not attacking. Yes, it's worth remembering that 61% of the "killed by police when not attacking" category are not blacks. Still, the number that are is disproportionate.
  • Young black males, ages 15-19, are 21 times more likely to be to be shot and killed by the police than young white males.
  • Between 2005 and 2008, 80% of NYPD stop-and-frisks were of blacks and Latinos.
  • Only 10% of stops and 8% of frisks were of whites. 85% of those frisked were black. Only 2.6% of all stops (1.6 million stops over 3.5 years) resulted in the discovery of contraband or a weapon. Whites were more likely to be found with contraband or a weapon.
  • Blacks are 14% of regular drug users, but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 56% of those in state prisons for drug offenses.
  • Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years.
  • Whites are 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as equally qualified people of color.
  • A black college student has the same chances of getting a job as a white high school dropout.
  • A resume for a person named Dante Williams is 50% less likely to get a call back than an identical resume for a person named David Williams.
  • Voter ID laws do not prevent voter fraud, but do disenfranchise millions of young people, minorities, and elderly, who disproportionately lack the necessary government IDs.
  • News reporting regards black lives as less significant. African American children comprise 33.2% of missing children cases, but only 19.5% of cases reported in the media.
  • Black car buyers are charged $700 more on average than white car buyers of the same car.
  • When looking for a home, black clients looking to buy are shown 17.7% fewer houses for sale, and black renters learn about 11 percent fewer rental units.
  • Doctors did not inform black patients as often as white ones about the option of an important heart catheterization procedure.
  • White legislators – in both political parties -- did not respond as frequently to constituents with black sounding names.

Discrimination is going on. And there’s a similar kind of discrimination against Hispanic immigrants – often against anyone who is different, who is other. People who are different face discrimination. So it sure would be progress if people weren’t seen as different.

The first stage of dealing with cultural difference is denial or ignorance. One experiences one's own culture as the only “real” one – one just doesn’t know about other cultures. Other cultures are either not noticed at all or are understood in an undifferentiated, simplistic manner. One is uninterested in cultural difference, but when confronted with difference, seemingly benign acceptance may change to aggressive attempts to avoid or eliminate it. This might be the result of, say, being five years old. Or, when an adult is at this stage, it may be the result of physical or social isolation, where one's views are never challenged and are at the center of their reality.

With increased exposure to cultural difference, at first there’s liable to be a hostile reaction against it, and that’s the second stage. Stage two is very “us” versus “them,” with negative stereotyping of “them.” People at this stage experience their own culture as the most “evolved” or best way to live. They will openly belittle the differences between their culture and another, denigrating race, gender or any other indicator of difference. There are openly threatened by cultural difference and likely to act aggressively against it. Their defensiveness about their own culture will come out in saying such things as:
  • "I wish these people would just talk the way we do."
  • "Even though I'm speaking their language, they're still rude to me."
  • "When you go to other cultures, it makes you realize how much better the U.S. is."
  • "These people don't value life the way we do."
There’s a reversed version of this, where they turn against their own native culture in favor of romanticizing some other culture as superior – but it’s still a very polarized attitude about cultures.

To move beyond this stage requires coming to emphasize sameness – seeing that the basic similarity we all have, the humanity – and the animality – we all share. It helps to emphasize the historical context for understanding differences: this culture formed this way because it was shaped by wars, or colonization, or slavery, for instance. It is possible to grow out hostility to differences and into a recognition of commonality we share.

At stage 3, we recognize cultural differences, but we don’t demonize or judge them. We see cultural differences as ultimately superficial because deep down we’re all the same. There are different paths up the mountain, but they all lead to the same mountaintop. Behind some differences of form, there are universal values we all uphold in our own way. We all have feelings – we all get angry, sad, scared, happy. We all have needs: air and food, autonomy, respect, and connection – no matter what the culture.

If everyone at stage 2 would move to stage 3, that would reduce some discrimination. But not all of it.

Next: Why minimization isn't a complete solution for discrimination

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Learning to Love Diversity"
See next: Part 2: We Aren't All the Same
Part 3: A Skill, Not an Attitude

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent post and really helps to focus my thinking on diversity. You're right -- I'm probably at Stage 3, hoping to be at 4, but a long way from 5. I wish I could attend the program on Intercultural Sensitivity, but I have a grandparent obligation that day. Perhaps it will be recorded for future use? Thanks for all of your excellent posts and for the opportunities they present for learning and reflection.