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Personal-Cultural Analysis & Identity Development

CSN747 Assignment 4.1: Personal-Cultural Analysis & Identity Development Paper


Brian Mann
Wake Forest University

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How and when did you first come to understand that
racism/discrimination/sexism existed and what did you learn from that
experience? What were your parents and familys advice/suggestions
about people from different religions, races, ethnicities, physical abilities,
sexual orientation, etc.? How do you think this impacted your
racial/cultural identity development at the time of these comments?
I was born into a white, blue-collar family in a suburb of New York City. The
township of Maywood was comprised of about 15,000 people and was broken into
three sections. The Spring Valley section was the largest of the three, and is where I
lived. It was a post-war construction development of small Cape Cod style homes,
small standard yards and streets laid out in a grid. These homes were 20 years old
when I was born and 40 years old when I left town. The second section was a much
smaller group of homes called the Knolls. The wealthiest people in town lived in
these homes. They were built in the 1920s and were beautiful old homes built in a
network of meandering tree lined streets. The third section, called Hampton
Court, consisted of apartment buildings, and was generally considered the poorest
part of town.
Maywood had two elementary schools, one served the Spring Valley section,
and the other served both the Knolls and Hampton Court. From my earliest
childhood recollection through 5th grade, I was exposed almost exclusively to
families from Spring Valley. I went to school each day with them, played sports with
them, and our families got to know one another through our school related social
activities. This was my childhood world.
The Spring Valley populace was extremely white. There was only one black
family in that part of town and one Chinese family. These families stood out in
contrast to all others, as being different. Their physical appearance was their

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stigma. As a child these were the only exceptions to what I would have considered a
homogenous group of neighbors.
During the Family Counseling course CNS773, a family genogram exercise
brought to my attention that this similar looking group of white neighbors was in
fact a very mixed group of different cultures in the same way that my family roots
are comprised of very different cultures brought together.
Geographically, Maywood is located approximately 20 miles from Ellis Island,
the epicenter for immigration into the US in the early 20 th century. The path of
immigrants typically flowed from Ellis Island to a neighborhood in NYC of familiar
ethnicity. Considering foreign language, lack of resources, employment
opportunities, family ties etc., this was necessary for survival. There were large
populations crammed into overcrowded neighborhoods, ghettos really, of German,
Italian, Irish, and eastern European immigrants among others. As each of these
groups flooded into America, many came here vulnerable and poor with the hopes
of finding prosperity. Most were met with harsh conditions and surrounded by so
many others in the same predicament, they had little to start their new lives with
other than their old culture and the support of their ghetto peers. This is an
interesting paradox, because while these immigrants came to America to prosper in
a new environment, and to start over, they needed to cling to the ways of the old
world culture because it was all they had.
There was competition among the different ethnic groups to create a
successful life in America. They all competed against each other for jobs, and like
rival gangs, each ethnic group looked out for their own.

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As I fast forward this trend to the era of my childhood, the 1970s, its
apparent that the Irish immigrants found success in public safety such as the police
and fire departments. The Italians found their niche in masonry and construction,
while the Germans excelled dominated woodwork and baking. All of these
occupations are unionized in the New York area, and ethnicity has become
somewhat of a barrier to entry in these fields. With success, these families began to
move out to the suburbs where ethnic boundaries are more subtle.
My best friends sir-names consisted of Gallipoli, LoPiccolo, McDonald, and
Reinheimer. I can recall a sense of pride each family had for its ethnicity, especially
when we studied different nations in school or during certain holidays. At the time, I
didnt recognize disdain held for cultures within the neighborhood, but clearly
remember the terms Guinea, Mick, Kraut used occasionally by our secondgeneration American parents, so it existed on some level.
The vast majority of Maywoods families attended Queen of Peace Catholic
Church, although there was also a small Lutheran church and very small synagogue
in town. So, aside from being white, most of us shared a common religious
orientation. Not only did all of my class mates live in close proximity, and play
sports together, but we spent Sundays together in church and Sunday school being
shaped with the same conservative teachings.
The 1970s was a confusing time in which to grow up. The cold war was
waning, but still present. I didnt know who the Russians were, but I knew they had
nuclear weapons pointed toward my school desk, and sometimes had nightmares
about that. Vietnam was a complete mystery to me, other than the frequent
memorial services in our park celebrating the fallen heroes. Racial riots occasionally

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flared up in Newark, Paterson and other nearby areas. The black panthers, fuel
shortages from Middle East OPEC issues, the sexual revolution and Hippies were
also usually in the headlines; and somewhat beyond my comprehension.
In the same way that several decades earlier, the Irish, Germans and Italians
threatened each other by taking each others good jobs, or somehow impeding one
anothers ability to achieve the American dream, there was a lot of hate that unified
middle-class white Americans. Hate for anything that threatened to change or put
into question our beliefs or the way we lived.
We hated the Russians. We hated the Middle-Easterners. We hated the
Blacks. We hated the gays. We hated the sexually liberated. We hated the hippies
who undermined the Vietnam War efforts. The funny thing is, I didnt know any
Russians, Middle-Easterners, gays or Hippies, and the black family in town was
better educated and wealthier than my family. As for sexually liberated, I wasnt
lucky enough to meet many of those either.
My racial education around the house was shaped by very conservative
views, and rarely discussed openly but founded on the confirmation bias principal.
Every time the news came on and showed the drama of the day, Id hear
commentary from my parents Seewhat did I tell youthose crazy Ns or those
Fruits, Gooks, .... It wasnt intended with malice, but rather it was pointing out that
these people were ruining America and they were examples of what not to become
as I grew up. There was no malice, after all, the many hours at Queen of Peace
church taught us to love our neighbors as Jesus had instructed.

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I lived in my blissful, little white bubble until 8 th Grade whereupon I entered a
regional high school. The demographics changed considerably. The mix of students
was 30% Hispanic, 30% White, 30% Black, and 10% Asian.
As the first day of high school approached, my classmates and I were
consumed by the rumors that included the Hispanics propensity for knife fights and
the strong likelihood of getting jumped by groups of blacks. Needless to say we
entered our first day with eyes wide open.
I somehow made it through that first day without a knife in my back or
getting pummeled. The only harassment I got was from the older white kids from
town, and it was consoling to see that my black and Hispanic classmates were
getting the same harassment from the older kids from their own neighborhoods.
As I sat on the gymnasium floor during orientation I was surrounded by
mostly unfamiliar faces, some speaking Spanish others using ghetto slang, it was
tough to envision how the next 4 years would progress. I had nothing in common
with most of these people, and I felt that I didnt fit in.
As I went to my classes, within a few weeks I started seeing the same new
but now familiar faces in this class or that and in the absence of my old friends, I
was starting to make new friends; white, black and Hispanic.
My parents were interested in my transition into the new school environment
as most parents would be. But, there was always a question behind their questions
that never went unnoticed by me. I would get questions like did you meet any
black kids? Are you using the Spanish you learned over the past 3 years to
converse with some new friends? Harmless enough questions at face value, but the

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real questions they were asking were: Did you run into any trouble with the black
kids? Any knife fights at school today? Or, something else along those same lines.
My parents also used to make statements like: you know, if you want to have any
of your new friends be they black or whatever, come to the house to hang out, Id
encourage that. Subjecting a friend to treatment like a zoo animal on display for
my parents was not something I was comfortable with.
I did notice differences in the kids that I was not being exposed to. Almost
right away, I could tell that the kids from the inner city neighborhoods were not as
academically advanced as the Maywood kids. More accurately, there was a wider
range of abilities that became noticeable as the kids from different areas were
mixed in classes. It was also very clear that some kids had all but given up, even as
freshmen, and were in school reluctantly, because they had to be there by law, until
they were old enough to drop out. I had never considered dropping out, and would
never have been permitted to by my parents. But, I had some vision of my future
and it required education in order to achieve. Some of my classmates who didnt
have the home support or vision of the future made the decision to leave without
graduating.
I also saw high achievers from each group in the visual arts, performing arts,
academics and sports. People began to parse off based on their strengths and
interests and new groups formed. And, whether it was working on after-school
physics projects or smoking in the parking lot, the groups became more and more
culturally mixed as time went on.
By the time we reached graduation day, I had become friends with kids much
richer and much poorer than me. I had friends that were black, Jewish and Hispanic.

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We all lived through the experience of growing up as teenagers together in that
place and time. We all suffered through peer pressure, parental demands, school
work, and the ups and downs of puberty; in addition to all the other things heaped
on to a young person. Racial, ethnic, religious or gender issues were not even a
strong consideration for determining our chosen peers. We looked to each other for
support and understanding although sometimes it was hidden in teenage bravado,
but always there. It was this common ground that helped us to see beyond our
obvious differences, but not ignore those differences.
After High School I went away to college, where, within my dormitory, I was
placed in a four person room on a hallway of twenty. All white. Many of these kids
came from rural areas and had little exposure to people from outside their
communities. It was interesting to me that they were in the same stage of cultural
awareness that I had been four years earlier, and to hear them make ridiculous
comments out of pure ignorance was kind of funny and a little upsetting.
My second year, I moved to a different hall, and was placed in a room with a
black student, Vincent. Vincent was from the projects in Queens, NY. He was the
youngest of a large family, and was the first to attend college. Through those heart
to heart talks that maybe only take place at college, he taught me a lot about what
it was like being black, poor and disadvantaged. He never sought sympathy or to
blame anyone, but shared his life situation with me as I did mine with him. His
family consisted of one brother in jail; another was a drug addict; a sister with two
babies and no husband; another sister who worked hard but in menial labor; a
father that died early from heart disease; a mother reluctantly on welfare assistance
and a grandfather who polished floors carrying his machine in the trunk of his car

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from job to job. His was a tough neighborhood to grow up in, and one that offered
up few advantages towards getting a good head-start in life. Vincent took notice of
his siblings failing situations and with the support of his mothers resolve, he
studied hard in high school, and qualified for a scholarship to a two-year program at
City University. After graduation with a strong GPA, he qualified for a scholarship to
University where we met. He had tuition, room and board paid for under a federal
assistance program and a good campus job was provided to him for incidentals.
I mention Vincents scholarship because it relates to the concept of privilege.
My parents were not wealthy and I did not qualify for any scholarships. My parents
worked hard to provide for our family and struggled to help finance my college
education. I took loans to make up the difference and graduate with a fair amount of
debt. It would be easy to understand how people could jump to the conclusion that
being a minority in such situations is an advantage. And until a real understanding
of the disadvantages that oppress certain minorities is revealed, it does seem
unfair. Nobody deserved a scholarship more than Vincent, and without it, he would
have struggled to find alternatives for breaking out of the cycle of poverty that he
grew up in. Whereas, if I had not been able to afford college, I would have slipped
into a blue collar job and continued to live in a middle-class neighborhood as my
parents had done.
Over the 27 years since my college graduation, Ive worked in various
managerial roles for most of my career. Time after time, Ive seen how simple
decisions of whom to hire, who to develop, who to fire involve judging a peoples
potential and the qualities they carry with them (including culture) as they may
impact the organization. One example comes to mind. I was managing a service

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company early in my career and the business served an upper income white
community. The majority of service technicians were white, but one was black. He
proved himself to be one of the best technicians we had. A sales position became
available and he applied. The management team discussed how our typical clients
may receive him and perceive our company with him as our lead company
representative. This is a discussion that we would not have had if he was white. Yes,
he was hired and he did fine, but due to his race, he almost was denied a privilege
that he had earned.
In the article, White Privilege, Oppression, and Racial Identity Development:
Implications on Supervision, white privilege is defined as the belief that only ones
own standards and opinions are accurate (to the exclusion of all other standards
and opinions) and that these standards and opinions are defined and supported by
Whites in a way that continually reinforce social distance between groups thereby
allowing Whites to dominate, control access to and escape challenges from racial
and ethnic minorities(Hays, 2003, p.135). This is a fact that cant be ignored as a
reality. Despite recent efforts in areas such as equal employment opportunity, it is
ingrained in current culture and will take time and continued effort to correct.
How do these comments/memories currently affect your racial/cultural
identity development?
Reflecting on my life experiences as Ive described them above, I am coming
to value, as learning events, the things that supported racism and cultural
intolerance for those around me. They have shaped my RCID in a way that a cold
strengthens ones immune system. By living through a time, in a place, where racial
and cultural discrimination was rampant, it is easy to identify it and tough to ignore

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it, when it is present in the here and now. Ive become aware of how it is rooted in
ignorance.
Ive had the good fortune and benefit of being exposed to people of various
cultures and learning about them beyond the tags that I had grown up with. This is
not to say that I claim to understand how minorities perceive the world, but I am
gaining a stronger awareness of the way racial and cultural differences are
perceived by different racial and cultural groups, and that ignoring these differences
is not the absence of racism, its just the opposite. Gushue supports this in his
statement about the adoption of multicultural guidelines by the APA. The
guidelines note that even though some people may adopt a color-blind perspective
in an effort to counter racial prejudice, the effect may be quite the opposite. The
guidelines cite the need for increase multicultural awareness on the part of
psychologists. An important dimension in providing culturally competent services to
clients of color is psychologists ability to recognize and acknowledge that racism
exists and can be especially damaging to people of color (Gushue & Constantine,
2007, p. 323).
As Ive grown older, I cant in all good conscience say that I dont make
generalizations based on race or cultural differences, but I do so with a more
informed world view and one that has less hate and more curiosity. I find myself
quickly plotting people into a schema that includes more information about a person
such as personal values, demeanor, education, religion, interests that move
people from crowded generalized buckets into their more unique buckets. For
instance, when I think of terms like black, or Catholic, or PhD my mind jumps to a
reference points. But when I am introduced to a black, PhD who happens to be

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Catholic, a very different image emerges, and one that is specific to him. And, the
more I get to know him by meeting his family, learning about his interests, the more
he becomes detached from being black, Catholic or a PhD, despite the influence
each of these have had on his life (or mine).
To what extent do you regularly interact with members of other diverse
groups different from your own? Furthermore, consider if these
interactions occur professionally, socially, and/or religiously.
The vast majority of my social interaction occurs at work. I work for a global
chemical company and my office is somewhat of a melting pot of cultures. Of the
people that I interact with daily, there are 3 black females, 1 black male, 1
Vietnamese female, 8 white males, 5 white females, 2 Indian males, and 1 gay
male. Also, being a part of a global team, we frequently have visiting team
members from all over the world. These people usually stay for a few weeks, work
closely with us and during their visits we host them for dinners assist with some
local sightseeing and get to know them well enough.
My neighbors make up the remainder of my social contacts. My neighbors are
all white, professional, middle income, most of whom are married with children. In
fact, the neighborhood is shockingly devoid of cultural diversity. I honestly cant say
whether this entered my mind as I chose this place to live, but it sure makes me
think that on some level I found this desirable.
Place yourself along the continuum of the racial/cultural identity
development model that currently best applies to you.
According to Helms model of White Racial Identity, I would consider the
Pseudo-independent and Autonomy stages the best descriptions of how I relate to
racial issues the majority of the time. If pressed to choose a dominant stage, it

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would be Pseudo-independent. Helms describes people in this stage as interested
in racial-group similarities and differences, but the interest is no longer governed by
the naivet of the Contact stage nor the vehemence of the Reintegration stage.
Cross racial interactions are possible, but may be limited to a few Black people who
are perceived as being similar to Whites or Special in some way. Passivity may
characterize this stage as the affective energy which motivated the person to seek
or avoid cross-racial interactions is no longer available (Helms, 1984, p.156). The
Autonomy stage is my secondary stage. Based on the neighborhood Ive chosen
and my daily interactions and my lack of actively seeking opportunities to involve
myself in cross-racial interactions I still have room for progress.
In a different model, referred to as White Racial Consciousness developed by
Rowe, Behrens & Leach, a set of attitudes held by Whites are measured which can
be grouped into clusters, identifying racial attitudes. There are seven types of
attitudes. Of these, three are considered unachieved, implying a lack of
commitment or exploration of racial attitudes. They are (1) Dependent- attitudes
that are determined by significant other (lacks exploration); (2) Dissonant- uncertain
about attitudes (lacks commitment); and (3) Avoidant- attitudes that ignore or
minimize the importance of racial attitudes (lacks both) (Rowe et al., 1995, p.225).
The remaining four, are considered achieved, which implies some personal
consideration and commitment to racial attitudes has been made. They consist of:
(1) Conflictive- attitudes that are based on rugged individualism yet support overt
fairness; (2) Dominative pro-White, ethnocentric attitudes; (3) Integrativepragmatic, positive racial attitudes; and (4) Reactive-strong pro-minority attitudes
(Rowe et al., 1995, p.226). Assessments are based on scores taken from the

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Oklahoma Racial Attitudes Scale (Leach et al., 2002). In the absence of an actual
score, I would suspect that I am low on the three unachieved attitudes since I do
give some thought to racial issues and explore my thought frequently. On the
developed attitudes, Id consider myself medium on conflictive; low on dominative
attitude; high on integrative; and medium on reactive. This type of assessment is
helpful, as it identifies specific traits that could be flagged as areas of concern, or
areas to keep in focus during counseling.
What is the relationship between your current racial/cultural identity
development and your ability to be an effective counselor?
One of the most important things about racial/cultural identity is that is not
fixed or static. Thomas makes the strong point: The racial and ethnic identity
process is dynamic and recursive and that individuals may move fluidly back and
forth through various stages as a result of experiences, personal growth and selfawareness(Thomas & Schwarzbaum, 2011, p.9). This provides hope that
regardless of where I am today on the continuum of development further
development is possible.
Im encouraged that my self-assessed stage of development (pseudoindependent) shows that I have an intellectually diverse knowledge of cultural
differences. And, by adding the more exposure to culturally different people, it will
help me to gain an emotional understanding which in turn will help me to better
empathize with the clients, especially considering All behaviors are learned and
displayed in a cultural context (Pederson, 2003, p. 396).
Finally, I acknowledge that my white-ness is not without a cultural value. It
means something to whites, and it means something to non-whites. As a member of

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the white culture, like all cultures, I need to be mindful of ethnocentricity and the
tendency of internalized superiority. I saw how this generates hate and ignorance
while growing up in my childhood. In particular though, I need to keep in mind the
many privileges that have been institutionalized by whites, for whites over our
countrys history, and how these privileges have been paid for by others
disadvantages.

References

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Denevi, E. (2004). White on White: Exploring white racial identity, privilege, and
racism. Independent School, 63, 78-86.
Gushue, George V., Constantine, Madonna G. (2007). Color-Blind Racial Attitgudes
and White Racial Identity Attitudes in Psychological Trainees. Professional
Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 38, No. 3, 321328.
Hays, D. G., & Chang, C. Y. (2003). White Privilege, Oppression, and Racial Identity
Development: Implications for Supervision. Counselor Education & Supervision,
43(2), 134-145.
Helms, J.E. (1984). Toward a theoretical explanation of the effect of race on
counseling: A Black and White model. The Counseling Psychologist, 12, 153-165.
Leach, M. M., Behrens, J. T., & LaFleur, N. K. (2002). White racial identity and white
racial consciousness: Similarities, differences, and recommendations. Journal of
Multicultural Counseling and Development, 30(2), 66.
Pedersen, Paul B. (2003). Culturally Biased Assumptions in Counseling Psychology.
The Counseling Psychologist, Vol. 31 No. 4, July 2003 396-403.
Pope-Davis, D. B., Vandiver, B. J., & Stone, G. L. (1999). White racial identity attitude
development: A psychometric investigation of two instruments. Journal of
Counseling Psychology, 46, 70-79.
Rowe, W., Behrens, J.T., & Leach, M.M. (1995). Racial/ethnic identity and racial
consciousness: Looking back and looking forward. Handbook of multicultural
counseling (pp. 218-235). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Thomas, A.J., & Schwarzbaum, S. (2011). Culture and Identity: Life stories for
counselors and therapists. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.