Cross Cultural Reflective Journal Report
Smith stated, “”…unity is enhanced not when differences disappear but when people remain committed to one another and use structures and resources to maintain open and ongoing relationships (2004, p. 6).” Multiculturalism is about the process of handling differences. Unity recognizes differences and rather than argue about them, it looks for strengths in relationships. Being present, having peace and wisdom are elements that encourage finding strengths. If defensiveness, hostility, contempt, criticism, withdrawal or demands are present, a relationship is at risk of being damaged or destroyed (Smith, 2004).
1968. I was born in a year of hostility, demands and fights for independence and human rights. Americans were fighting in Vietnam, and protesting at home for African-American civil rights. Bra-burning protests demanded women’s rights. Activist Martin Luther King Jr and politician Robert F Kennedy were assassinated for humanitarian beliefs (1968 Timeline, 2013). Amidst the fights for civil rights, independence was granted to a tiny island in the South Pacific, the republic of Nauru. Here I was born, to Australian parents, the first of four children.
I was a sixth generation Australian from my Scottish ancestors, also born overseas. At three years old, I came to Australia. As an adult, I took it for granted that all Australians had the same birthrights as me. I thought easy access to education, housing and employment and family unity, were opportunities available for everyone. In doing this course for cross-cultural therapy however, I have come to understand that my ‘white’ privilege is not afforded by all Australians, especially Indigenous ones.
I have learned that despite Indigenous and other marginalised non-white Australians having the same hopes as me for birthrights, unfortunately their desires have been denied and taken away. Historically, Aborigines were considered disposable, and not as valuable to society as the ‘white’ British people who founded this nation. Now, with my great ‘white’ Australian ancestry, I am left with feelings of shame and sadness for the marginalised Australians who grew up beside me, with less.
Sadly, marginalised Australians have been left with feelings of separation, denial and desperation, but through cross-cultural competence, I realise hope is not lost. This report expresses my appreciation for the beauty found in differences and the ever present potential for unity, if diversity can remain. I believe that unity is available and necessary for all, through awareness, knowledge of ‘others’ and their difficulties, expressing empathy, cooperation and a desire for everyone to receive rights of equality, together.
Definition of Cross-Cultural Competence
Cross-cultural competence is the ability to engage awareness, knowledge and skills, to allow for a meaningful encounter of effective communication between peoples of different cultures (Hopkins, 2013). In becoming cross-culturally competent, Sue (2008) proposes the need for the following competencies in awareness, knowledge and skills. Firstly, to practice awareness of cultural competence, one must identify their own cultural heritage and respect differences in others. Personal values, fears and biases should be considered as they may create barriers.
One must be comfortable with differences regarding age, gender, race, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation, which provides an environment whereby clients are free to disclose or not. Consequently, sensitivity to a client needing referral to another professional’s help may be appropriate, when uncomfortable feelings arise. (Sue, 2008). Secondly, Sue recommends gaining knowledge and information on culturally different people and an awareness of a nation’s politics and the affect of marginalisation on minority groups. Particular reference to counselling practices is valuable. Plus, an awareness of institutional difficulties for mental health services.
Finally, one needs to utilise skills for verbal and non-verbal reactions, plus have an ability to communicate correctly and with an interpreter where appropriate. In closing, Sue maintains that one must understand personal limits and the affect of different approaches for assisting, whilst maintaining an open mind for creating new opportunities that still provide help for people.
I grew up in Townsville in the 1970’s and 1980’s, where Eddie Koiki Mabo lived. I was unaware of the fight Mabo was having for independence and land rights for his family (Perkins, 2008). Obliviously pursuing all I knew about culture in ballet and theatre, I was ignorant of racial tensions around me, from the late White Australia Policy (NSW Government, 2013). Politician, Joe Bjelke-Peterson was in the news, but I did not understand the racist attitudes being perpetuated that Australia was still better off ‘white’ than as a multicultural place to live. I am embarrassed now at my sheltered and ignorant upbringing during times of Indigenous racial attacks and discrimination. Just as embarrassing is the racial abuse being hidden from school lessons in Australian history, as though ignorance of Indigenous suffering might be acceptable to consider.
Watching the film, “Looking for Alibrandi” (Woods, 2000), gave me another perspective on culture and other tensions, not between cross cultures, but more between individuals and generational cultures. The film highlighted the tensions felt by adolescents as they struggled to gain identity and independence from their parents. Peer pressure norms dominated, leaving teenagers fighting for new individual values of their own. However, just as adolescents were fighting for their identity to be separate and identifiably different from their parents, the adults were also struggling for their individual needs to be met. It seemed that everyone was struggling with a desire to be someone important, in his or her own right, even if the struggle was within the family or individually. I think this is no different for anyone of us, within any culture. We are all struggling to be heard, valued, wanted, loved and needed by others, no matter what age, gender, ethnicity or social status. Appreciating the value of differences with diversity gives individuals unity in developing themselves and families.
Karen Anderson (personal communication, August 14, 2013) suggested
we are shaped by the culmination of our thoughts about events and social interactions. Knowing our self is being aware of what has shaped us and who we are. Cross-cultural competence requires self-knowledge, before we can begin to relate to or understand others in their experiences. Watching a YouTube “Blue Eyes – Brown Eyes” experiment by Jane Elliot (South, 2013) certainly opened my eyes on prejudice and racism.
This film vividly displayed in role-play, the spoken and unspoken power struggles that occur between inferior marginalised groups and superior dominating groups. I listened to the superior authority figure hurl false accusations of idiocy at the inferiors and I felt the powerless humiliation of the inferior people being told to shut up. This was reminiscent of the same pain the Indigenous people suffered during the invasion and occupation of their land, from white colonialists (Cunneen, 2010). Coming to an understanding of the power of prejudice and discrimination that occurs almost naturally between groups of unequals, helps me appreciate the powers of social influence where ostracism continues to offend people in struggles for power (Sue, 2008). I can personally relate to this where I have felt ostracised by church friends. Since I decided to stop going to church and I have felt inferior or less than them, because I no longer attend church. I have had limited and even restricted information regarding my children who remain in the church.
This experience has been quite discriminatory against me, considering I am still a mother and believe a relationship with my children is still important. Becoming a multiculturally competent professional requires an awareness of power struggles, knowledge of cultural differences and skills in communicating these relationships of supremacy and inferiority to people, in ways that engender change for the better (Hopkins, 2013). In realising this, I have discovered the kernel of starting with myself, to develop awareness of my own positions of power and powerlessness. I appreciate that by knowing me and my biases, I can better help people to know themselves and the implicit and explicit struggles they face, as they continue to work through challenges that are solvable and unsolvable. Appreciating the value of differences with diversity gives individuals unity within families and with others.
Since 1814 Aboriginal assimilation into white domination has been practiced, with the hope of breeding out Aboriginality from Indigenous people (Fact Sheet, 2013; Saggers, 2003). The movie, Rabbit Proof Fence (Noyce, 2002) depicts this in the 1930’s with the inhumane enforcement of removal of Indigenous children from their families, under the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1915. Two hundred years later, the impact of this destructive policy has lead to chronic grief and shorter life spans for the Indigenous (Reconcilliaction, 2007). Gaining this knowledge was disturbing, but without it, hope of understanding the plight of Indigenous and other minorities would continue to have me living in ignorance.
Van Krieken, 2005 suggests individuals encounter personal problems from public issues when unaware of their association with communal, financial and governmental change. Thompson (2004) adds that personal peace for individuals is not readily available in the face of psychological blindness. Thompson suggests when individuals become aware of the external forces that impact their psychological blindness; an expansion of awareness can help ease the distress experienced. For example, Eddie Koiki Mabo was a unique individual who seemed to be psychologically fully sighted, in light of the government restrictions precluding him from possessing his land of inheritance on Murray Island.
Determined to claim what was rightfully his land, he pressed forward in an unknown legal land of racial justifications. Mabo took his claim to the high court and by so doing helped many Indigenous people reclaim their lands and seas from the institutional power of Terra Nullius (Perkins, 2008). By contrast, the movie of Samson and Delilah (Thornton, 2009), demonstrates the psychological blindness Thompson speaks of where Indigenous people are blindly living lives of poverty, financial, sexual and drug abuse. Sadly, this movie illuminates the chronic sorrow of descendants from the Stolen Generations (NSW Government, 2013). Adolescents are unaware of the external source causing their grief and ongoing difficulties, which is really born of financial, political and institutional racism. In 2007 the Government delivered an official apology for the devastation of identity for Indigenous families (Reconcilliaction, 2007).
Despite Government attempts for reconciliation, Roos (2002) predicts that people who remain in grief about incomplete losses, will continue to experience stress and disorders. This is where Sue’s ideology to use perception in understanding difference would be useful, rather than what is right or wrong (2008). The value of perception could help with institutional problems experienced by people in ethnic and racial groups. Readings from Van Krieken (2005) on the social identities of colonialism, capitalism and globalism helped me appreciate my own cultural history. I now perceive that appreciating individual differences with diversity allows for unity with others, despite racial world-views.
Remembering what has culturally shaped us, knowing the differences, and maintaining respect for individual differences, is being aware of multiculturalism (Hopkins, 2013). Sue and Smith argue that the art of practising multiculturalism is having a mutual relationship of sensitivity for cultural differences, care and concerns for power and beliefs, and respect for diversity between client and counsellor. This environment offers most potential for growth between all parties (2004; 2008). Understanding for identity values, world-views, security, mental health and of socio-political factors helps to stimulate positive interactions as well (Hopkins, 2013).
Where these elements exist with openness and trust, a client is more inclined to disclose or not; and an individual’s most precious thoughts and feelings may be realised, in finding relief and growth (Karen Anderson, personal communication, September 19, 2013). A competent multicultural counsellor is also sensitive to institutional and individual issues and works to make them known in gentle ways, that provide support and strength (Sue, 2008). Where necessary, a competent multicultural counsellor employs an interpreter to help bridge any communication gaps for cultural differences (Sue, 2008).
Using a particular counselling approach of the relational perspective helps benefit the personal growth potential for the counselling relationship. In this way, personal choices are invited which help promote self-development and responsibility in the client-counselling relationship (Hopkins, 2013). In reflection of my expectations for being culturally competent when I began this course, I note that I personally have changed and developed in my world-views on external authority and power struggles. For twenty years I had a religious belief in God, as a Mormon. I left that patriarchal faith last year. In the process, I am freed of that authority, yet with children still in the church, I am still tied to the religious power of abuse and hypocrisy. I recognise my personal losses for children separated from me, but I am not without hope.
Through employing Sue’s ideology of noticing my perceptions, I have come to appreciate there is beauty for diversity in life for people who celebrate differences (2008). In practising multiculturalism, I continue to find a greater unity within myself and with others. I appreciate that my experiences carry great resources that can strengthen others who also endure marginalisation and separation. Strengths of mutual difficulties in past, present or future circumstances shared with clients, will help to encourage unity from differences in diversity.
Thinking about differences with an open mind encourages creativity and growth for experiences in our own lives and with others. As a multicultural counsellor I am preparing to value others as I value myself. I will listen attentively and as I notice my own responses arise for cultural privileges, inequities, needs and biases, I will work to reduce them. I respect that I need to remain aware of my own views whilst allowing others their views and by listening thoughtfully, I will increase my knowledge of a client’s perspective. In developing myself, I can help others develop and together we can help to grow a greater consciousness for all, that there is beauty in unity, where differences in diversity can remain.