Module 8. Our Way Forward
Racial equity requires change agents or people who are willing to initiate and manage struggles over injustice, inclusion, and unequal relations of power. Building an equitable society involves altering our social arrangements and behaviors (Bruhn and Rebach, 2007). Transforming society away from prejudice and discrimination means constructing a new social structure where all people have equal rights, liberties, and status.
Meaningful social change starts with each of us. Ending racial prejudice and inequality is everyone’s responsibility. Ivey-Colson and Turner (2020) and the UOTeaching Community (2020) offer some anti-racist and anti-colonial tools from the works of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Dr. Robin DiAngelo, Dr. Leilani Sabzalian, Dr. Gloria Jean Watkins (Bell Hooks), and other academic experts. These tools require daily practice to counter racial prejudice and discrimination, systemic racism, and oppression of minority racial and ethnic groups. The following tools serve as a model to 1) inform people about lesser-known facts, 2) confront and address past shame, anger, and blame, and 3) develop empathy (Ivey-Colson and Turner, 2020).
Table 4. Anti-Racist & Anti-Colonial Practices
|Enact cultural and linguistic dexterity by harvesting knowledge and facts about racial-ethnic minorities
|Be present in the daily practice of being anti-racist, anti-colonial, and anti-oppressive
|Show compassion and vulnerability even when it’s uncomfortable
|Acknowledge the quality and character of an individual rather than perpetuate myths and stereotypes
|Recognize and value the diverse range of human experiences that exists in each of our lives and act as all humans are worthy of compassion or benevolence
|Cultivate egalitarian partnerships and sharing with tribal nations to enhance indigenous education and survivance
|Act and express anti-racists ideas
|Engage in treating all humans as equals and promote equity
|Share, think, and care about others
|Take risks and share your privilege to support marginalized groups and people of color
|Spread love and healing over fear and oppression – Mix care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust as well as honest and open communication
In a racial-ethnic diverse society, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to interact effectively with others. Our ability to communicate and interact with each other plays an integral role in the successful development of our relationships for personal and social prosperity. Building cultural intelligence requires active awareness of self, others, and context (Bucher, 2008). Self-awareness requires an understanding of our personal identity including intrinsic or extrinsic bias we have about others and social categories of people. Cultural background greatly influences perception and understanding, and how we identify ourselves reflects on how we communicate and get along with others. It is easier to adjust and change our interactions if we are able to recognize our own uniqueness, broaden our percepts, and respect others (Bucher, 2008). We must be aware of our identity including any multiple or changing identities we take on in different contexts as well as those we keep hidden or hide to avoid marginalization or recognition.
Active awareness of others requires us to use new socio-cultural lenses. We must learn to recognize and appreciate commonalities in our lives and cultures not just differences. This practice develops understanding of each other’s divergent needs, values, behaviors, interactions, and approach to teamwork (Bucher, 2008). Understanding others involves evaluating assumptions and truths. Our personal socio-cultural lens filters our perceptions of others and conditions us to view the world and others in one way blinding us from what we have to offer or how we complement each other (Bucher, 2008). Active awareness of others broadens one’s perspective to see the world and others through a different lens and understand diverse viewpoints that ultimately helps us interact and work together effectively.
Today’s workplace requires us to have a global consciousness that encompasses awareness, understanding, and skills to work with people of diverse backgrounds and cultures (Bucher, 2008). Working with diverse racial-ethnic groups involves us learning about others to manage complex and uncertain social situations and contexts. What may be socially or culturally appropriate in one setting may not apply in another. This means we must develop an understanding of not only differences and similarities, but those of social and cultural significance as well to identify which interactions fit certain situations or settings.
As we come into contact with racial-ethnic diverse people, one of our greatest challenges will be managing cross-cultural conflict. When people have opposing values, beliefs, norms, or practices, they tend to create a mindset of division or the “us vs. them” perspective. This act of loyalty to one side or another displays tribalism and creates an ethnocentric and scapegoating environment where people judge and blame each other for any issues or problems. Everyone attaches some importance to what one values and believes. As a result, people from different cultures might attach greater or lesser importance to family and work. If people are arguing over the roles and commitment of women and men in the family and workplace, their personal values and beliefs are likely to influence their willingness to compromise or listen to one another. Learning to manage conflict among people from different cultural backgrounds increases our ability to build trust, respect all parties, deal with people’s behaviors, and assess success (Bucher, 2008). How we deal with conflict influences productive or destructive results for others and ourselves.
Self-assessment is key to managing cross-cultural conflicts. Having everyone involved in the conflict assess “self” first and recognize their cultural realities of personal history and experience will help individuals see where they may clash or conflict with others. If someone comes from the perspective of white men should lead, their interactions with others will display women and people of color in low regard or subordinate positions to white men. Recognizing our cultural reality will help us identify how we might be stereotyping and treating others and give us cause to adapt and avoid conflict with those with differing realities.
The cultural pressure from relatives in Fresno made my father return to his shaman practice. He never really fit in the church to begin with. While in Nashville, he attended church services with us children to “make the church like us.” The church donated clothing, sofas, kitchen items, and sometimes food to our family. He probably felt the need to reciprocate by attending church service. In retrospect, I remember him always being very respectful of all the church services. He sat in church quietly, but he would tell us children afterwards not to take church seriously.
Our family’s church attendance subsequently led to my conversion to Christianity at the tender age of 13, fascinated by concepts of the soul and immortality over sexual curiosity. With the Bible as my guiding principles, I devoted my teen years to serving God and intended on becoming a minister. This mission was short lived when I entered my second year in college at UC Berkeley. As I watched my father lay dying in his hospital bed, I discovered the limitations and hypocrisy of the church. I saw the cultural divide of Hmong clan structure and church practice. Relatives came to visit my father with reverence, telling him what he had meant to them. The church just wanted to know if my father would repent before he died. The cross-cultural misunderstandings, religious conflicts, and differences of being Hmong and American were beyond fixing.
Nevertheless, shortly before my father died, he and I were able to reconcile on the purpose of religion in human life. He was a highly consulted shaman; I was a “prodigal son” so to speak, having returned from a “Jesus freak” journey. There were six of us sons, but I knew he wanted all of us to master a Hmong cultural practice rather than ministering for the Christians. He also noticed I had left the church in disappointment, confusion, and sharp spiritual pain. When a spiritual core is absent – whether it’s taken away or one chose to do away with it (as in my case) – life can seem gloomy, meaningless, void, and even suicidal. For me, an identity crisis ensued from this divergence from Christianity – a mental breakdown that sent me into a spiritual whirlwind of what seemed incurable by man or God. I found a little solace reading “Why I Am Not A Christian,” and “A Freeman’s Worship” by Bertrand Russell. My grades suffered, but I may have begun to find myself.
The Hmong community in the Central Valley has had its share of issues in relations with American mainstream. Some of these challenges included educational gaps, income, racism, domestic violence, social justice, and religious and cross-cultural conflicts. While these issues had been worked on and some progress had been made, they remain critical points to our community as we continue to define our culture, identity, and relations with others racial groups.
Some form of cultural bias is evident in everyone (Bucher, 2008). Whether you have preferences based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, region, social class or all social categories, they affect your thoughts and interactions with others. Many people believe women are nurturers and responsible for child rearing, so some do not support men receiving custody of the children when there is a divorce in the family. Bias serves as the foundation for stereotyping and prejudice (Bucher, 2008). Many of the ideas we have about others are ingrained, and we have to unlearn what we know to reduce or manage bias. Removing bias perspectives requires resocialization through an ongoing conscious effort in recognizing our bias then making a diligent effort to learn about others to dispel fiction from fact. Dealing with bias commands personal growth and the biggest obstacles are our fears and complacency to change.
Additionally, power structures and stratification emerge in cross-cultural conflicts. The dynamics of power impact each of us (Bucher, 2008). Our assumptions and interactions with each other are a result of our position and power in a particular context or setting. The social roles and categories we each fall into effect how and when we respond to each other. A Hispanic, female, college professor has the position and authority to speak and control conflict of students in her classroom but may have to show deference and humility when conflict arises at a faculty meeting she attends. The professor’s position in society is contextual and, in some situations, she has the privileges of power, but in others, she may be marginalized or disregarded.
Power affects how others view, relate, and interact with us (Bucher, 2008). Power comes with the ability to change, and when you have power, you are able to invoke change. For example, the White racial majority in the United States holds more economic, political, and social power than other groups in the nation. The dominant group’s power in the United States allows the group to define social and cultural norms as well as condemn or contest opposing views and perspectives. This group has consistently argued the reality of “reverse racism” even though racism is the practice of the dominant race benefitting off the oppression of others. Because the dominant group has felt prejudice and discrimination by others, they want to control the narrative and use their power to create a reality that further benefits their race by calling thoughts and actions against the group as “reverse racism.”
However, when you are powerless, you may not have or be given the opportunity to participate or have a voice. Think about when you are communicating with someone who has more power than you. What do your tone, word choice, and body language project? Now imagine you are the person in a position of power. What privilege does your position give you because of your race, ethnicity, age, gender, or other social category? Power implies authority, respect, significance, and value. Those of us who do not have a social position of power in a time of conflict may feel and receive treatment that reinforces our lack of authority, disrespect, insignificance, and devaluation. Therefore, power reinforces social exclusion of some inflating cross-cultural conflict (Ryle, 2008). We must assess our social and cultural power as well as those of others we interact with to develop an inclusive environment that builds on respect and understanding to deal with conflicts more effectively.
Communication is essential when confronted with cross-cultural conflict (Bucher, 2008). Conflicts escalate from our inability to express our cultural realities or interact appropriately in diverse racial-ethnic settings. In order to relate to each other with empathy and understanding, we must learn to employ use of positive words, phrases, and body language. Rather than engaging in negative words to take sides (e.g., “Tell your side of the problem” or “How did that effect you?”), use positive words that describe an experience or feeling. Use open-ended questions that focus on the situation or concern (e.g., “Could you explain to be sure everyone understands?” or “Explain how this is important and what needs to be different”) in your communications with others (Ryle, 2008). In addition, our body language expresses our emotions and feelings to others. People are able to recognize sadness, fear, and disgust through the expressions and movements we make. It is important to project expressions, postures, and positions that are open and inviting even when we feel different or uncomfortable around others. Remember, words and body language have meaning and set the tone or atmosphere in our interactions with others. The words and physical expressions we choose either inflate or deescalate cross-cultural conflicts.
To recognize methods and approaches for interacting and building relations with diverse populations.
- What role does power play in our ability to collaborate with others and develop understanding?
- How might power structures be created when one group tries to provide aid to another?
- Research the Cultural Intelligence Center and online videos such as Cultural Intelligence: A New Way of Thinking by Jeff Thomas. Describe what information, tools, and practices are available to improve knowledge and communication skills with others.
- Provide examples on how to apply the cultural intelligence in the following conditions or situations: (a) minimize culture shock, (b) recognize ethnocentric attitudes and behaviors, (c) practice cultural relativism, (d) develop multiple consciousness, and (e) step outside your comfort zone.
Adapted from Kennedy, V. (2018). Beyond race: Cultural influences on human social life. West Hills College Lemoore.
The act of reframing or rephrasing communications is also helpful in managing conflicts between diverse people. Reframing requires active listening skills and patience to translate negative and value-laden statements into neutral statements that focus on the actual issue or concern. This form of transformative mediation integrates neutral language that focuses on changing the message delivery, syntax or working, meaning, and context or situation to resolve destructive conflict. For example, reframe “That’s a stupid idea” to “I hear you would like to consider all possible options.” Conversely, reframe a direct verbal attack, “She lied! Why do you want to be friends with her?” to “I’m hearing that confidentiality and trust are important to you.” There are four steps to reframing: 1) actively listen to the statement; 2) identify the feelings, message, and interests in communications; 3) remove toxic language; and 4) re-state the issue or concern (Ryle, 2008). These tips for resolving conflict help us hear and identify the underlying interests and cultural realities.
Conflict Resolution Strategies & Practices
Interpersonal conflict involves situations when a person or group blocks expectations, ideas, or goals of another person or group. Conflict develops when people or groups desire different outcomes, opinions, offend one another, or simply do not get along (Black, et al., 2019). People tend to assume conflict is bad and must be eradicated. However, a moderate amount of conflict can be helpful in some cases. For example, conflict can lead people to discover new ideas and new ways of identifying solutions to problems or conditions and is often the very mechanism to inspire innovation and change. It can also facilitate motivation among groups, communities, and organizations to excel and push themselves in order to meet outcomes and objectives (Black et al., 2019). According to Coser (1956), conflict is likely to have stabilizing and unifying functions for a relationship in its pursuit for resolution. People and social systems readjust their structures to eliminate dissatisfaction to re-establish unity.
The appropriate conflict resolution approach depends on the situation and the goals of the people involved. According to Thomas (1977), each faction or party involved in the conflict must decide the extent to which it is interested in satisfying its own concerns categorized as assertiveness and satisfying their opponent’s concerns known as cooperativeness (Black et al., 2019). Assertiveness can range on a continuum from assertive to unassertive, and cooperativeness can range on a continuum from uncooperative to cooperative. Once the people involved in the conflict have determined their level of assertiveness and cooperativeness, a resolution strategy emerges.
In the conflict resolution process, competing individuals or groups determine the extent to which a satisfactory resolution or outcome might be achieved. If someone does not feel satisfied or feels only partially satisfied with a resolution, discontent can lead to future conflict. An unresolved conflict can easily set the stage for a second confrontational episode (Black et al., 2019).
Anti-racist allies can use several techniques to help prevent or reduce conflict. Actions directed at conflict prevention are often easier to implement than those directed at reducing conflict (Black et al., 2019). Common conflict prevention strategies include emphasizing collaborative goals, constructing structured tasks, facilitating intergroup communications, and avoiding win-lose situations. Focusing on collaborative goals and objectives prevents goal conflict (Black et al., 2019). Emphasis on primary goals help clients and community members see the big picture and work together. This approach separates people from the problem by maintaining focus on shared interests (Fisher and Ury, 1981). The overarching goal is to work together to address the structure of the overarching social concern or issue.
Table 5. Five Modes of Resolving Conflict
Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
When collaborative partners clearly define, understand, and accept tasks and activities aimed at shared goals, conflict is less likely to occur (Black et al., 2019). Conflict is most likely to occur when there is uncertainty and ambiguity in the roles and tasks of groups and community members. Dialogue and information sharing among collaborative partners is imperative and eliminates conflict. Understanding others’ thinking is helpful in collaborative problem solving. Through dialogue, people are better able to develop empathy, avoid speculation or misinterpreting intentions, and escape blaming others for situations and problems which leads to defensive behavior and counter attacks (Fisher and Ury, 1981). Sharing information about the state, progress, and setbacks helps eliminate conflict or suspicions about problems or issues when they arise.
As groups and community partners become familiar with each other, trust and teamwork develop. Giving people time to interact and get to know each other helps foster and build effective working relationships (Fisher and Ury, 1981). It is important for collaborative members to think of themselves as partners in a side-by-side effort to be effective in their anti-racist work and accomplish shared goals. Avoiding win-lose situations among collaborative partners also weakens the potential for conflict (Black et al., 2019). Rewards and solutions must focus on shared benefits resulting in win-win scenarios.
To choose, connect, and reframe our approaches to conflict.
- Watch Finding Confidence with Conflict presented by Kwame Christian.
- Identify a time or event in your life when you experienced racial-ethnic conflict.
- Share how you responded. Did you fight, flee, or freeze? Explain how your lived experience influenced your response.
- Do you find it difficult to stand up for yourself or others in difficult conversations? Do you agree with others when you personal disagree? Do you avoid conflicts all together?
- For personal and professional success, you must be willing to engage in conflict. How can you build new habits to feel confident with conflict and manage confrontations in a productive way?
Conflict can have a negative impact on teams or collaborative work groups and individuals in achieving their goals and solving social issues. People cannot always avoid or protect themselves or others from conflict when working collaboratively. However, there are actions everyone can take to reduce or solve dysfunctional conflict.
When conflict arises, you may employ two general approaches by either targeting changes in attitudes and/or behaviors. Changes in attitudes result in fundamental changes in how groups get along, whereas changes in behavior reduce open conflict but not internal perceptions maintaining separation between groups (Black et at., 2019). There are several ways to help reduce conflict between groups and individuals that either address attitudinal and/or behavioral changes. The nine conflict reduction techniques in Table 6 operate on a continuum, ranging from approaches that concentrate on changing behaviors at the top of the scale to tactics that focus on changing attitudes on the bottom of the scale.
Table 6. Conflict Reduction Techniques
|Target of Change
|Separate conflicting groups when collaboration or interaction is not needed for completing tasks and activities
|Introduce specific rules, regulations, and procedures that impose particular processes, approaches, and methods for working together
|Limit intergroup interactions
|Limit interactions to issues involving common goals
|Identify individuals who will be responsible for maintaining boundaries between groups or individuals through diplomacy
|Confrontation and negotiation
|Bring conflicting parties together to discuss areas of disagreement and identify win-win solutions for all
|Attitude and behavior
|Bring in outside practitioners or consultants to speak more directly to the issues from a neutral or outsider vantage point to help facilitate a resolution
|Attitude and behavior
|Rotation of members
|Rotate individuals from one group to another to help understand frame of reference, values, and attitudes of others
|Attitude and behavior
|Identify interdependent tasks and common goals
|Establish goals that require groups and individuals to work together
|Attitude and behavior
|Use of intergroup training
|Long-term, ongoing training aimed at helping groups develop methods for working together
|Attitude and behavior
Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
Truth Telling & Social Discourse
An unequal part of systems of power is the way discourse operates. Social justice advocates and allies become attuned to bias and exclusion for the stand they take towards speaking the truth about White authority and privilege (Burbules, 2018). In the face of truth, the dominant group creates a context that shields any claims of scrutiny upon Whites and reinforces the unquestionable naturalness or normality of their status and power.
Truthfulness involves accuracy aiming at the facts and sincerity to speak about reality with honest motives in the truth we speak (Williams, 2002). There are many aspects to contemplate in truth telling including awareness of context, history, personal experiences, equity, and justice in the United States. The implication and responsibility for Whites in a racist society centers on the framework of truthfulness; however, various degrees of ignorance about racial-ethnic minorities is problematic making the idea of “truth” relative in the eyes of Whites. Burbules (2018) identified five types of ignorance that influence the racial-ethnic empathy of Whites.
Table 7. Types of Ignorance
|Could not expect to know
|A lack of effort to find out
|Should have made the effort to find out
|Refuse to acknowledge
|Suppressed or unconscious
|Unable or unwilling to fully acknowledge though aware
The conspiracy of silence has long been the tactic used by the White race to outwardly ignore the mistreatment and injustices bestowed on people of color in the United States (Zerubavel, 2006). Silence is practiced by never publicly discussing or mentioning open secrets such as the sexual assaults and exploitations of slaves by masters in the antebellum South. White conspirators become silent witnesses by keeping the uncomfortable truth hidden in plain sight and perpetuating a sociology of denial including the murder, torture, rape, theft, and other inhumane and unlawful treat to people of color by Whites in the United States (Krugman, 2002).
According to Zerubavel (2006), denial arises from a need to avoid discomfort and pain. To avoid psychological distress, people may choose to block disturbing information from consciousness. The psychological feelings of fear and embarrassment also reinforce denial. It is challenging for some people to talk about issues or conditions that frighten or shame them. The conspiracy of silence has allowed Whites to actively avoid and deliberately refrain from noticing and refusing to acknowledge their presence in the oppression of indigenous and people of color in the United States (Zerubavel, 2006).
Both normative pressure and political constraint maintain conspiracies of silence among the dominant group. The power and status of Whites imparts their control on the scope of attention on racial-ethnic group relations through formal censorship to informal distraction tactics using formal agenda-setting procedures and informal codes of silence (Zerubavel, 2006). As the demographic changes in the United States, it threatens the power, privilege, and status of the White race, pain, fear, and embarrassment grow among the dominant group. The White race is now faced with shifts in society and culture, and the need to reconcile White thought, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors with racial-ethnic minority groups is overdue.
To share our social and cultural experiences with others in our community to make connections within diverse populations.
For this activity, interview another student in class. Record the student’s responses to the following:
- What are typical foods served in the culture?
- Are there any typical styles of dress?
- What do people do for recreation?
- How is space used (e.g., How close should two people who are social acquaintances stand next to one another when they are having a conversation?)
- How is public space used? For example, do people tend to “hang out” on the street, or are they in public because they are going from one place to the next?
- How do people greet one another?
- Describe how a significant holiday is celebrated.
- How would a visitor be welcomed into a family member’s home?
- What are the norms around weddings? Births? Deaths?
- How important is hierarchy or social status?
- How are gender roles perceived?
- How do people view obligations toward one another?
- What personal activities are seen as public? What activities are seen as private?
- What are the cultural attitudes toward aging and the elderly?
- How important is the individual in the culture? How important is the group?
- How is time understood and measured? (e.g., How late can you be to class, work, family event, or appointment before you are considered rude?)
- Is change considered positive or negative?
- What are the criteria for individual success?
- What is the relationship between humans and nature? (e.g., Do humans dominate nature? does nature dominate humans? Do the two live in harmony?)
- What is considered humorous or funny?
- How do individuals “know” things? (e.g., Are people encouraged to question things? Are they encouraged to master accepted wisdom?)
- Are people encouraged to be more action-oriented (i.e., doers) or to be contemplative (i.e., thinkers)?
- What is the role of luck in people’s lives?
- How is divine power or spirituality viewed?
With your partner or pair for this activity, develop a presentation to share your responses and insights about each other with the class.
Adapted from Kennedy, V. (2018). Beyond race: Cultural influences on human social life. West Hills College Lemoore.