Revisiting Multiculturalism in Social Work
Fellin, Phillip, Journal of Social Work Education
CREATED OUT OF CONTROVERSIAL developments in both K-12 and higher education circles, sometimes labeled the "culture wars," multiculturalism has become a popular overarching concept in social work education for the study of human diversity and populations at risk for discrimination (Glazer, 1997; Gould, 1995; Hunter, 1991; Le-Doux & Montalvo, 1999; Longres, 1997a, 1997b; Van Soest, 1995). The basic premise for teaching and learning from a multicultural perspective is that this knowledge contributes to the development of cultural competence in social work practice. Atherton and Bolland (1997) criticize this perspective, charging that "multiculturalism has little to do with understanding cultural diversity and, therefore, is of little relevance for social work education and practice" (p. 150). They base this criticism in part on the claim that "multiculturalism has become a fuzzy construct" (p. 143). In contrast to Atherton and Bolland, I believe that a multicultural perspective is not only relevant but essential in preparing social workers for culturally competent practice. But I would agree with Atherton and Bolland and others that, as a concept, multiculturalism has become somewhat imprecise. This is due in part to the multiple ways in which the term is used in the social work and social science literature. The conceptual problem is heightened by the fact that the term "culture" itself is not always clearly defined; it is sometimes used to signify ethnicity or national origin. At other times, culture is used to signify a dimension of human diversity, race, or minority status (Betancourt & Lopez, 1993; Green, 1999; Longres, 1995; Paniagua, 1998).
The purpose of this examination of multiculturalism is to create a more meaningful organizing concept for including multicultural content into a social work curriculum. According to Chestang (1988), "the organizing concept sets forth the core conceptual idea ..." that can "be examined, elaborated on, expanded, and explored," and is "central to understanding the structure of an area of study" (p. 235). Arguing that the organizing concept of multiculturalism should apply to the multiple cultures that exist simultaneously within U.S. society, this article explores the meaning of multiculturalism in relation to the groups covered under this concept, the goals espoused for a multicultural society and its communities, and the ways in which individuals and groups relate to their subcultures and mainstream U.S. society. Such an exploration involves consideration of a long-standing set of concepts that describe different modes of identification with and participation in one's cultures. These concepts--biculturalism, acculturation, amalgamation, and assimilation--have traditionally been used by social scientists to represent forms of adaptation and integration as people move into a new society (Gordon, 1964). This article reexamines these processes of adaptation and integration within the context of multiculturalism, and reformulates them in terms of the ways people relate to subcultural groups within U.S. society. Differences in competing perspectives under the umbrella of multiculturalism are identified, pointing to themes that allow for an application of multicultural ideas more in keeping with the goal of educating culturally competent social workers.
Cultural competence for social work practice is a well-developed concept associated with multiculturalism (Dana, Behn, & Gonwa, 1992; Diller, 1999; Green, 1999; Gutierrez & Nagda, 1996; Leigh, 1998; Lum, 1996; Manoleas, 1996; National Association of Social Workers, 1996a, 1996b; Pinderhughes, 1994; Queralt, 1996). Referring to ethical responsibilities to clients, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics states that social workers "should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures," and "should have a knowledge base of their clients' cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients' cultures and to differences among people and cultural groups" (NASW, 1996a, p. 9). In Social Work Speaks, NASW states that:
in U.S. social work, cultural diversity is primarily associated with race and ethnicity, but social workers are also aware of the need to develop culturally competent skills, knowledge, and values when working with people of a different gender, social class, religion or spiritual belief, sexual orientation, age, and disability. (1996b, p. 76)
This focus on cultural competence in the social work profession assumes a full range of cultures and is based on definitions of the term culture like that of NASW (1996b), which "implies the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group"(p. 77).
The inclusion of multicultural perspectives in social work education not only helps aspiring social workers to attain professional skills recommended by NASW, but also fulfills the accreditation standards of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Current CSWE curriculum policies, established in 1992, build on a history of using accreditation standards to assure inclusion of content on minorities and women in social work education (Greene, 1994; Trolander, 1997). The 1992 accreditation standards and curriculum policy guidelines, without specifically using the term multiculturalism, expand this content requirement by further requiring a focus on cultures within a framework of human diversity and populations-at-risk. The need for an understanding of the cultures of multiculturalism is also related directly to educational policies in the areas of ethics and values, and social and economic justice (CSWE, 1992). However, even with these NASW and CSWE guidelines, there remains a lack of consensus in the literature about the meaning of multiculturalism among social work educators. For example, in a recent conference titled "Multicultural Social Work Education for the 21st Century" and sponsored by CSWE's Task Force on Multicultural Social Work, participants discussed issues related to defining multiculturalism and cultural competence ("Task force meeting," 1999).
Defining Multiculturalism: What Groups?
There at least three major prevailing approaches to defining multiculturalism in social work education. In the first approach, the term is equated with cultural pluralism and cultural diversity, and is inclusive of all groups defined as cultures. In the second approach, the term refers only to the cultures of people of color, that is, persons belonging to ethnic minority groups. In the third approach, the term includes both people of color and other populations at risk for discrimination and oppression. In each of these approaches, the concepts of ethnic group and cultural group are often used interchangeably. Based on a review of these definitions, I advocate for an inclusive perspective based on the concept of cultural pluralism. By cultural pluralism I do not mean cultural separatism, or cultures as one-dimensional identities, but rather cultural diversity as in the wide range of distinctive cultural groups within the United States (Longres, 1997b; Maki, 1997).
Gould (1995) states that "multiculturalism simply implies the existence of a culturally pluralistic society" (p. 199). In a similar vein, Longres (1995) calls "multiculturalism a perspective akin to cultural pluralism which espouses the idea that multigroup societies should accommodate, promote, and appreciate diversity" (p. 541). Ewalt, Freeman, Kirk, and Poole (1996, p. xi) define multiculturalism as "the professional disposition to acknowledge, appreciate, and understand cultural diversity," a diversity that includes "various racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups." These definitions of multiculturalism are based on the premise that U.S. society should not be characterized as having only one national culture, but rather it should be seen as having a national culture as well as many distinct cultural groups. The linguistic convention of using descriptors or labels like Asian American ,Jewish American, or Irish American highlights the existence of some of these distinct ethnicities, religions, or national origins. The use of the term American is assumed to refer to the United States, although this is only one nation within the continents of the Americas. However, as Maki (1997) has noted,
traditionally, the concepts of acculturation/assimilation treated `hyphenated Americans' (e.g. Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, etc.) as groups or individuals who were halfway through the process. They were not completely their original culture, and they had not completely adopted (or been accepted by) the new culture. (p. 2)
Maki goes on to say that "this perspective is very limiting because it fails to recognize the `hyphenated American' cultures as ends in themselves" (p. 2). This lack of recognition is overcome under multiculturalism, with the retention of modifying terms to distinguish subcultural groups from mainstream U.S. American culture.
The advantage of this inclusive definition of multiculturalism is that it emphasizes cultural and ethnic differences and similarities among population groups rather than being based on race and/or minority group status (Phinney, 1996). This approach has the additional advantage of including groups not uniformly considered to be cultural groups and, as a result, usually left out of a multicultural perspective--groups distinguished by social class, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or age (Greene, 1994).
People of Color
A second form of multiculturalism includes only people of color, often referred to as ethnic minority groups or communities of color. The construction of a term that encompasses the cultures of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and Native Americans has been controversial (Etzioni, 1998; Green, 1999; Iglehart & Becerra, 1995; Lum, 1996, 1999; Pinderhughes, 1994). For example Green (1999), pointing to the conceptual limitations of the term people of color, argues that "people of color do not constitute a culture: the term is just too broad for that" (p. 15). Wallace (1994) makes this point as well, stating,
the problem with multiculturalism, in general, is that it tends to lump people of color together. People of color don't think of themselves as people of color, for the most part.... So perhaps the real problem is that unified, monological identities such as people of color or whiteness are always unrepresentative fictions. (p. 260)
At the same time, people of color as a general category has gained currency in the professional literature. As Lum (1996) states, "the color factor has been a barrier to African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, in contrast to other ethnic groups who are able to blend into the white-dominated society" (p. 2). I prefer to use the term "people of color," because it clearly distinguishes these groups from white populations, especially in relation to cultural diversity and discrimination and oppression in U.S. society.
Gambrill's (1997) reference to multicultural social work practice illustrates the inclusion of only people of color in a multicultural perspective: "I define multicultural clients as those who are not white, of Western European descent" (p. 159). Lum (1996) also contends that culturally diverse social work practice has as its primary focus people of color. Gould (1995) criticizes this formulation, asserting that by limiting the concept of multiculturalism to a minority perspective, social work education has misconstrued its meaning. According to her, "educating for pluralism became equated with teaching about people of color" (p. 200). Devore (1997) points out that in large part the response to CSWE directives about human diversity has been the inclusion of themes of race, ethnicity, and culture, with "the resulting literature ... limited in scope to the ethnic minority experience in the United States" (p. 43).
Even when multiculturalism is defined as focusing solely on people of color, this does not assure adequate multicultural content in the social work curriculum and professional literature. Social work educators continue to express concerns that people of color and their cultures receive limited coverage in the professional literature (Aguilar, 1995; Green, 1999; Iglehart & Becerra, 1996; Lum, 1996; McMahon & Allen-Meares, 1992). This concern appears to have merit when coverage of people of color is compared to the total subject matter of social work literature represented in journals, texts, and other scholarly works (Lum, 1996).
Still, the social work literature currently contains a substantial amount of content on the cultures of people of color. In their study of graduate level multicultural courses, Le-Doux & Montalvo (1999) found some 50 required texts listed within multicultural course syllabi. Issues about multiculturalism have been introduced through two recent volumes, de Anda's (1997) Controversial Issues in Multiculturalism and Ewalt and colleagues' (1996) Multicultural Issues in Social Work, as well as in the Journal of Multicultural Social Work.
There are mixed findings regarding the integration of this content into baccalaureate social work programs. Aguilar's (1995) study found limitations to such integration, while Mokuau's (1991) earlier study showed adequate content on ethnic minorities at the baccalaureate level. Le-Doux & Montalvo's (1999) study of graduate-level social work courses indicated inclusion of substantive content on traditionally oppressed minority populations, with more limited attention to other cultural groups. The clearest evidence of integration of this content in social work curricula comes from the fact that since 1992 numerous BSW and MSW social work programs have been judged by CSWE's Commission on Accreditation to have met standards relevant to this content.
One important omission in the literature is any significant coverage of the heterogeneity of each major group of people of color. As a group designation, the term Asian American, for instance, includes Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, Pacific Island Americans, and Filipino Americans (Fong & Mokuau, 1996). An extreme case of not recognizing intra-group diversity is the lumping together of many sovereign nations/tribes as Native Americans (Gross, 1995). Champagne (1997) presents the view that American Indians should not be classified as an ethnic group similar to other ethnic groups in the United States, but rather as culturally diverse groups. At the same time, in the work of Green (1999), Furuto, Biswas, Chung, Murase, and Ross-Sheriff (1992), Rivera and Erlich (1995), and in the Journal of Multicultural Social Work, a literature where specific subgroups are discussed is emerging. An increase in the literature on the diversity within major population groups of color can be expected to make social work education and practice more multicultural and, therefore, more reflective of the populations social workers serve.
In a third approach to defining multiculturalism, de Anda (1997) states that the concept refers to "diversity Within the society with the focus on ethnic minority populations and other population groups who have been marginalized or who have been denied access to power, goods, and opportunity because of their identification as a specific population" (p. xi). In this definition, multiculturalism includes only marginalized groups, people of color as well as others such as gay and lesbian persons (Newman, 1994; Vaid, 1995; Young-Bruehl, 1996). It is unclear whether or not this definition embraces groups discriminated against on the basis of religion and national origin such as Jews, Catholics, Muslims, or some European-American ethnic groups. Under this definition it is also unclear whether populations at risk for discrimination like women, age groups, and persons with disabilities are viewed as cultural groups (Greene, 1994; Harper & Lantz, 1996; Queralt, 1996; Schriver, 1998; Young, 1995).
The three definitions of multiculturalism presented here emphasize single cultures as the primary basis of individual, group, and community identification, particularly with regard to people of color. Yet, however strong a single culture may be for individuals and groups, identities are often based on one or more other characteristics, such as national origin, gender, social class, sexual orientation, disability, or age (Kendall, 1997; Schriver, 1998). Multiple identities are glossed over when subgroups are classified under general categories such as Asian American or Hispanic/Latino American. A multicultural perspective needs to recognize that most people's identities are formed through identifications with multiple social categories, although these identifications vary by intensity, attachment, and social involvement. As Martinez-Brawley and Brawley (1999) note, "particularly in the U.S., every individual has many cultural selves. Every individual is permeated by the voices of many cultures ... they are in more ways than one, transcultural people" (p. 29). Longres (1997b) has suggested that cultural pluralism supports a one-dimensional identity that submerges "other identities--class, gender, and sexual orientation--in favor of a single ethnic one" (p. 11). On the contrary, as I will argue further, a stronger definition of cultural pluralism moves away from a focus on a single ethnic culture by including nonethnic cultures. In a similar vein, Zuniga(1997) advocates for a cultural assessment in the learning process that enables learners "to recognize how they have been impacted by a variety of cultures to which they are exposed: familial, national, ethnic-racial, religious, gender, age, etc."(p. 37). Still, in the United States, due to the visibility of color and names, race and ethnicity are often imposed upon individuals and groups as the primary basis for cultural identity.
The idea of multiple identities can be applied to mixed racial or ethnic group membership, for example, Mexican and American Indian, Chinese and African American, Italian and French. While the U.S. Census Bureau uses self-identification to count race and ethnicity, in the past the Bureau has not allowed specific choices for people with mixed identities. However, in the 2000 census individuals with mixed racial/ethnic origin can identify themselves with more than one group, but there is no "mixed race" category (Holmes, 1997).
White Populations and Religious Groups
As I noted, multiculturalist perspectives often equate concepts of race and minority status with the culture and ethnicity of people of color. These cultures are usually examined in relation to "the values, attitudes, experiences, and historical perspectives of white persons" of European descent (Schriver, 1998, p. 64). The concept of ethnocentrism, "the tendency to see one's own group as more important, more valuable than others," is the guiding principle attributed to white mainstream American culture (p. 65). Examinations of whiteness, white male dominance, and white power and privilege emphasize how the culture of white society is maintained through degrading the cultures of people of color (Murray & Smith, 1995). A limitation of this perspective is the tendency to picture the European-American population as homogeneous by not recognizing differences among European Americans such as ethnicity, social class, religion, and social class (Buenker & Ratner, 1992; Guzzetta, 1995; Thernstrom, 1980).
Increasingly, social work educators have given attention to whiteness and white cultural groups (Devore & Schlesinger, 1996; Diller, 1999; Guzzetta, 1995; Harper & Lantz, 1996; Longres, 1995; Queralt, 1996; Schriver, 1998). Whiteness studies in the general literature constitute a rich source of knowledge about the meaning of being white in the United States--how whites see themselves and how, historically, different immigrant ethnic groups have become accepted into a majority white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant society (Barrett & Roediger, 1997; Delgado & Stefancic, 1997; Glazer & Moynihan, 1963). Understanding the culture of whiteness and how white ethnics have become "Americanized" can be gained from study of the multicultural literature on such groups as the Irish, Jews, and Mexican Americans (Brodkin, 1998; Ignatiev, 1995; Martinez, 1997; Sacks, 1997).
Whiteness studies that examine white subcultural groups, such as so-called "white trash," might usefully be included within a multicultural perspective. White trash is a pejorative term for a complex category of U.S. underclass culture, which refers to "white people living in (often rural) poverty, while at the same time it designates a set of stereotypes and myths related to the social behaviors, intelligence, prejudices, and gender roles of poor whites" (Wray & Newitz, 1997, p. 5). Such groups are usually located in distressed communities of Appalachia, the Ozarks, southern rural areas, as well as in white-poverty neighborhood areas of large urban cities (Harper & Lantz, 1996; Jones, 1995). As Wray and Newitz (1997, p. 5) suggest, "white trash is one place multiculturalism might look for a white identity which does not view itself as the norm from which all other races and ethnicities deviate."
With a few exceptions, such as Devore and Schlesinger (1996), Gold (1996), Longres (1995), Queralt (1996), and Soifer (1991), the social work literature on multiculturalism ignores cultural/ethnic groups based on religious affiliation. Yet Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, and other religious groups provide strong bases for cultural identity and behavior (Gordon, 1964). Since these are worldwide religions, the name of a religion-based culture may include "American" as a modifier, as in American Jews, or American Catholics. As Morris (1997, p. vii) notes in regard to American Catholicism, "it has always been as much a culture as a religion, one defined by its prickly apartness from the broader, secular American culture--in America, usually enthusiastically for America, but never quite of America." Recent writings explore multicultural issues with regard to Jews as a cultural group in the United States (Alexander, 1994; Elazar, 1995; Young-Bruehl, 1996). Gold (1996) and Soifer (1991) advocate for inclusion of content on Jews in a social work curriculum based on the cultural-religious attributes of the Jewish community and continuing anti-Semitism within U.S. society. The increasing assimilation of Jews into mainstream American culture is also an important and ongoing issue in multiculturalism (Abrams, 1997; Dershowitz, 1997; Prell, 1999).
Social Change Goals of Multiculturalism
A major focus of multiculturalism is its prescriptive social change goals for U.S. American society and its communities (Gould, 1995). Multiculturalists usually establish as a goal the creation of a multicultural society to assure social and economic justice for cultural groups facing discrimination in U.S. society. As Turner (1994, p. 407) notes, "culture for multiculturalists, then, refers to collective social identities engaged in struggles for social equality." Linking multiculturalism with social and economic justice is a reaction to the historical pressures for the creation of a monocultural U.S. society in which people were expected to become "Americanized" through assimilation (Cassidy, 1997; Goldberg, 1994; Longres, 1997b). As commentators have noted, multiculturalism can then be viewed as a political movement (Hamilton, 1996), "a movement in support of the collective empowerment of all relatively disempowered culturally-defined groups" (Turner, 1994, p. 423).
This social change dimension of multiculturalism is closely allied to social work education's goal of instilling in social workers an "understanding of the dynamics and consequences of social and economic justice" and the "skills to promote social change" and overcome injustice (CSWE, 1992, M6.7). Multiculturalism relates to these educational goals by emphasizing the recognition of separate, distinct, cultural groups that are not inferior to the majority white cultures (Taylor, 1994). It seeks to create a multicultural nation through an empowering process closely aligned with empowerment practice in social work (Garcia, 1995; Gutierrez, Parsons, & Cox, 1997).
Social work educators are not in agreement about the merits of multiculturalism for achieving social justice. Van Soest (1995), for instance, suggests that while social work education's policies support multiculturalism as an avenue for achieving social justice for oppressed groups, "in practice the profession displays considerable ambivalence about its commitment to social justice" (p. 63). Longres (1997a) supports this view by arguing that multiculturalism has not led to empowerment for people of color due to a continued focus on "private troubles," instead of on social reform and the achievement of "equality, equity, or simply equal opportunity"(p. 42). Longres suggests that forms of affiliation with U.S. mainstream society such as amalgamation are more likely to produce social and economic achievement for ethnic minority groups than assimilation, especially through a focus on intergroup relations.
Guzzetta (1997) takes a similar position in regard to "culture-specific" services, noting that "identification and separation into culturally distinct groups that are treated as `different' does not represent acceptance, and is not social justice ... it is segregation and leads to injustice"(p. 63). In response, Lum (1997) emphasizes that cultural groups have "unique characteristics and particular needs," and supports service delivery systems that are "culture-specific in their design to meet the needs of multicultural clients" (p. 54). An illustration of this approach is Murase's (1992) study of Asian-American community-based mental health agencies, in which he demonstrated how models of service delivery based on race and ethnicity overcome inequities in services for members of Asian-American communities. In a similar approach, Gutierrez and Nagda (1996) propose the development of multicultural human service organizations to achieve positive social change and social justice through the empowerment of communities of color.
Forms of Attachments to Cultures
Multiculturalism rejects the concept of the "melting pot" as an assimilationist goal for all members of U.S. society, and promotes cultural equality and cultural separatism. This political stance is challenged by other visions of how members of subcultural groups should be able to relate to the dominant white American culture (Etzioni, 1993; Glazer, 1997; Schlesinger, 1997; Takaki, 1987, 1993). The concepts of biculturalism, acculturation, amalgamation, and assimilation reflect these other types of relationships (Longres, 1995, 1997a, 1997b; Maki, 1997; Van Soest, 1995). They constitute alternative processes through which individuals identify with their cultural groups, especially in relationship to primary group memberships (e.g., informal, personal, affective relations of family, kinship ties, social networks), secondary group relationships and institutional contacts (e.g., formal roles in workplaces, legal system, educational system, health and welfare services). These forms of identification can be applied not only to newcomers, but to all residents. They allow for variations in the cultural attachments and social participation of people, while recognizing that at any given time in the history of a population group, one process may be more beneficial than others. For example, bicultural attachments and social participation may be very functional for new immigrants and refugees to the United States, with family and kinship groups providing essential resources through native helping and communication patterns. At the same time it is usually beneficial for these groups to become involved in the major social institutions of a local community (Fellin, 1997; Ross-Sheriff, 1992).
Biculturalism involves the maintenance of one's own cultures based on primary group memberships and involvements, and through voluntarily participating in such cultures at whatever level desired (de Anda, 1984). Biculturalism also supports the central involvement of people with the major institutional structures of U.S. society, such as workplaces, schools, churches, health facilities, social welfare agencies, governmental agencies, courts, and community organizations (Fellin, 1997; Longres, 1995, 1997a). In promoting biculturalism, de Anda (1984) notes that bicultural socialization, wherein ethnic minority persons become socialized in both minority and majority cultures, has benefits like bilingualism. In biculturalism, minority cultures based on race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality may become less instrumental and more ornamental than a national American culture (Lugones & Price, 1995). According to Gans (1996), identity with subcultures is symbolic, with primary relationships in these cultures based on customs, traditions, holiday and religious rituals, music, foods, communication patterns, and language.
Other forms of affiliation with one's cultures emphasize a stronger attachment to mainstream U.S. culture than biculturalism. Acculturation, for example, calls for changes of cultural patterns to those of the host society in areas related to secondary group and institutional contacts (Gordon, 1964). It is similar to biculturalism in that it allows for the retention of primary group relationships and cultural patterns specific to one's own subcultures. Amalgamation, on the other hand, is a process whereby "all groups would blend into one and in the process create a unique culture that would be a combination of all of them" (Longres, 1997a, p. 45). In its classic sense, assimilation represents full social integration of people into a society, thereby involving identification with mainstream American society and its institutions. Amalgamation also involves "the entry of an ethnic group's members into close, or primary, relationships with members of the dominant group," and "the disappearance of the ethnic group as a separate entity and the evaporation of its distinctive values" (Gordon, 1964, p. 81).
The stance of many proponents of multiculturalism has been the promotion of separate subcultural groups and the rejection of acculturation and assimilation as "melting pot" perspectives. This stance has been in large part a reaction to the way in which the dominant white society has successfully prevented the full integration of many people of color, especially African Americans, into mainstream U.S. society (Cassidy, 1997; Glazer, 1993, 1997; Thernstrom & Thernstrom, 1997). Historically, challenges to assimilation have come from several social movements, such as African-American, Native-American, gay and lesbian, and women's movements (Bernstein, 1997; Kerchis & Young, 1995; Vaid, 1995). These movements have rejected the politics of assimilation that "defines group difference in a negative way, as a liability or disadvantage to be overcome in the process of assimilating into mainstream society"(Kerchis & Young, 1995, p. 11). The focus of multiculturalism on societal goals, social change, and social justice provides a useful function in its critique of a monocultural, white-dominated society. However, in its use of so-called identity politics as a framework for changing society, it rejects various forms of societal and community processes of benefit to nonwhite and white populations alike. My reformulation of these processes asserts that each of these processes may be a legitimate and beneficial option for group identity and affiliation in a society that is multicultural.
The Future of Multiculturalism: Postculturalism?
Some observers believe that U.S. society is moving into a phase of postculturalism where "there is a thinning of the cultural content of identities," where talk of cultures may obscure the problems within society (Appiah, 1997, p. 27). In this vein, Clausen (1996) notes that, with the exception of some new immigrants and old religious minorities, "The major constituents of real cultures ... family, religion, ethics, manners ... have shrunk almost to the vanishing point as authorities over individual behavior" (p. 4).
Amalgamation and assimilation are expressions of postculturalism. An example is Liu's (1998) The Accidental Asian, where he makes a case for assimilation of Asians into U.S. society, predicting a new form of postculturalism. He writes that "the end product of American life is neither monoculturalism nor multiculturalism, it is omniculturalism" (p. 1). As book reviewer Krist (1998) observes, "in a population increasingly defined by hyphenated bloodlines (Liu's own children will be Chinese-Scottish-Irish-Jewish), the tasks of distinguishing between `Asian' and `American' may be academic sooner than we think" (p. 18).
Hollinger (1995), in Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, envisions a period where an ethno-racial and cultural component of identity becomes more voluntary than prescribed, leading to communities of consent. Postethnicity "emphasizes the civic character of the American nation-state, in contrast to the ethnic character of most of the nationalism we read about today" (p. 14). Even so, Hollinger recognizes that "the economic, political, and cultural obstacles to a postethnic America are truly formidable"(p. 170). Still, Longres (1997b) suggests that U.S. society is on its way to postculturalism, noting that even among people of color "a connection with a traditional culture becomes increasingly tenuous as we cross the generations and move to urban, industrial, and postindustrial environments" (p. 8).
Multiculturalism appears to have redirected attention away from racial to cultural differences as the basis of diversity. This has led to predictions that amalgamation and assimilation of people into mainstream U.S. society will lead to postculturalism (Jones, 1995; Payne, 1998; Star, 1997). Postculturalism is in part supported by the idea that "racial intermarriage will break down the color divide in America" (Lind, 1998). Demograhers predict that the United States is becoming a nation made up of a majority of minority group peoples, that is, people of color. On the other hand, an argument is being made that the nation's population will not be a minority majority, nor a white, mixed-race majority, but will include two population groups, one beige and the other black (Lind, 1998). This projection is based on the belief that race continues to be a significant social fact in the United States, especially in relation to African Americans.
Demographic trends predict an increase in intermarriage of whites with nonwhite Hispanic and Asian Americans, and a very low level of intermarriage of all groups with African Americans (Fletcher, 1998). This leads to a forecast that "increasingly whites, Asians and Hispanics are creating a broad community from which black Americans may be excluded" (Lind, 1998, p. 38). Lind's view of future American society is one of "a white-Asian-Hispanic melting pot majority ... a hard to differentiate group of beige Americans ... offset by a minority consisting of blacks who have been left out of the melting pot once again" (p. 39). However, a challenge to this vision may appear if there is a greater social mobility and economic equality among African Americans. Thus, Lind says, "ending racial segregation by class might ... just might ... bring about an end to race itself in America" (p. 39).
The emphasis of multiculturalism on subcultures, especially those of people of color, is assumed to promote the elimination of racism. However, as Davis (1996, p. 44) warns, "multiculturalism can become a polite and euphemistic way of affirming persisting, unequal power relationships by presenting them as equal differences." One question for multiculturalism is whether racial, ethnic, and cultural categories protect us or divide us (Mathews, 1996; Wright, 1994). As long as racism exists in the United States and we are not at a point of being a postcultural and postracial society, there is a strong argument for classification that protects people of color through civil rights monitoring and enforcement (Murray & Smith, 1995). This perspective suggests that an educational focus on people of color as populations-at-risk for discrimination and prejudice needs to be given increased attention vis-a-vis the cultural emphasis of multiculturalism.
Toward a New Multicultural Perspective for Social Work
The concept of multiculturalism provides one foundation for selecting and teaching about cultural groups in a social work curriculum. My discussion signifies the need for some basic level of consensus among social work educators about the meaning of multiculturalism, leading to a set of four principles that can be useful in curriculum development about human diversity. The four principles are:
1. A multicultural perspective should be inclusive of all subcultural groups, viewed as distinct groups that are interdependent with mainstream U.S. culture.
2. A multicultural perspective should recognize that all people in U.S. society identify with "multiple cultures," with varying degrees of affiliation and social involvement.
3. A multicultural perspective should recognize that all members of U.S. society engage in various types of relationships within their various cultures, and in relation to a mainstream U.S. culture. Biculturalism, acculturation, amalgamation, and assimilation, as forms of attachment and social relationships with these cultures, are proposed as options for members of U.S. society.
4. A multicultural perspective would recognize the changing nature of U.S. society, as it is continually influenced by all of its subcultures, and by national demographic, social, and institutional trends.
Table 1 presents a way of visualizing the first two principles as a guide to cultural assessment. Several major U.S. identification categories are listed here, and one has the option of adding others. Principles 1 and 2 make the assumption that individuals living in the United States are, to some degree, affiliated with a national U.S. culture, and that it is appropriate to regard the categories in Table 1 as subcultures. The principles are also based on the assumption that each of the subcultures has distinctive features, many of which have been identified in the literature (Green, 1999; Longres, 1995; Queralt, 1996). Principles 1 and 2 follow the perspective of Ewalt and her colleagues (1996, p. xii) that "multicultural perspectives are inclusive rather than exclusive by viewing the strengths, traditions, and contributions of all groups as essential to the development and wellbeing of a society." In Table 1, the ethnic/racial group culture category illustrates a general type of cultural group that can be further distinguished by major cultural groups (e.g., Asian American), followed by recognition of subgroups (e.g. Japanese American, Chinese American, Korean American). This format can be used in regard to the other major cultural classifications. Illustrations of dimensions that might be examined in a cultural assessment appear across the top. The table allows for the identification of an individual's membership in a cultural group, the degree of the individual's psychological identification with a group, and the level of the individual's social participation with group members. An example of other dimensions that might be examined include the extent to which a cultural group is at risk for discrimination in U.S. society, and the extent to which an individual has experienced discrimination related to cultural group membership.
Table 1. Assessing Cultures of Identification and Participation
Group Level Membership of Psychological Identification Identification Yes/No High Low Ethnic/Racial Group - - Major categories Subgroups Religion Social Class Gender Sexual Orientation Disability/Ability Age Level of Social Participation High Low Ethnic/Racial Group - - Major categories Subgroups Religion Social Class Gender Sexual Orientation Disability/Ability Age
Table 1 also illustrates the second principle by specifying multiple cultural categories, while at the same time allowing for determination of one or more dominant cultural group memberships vis-a-vis secondary ones. This principle recognizes that people within the various groups may have different levels of socio-psychological identity and participation with others in their group, expressed through customs, language, social networks, kinship patterns, and organizational memberships. Of the multiple cultures people identify with, one is usually dominant, such as a group based on race/ethnicity, nationality, religion, or social class, and the other identity groups can be regarded as subdominant. For any individual, group identification and involvement is likely to be influenced by a number of factors, such as the stage of life-cycle, length of time in the United States, residential segregation/integration, patterns of migration/immigration, and kinship patterns.
The third principle is represented in Table 2, where an individual's subcultural attachments can be examined in relation to the dominant, majority, culture of mainstream U.S. society. The multicultural literature focuses on racial/ethnic subcultures in relation to the national culture. It is a sign of the complexity of the idea of multiculturalism that Table 2 may not appear to be applicable to all of the other cultural categories identified in Table 1. Certainly racial/ethnic groups, white ethnic groups, and religious groups identified as subcultures in Table 2 can be examined in terms of the basic ideas of principle three and the concepts of biculturalism, acculturation, amalgamation, and assimilation. Principle three assumes that some people who identify themselves as members of subcultural groups, especially newcomers to the United States, will follow a traditional sequence of stages for affiliation with mainstream U.S. culture, but that this sequence of relationships is only one of several options in a multicultural society.
Table 2. Assessing Forms of Cultural Attachment
Subcultures Forms of Cultural Primary Secondary Attachment Relationships Relationships Biculturalism + - Acculturation + - Amalgamation - - Assimilation - - U.S. Society Forms of Cultural Primary Secondary Attachment Relationships Relationships Biculturalism - + Acculturation - + Amalgamation + + Assimilation + +
Table 2 also highlights some major forms of relationships people may create with both their "minority" cultures and mainstream U.S. culture. These relationships are conceptualized in terms of primary group memberships (e.g., family, kin, informal associational ties and social networks) and secondary group memberships and involvements (e.g., formal organizations, workplaces, schools, civic groups). With regard to people of color, it is possible to find descriptions of distinctive features of U.S. subcultures and mainstream U.S. culture; this is not the case with Anglo-American culture (Green, 1999; Queralt, 1996).
In examining the primary group and secondary group relationships within cultures, one should keep in mind Green's (1999) assertion that cultural contrasts "may or may not apply to individuals. The contrasts refer only to general tendencies within groups, not to characteristics of specific individuals. In any culture, people differ in their commitment to approved values and practices" (p. 270). Contrasts of cultural characteristics include such items as language, family and kinship patterns, community identification and participation patterns, family leadership roles, spirituality/religious values, and mutual aid systems. In using Table 2 to examine forms of cultural attachment and social relationships, one should keep in mind the lack of consensus among educators in regard to the specific characteristics of subcultures as well as the nature of a U.S. national culture. There is some agreement, however, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for social workers "to be thoroughly knowledgeable about all of the cultural groups they are likely to encounter" (Green, 1999, p. 44). This suggests the need for cultural assessments based on dimensions such as those presented in Tables 1 and 2.
A bicultural form of attachment is represented by the presence of primary group relationships with one or more subcultural groups (plus sign) and the presence of secondary group involvements with some aspects of the U.S. national culture--for instance, laws, language, occupational roles (plus sign). Under biculturalism, secondary relationships in subcultural groups are minimal (minus sign), as are primary group relationships with culture patterns of U.S. society (minus sign). Acculturation involves subcultural affiliations and activities of a primary nature, but these are more symbolic and less intense than those found in biculturalism. Acculturation includes strong involvements in secondary group affiliations with U.S. society. Under amalgamation and assimilation, primary and secondary group relationships are heavily influenced by membership in mainstream U.S. culture with minimal influence from subcultural groups. As already noted, examination of these forms of attachment provides a context for identifying ways in which individuals and groups are most likely to achieve social justice in U.S. society. Currently large segments of some subcultural populations, including African Americans, new immigrants, and refugees, are most likely to have cultural attachments described as biculturalism and acculturation. Other subcultural groups, such as Catholics and Jews, may show more variety in their forms of cultural attachment. Still other groups, such as white Anglo-Saxon Protestants may be represented largely in the assimilation category.
Changes in the size of the various subcultural groups in each of the forms of attachment can be examined in relation to Principle 4. My discussion of the future suggests that U.S. society is moving into some form of postculturalism. One such form appears to be that of omniculturalism. In omniculturalism, it is recognized that the national culture of the United States has basic features of a civil, democratic society. At the same time, it is recognized that these features of national culture have been and continue to be changed by subcultural groups. Demographic trends predicted by the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that by 2050 approximately 47% of the population will be composed of people of color (Ozawa, 1997). U.S. society can be expected to be more strongly influenced by multiple subcultures, especially through social movements and changing economic, educational, and political institutions. In the meantime, the continuing presence of discrimination toward many cultural groups, such as those identified by color, sexual orientation, disability, age, gender, religion, or national origin, suggests the current need for classification of people into subcultural groups as an avenue for protection through affirmative action programs and government monitoring of civil rights laws.
In summary, debate about multiculturalism in social work education and practice is to be encouraged in regard to the four principles identified above and illustrated in Tables 1 and 2. Basically, the argument is made in these principles that social work education must become more multicultural if it is going to contribute fully to (a) the preparation of social workers for culturally competent practice, (b) the incorporation of empowerment strategies that utilize a multicultural perspective at interpersonal, organizational, and community levels of social work intervention, and (c) the creation of multicultural human service organizations and service delivery models (Gutierrez & Nagda, 1996; Gutierrez et al., 1997; Iglehart & Becerra, 1995; Rivera & Erlich, 1995). Becoming more multicultural in social work education requires the use of insights and knowledge now available in the literature of multiculturalism and the reformulation of multiculturalism as an organizing concept so that it more fully guides the selection and generation of knowledge about diverse populations within U.S. society.
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Address correspondence to: Phillip Fellin, University of Michigan, School of Social Work, 1080 S. University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109; e-mail: email@example.com.
PHILLIP FELLIN is professor, School of Social Work, University of Michigan.…
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Publication information: Article title: Revisiting Multiculturalism in Social Work. Contributors: Fellin, Phillip - Author. Journal title: Journal of Social Work Education. Volume: 36. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2000. Page number: 261. © 1999 Council On Social Work Education. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.