Using Moral Exclusion Theory as a Framework for Redefining Racism in Counselor Education

By Brinson, Jesse A. | Journal of Theory Construction and Testing, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Using Moral Exclusion Theory as a Framework for Redefining Racism in Counselor Education


Brinson, Jesse A., Journal of Theory Construction and Testing


Abstract:

This article redefines the concept of racism and who can be considered racists. Moral exclusion theory (MET) provides a conceptual framework for teaching strategies that counselor educators may consider in helping counselor trainees learn more about racism and its effect on helping professionals. The author intentionally integrates scientific and reflective writing to engage readers and provoke self-examination about what it means to be racist.

Key Words: culture, moral exclusion, prejudice, racism, racists

Training students to understand racism in counselor education programs is typically done during diversity-oriented courses such as multicultural counseling or social justice/ advocacy (Pieterse, Risner-Butner, Collins & Mason, 2009; Watt et al, 2009). The courses typically focus on racial and cultural identity development theories (Cross, 1995; Helms, 1995; Ponterotto, 1988), which describe how individuals develop an identity while living in a racist society. Racial identity development is tied to die concept of racial privilege. Emphasis is placed on teaching students how to understand themselves as racial beings and to move toward a nonracist identity. Helping individuals overcome their racism is an important dimension for the helping professions (Sue, 2003).

The purpose of this article is to redefine the concept of racism and offer a number of strategies that could help counselor trainees move toward an acceptance of and understanding about racism and particularly what it means to be racist. I review selected literature on training approaches regarding racism in counseling and then offer a re-conceptualization of the definition of racism and who can be racist. I then describe how Moral Exclusion Theory (MET)-to-Moral Inclusion Theory (MIT) can be used as a theoretical framework for learning about racism in counselor education. Using MET, I describe several strategies that could be incorporated in counselor training programs to move students toward a self-acceptance of the term racist.

Literature Review

This review of the literature examines research in counseling and psychology about teaching counselor trainees how to be nonracist. The review focuses on theoretical foundations as well as empirical data.

One of the most influential works for addressing racism in the counseling profession is Ridley's (1995) Overcoming Unintentional Racism in Counseling and Therapy: A Practitioner's Guide to Intentional Intervention. The first edition of Ridley's text examined counselors' unintentional racism, with particular emphasis on why counselors may be unaware of their unperceived racism. The text also provided specific strategies that can be used to deal with difficult counselor-client situations, which may involve racism. A key feature of the revised edition (Ridley, 2005) is a section on policies and practices of agencies and other institutions in the mental health system; this section reports how professionals working in those agencies unintentionally engage in practices which are biased against clients (Ridley, 2005). Although Ridley acknowledges that anyone can be racist, the text appears to be targeted primarily to White counselors who work with minority clients.

Another major resource in the counseling literature is Addressing Racism: Facilitating Cultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings (Constan tine & Sue, 2006). This book acknowledges that although there are different types of racism (e.g., individual, institutional, and cultural), it is people of color who disproportionately experience physical and emotional problems as a result of continued exposure to racism. The book encourages White Americans to examine how they have benefitted from a racist society. Vignettes and critical incidents ate used to help the reader understand racism in its various forms.

Boatwright-Horowitz (2005) describes course modules in an introductory undergraduate psychology course for teaching students about racism in which students were required to evaluate the effect of lecture material on their perception of modern racism. …

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