Expand Knowledge ofthe Obstacles That Impede Effective Intercultural RelationsGoals
- To identify the processes of
in-group and out-group perception and behavior
- To examine the ways we view the
- To explore the dynamics of racism
and better understand its effects on its victims
- To learn how to positively
influence the healthy dynamics of living together in community
- Increased awareness of the
presence of racism in intercultural relationships and how it affects those
- Increased knowledge and
understanding of racism
- Renewed willingness to confront
one's own experiences of racism
- Acknowledgement and ownership of
one's feelings about racism
resolve to find one's voice to speak out against racism
This module addresses some of the obstacles to appropriate and
effective intercultural communication in ministry. It focuses on the processes
of prejudice—that is, how we stereotype the "other." The module then explores
the dynamics of racism. It also provides insight into how we can move from
ethnocentrism (solely focusing on our own group as normative for society) to
healthy interaction between ethnically and culturally diverse groups.
Dynamics of Prejudice and Stereotypes
involves thinking differently about those outside our own group in one or more
negative ways. Infants do not discriminate against other infants who are
different from themselves. Discrimination is something that we learn from our
According to evolutionary biologists, prejudice is interwoven with
very old instincts in group behavior that go back some ten thousand years, to
the time when people lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers. Fear of
outsiders and groups other than our own was often warranted, because the other
group could attack and harm us. This idea conforms to the Darwinian
understanding of nature as being merely "survival of the fittest," but recent
research suggests that cooperation was as important among our ancestors as
competition and protection.
Our goal in the following portion of the module is to examine how
negative reactions to outside groups occur and manifest themselves.
In-Group and Out-Group
with people unknown to us often triggers the dynamics of in-group and out-group
formation. The "in-group" is made up of people we know and trust and people we
deem to be most like us. With the in-group, we feel relatively safe. Those we
do not know or trust and those who seem different from ourselves in whatever
way (e.g., skin color, language, customs) constitute the "out-group."
We judge these individuals by different standards than those we
use for our own group. Thus, if someone in our own group does something wrong,
we are more likely to condone the deed or attribute it to outside factors. The
1970s comedian Flip Wilson's famous line "The devil made me do it!" is an
example of shifting the blame away from ourselves.
However, when someone in the out-group does something bad or
wrong, we are more likely to attribute it to malevolence: that person did
something wrong because he or she wanted to do it.
Psychologists call this willingness to think badly of other people
"projection" because we project our negative feelings (or even things we do not
want to admit to ourselves that we ourselves do) onto the unknown "others."
When we feel insecure or under threat, our suspicions about the
out-group intensify, and we are more willing to make quick judgments about
Here are some examples of common projections onto the "other":
″ "They are dirty." They do not
maintain proper hygiene. Their food would be dangerous for us to eat. We should
not have contact with them for fear of picking up some disease.
″ "They are lazy." They do not have
the same habits and values that we have, so they are not to be trusted. We must
keep our distance from them.
″ "They can't
control their emotions." They are aggressive and dangerous. They
cannot control their sexual impulses. They do not keep proper boundaries.
Specific Ways We Judge
enjoined us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a considerable
challenge, because it seems we are generally unable to see the "others" as
ourselves. This may be because we do not ever entirely know ourselves, and our
own uncertainties end up getting projected on those we do not know. It may also
be a way of protecting ourselves from the unknown.
Here are some of the common ways of dealing with the "other" in
about them: "All those people are exactly the same." We recognize a
great deal of difference and variation within our own in-group, yet we can make
the broadest generalizations about members of the out-group. We can even lump
all out-groups together through the use of negative stereotypes about them.
″We demonize them: We treat them as
dangerous and out to get us. They are powerful and to be feared and are
plotting against us. Consequently, they should be excluded from society. We, on
the other hand, are kind and benevolent. But they wish to take advantage of our
kindness and benevolence to ultimately take away what is dear to us.
″We see them as helpless children:
They are all poorly educated and are simpletons. Hence, they need our guidance
and direction. In this way, we colonize the other: we rescue them from their
ignorance by our benign power over them.
″We trivialize painful differences:
We refuse to recognize neuralgic points that divide groups against one another.
For example, some Caucasians tell African Americans that they are color-blind
and treat everyone alike, regardless of race, but their behavior toward African
Americans tells another story. Trivialization is a way of refusing to acknowledge
how differences divide people.
″We make them
invisible: We refuse to acknowledge their presence and treat them as
if they were not there. Think of Ralph Ellison's classic book Invisible Man.
There are additional ways in which we judge the "others," but
these are the most characteristic, especially within powerful in-groups.
Reality of Racism
section of the module addresses the challenge of talking about racism in
secular and Church circles because of shared cultural anxiety about the subject.
In their pastoral letter titled Brothers and Sisters to Us, the Catholic bishops
of the United Statesreflect on the
reality of racism, which unfortunately exists in the Church as a human—and thus
sinful—institution in need of conversion as well as in secular society. Consequently,
Catholic leaders need to develop the skill of finding their "voice," or the
words appropriate for capturing the reality of racism. They are called upon to
give insightful, effective, and reconciling guidance in the sanctuary and the
This module on race and racial privilege frames its content around
the scriptural precedent in the early Christian community of identifying racism
as a by-product of racial privilege. This frame of reference is transferred to
the present reality we find in our church community, which mirrors the cultural
dynamics of European American, Latino, Asian, and Native American responses to
the culture of white privilege in everyday America. This module discusses the
dynamics of ethnocentrism as the energy of a particular form of privilege by
the in-group having the power to define by description as well as the power to
determine how to regard and treat those who are the "others." Racial privilege in
America today is characterized by the regulating of Church and society to
maintain, advance, and secure the future of white privilege over and against
the "non-white others" who make up the out-group.
and Processing Racism
1. Identify racial anxiety as the
culturally learned behavior that cripples intercultural leadership from casting
its gaze on "the elephant in the center of the living room" of the
2. Briefly review how cultural anxiety
affects the intercultural leader's ability to speak about his or her reality.
3. Suggest a means of developing the
intercultural leader's capacities to assist others on the path to leadership within
the cultural context of white privilege.
4. Present a framework for intercultural
engagement that includes white privilege as a useful concept within the
dialogue, and also suggest the pertinence of other variables (e.g., gender and
social class) that sometimes are relegated to the margins of the intercultural
5. Demonstrate the transformative effect
of group learning that arises from expressing and sharing the reality of racism
as a lived experience among diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural communities.
with Voices That Capture the Reality of Racism
challenge before us to deal with various kinds of racisms is as old as the
Church. Racism, as used in this context, is a social dysfunction in which
people do not see others as their brothers and sisters in the same human
denotes the reality that there are many ways of depersonalizing people as the
"others," not just one means. There is the "otherness" of race, gender, class,
religion, ethnicity, and culture. Let us begin our experience with a reading
from our family history as Christians as we engage our present reality. This reading
is used as an example of the timelessness of the human struggle in dealing with
matters of racial diversity.
St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, particularly 2:1-13 and
3:27-29, provides a clear illustration of how racial and cultural diversity was
a source of controversy for the Church in its infancy. St. Paul confronts and
reproaches St. Peter for not consistently following the understanding the
Church had come to regarding the evangelization of the Gentiles. This episode reveals that part of the challenge of
cultural diversity in the Church is to not deny that we who are framing the
question are also influenced by the unperceived racism around us. As members of
our cultures, we are directed to effectively deny this challenge by simply
imposing a "Don't Talk" rule:
- We must not talk about race.
- We ought to deny any feelings that
we have regarding race.
should not trust ourselves with the subject.
How do we as leaders in the Church break the "Don't Talk" rule and
transform the proverbial elephant in the room into a house pet? We begin by
developing the cultural competence to find our voice in a racialized culture.
We begin by practicing the "Do Talk" rule:
- We must talk about race.
- We ought to express our feelings
should trust our own efforts to express the reality of racism to guide our
To begin our journey and growth in competency, we have to find our
voice. Our first exercise to find our voice in opposition to racism calls for
us to identify the obstacles. The FIG Complex was developed by Fr. Boniface
Hardin, OSB, to assist those seeking to free themselves from racial anxiety
when discussing racial issues. Fr. Hardin sees that our racial anxiety arises
from three areas: fear, ignorance, and guilt—thus, the FIG Complex.
- Fears when speaking about race or racisms/discrimination
- Ignorance that I have when speaking about race or
- Guilt when talking about race or racism/discrimination
Conversations on Diversity and Race
leaders are called to move beyond fear and anxiety as they lead the Body of
Christ into the beloved community of the Fatherhood of God. This is the work of
the Gospel that all disciples of Jesus are called to in our day. When we find
our voice for expressing the reality of racism, we fulfill the prayer of Jesus
in the Gospel of John: " . . . so that they may be one just as we are" (Jn 17:11).
Framing Our Terms as We Find
The term "multicultural" frames
the conversation with terms supplied by the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP)
context of the racial "other."
Multicultural" became the
umbrella to collect "non-white" realities and avoid the four-letter "r-a-c-e" word
for whites and non-whites alike in our "Don't Talk" culture.
Consequently, a conversation about
diversity begins with the assumption that one's social representation in the
cultures of the Americas starts with racial framing in a U.S. culture that is strongly
influenced by white privilege.
leader in the field of diversity, however, goes beyond the "multicultural"
framing of the question. Such a leader possesses a dual awareness of his or her
own cultural description provided by white privilege as well as how he or she
simultaneously participates in numerous diverse cultures that are described
within the larger context.
In the second chapter of Galatians, St. Paul criticizes St. Peter
for his ethnocentrism against the Gentile converts and his hypocrisy in
regarding them as the "other." He reminds Peter that we are reborn in Christ,
not as Jews and Gentiles but as people of a new creation. This kind of conflict
threatened the future existence of the Church; it can and does do the same
damage today if left unchecked by leaders. The plurality of racial groups in
U.S. society will require a pluricultural lens to build the bridges of
interculturality. Leaders who have found their voice have assisted the Church
in playing its proper role and in overcoming cultural, racial, and ethnic
barriers. Intercultural leaders of the twenty-first century will find St. Paul
to be a role model for identifying and naming the reality of racism as well as building
bridges between all God's children.
Justice and the Catholic Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010.
USCCB. Brothers and
Sisters to Us: United States Bishops Pastoral Letter on Racism in Our Day.
Washington, DC: USCCB, 1979.
USCCB. For the Love of
One Another: Special Message on the Occasion of the Tenth
Anniversary of Brothers
and Sisters to Us. Washington, DC: Bishops' Committee on Black
Clarence. "Beyond Multiculturalism: Engaging Pluricultural Ministry." CHURCH Magazine,
vol. 24, no. 2 (Summer 2008).
Sobriety: Becoming the Change You Want to See. Detroit, MI:
Institute for Recovery from Racisms, n.d.