Not too long ago I took an assessment called the Intercultural Development Inventory, or the IDI.
I did it because I’m involved with a group that wanted to assess the group’s sensitivity to intercultural concerns. I wouldn’t have done this all on my own, and I appreciate someone else paying for me to figure out how I am doing when it comes to intercultural interaction and concerns. After all, intercultural awareness is a part of my counseling continuing education every two years, and I am supposed to be sensitive to intercultural issues so that I can be a counselor who is fully capable of serving people from different cultures.
I thought I was doing great…better than most, even.
I have to admit that the results given to my group as a whole indicate that yes, I actually am doing great, better than most, even.
Then I was a silly girl and decided to talk to the evaluator about my individual results.
You know, the whole group of us took this inventory, and we were not identified individually when it came to the group’s results.
I was not surprised to find that our group wanted people of diverse cultures to deny their differences, conform to the majority view of things, and move towards the cultural center when it comes to ideology, theology, and personal ways of being. We want conformity because our church would like our clergy to be of one mind, or of one theology (way of thinking about God) and of one way of expressing themselves. Not that this has worked…but we sure would like it to be that way.
Getting my individual results was an exercise in disappointment in myself.
I was certain that I was very good at bridging cultural differences, at accepting cultural differences, at encouraging diverse cultural groups to fully express those differences publicly so that the American people can gain the benefits of diverse cultural understandings while retaining our corporate American identity (“the great melting pot”) and our individual identity (our personal ethnic/racial culture).
I was convinced I was doing a great job.
Yeah…that’s not the results that I got when I asked for my individual results on the IDI.
What I learned is that I use Minimization as a way of identifying with people of other cultures.
In other words, I try to focus on our similarities while skipping over our differences. It allows me to focus on things we hold in common while ignoring and skipping over crucial differences between us.
I’m white, intelligent, well-educated, middle-class, and I received great healthcare and education in childhood. The idea that we are all the same assumes that you received all the same privileges as I did, that you received all the same benefits that I did. How very presumptuous of me to eradicate all your struggles by focusing on all the ways that you are Just. Like. Me.
How convenient of me to make you, no matter who you are, no matter what gender or sexual orientation you are, no matter what your ethnic or racial background you have, into a relatively healthy, well-educated, middle-class white girl.
Damn! Don’t you wish you had been blessed with all that? If you are diverse in background from me, I will bet that you would have LOVED to have had such advantages of birth and lifestyle. God knows that I benefited from such a big bunch of blessings.
It crushed me to realize that I was so stupid, so readily willing to whitewash your background, all in the hope of making us SIMILAR so that I could relate more easily to you.
Seriously, I count myself as a bitch for that behavior, and I am very sorry that I subjected you to all that, just to make me comfortable. After all, by erasing your struggle, I also erased the extra work you had to do just to be considered on the same page with me…able to compete with me for the same jobs, the same recognition, the same levels of achievement. I am white and that grants me privilege…and you worked twice as hard as I did (at least) and I pretended that your effort didn’t exist and didn’t have to be acknowledged.
I wish that I could somehow erase all the ways that I whitewashed your experience so that all your beautiful colors could be seen by myself and the entire world…because my willingness to whitewash you eradicated your uniqueness and your particular beauty, and it denied the world all that you hoped to give to us when I did that.
I am genuinely sorry. Seriously, it hurts my soul when I have to realize how much damage I did to you, how easily I held you down when I compared you to all the privileged assistance I received.
Please…forgive me my stupidity as I try to drown my privilege and as I work to highlight all the hard work it took for you just to be considered ‘equal’ when your hard work should have elevated you far beyond me.
I was brave enough to ask for the results to my individual IDI test only a week ago, and since then I have paid attention to all the ways in which our culture seeks to shove everyone into the same box in the hopes of making everyone “equal” and “similar”…
And I have been appalled and pained by what I have seen.
Everywhere I look, I find evidence that ‘minimization’ makes me and my white friends comfortable.
All I have to do is look at Facebook and how my friends post information that reduces all of the USA to our similarities.
The news media focuses on similarities, avoiding profound and often painful areas of difference.
My work as a counselor often focuses on similarities over differences so that counseling can be more homogenous and therefore more useful across cultural boundaries.
I was told quite bluntly by the clergy who shared my IDI results that Minimization was the stance from which “church growth” occurs, since focusing on differences only divides us and makes it harder to grow church attendance numbers.
I was pained to discover that church growth requires erasing the ethnic and cultural differences of the people in the congregation for the sake of making the church hierarchy happy.
I find minimization of cultural differences no matter where I turn, and it is starting to freak me out.
For the last two years, I have found myself enjoying watching CBS This Morning as I eat my breakfast. I used to watch The Today Show or Good Morning America, but I found them to be infected with ‘infotainment’ and the CBS show seemed to be soaked in newsworthy events in comparison. I am not getting any younger, and my advancing age causes me to love straight news over everything else. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of just how busy I am and how little time I have to parse through the news, or how old I am and how much I feel the demand to be on top of our nation’s struggles. All I know is that I have the New York Times on my phone and read it whenever I have a dull moment waiting for an appointment (or a few moments spent in the bathroom) and I feel the need to have my news fed to me without any fluffy entertainment data when I have only 10 minutes to eat my breakfast.
Anyway, I was watching CBS This Morning as I fixed my dogs their daily egg whites (low calorie protein is good for aging dogs who have to watch their intake due to age) and my own egg white breakfast (I’m not a young pup either). That morning I paid attention to how often Gail King, an African-American woman, and Tony Dekoupil, a Greek-American man, focused on cultural and behavioral similarities in order to make the news features meaningful to their entire audience. I was stunned to realize that both of them was focusing on similarities to the point that differences were minimized and almost eradicated …which is exactly where I found myself on the IDI scale of intercultural development.
I thought about how I focus on cultural, attitudinal, and behavioral similarities in order to establish connection with my clients and parishioners I serve.
I realized that many of them do not share my middle class, comfortable, well-fed and well-cared-for, well-educated background…and yet, despite obvious differences that I often cannot ignore, I grant that same level of respect and consideration to those around me. I automatically assume that their opinions stem from the same level of education and cultural exposure as my opinions, which are fed by masters-level education and world travel. I expect that their family and their background are as meaningful and powerful as my own, being based in the multi-cultural background of the US melting pot, while still having the flavor and blessings of individual cultures that carry on despite their melding into the great US amalgamation of culture.
Where I once thought that my ‘minimization’ was unfortunate and useless, I realize that I grant many people who might easily be oppressed by my whiteness an equal stance when it comes to the significance of their culture and ethnic background…and consider their contribution to my country of birth as significant as my own.
The clergywoman who shared my results in the IDI tried very hard to help me realize both the benefit and detriment of my personal development in the Intercultural Development scale. It took me this entire week to realize the benefit of minimizing our differences, and the same time to realize just how much I erase significant cultural differences to my own detriment and that of the others around me.
Hear me clearly: you and I will always have so much to contribute to the US melting pot. Your cultural knowledge is just as valuable as mine, and the differences we bring to the melting pot contribute to the delicious flavor that is the United States of America and should NOT be ignored.
Our humanity and the good we seek for our children is a similarity that we cannot escape. We share so much in common, and the great good news is that you are NOT so different from me and the values I hold up as being the best of the best. Together we are able to build a much better nation that is crafted from the goods of our differences and the stability of our similarities…and we will find the deliciousness of the mélange that is our US culture when we taste ALL of the differences and emphasize them while knowing that the base note, the undertone of our country, is that we all want the same good, the same blessings, for ourselves and our children.
It turns out that I am on track to discover great things about our differences…and I refuse to let go of all the ways we seek the same things. I want to remember that when it comes to our basic needs that all of God’s children are the same, and that our differences are the spices that change the stew into the most flavorful mix it can be.
I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Truly…God bless America and spice her up with the greatest diversity of cultural spices that can be. Let our country be the fullest expression of the dream that all of the world can be ONE without having to give up our individual flavors and variation.
And until then, please be patient with me because I am working on getting there.