Unexpected Journey: Invitations to Diversity

Unexpected Journey: Invitations to Diversity




This paper charts a narrative journey of a partnership between two people as well as the intellectual journey of their ideas . Both narratives move in parallel taking up the issues of engaging in relationships across the boundaries of social conflict. The discussion strives to illumine a curriculum for social justice more than cultural competence and to accept the complexities of the multiple group memberships that each of us experience.

The topographical ideas of Kurt Lewin (1948) may provide a useful map of the terrain of group identity and membership. First, he pictures an individual existing within the context of multiple group memberships e.g. gender, cultural, physical disability, religion etc. Some of these memberships are voluntary– in that a person may choose to identify herself as a member some involuntary– in that she is identified by others as a member. Second, the group memberships that will have the most influence on a person’s life are those where her common fate lies with the group. For African Americans or European Jews fifty years ago the individual fate of a group member was inextricably tied to the fate of the group as a whole on an involuntary basis except for those who could hide or pass. This is also true today in the gay community where those who “come out” find themselves in a similar position of sharing a common fate.

Lewin also points out that groups should be viewed in the context of social conflict. Social conflict means here that majority and minority form a social context where the tensions between groups influence individual perceptions of self and other and behavior. Therefore he concludes that our understanding of individual and group issues can be enhanced by attempts to understand the forces exerted by the context of social conflict on both groups. This then guides our journey- an externalized discourse and reflective exploration of individual experiences of group membership in the context of social conflict. Cultural, gender and racial issues and individual identity and experience are inextricably intertwined, but we separate them here to reflect on how they are woven together.

The first such distinction we make is to notice that one narrative direction is individual– the story that applies to the history and psychology of a person and that another narrative resides in the collective history and sociology of a group and its relations with other groups.

John and Dean

In 1991, Dean Lobovits, a Jewish man, who was 41 years old, had been teaching family therapy for six years at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda California. At that time John Prowell, an African American man, who was 57 years old and had graduated from the same University three years previously, was interested in joining the family therapy faculty. Dean invited John to join him as a teaching assistant with the goal that John become a core faculty member in this subject area. This collaboration began an “Unexpected Journey” down the road of diversity.

Over the last four years our conversations have transformed our teaching methods, course materials, and clinical practice. These changes have been part of our vision for the institution to recognize diversity and foster inclusion at all levels. We have been inspired by the work of The Family Centre (Tamasese & Waldegrave, 1993, Tapping, 1993, Waldegrave, 1990, 1991, 1992,) to seek out and engage in partnership across boundaries of race, class, gender, etc. Why did we form such a partnership? One reason was to establish a relationship that would provide accountability for our activities with members of the group our partner belongs to, such as Dean’s work with African American students and clients or John’s work with Caucasian and Jewish clients and students. One important question that might be raised is why would we be motivated to engage the students and clients of each others racial and ethnic groups? Social responsibility and justice, professional competence, personal enrichment and curiosity immediately come to mind.

We did not anticipate becoming culturally competent, rather we focused on accountability and social justice issues. One such element, that is not often focused on, but that was influential for us, we like to call access. What constrains, for example, a person of color from accessing the status, power, and wealth of the dominant culture? We asked that question about our system at the University where we both were faculty members. Outwardly it appeared as if the faculty and the students were Caucasian, but we knew that there were many differences beside color of the skin that were not being acknowledged. We hypothesized that such mono-cultural perceptions themselves formed something of a stumbling block to access.

In addition to the rarity of persons of color in the student body and the faculty, we knew this because other differences were being discussed such as religion, homosexuality, gender, age, and disabilities. These discussions however took place primarily in a “Cross Cultural” class and were rarely integrated into the general classes and practicum experiences that formed the clinical counseling program. Faculty members from historical minority groups formed the majority of Cross Cultural class instructors but were not significantly represented in any other area of the curriculum. We also noticed that the effect of the current curriculum was to emphasize cultural competence for novice practitioners but we did not see the curriculum or the institution as able to articulate the social justice issues implied by the lack of access for persons of color to other areas and the segregation of diversity issues into specific classes.

We conceived of team teaching a class that was not a Cross Cultural class, (The course was one on the basics of Family Therapy) that integrated racial and gender differences into the curriculum. We hoped that such an integrated syllabus would have an impact on the students but we did not anticipate the striking effect exposing the students to the cross-racial partnership itself. One effect of this exposure was expected that of honoring the diversity and differences between us as individuals. The other effect was less expected– that of bridging differences. For us, honoring differences means preserving and enhancing our cultural differences and identity. Bridging differences means forming a bond that spans the historical injustices, fears, suspicions, and distrust that separate us without the loss of our unique identities.

The dynamic tension of these two dimensions might be exemplified in a macro view by an important political debate in 1994. In his budget, President Clinton wanted to fund a youth corps, where young people from different racial backgrounds would be exposed to each other by doing socially worthwhile work projects. The African American Congressional Caucus had concerns about resources being devoted to such a program. Would the money be drawn from programs like the Pell Grant that assists many young African Americans in their college education. In other words would making integration (bridging differences) a priority reduce efforts at addressing historical inequity (honoring differences)? When we exposed our partnership to the students, we asked ourselves which side of this dichotomy we would be seen as supporting? Which should we support in our process? We anticipated based on our past experiences that this type of either/or question could immobilize our efforts so we sought a both/and discourse to replace it.

We determined that we should support the students’ ability to choose for themselves whether their experience should be honoring difference or bridging difference. We saw the development of an environment of psychological safety as the first step toward accomplishing this. First we tried to examine what constrained such an environment from developing and our perception of that ecology forms the first half of this paper. As such an environment did develop in our classroom and consulting rooms we began to articulate the issue of exposing one’s differences. We borrowed the gay expression of “coming out” to talk about this. How could we create an environment where a student could choose to come out with their different group memberships, cultures, values, sexual orientation etc. or choose to raise issues of access to the resources of the majority culture? We understood this as an “empowerment” issue. For us empowerment means reducing the constraints social conflict exerts on a given choice. We identified along with our students and our clients, the constraints that we could externalize as operating in the classroom or therapeutic environment or in any environment where there is a person or persons in a hierarchical position who are trying to give help or knowledge to another person or persons in a lower hierarchical position.

The first constraint to choice about “coming out” occurs if the person who is the hierarchical position of helper or teacher does not raise the issues of difference. The burden is then placed on the person in the lower hierarchical position to remain silent and thus have difference marginalized by that silence or to speak out and carry the commensurate risks of exposure without the protections granted to the helper or teacher by their hierarchical positioning.

When the teacher or therapist raises issues of difference this constraint is removed and the client or student can chose to remain silent or “come out”. They can then attend to issues of cultural identity or access according to their personal preference. The restoration of this choice by the action of the teacher or therapist is then considered “empowering”. Once differences are in circulation then the choice of bridging such differences in a way that does not disqualify them becomes available.

The rest of the paper is devoted to articulating the communication issues raised by a social justice orientation. First we take up the experience of the members of groups that have been historically dominated by the majority culture. We then take up the issues of the dominant group. Along the way we try to articulate the communication impasse between dominated and dominant group members in the context of social conflict. Finally we try and articulate a methodology for spanning such impasses.

The issues and binds of a dominated group

When John and Dean taught their first class together they asked the students for their reaction to this state of affairs described above. Their responses were extremely enlightening. Students of color stated that they were placed in many binds. Since the difference of skin color is visible, when the rare discussion of cultural difference had occurred, they were sometimes asked by the Caucasian instructor to discuss their cultural experiences. This was upsetting to them and placed them in the binds referred to above. This was that they did not want to represent their group in an over simplified manner or be seen as a representative of their group unless they chose to or felt qualified to do so and in these situations the choice seemed to be taken away from them.

Another bind was that they did not want to be seen as the only ones who were “different”. After all, there were people with differences who could “pass” who were not put in this position and there were people with observable differences like “physical disabilities” that were not “seen” as “different”! Yet another bind was that they wanted cultural differences acknowledged by those in power (the faculty) and they did not want to raise these issues in class after class. They did not want this role because they felt they may be typecast as “trouble makers” or would be described as having “psychological issues” in the class evaluations.

Another bind was that they wanted the choice to not identify themselves as anything but training therapists like everyone else. Yet if they did this they would have no forum to discuss how they were going to access the resources of the majority culture and achieve professional success. This issue calls to mind an African American colleague who had wryly commented at a conference devoted to cross cultural issues; “Where’s the workshop on how black therapists go about establishing their practices in Beverly Hills?” or gay colleagues who confided that they did not want to “come out” in a professional group because they would no longer be referred straight clients. Another example of the type of issue which cannot be discussed if such differences remain invisible for a minority therapist, is exemplified by the complaints heard from Latino and African American therapists about members of their cultural group consistently expect them to work for reduced or no fees in private practice or their guilt about leaving agency work to establish a more lucrative private practice.

Our understanding of these binds has been greatly enhanced by the students comments about them. When the students of color spoke up about these binds in class three Gay students “came out” in class and a light skinned Latino student also identified himself. In our class of a dozen students, where three students could be identified as members of a minority group via skin color, we now had seven students total who were identifying themselves as members of minority groups that have histories of domination and injustice by the majority group in the U.S. We asked ourselves why these students were feeling able to risk identifying themselves in our class? This began our collaborative research effort to understand the constraints that reduce the likelihood that such differences will be exposed in such a clinical or educational situation.

Stories of pain

A major communication issue to be pursued is to establish a psychologically safe forum to explore the pain that results from the current or historical experiences of injustices perpetrated on one’s person and/or one’s group. We define such a communication issue as one where a legacy and current practices of injustice and differential privilege requires a different hermeneutic (system or method of interpretation) of inter-group discourse for survival and adaptation for such a (the dominated) group. Conversely the members from the dominant group develop a different hermeneutic for understanding inter-group discourse based on their individual experience of adaptation and survival but not, as Lewin (1948) points out, on the inextricability of their common fate at the hands of a more powerful majority group. Tamasesee and Waldegrave (1993) have named the recounting of such experiences by members of the dominated group as stories of pain and they hypothesize that the dominant group tends to individualize such collective discourse.

We hypothesize that if the constraints to “coming out” are removed for the dominated group the expression of both individual and collective pain at the hands of the majority group will be fundamentally important, if not the first order of business. We discuss the issues and binds raised for both groups in such a discourse below. Here we would like to take up the special situation where the teacher or therapist who initiates an inter-group discourse is from a dominant cultural group and who may have also had a personal or group history of perpetrating injustice on the minority group. We contend that a cross group partnership and the exposure of the workings of such a partnership may help address the difficulties raised in this situation.

First let us try to articulate the bind. If the person in the hierarchically supported position of teacher or therapist is a member of a dominant culture as well, the persons in the learner or helpee position who are not in the dominant culture are constrained in the following manner. Should these persons or person risk raising the extremely important issues of discrimination and racism where the person in power is of the dominant cultural group that perpetrated this type of injustice? Kiwi Tamasese has articulated the healing nature of sharing stories of personal and collective pain. As we describe below, persons from a group with history of domination over another group can not lead the way in disclosures such as this without creating confusion for those in the dominated group.

A person from a dominated group that has suffered injustice must maintain what Archie Smith Jr. (personal communication, October 1994) has characterized an hermeneutic of suspicion for his or her own protection. Whether it’s slavery or the holocaust, history teaches members of dominated groups that exposure of the pain of injustice may be punishable by death or economic deprivation. Harry Edwards points out that the world of sports reflects the evolution of these issues for young African Americans, Tommy Smith and Juan Carlos defied the life threatening constraint with their black power salute more than twenty years ago, similarly Neon Deon and Charles Barkley defy the economic sanctions today. Nonetheless adaptive mechanisms are taught to members of dominated groups from an early age. If the dominant group therapist or teacher is not accountable to a member of the dominated group she or he may become confused or alarmed about such “adaptive suspicion” (American Psychological Association, 1991). The client or student may also be uncertain about his or her own judgment when exposing such pain.

The choice of sharing a story of such pain is constrained further when the client or student is put in the high risk position of initiating exposure. Thus when a partnership is forged between dominant and a dominated group members in a hierarchically supported positions such as teachers or therapists, the partnership itself can take the initiative around such disclosures. We call the exposure of such a process transparency after David Epston (Freeman & Lobovits, 1993, White, 1991). We are not just self-disclosing our personal pain about suffering injustice or perpetration of injustice by ourselves or our group. We are exposing the workings of individualizing the collective discourse and the hermeneutic of suspicion by revealing their operations in our relationship. This then empowers the student or client to choose whether to come out not only about the personal and collective pain of racism but the operations of the hermeneutic of suspicion or individualizing the collective discourse in her or his history, relationships and psyche. Only by denying the lessons of history and the commensurate risk of exposure could we ignore the constraints on those from the dominated group in “coming out” about their individual and collective pain about racism and injustice in a way that may be productive and healing.

The complexity of this situation is increased because experiences of discrimination are both personal and just as importantly collective and historical. If they are treated or understood primarily as individual and psychological, (as they may be an the therapeutic milieu) then the collective pain and historical lessons are marginalized. If they are treated or understood primarily as historical and collective then the individual psychological pain may be unexplored. The adept discrimination of these factors is fundamentally necessary in the educational or therapeutic situation. How is a person who is a member of a dominant culture who may have historically or personally (inadvertently or intentionally) perpetrated such injustice to make such a discrimination. This is where the accountability provided by the partnership comes into play. Accountability here means a therapeutic insight into what is a personal and what is a collective or historical issue can best be made by a teacher or therapist who is also a member of the dominated group or if they are made by the dominant group teacher or therapist, then it is an imperative that they be evaluated by her or his partner. This is preferable because the dominant group member cannot develop the cultural competence to make such a distinction without intensive linguistic immersion, developing significant intimate relationships with members of a given culture and experience within an isolated geographic community. This difficulty in attaining cultural competence makes methods that emphasize social justice such as accountability and caucusing fundamentally important skills.


Accountability as we use it in this paper is a term developed by The Family Centre of Lower Hutt New Zealand, (Tamasesee & Waldegrave1993, Waldegrave, 1990) to describe a social justice method where the activities of a dominant group individual with a dominated group or individual are monitored by those with cultural competence within the dominated group or where members of a dominated group are monitored by other members of their own group. Usually this form of accountability system is already in place in such groups e.g. a council of elders. Accountability has also been used with gender issues. Caucusing is a term used by The Family Centre (Tamasesee & Waldegrave, 1993) to describe a collective communication method where members of dominant and dominated groups meet separately and then communicate with each other as groups through spokespersons, rather than solely as individuals so that collective discourses can be fostered and clearly distinguished from those that are individualized.

Tables 1-4

Table 1. takes up some of the binds for those in the dominated group. The list is intended to spur thinking about these issues, it is not intended to be comprehensive.


Dichotomy ADichotomy BDichotomy CDichotomy DDichotomy E
Dichotomy = Identity vs. assimilationCollective Resources and differences vs. individual comparisons and expectationsAccess to the resources of the dominant group vs. duty to the dominated groupIndividual exposure vs. group historical risk of imprisonment and/or deathStories of collective pain vs. indivdualizing response
DescriptionCultural identity/ uniqueness vs. integrated/unified societyAutonomy/self-reliance vs. historical facts of resource distribution and differential opportunity Conflict over making it and assimilating, abandoning those still in the struggleExposing anger and protest has historically resulted in punishment or deathHistorical lessons of subjugation should be ignored in "safe" or "fair" situations
IdeologyEnglish only, melting pot, integration, no differencePull up by bootstraps, Individual initiative, American Dream, reverse discriminationBeing an example, Role ModelProtesters become martyrsLiberalism, psychologizing e.g. transference, Psychological Effect: Double consciousness
Psychological EffectAmbivalent identity, self hate-other hateDepression, angerGuilt, self doubt Anger, pain and protest are immature, audacious, manipulative, disruptive or dangerousCollective complaints are linguistically disqualified as individual differences
Communication ImpasseRhetorical assumptions intensify, linguistic simplificationEffects of linguistic domination are seen as language deficits, linguistic elitismLinguistic assimilation is seen as equalityHermeneutic of suspicion. Linguistic coding is required to hide unacceptable or dangerous feelings-

The issues and binds of the dominant group

When the constraints on dominated cultural group members were lessened in our classes, the stories of pain began to be told by students of color, different sexual preference, and by women (when gender issues were addressed) we began to reflect on the experiences of dominant group members as well. Some dominant group students expressed their pain as members of other oppressed sub-groups, such as religious groups, physical disabilities etc. Sometimes they expressed the pain of being neglected by classroom discourse that focused primarily on cultural and gender issues. Others felt silenced by the strong emotions of the dominated group members, sometimes this extended to painful accounts of their own experiences of reverse discrimination. For example, the presentation of gender issues in class would sometimes invite accounts by some of the men of “male bashing” taking place in classroom discussions of feminist ideas and therapeutic practices.

Dominant group members seemed confused when they encountered the stories of pain from members of the dominated group. They reported feelings of being betrayed by the anger expressed by those who were previously silent, seeing the dominated group member’s previous silence as dishonest or deceptive instead of adaptive. They perceived injustice as an individual psychological experience and felt that they were being objectified by the projections of the minority group members. Some dominant group members did not perceive any individual benefit from the privileges that their group membership supposedly gave them. We wonder whether this invisibility of privilege leads to dominant group beliefs and fears of reverse discrimination and competition with minority group members for “victim” status. Some dominant group members expressed their fears about making mistakes in conversation or showing a hidden bias that would provoke the anger of the dominated group or they protested in anger that they are forced to be fearful about this or that the “rules for politically correct speech were being made as the conversation went along.”.

These fears and binds that constrain the communication of the dominant group are just as important, and challenging to make visible and articulate as the binds of the dominated group. We must do so in order to move through the communication impasses inherent to the context of social conflict in which we all live. As stated above the complexities of multi-group membership make distinctions difficult, but make them we must if we are to move forward. Lewin’s definition of dominated group membership was discussed previously, that being that one is seen by the majority as a member of the group to which one’s fate is inextricably connected. We use this definition to examine the psychological dimension of the dominant group individual whose identity is challenged by collective discourse about difference. Many members of a majority group hold multi-group memberships, some dominating (e.g. male, professional, middle-income), and some dominated (e.g. African American, female, Jewish). In spite of this the majority group member may also hold a unified assumption about her group identity and her sense of self to which she feel her psychological fate is inextricably bound.

Kenneth Gergen (1991) has challenged the assumption of a unified self in his work entitled The Saturated Self where he articulates the diversity of group identities a person may experience and which persist across time. For example, we may have an identity with a professional group that we see only once a year at a conference, yet if we receive a phone call in the midst of diapering our baby (being immersed in the identity of caretaker at the moment), we can resume our professional identity very quickly. Gergen challenges the notion that these identities are unified into a solitary self, as a historical, and possibly anachronistic construct and one that is the cause of much stress in our instant communication environment and increasingly complex lives. (As any parent who has taken a professional call in the midst of caretaking well knows!)

Lewin (1948) posited that group membership is the “ground” of identity as complex as it may be. He also hypothesized that the psychological awareness of the complexity of identity is preferable to suppressing or excluding such information. He used the example of the destabilization and decompensation of an adolescent who suddenly finds out she is adopted. He contrasts this case with the resiliency of another adolescent who is told in early childhood that she was chosen by their parents and who is teased by her peers about it during puberty and adolescence. He deduced that the destabilization of the ground of identity is what led to the former adolescent’s decompensation not the fact of adoption. Conversely resiliency was gained by the other adolescent when the complexity of her identity was considered a fact of life from early age.

We question whether the ground of a unified identity is subject to an earthquake when it is challenged by the complexities of both multi-group membership and the power relationships raised in inter-group discourse. For example, a man may define himself as an individual. In the discourse of diversity and historical iniquity this definition is deconstructed to male, European descent, Christian, middle class socio-economic group etc. This particular man may experience this deconstruction of his group memberships as a threat to his unified identity and sense of self. In rhetorical terms, his individual experience of relative power to others in his group is now defined as marginal and the power relations between his group and groups previously excluded from his discourses about power (when he referred to his group) are now significant. He may find his fate inextricably bound with a group of which he previously did not define himself as a member.

The groups he is now being defined as a member of, did not seem to him to bestow him any special privilege previously but now they are defined as powerful in terms of status, opportunity and privileges relative to other economic, cultural and gender groups. This occurs because he now finds himself hearing the stories of pain and exclusion that were previously constrained by fear of death or loss of privilege and were thus a segregated discourse.

In addition to destabilizing a dominant group member’s previously unified sense of identity, he or she will also find that inter-group discourse and rhetoric requires her or his competency to make new distinctions in a once familiar linguistic and rhetorical domain. For example, a dominant group member in the 1990’s in America, may be familiar with the dominated group discourse of inclusion or the discourse of unique identity, access to resources, but not the discourse of complex group membership or historical marginalization. As the dominated group continually evolves in its discourses a dominant group member may experience that evolution as a continual loss of linguistic competence, as competitive, unnecessarily complex or as attacking or making her wrong.

Educators and therapists may be particularly prone to feeling that their efforts to make institutional or individual change, deepen understanding, or find harmony are being rejected and disqualified by the pain expressed by the dominated group. The educator or therapist may then experience hopelessness, become silent due to fear of offending, take collective protests of the dominated groups as individual attacks or voice anger and protest of linguistic constraints as the “tyranny of political correctness”.

Occasionally dominant group members may interpret their individual alienation as due to the lack of the cohesion and collective experience of their own group. They see themselves as divorced from their own family or group identification and seek to be adopted by the culture and spirituality of a dominated group. They may hold romantic notions of the nobility of such groups and often leave their adopted group in disappointment when its true humanity and complexity arises. Since they carry the individualizing perceptions of Western culture they separate what is fundamentally integrated and collective in their adoptive culture. An example of this might be viewing art or spirituality as separate from the everyday experience of living in a the culture or sub-culture. Thus they colonize the language, customs, and spirituality of such groups by seeing them as “pure” manifestations of the indigenous wisdom of the culture and split off the actual social and political realities of its members– sometimes to the extent of seeing themselves as more traditionally “pure” than the “assimilated” members of the group itself!


Table 2. is a sketch of some of the binds that face the dominant group.



Dichotomy ADichotomy BDichotomy CDichotomy DDichotomy E
Dichotomy =Dominant cultural identity vs. multicultural complexity, gender issuesGroup history of perpetrating bias, prejudice or discrimination vs. individual level of bias or prejudicePrivilege of dominant group membership vs. individual experience of deprivation/ oppressionIndividual change efforts vs. long standing effects of social conflictIndividual alienation vs. romantic notions of communal or collective based culture
DescriptionAssumptions of unified identity/belonging challenged by complexities of multi-group membership, and multi-racial identityDifficulty discriminating personal bias from the effects of historical racism or vice versaDifferential treatment on the basis dominant group membership is not experienced as an individual advantage, complexities of multiple and voluntary group memberships, passingEfforts to change dominant institution met with anger and suspicion by dominated groupsPatronizing dominated group, Colonizing dominated group identity, religion, activities
IdeologyConservatism, anti-political correctness, tyranny of minoritiesLiberalism, political correctness, moral relativismInjustice is individual only, everyone has been hurt, psychological effects over historical injustice,Dominated groups should be thankful/ receptive/ cooperative with institutional effortsIndividual responsibility will address collective guilt Romantic/idealized other, spirituality can be separated from the socio- political
Psychological EffectFear of destabilization of unified identity
Confusion, guilt, betrayalIndividual guilt for anger, hurt feelings, competition over victim statusDespair, paralysis, of dominant group members and institutionLack of cultural identity, self hateCommunication Impass: Linguistic and narrative colonization
Communication ImpasseLinguistic poverty, un-challengeable rhetorical assumptionsLinguistic obfuscation or paralysisPersonalization subsumes collective narrativesSpeaking is hopeless/ dangerous-


A vicious cycle of social conflict:


In order to explicate the impasse that occurs in inter-group communication we have taken three issues raised by Tamasesee & Waldegrave (1993) and tried to understand them as a downward spiraling cycle of behavior/perception, akin to the way therapists understand the “cycle of violence”. We see this cycle supported by the socio-political constraints we have been attempting to describe for both groups and we follow this discussion of a “vicious” cycle with a proposal for a “virtuous” one.

When members of dominated groups begins to express protest, anger and pain over and individual and collective injustice and dominant group members turn to silence, anger or patronizing, the emotional temperature of both parties in a discourse escalate. The dominant group member’s sense of unified identity may be challenged. The context of social conflict exerts an influence on persons form the dominant group who are trying to “help” and the dominated group who is now seen as “needing help.”. Individuals often become paralyzed in their efforts or the institutions in which they work become paralyzed in its efforts. There will be an experience within of personal frustration or hopelessness or interpersonally of group impasse. An individual from the dominant group may be immobilized by personal guilt, awkwardness, uncertainty, and may maintain that they are personally innocent of bias or filled with regret about past bias. Waldegrave and Tamasese identify this an “individualizing” response to the “collective” pain being expressed by the dominated group or groups.

These expression of these feelings may be seen as inappropriate and the response of further anger from the dominated group may be feared. As white teenagers often take on the styles, music and talk of African American teens, dominant group therapist may take on the causes of dominated group (for them instead of with them) in a patronizing manner. Conversely, some educators/ therapists will express feelings of anger about their perception that they are being held as responsible for the iniquities suffered by the dominated group. They may also compete with the dominated group for victim status based on their multi-group membership. Ideas like reverse discrimination are manifestations of the perception that the dominated group stories of pain are manipulative and unfairly competitive. They may also perceive the dominated group as projecting their own self-hatred, insecurity, or ambivalent identity on then thus pathologizing the minority group. The dominated group experiences any of these responses as diffusing or disqualifying their individual and collective experiences of injustice. This impasse will lead the cycle back to the initial state of paralysis and inaction, spiral downward into destructive anger and resentment or result in “band aid” actions.


Table 3. is an attempt to sketch the steps of this viscous cycle

Step A: ParalysisStep B: IndividualizingStep C: Patronizing/ Anger
Linguistic ImpasseConflicting hermeneutics, segregated discourseLanguage is dangerousColonizing language or asserting linguistic hegemony
Cognitive StateConfusion/ betrayal, cognitive dissonanceEstablishing the truthAdopting entirely new cognitive context or equilibration within original cognitive context
Philosophical StanceFatalismObjectivityCultural relativism or Cultural absolutism
Cultural ConflictAssumptions and rhetoric of universal identity and experience challengedCompetitionColonization or assimilation pressure
Psychological ConflictIdentity destabilization, guiltShame, hopelessness, despairIdentity dislocation or rigidity
Interpersonal ConflictImpasse, segregationDistrustCo-optation, compromise, or breakdown


Partnership bridge

We attempt to intervene in the viscous cycle described above by forming what we call here a partnership bridge between members of dominant and dominated groups. We appreciate the “bridge” metaphor because for us bridges often span natural borders and connect different territories. We offer our partnership narrative serves as an example of such a bridge. We described some of our initial purposes and reasons for forming such a partnership at the beginning of this paper, below we describe our narrative and social justice goals.

One narrative goal of the partnership is to externalize the forces of group membership within a context of social conflict that would normally constrain our protest against current or historical iniquities and our curiosity about and respect for each other. Another narrative goal is to reduce the constraints to discourse between dominated and dominant groups by fostering distinct individual and collective discourses regarding pain and injustice. A social justice goal is to develop methods of group communication between dominant and dominated groups and methods of accountability for both groups.

The dominant group partner may experience fear, paranoia, awkwardness, uncertainty, paralysis, political and religious differences with her or his partner at the outset. The partnership bridge can provide the dominant group partner with an alternative experience– that of connection and exposure to collective worldviews. Her or his cultural identity and spirituality can be enriched by the reflections of the partner and the rich experience of diversity.

Similarly the dominated group partner may also experience rage, fear, paranoia, suspicion, awkwardness, uncertainty, and political and religious differences during the partnership experience. Experiences of oneself in the encounter with the other as the constraints of inter-group conflict are lessened can reflect back a more positive identity, more affirming group membership, and support the preservation of her or his unique culture and spirituality.

Virtuous cycle of partnership

We would like to describe a virtuous cycle of reflexive inquiry that we have found to the basis of an upward spiral that forms the partnership bridge.

Curiosity- Externalized discourse- Accountability

Curiosity begins with the acceptance of not-knowing about the other, even to the extent of the other as ultimately unknowable. There is no object of curiosity only the subjectivity of the other to be encountered. There are minimal assumptions of cross cultural competence. High levels of cross-cultural competence may not be attainable without immersion for many years in an intimate relationship and within the linguistic, collective or communal experience provided by a geographic community. Rather the goal of the encounter is a reflexive inquiry into the constraints to intimacy and connection that preserves diversity and social justice. The complexities of attaining competence in this area involve examining one’s assumptions and move toward forming enduring and intimate relationships across cultural and gender boundaries.

Externalized discourse either in caucuses or that promote relational transparency can then be used to identify the operations of power and hierarchy that fuel inter-group conflict. Such discourses can shed light on productive distinctions and discriminations about the complexities of gender, sexuality, multi-group membership and multi or bi- raciality. This type of discourse provides for encounters that transcend cultural, gender, or spiritual “tourism” and moral relativism. By reducing shame and enhancing hope and creativity externalized discourse can weave the trusting partnerships that bridge the boundaries created by current and historical injustice.

Accountability mechanisms are a preferred outcome of such collaborations. Accountability requires both a respect for differences and a willingness to be amended. It arises from a striving for social justice based on a dynamic understanding of the individual in the context of cultural and gender differences that are themselves situated in a context of social conflict. Accountability requires listening to both the individual and the collective voices of dominated group members. It challenges both partners to make moral discriminations within their own group and encounter the moral discriminations of the other group. Thus it is neither culturally relativistic nor mono-culturally normative. On an interpersonal level, accountability fosters the boundaries and feelings of safety required for enduring and intimate relationships across the boundaries created by social conflict. Diversity and differences are not only respected but reflected back with a new richness of meaning. The atmosphere of trust, intimacy and rich self reflection inevitably fosters further reflexive inquiry between the partners and groups and new levels of curiosity about self and relation to the other, thus beginning the cycle again.


Table 4. is attempt to sketch the steps of this virtuous cycle for creating a partnership bridge.

Step A: CuriosityStep B: Externalized DiscourseStep C: Accountability
Interpersonal SkillCongruenceTransparencyRespect
Cognitive StateUnknowingObserving the operations of powerWillingness to be amended
Philosophical StanceSubjectivityPower/knowledgeMoral discrimination
Cultural TaskPrivileging diversity, valuing differenceNon-colonizationSocial justice
Psychological TaskExamining assumptionsReducing shame, enhancing creativity, hope, possibilityDynamic understanding of individual in the context of social conflict
Interpersonal TaskLearning, dialogueTrust, caucusingForming enduring and intimate relationships across social boundaries



We have been engaged in a process of transparency and personal exploration with each other, as well as our students and clients. We would like to circulate our discoveries about diversity, fears and empowerment, and invite others to join our ongoing conversation. We see this effort as a logical continuation, in an American context, of the ideas brought to the narrative community by the Family Centre of New Zealand. The goals of our work are:

  • To approach our conversations by situating ourselves in our life experience, employing curiosity, transparency, and a willingness to be amended.
  • To encourage awkward conversations-conversations that are usually constrained by such fears as being inappropriately racist, ageist, elitist or sexist with a structured discourse that provides for and respects differences.
  • To move through the gateways of anger and protest that occur in such conversations, to explore the range of complex and intense emotions arising from cultural experiences of oppression by respecting the interpersonal boundaries that promote safety and trust.
  • To articulate an ethic of social justice when dealing with cultural, age, class and gender differences in the context of hierarchical relationships that are typical in our practices: student/teacher, therapist/client.


Appendix: Exercises A through F

Exercise A: Group Identity and Memberships in the Context of Social Conflict (Historical Narrative)

How has history seen my group?

Group Identity: What are the groups that history places me in?

Historical Advantage: What are the advantages that this group is given by history?

Historical Disadvantage: What are the disadvantages that this group is given by history?

Dominant Group History: History teaches me that this group has had more power than other groups.

Dominated Group History: History teaches me that this group has had less power than other groups.

Externalized Narrative: (Historical)What is the relative influence of history on this group?


Exercise B: Group Identity and Memberships in the Context of Social Conflict (Self / Others Narrative)

How have others have seen me that influences how I see my group?

Internalized Group: What are the groups that have I felt placed in by the perceptions of others?

Personal Advantage: What are the advantages others see me having based on membership in this group?

Personal Disadvantage: What are the stereotypes that are projected on me based on membership in this group?

Dominant Group Distinction: Others have seen this group as having more advantages and status than other groups.

Dominated Group Distinction: Others have seen this group as having more disadvantages and less status than other groups.

Externalized Narrative: (Others and self) What is the relative influence of others perceptions on my group?


How do I see others that influences how they see their group?

Group Identity: What groups have I placed others in by my perceptions of them?

Personal Advantage: What are the advantages I see others as having based on membership in this group?

Personal Disadvantage: What are the stereotypes that I project on others based on membership in this group?

Dominant Group Distinction: I have seen this group as having less advantages and status than other groups.

Dominated Group Distinction: I have seen this group as having more advantages and status than other groups.

Externalized Narrative: (Self and other) What is the relative influence of my perceptions on others?


Exercise C: Group Identity and Memberships in the Context of Social Conflict (Internalized self/other Narrative)

How have I internalized my perceptions about my group?

Identity Issue: How have my perceptions about my group been internalized? influenced my identity?

Group Advantages: What advantages do I see myself as deserving based on membership in this group?

Group Disadvantages: What have I internalized that defines me unfavorably based on membership in this group?

Dominant Group Distinctions: I have seen myself as having a neutral or desirable identity based on my internalization of membership in this group.

Dominated Group Distinctions: I have seen myself having a less desirable identity based on my internalization of membership in this group.

Externalized Narrative: (Internalized self) What is the relative influence of my internalized identity on perceptions about myself?


How have I internalized perceptions about others?

Identity Issue: How do my internalized self-perceptions influence my perceptions about others’ identity?

Group Advantages: What are the advantages that I feel that others deserve based on my membership in this group?

Group Disadvantages: What have I internalized that defines others unfavorably based on my membership in this group?

Dominant Group Distinctions: Others have seen me as having a desirable identity based on this group membership.

Dominated Group Distinctions: Others have seen me as having a less desirable identity based on this group membership.

Externalized Narrative: (Internalized other) What is the relative influence of my internalized identity on my perceptions about others?


Exercise D: Group Identity and Memberships in the Context of Social Justice (Liberative Narrative)

How have I seen my identity change in the context of a liberation ideology

Identity Issue: What changes has my internalized group identify undergone?

Advantage: What integrity of identity have I accomplished? What is yet to be attained?

Disadvantage: What ambivalence about my identity have I successfully resolved? What internalized oppression remains?

Dominant Group Distinctions: I see myself in a process of struggle to accept diversity and promote social justice between groups.

Dominated Group Distinctions: I see myself in a process of struggle for uniqueness and social justice between groups.

Unique Accounts: (Self Liberative) What has been my relative influence over internalized oppression?


How have I seen my group identity change in the context of a liberation ideology?

Identity Issue: What changes in identify has this group undergone?

Advantage: What social advantages has this group attained through successful struggle? What is to be attained?

Disadvantage: What disadvantages and stereotypes has this group successfully changed? What is to be protested?

Dominant Group Distinctions: I see this group in a process of struggle to accept diversity and promote social justice between groups.

Dominated Group Distinctions: I see this group in a process of struggle for uniqueness and social justice between groups.

Unique Accounts: (Group Liberative) What has been the relative influence of this group over historical oppression?


Exercise E: Group Identity and Memberships in the Context of Partnership (Self-Inquiry)

How do I see my myself and my group through partnership?

Identity Issue: How has my identify as a member of this group been changed, enriched, unified or diversified?

Socio-political Advantages: What are the advantages that I now see that I did not see my group as having?

Socio-political Disadvantages: What are the disadvantages that I now see that I did not see my group as having?

Significant Internalized Distinctions: Identity, diversity, desirability issues for myself that I did not see or see more clearly now.

Significant Social Justice Distinctions: Power, and status, issues for myself that I did not see.

Interrelational Narrative: Alternative account of my narrative about my group identity.


How do I see my partner and her or his group through partnership.

Identity Issue: How do I see my partners identify as a member of her or his group been changed, enriched, unified or diversified?

Socio-political Advantages: What are the advantages that I now see that I did not see my partner’s group as having?

Socio-political Disadvantages: What are the disadvantages that I now see that I did not see my partner’s group as having?

Significant Social Justice Distinctions: Identity, diversity, desirability issues for my partner’s group that I did not see or see more clearly now.

Significant Internalized Distinctions: Power, and status, issues for my partner’s group that I did not see.

Interrelational Narrative: Alternative account of my narrative about my partner’s group identity.


Exercise F: Group Identity and Memberships in the Context of Partnership (Partner Inquiry)

How does my partner see me and my group through partnership. (After partner inquiry)

Identity Issue: How has my partner seen my identify as a member of my group been changed, enriched, unified or diversified?

Social-political Advantages: What are the advantages that my partner sees that I did not see my group as having?

Social-political Disadvantages: What are the disadvantages that my partner sees that I did not see my group as having?

Significant Internalized Distinctions: My partner sees identity, diversity, desirability issues for me that I did not see or see more clearly now.

Significant Social Justice Distinctions: My partner sees power, and status, issues for me that I did not see.

Interrelational Narrative: Alternative account of my partners narrative about me.


How does my partner sees her or himself and her or his group through partnership. (After partner inquiry)

Identity Issue: How has my partner’s identify as a member of her or his group been changed, enriched, unified or diversified?

Social-political Advantages: What are the advantages that my partner now sees that she or he did not see her or his group as having?

Social-political Disadvantages: What are the disadvantages that my partner now sees that she or he did not see her or his group as having?

Significant Internalized Distinctions: My partner sees identity, diversity, desirability issues for her or his group that I did not see or see more clearly now.

Significant Social Justice Distinctions: My partner sees power, and status, issues for her or his group that I did not see.

Interrelational Narrative: Alternative account of my partners narrative about her or his group.



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Gergen, K. J. (1991). The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York. Basic Books.

Lewin, K. (1948). Resolving Social Conflicts: Selected Papers on Group Dynamics (1935-1946). New York. Harper & Row.

Lobovits, D. & Freeman, J.C. (1993). Toward collaboration and accountability: Alternatives to the dominant discourse for understanding sexual exploitation by professionals. Dulwich Centre Newsletter, 3&4, 33-44.

Tamasese, K. & Waldegrave, C. (1993). Cultural and gender accountability in the “Just Therapy” approach. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 5(2), 29-45.

Tapping, C. (1993). Other Wisdoms, Other Worlds: Colonisation & Family Therapy. Dulwich Centre Newsletter, 1, 3-37.

Waldegrave, C. (1990). Just Therapy. Dulwich Centre Newsletter, 1, 6-46.

Waldegrave, C. (1991). Weaving Threads of Meaning and Distinguishing Preferably Patterns. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Authors reprint.

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White, M. (1991) Deconstruction and Therapy. Dulwich Centre Newsletter, 3, 21-40.

Unexpected Journey: Invitations to Diversity
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