3.10 Working with difference
If ‘racial’ or ethnic differences are produced as part of a process that ‘racialises’ certain groups as ‘other’, how should services respond to the issue of difference? What practical steps can service providers take to ensure all members of the population, whatever their assumed ethnicity, have equal access to services and can participate fully?
Lena Robinson is a psychologist and social work educator who has written extensively on issues of cross-cultural communication for people in the caring professions. The next activity involves reading a chapter that was adapted by its author for this course.
Click to read: Beliefs, Values and Intercultural Communication
Activity 9: Beliefs, values and intercultural communication
Read the extract ‘Beliefs, values and intercultural communication’, by Lena Robinson.
As you read, make a note of what the author says about:
the reasons for a lack of trust between service users and health and social care practitioners
the steps practitioners can take to address this.
Robinson suggests that a lack of trust between service users and health and social care practitioners may be due to incongruity between expressed beliefs, attitudes and values, on the one hand, and actual behaviour on the other. Drawing on the work of Kluckholm and Strodtbeck and their theory of value orientation, Robinson explores disparities that may exist in beliefs, attitudes and values between communicators of different ethnic backgrounds.
Robinson argues that individuals have multiple identities and that, in working across cultural boundaries, we all need to develop skills of listening and learning about individuals whose realities may be very different from our own.
You may have noted that Lena Robinson starts by stating explicitly that she is writing from a psychological perspective. Section 2 noted that there is a link between psychological perspectives and essentialist ideas of difference, although the point was made that not all psychologists can be described as essentialists. Where does Robinson’s approach fit into this debate? Does she tend to see differences as intrinsic to individuals and groups and working ‘from the inside out’, or does she treat them as the product of social processes that reflect differences of power?
Robinson is not afraid to make general statements about people’s communicative behaviour, based on their ethnicity. For example, she states: ‘Africans and African Caribbeans tend to be emotionally expressive, while white people have a more emotionally self-restrained style and often attempt to understate, avoid, ignore, or defuse intense or unpleasant situations’, and she quotes without comment Segal’s description of Indians as ‘reserved and reluctant to discuss their problems outside the family’. Writers such as Avtar Brah or Waqar Ahmad might take issue with this kind of statement, on the grounds that it generalises about very diverse groups. At the same time, though, Robinson does not ignore the importance of racism and discrimination in framing black people’s experience of communication. One of her repeated points is that white practitioners may fail to communicate effectively with black people precisely because they do not share their experience of racism. However, Robinson’s overall view is that discrimination results from white people’s failure to take account of what she would regard as significant differences in styles of communication.