Ourcultural identity is responsible for shaping our lives. Hyde’s(2012) article explains the importance of understanding my culturalidentity in the anti-oppression work. In this profession, how Iunderstand or perceive other individuals determines how treated them.Since anti-oppression work is relational, Hyde C. (2012) recommendspractitioners to undertake some self-reflection exercise. There arefive steps to self-exploration exercise. The first step involvesunderstanding the basics of one’s culture and their impact onidentity. The second stage involves determining the values, actionsor messages that are associated with an individual’s culturaldimension. There are interactions between various culturaldimensions. The next step studies the effect of such interactions onone’s identity. An individual will then examine the privileges andpowers they have or are denied because they belong to a givencultural dimension. The way people respond to the privileges theyhave or are denied influences his/her cultural identity. The lastpart of self-reflection is to understand the cultural dimension I amidentified with and how other people perceive me.
Hyde’s(2012) work on critical self-exploration has helped me to realize theimportance of the dimensions of my life in shaping the kind of aperson I am today. It has influenced the way I present myself as anindividual and a community practitioner. The cultural dimension thathas had a significant influence on my identity from childhood is myrace. I can remember how my experiences have been linked todimensions in my personal life and during various professionalactivities. I will begin by reflecting on a critical moment thatdepicts my identity and then explore how these dimensions can mold mycommunity and anti-oppression profession.
After reading Hyde’s (2012) article, I remembered an importantmoment in my life that I have always thought. It happened in themid-1970’s when our family moved into a neighborhood that wasdominated by Whites. The neighbors showed their hostility and actedas if they have never seen a Black person. They monitored almostevery activity in our place. The whites stared at us while leavingthe house and entering the house and would shut the door. Being achild at that time, I never understood such things until I became ateenager. My parents witnessed the hostility but kept it tothemselves. However, they brought it to my attention when I was ateen. I wondered why they looked at us all the time without sayinghello or waving back when did. Such experiences made me startthinking about my skin color.
Thehostility was not only at home but also in school. What complicatedthe matter in school was that I was the only African American studentin all my classes in a predominantly white school from 9ththrough 12th grade, between 1978 and 1982. This was thetime that I was always lonely. I found it hard to make friends withwhite students since the atmosphere indicated that I was notwelcomed. Eventually, I succeeded in making friends with some. Iwished there were other African American students in my class. Theywere few and in different curriculums, grades and ages. We createdtime during lunch when we sat together and enjoyed each other’scompany. Despite the hostile surrounding, we made the best of thetime we were together.
The “aha” moment
Itwas in the late 70’s and early 80’s when I started experiencingmy own evidence of racism towards my family in the neighborhood ontop of what I was going through at school. There was a time we weregoing to school when the driver arrived earlier at the bus stop andsaw us coming, but kept going even though we were a few feet away. Idid not expect the driver to be racist. She looked at us and laughed.The kids in the bus called us obscene names. We also called themnames. From that moment, our parents did not allow us to use the buswhile going to school. They had to drop and pick us from school untilwe got our driving license. This decision was aimed to avoid the uglyending even if it started ugly. I also learned my lesson I don’thave to retaliate with the same negative feedback when it doesn’tresult in a good feeling at the time it happens. Instead, I shouldlet go of the bad deeds by other people to make my own good light.
Dimensions of Cultural Identity
Ihave always remembered that moment when the driver and the kidsinsulted us just because we were Blacks. This cultural aspect hasinfluenced my life as well as our family decisions. The culturaldimension that denied us privilege was my race. Privilege is referredto as the things that someone is denied but is given to other people(Johnson, 2006). The two groups are the same but belong to differentcultural divides. We lived in the same neighborhood, went to the sameschool, and even same grade and age with some students. Therefore, wewere in a different social category. I came to understand that it wasmy skin color that the White neighbors and students used to base tojudge us. If we had white skin, we could be welcomed in theneighborhood and at school. To me, the color difference was simply aphysical trait.
Imissed a lot of privileges the white kids had. Finding someone totalk to was a nightmare in school. It was during the class time thatI could have had time to talk by may be asking or answeringquestions. Johnson (2006) identifies the two types of privileges. Thefirst one is “unearned entitlements.” These are “the things ofvalue that all people should have” (Johnson, 2006, p.22). Forexample, we also had the privilege to ride on the school bus justlike the White kids. The second type of privilege is referred to as“unearned advantage.” When the unearned entitlement is restrictedto a particular group of people, it becomes an unearned advantage.Since we belonged to a different category, the bus driver and theother kids applied the privilege to use the bus to their advantage.
Reactionsof other people towards me based on my skin color also affected how Iperceived them. I was annoyed by the obscene names the kids called usand responded by calling them names. The response I gave was not partof my character, but I developed it from the experiences I had fromthe time I started understanding this hostility. My parents did notexpect the response from us. They were worried about what became ofus. According to Johnson (2006), the hostility from the neighbors wasaccompanied by fear. He further explains that the fear was as aresult of the ideas about the things they did not know. People arenot born with these ideas. The neighbors and kids learned them fromtheir parents and their White society. My parent’s race wasresponsible for the atmosphere in our neighborhood. I was not sparedsince I was also black. I was denied the privileges and experiencedthe effects as well.
Implications for my social work practice
Theway we handle various situations in our workplace is dependent on whowe are. My cultural identity has shaped my reactions and perceptionsof different events. Hyde (2012) argues that the use of anindividual’s “self” in community work is linked to the set ofskills and knowledge that the practitioner employs. The skills andknowledge enable the practitioner to be an instrument for bringingchange. Using the self-reflection model in the community work allowsthe practitioner to come up with and reflect the links to everyclient he/she attends to. Every client has their own experiencesbased on cultural identity. Considering the connection to a culturaldimension will enable me to identify the needs and oppressions theindividuals I serve have experienced. Taking into account people’sexperiences while serving them gives practitioners an opportunity toreflect on how their clients think of them.
Myrace was a source of the oppression I experienced. It also models howI perceive others. Despite the fact that I was not welcomed in thesociety dominated by the Whites, I was able to make friends with afew. Over and above, I realized that not all Whites look down uponthe Black people. This may be as a result of their parent’s role.Although my clients belong to different cultural divides, they may ormay not be working towards an end to the oppression in our society.There may be individuals who are fighting oppression of other racesbut because they have white skin color they are not victims ofracism. Therefore, I should not think that my client is a racist whenI notice that he/she is White. Considering the clients’ identitycan help improve the results of my effort. Such considerations areassociated with improved efficiency of programs a practitioner usesin the anti-oppression work. This way, the fight againstdiscrimination will be successful.
The experiencesof a person have some connections with his/her cultural identity. Thecultural identity also determines how a person behaves, acts andreacts to different situations. It also influences theanti-oppression work. Therefore, there is a need for self-reflectionto help us to understand how cultural identity affects our lives andperceptions. The cultural category to which a person belongsdetermines whether he/she enjoys or is denied privileges. Our race isan example of cultural dimension that enables us to get things ofvalue and vice versa. People are not born racists. They learn them.These ideas influence their judgment. As a practitioner in theanti-oppression work, reflecting on my cultural identity makes iteasier to see discrimination in relation to myself, oppressor and theoppressed. Anti-oppression work requires collective efforts to changehow people judge other based on cultural differences.
Hyde, Cheryl A. (2012). Challenging ourselves: CriticalSelf-Reflection on Power and Privilege. In M. Minkler (Ed.),Community organizing and building for health and welfare (pp.428-436). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Johnson, Allan G. (2006). Privilege, power, and difference. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies.