Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Benefits and Oppression of Culturally Diverse Populations

History and Theories as they Benefit and Oppress Culturally Diverse Populations


According to the conventional historic perspective, psychology's founding fathers were primarily European and American men. This dominion provoked recent psychological scientists to integrate more appropriate standards other than those originally determined (Sue & Sue, 2008). Although some studies have challenged the hegemony of Eurocentric psychology, the history learned in my undergraduate psychology program included only European and American forefathers of psychological thought. As a woman, I found the lack of female influences disturbing. Sue and Sue (2008) contend this influential lack is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg of cultural discrimination.

Science, as a true and authoritative voice in psychology, continues to challenge racist ideas like social Darwinism and has begun to prove a benefit to the same populations it once diminished. Historically, scientific exploration often oppressed diverse populations, although evolving studies contribute to understanding the limitations imposed by Euro-centric psychological notions, which, as Sue and Sue (2008) contend, serve only a narrow segment of populations. Acknowledging the effects of history on personal world views is essential for counselors who work with individuals from a variety of unique cultural contexts.


Sue and Sue (2008) postulate "for too long we have deceived ourselves into believing that the practice of counseling/therapy and the database that underlie the profession are morally, ethically, and politically neutral" (p. 76). Pickren (2009) claims scientific racism occurs when psychologists rely on supposedly objective or empirically gained facts or observation about culturally diverse populations. For example, Darwin's (1859) theory of human evolution claimed some races were further evolved than others. Applying this theory to some populations helped science rationalize the idea that it is unnatural to intervene in nature's plan and effectively denied intervention where it may have been warranted. Additionally, such scientific application reinforced racial and ethnic discrimination (Pickren, 2009). The eventual benefit occurred when cultural studies discovered the limitations of Euro-American psychological theories and forced the identification of new hypotheses that remained true to other cultural contexts. This benefit continues to provoke and promote revised cultural and ethnically based psychologies that realistically contribute to the broader resolution of human struggle.

The Controversy of Standardized Testing

Shiraev and Levy (2010) believe psychology's psychometric approach makes an assumption that intelligence can be quantitatively measured. Morgan (1996) believed that although human cognitive traits are intrinsic, they gain expression according to biological programming and environmental influences. As with Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, an individual's culture may serve to evolve one type of intelligence more than another (Gardner, 1993). Gardner (1993) also posited that cultures value and perpetuate specific intelligences of consequence to the continued evolution of their culture. When a culture values a skill, it provokes a cultural motivation to become adept at that particular skill. In what has been referred to as the "golden era of psychometric racism" (Pickren, 2009, p. 427) intelligence tests, such as the Stanford Binet were previously used to support White or other ethnic or cultural superiority. When assessing or judging individuals from unique cultures, it is imperative to remember that the assessment must consider the underlying values of the cultural context in which measurement is sought (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991).


Darwin, C. (1872). Origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle of life. London: John Murray.

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: BasicBooks.

Morgan, H. (1996). An analysis of Gardner's theory of multiple intelligence. Roeper Review, 18(4), 263-269. doi: 10.1080/02783199609553756

Pickren, W. E. (2009). Liberating history: The context of the challenge of psychologists of color to American psychology. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(4), 425- 433. doi: 10.1037/a0017561

Shiraev, E. B. & Levy, D. A. (2010). Cross-cultural psychology: critical thinking and contemporary applications (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). Advances in experimental social psychology. San Diego: Academic Press.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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