Teaching Racial Identity Development and Racism Awareness: Training in Professional Psychology Programs

Shawn O Utsey, Carol A Gernat, Mark A Bolden. Handbook of Racial & Ethnic Minority Psychology. Editor: Guillermo Bernai. Sage Publications. 2003.

The increasing racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the consumers of psychological services has forced mental health practitioners to seek new, more culturally appropriate techniques and interventions. Consequently, the past 25 years have witnessed an explosion in the counseling and applied psychology literature with regard to cross-cultural {cross-cultural and multicultural are used interchangeably throughout this chapter) counseling and training. With increased attention directed toward preparing counseling and psychology trainees (henceforth referred to as trainees) for work with diverse client populations, a number of scholars have developed models for graduate-level cross-cultural training (e.g., Carter, 1995; Johnson, 1982; Pedersen, 1973). A review of the literature revealed that early approaches to multicultural training (MCT) focused on increasing trainees’ sensitivity and awareness to issues affecting individuals from various racial/ethnic groups. This approach later evolved into teaching culturally specific knowledge and skills related to working with various racial/ethnic groups (Holcomb-McCoy & Myers, 1999). More recently, however, there has been a shift toward fostering trainees’ self-awareness with regard to racism and racial identity development (Brown, Parham, & Yonker, 1996; Pack-Brown, 1999; Parker, Moore, & Neimeyer, 1998).

Despite the recent emphasis on racial identity development and racism awareness training, few graduate programs have actually developed a course focusing specifically on the trainee’s racial awareness training. With few exceptions, most graduate training programs in counseling and professional psychology continue to offer MCT models that focus on increasing knowledge, developing awareness, and encouraging sensitivity. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the historical evolution of cross-cultural training in professional psychology; introduce issues and concepts related to race, racial identity, and racism awareness in training; and present a model for a graduate course in racial identity development and racism awareness training. The course presented in this chapter is intended for graduate-level (master’s and doctoral) professional training programs in counseling and psychology.

We begin this chapter by delineating our political and conceptual opposition to multiculturalism. Next, we provide the reader with a presentation of the developmental history of MCT in counselor education and professional psychology programs. As part of this discussion, the current status of MCT, as well as new directions in the discipline’s development, is examined. Next, we present our model for teaching racial identity development and racism awareness in counselor training programs. A case study of the racial identity development and racism awareness course is offered to illustrate the challenges of racism awareness and racial identity training. The chapter concludes with some thoughts about the importance of increasing counselor trainees’ awareness regarding issues related to race, racism, and racial identity in the psychotherapy process.

Political and Conceptual Concerns with Multiculturalism

Prior to discussing the evolution of the multicultural movement in professional psychology and counselor training programs, it is appropriate to first voice our fundamental objection to multiculturalism per se. As will be discussed below, the cross-cultural movement in part developed out of the demands made by African Americans during the 1960s and 1970s for racial equality. It is our position that the multiculturalism movement thwarted the attempts of African Americans to dismantle institutional racism in the United States. Multiculturalism dilutes demands for racial equality by advancing an all-inclusive, pluralistic (or multicultural) perspective (Helms, 1994). For example, a premise of multicultural counseling is that all counseling is multicultural when culture is broadly defined to include race, nationality, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability (Das, 1995).

Multiculturalism maintains the status quo because it generally tends to ignore oppression, White privilege, and White racism. There is no attempt to deconstruct the White ethnocentric (supremacist) epistemological, ontological, and axiological framework that undergirds White psychology (Akintunde, 1999). An example of the White supremacist assumptions inherent in multicultural counseling and psychology, as highlighted by Akintunde (1999), are its goals of helping White trainees understand and respect the culture of “others.” This “otherization” (Akintunde, 1999) reinforces for Whites the notion that they are at the center of the universe and everyone else is a nonentity—“other.” Consequently, scholars, educators, and clinicians must look beneath the surface-level, “feel-good” cosmetics of multiculturalism and examine the social and political mechanisms that maintain the status quo. This challenge is particularly important given that the majority of clients for whom multicultural training is intended to benefit are members of oppressed racial/ethnic/social groups.

Developmental History of Multicultural Training

Black Psychology: The Beginning

Although seldom acknowledged, it was the struggle of African Americans for civil and human rights during the 1960s and 1970s that spawned the cross-cultural movement in counseling and psychology (Das, 1995). For example, during the 1968 American Psychological Association (APA) convention in San Francisco, a small cadre of Black psychologists (among them were Robert L. Williams, Charles Thomas, Ernestine Thomas, and Joseph L. White) convened a meeting with the larger group (approximately 200) of Black psychologists who were in attendance (Guthrie, 1998). They met to discuss their concerns regarding (a) the lack of diversity reflected in the APA governing body and workforce, (b) the lack of Blacks in graduate psychology training programs, (c) publication of racist scholarship in APA journals, and (d) the lack of attention given to minority concerns by the APA. It was out of these efforts that the National (now International) Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) was founded. Since its inception, ABPsi’s charge has been to advocate on the behalf of the mental health needs of African Americans, to eradicate and counter racist interpretations of African American behavior, and to develop new, more culturally appropriate theoretical frameworks for understanding the behavior of African Americans (Williams, 1981).

The activities of ABPsi had a tremendous impact on the field of psychology, particularly with regard to the emergence of multicultural counseling and psychology. From the outset, members of ABPsi challenged popular notions of Black behavior that had been propagated by racist factions in the mainstream psychology community (Guthne, 1998; Williams, 1981). Deficit models that had proliferated in the professional journals and psychology texts of the day were rejected. Moreover, the members of ABPsi called for the development of psychological theories that were culturally applicable to African Americans (Williams, 1981).

Another milestone in the development of contemporary cross-cultural psychology was the publication of a 1970 Ebony magazine article titled “Toward a Black Psychology.” The author, Joseph White, argued that it was not possible to understand the behavior of African Americans using traditional psychological theories developed by White psychologists to explain the behavior of White people (Guthne, 1998). White (1984) further advanced this new direction in the study of Black behavior in The Psychology of Blacks: An African American Perspective, where he explored Black family life, Black language patterns, and Black philosophical ideas that had previously been ignored by the White psychological establishment. White’s work set the stage for a host of scholars to advance their own theories espousing a cross-cultural framework for understanding the behavior of racial/ethnic groups in the United States.

Clemmont Vontress is another pioneer in the cross-cultural counseling movement. His article, titled “Counseling Negro Adolescents” and published in the School Counselor (see Vontress, 1967), represents some of the earliest scholarship espousing a culturally congruent counseling approach for working with specific racial/ethnic populations. Vontress was among the first to discuss how race affects the transference-countertransference dynamics of the White counselor-Black client counseling dyad (Vontress, 1971). In this article, he concluded that racial differences between the therapist and client impede the process of establishing a therapeutic rapport. Vontress (1971) was also among the first to identify issues related to racial identity development for African Americans engaged in the counseling process. Specifically, he noted that self-labeling (i.e., Black, Negro, or colored) was a reflection of the client’s level of racial consciousness and had implications for establishing rapport in the counseling relationship. The work of Clemmont Vontress has played a major role in shaping the contemporary direction of multicultural training.

Pioneering Multicultural Training Models

Paul Pedersen is credited with developing one of the earliest MCT models for counselors (McRae & Johnson, 1991). The triad training method involves a cross-cultural counseling role-play that is videotaped. This technique requires the participation of three individuals, each functioning in a different role. One individual plays the role of counselor and the other, client. The third participant has a particularly interesting role in the triad training method, serving as either a supportive, pro-counselor ally or an anti-counselor antagonist. The role of this individual is to emphasize the importance of cultural issues relevant to the counseling process (Pedersen, 1973). The ally/antagonist is required to be from the same cultural background as the client. Following the role-play, students review the videotape and discuss their experiences in the counseling session. The discussion centers on the counselor’s awareness of, and sensitivity to, the client’s cultural background. Research conducted on the triad training method found the technique to be effective for increasing counselor trainees’ sensitivity and awareness in cross-cultural counseling situations (Sue, 1979).

The Minnesota Multiethnic Counselor Education Curriculum (MMCEC), developed by Samuel Johnson (1982), is the forerunner to contemporary multicultural training models that emphasize developing knowledge, skills, and awareness as prerequisites to achieving competence in cross-cultural counseling. A core component of Johnson’s training model was the experiential exercises that allowed counselor trainees to apply the knowledge and skills they had acquired through the program’s teaching modules. The MMCEC provided the groundwork for a two-part graduate course that Johnson would later develop. Part one of this course was didactic and included theory and research on topics related to cross-cultural counseling. The second part of the course was an experiential laboratory that provided counselor trainees with opportunities to explore cultural group differences and to enhance their intercultural communications skills (McRae & Johnson, 1991).

A significant pedagogical advancement in MCT was the recognition that simply teaching trainees about cultural factors of clients from a particular ethnic/racial group had limited value (McRae & Johnson, 1991; Richardson & Molinaro, 1996). Educators had similar reservations regarding the focus on teaching specific counseling skills for working with clients from diverse cultural groups (Carter, 1995). Similarly, it was acknowledged that simply increasing a trainee’s sensitivity to cultural factors in the counseling relationship was inadequate for developing multicultural competence (Holcomb-McCoy & Myers, 1999). Instead, educators determined that self-awareness was a precursor to cross-cultural competence. To become culturally competent, trainees must engage in a systematic process of cultural self-analysis with the aim of discovering how their beliefs, cultural values, and worldview have been shaped by their cultural/race group (Carter, 1995; Richardson & Molinaro, 1996).

Contemporary Status of Multicultural Training

Most doctoral programs in counseling psychology require at least one course in multicultural counseling (Das, 1995; Kiselica, 1998). However, many scholars consider these efforts alone to be inadequate in preparing trainees for working with diverse racial and ethnic groups. Some proponents of cross-cultural counseling have advocated that issues related to race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation be infused into all aspects of the training curriculum for counselors and psychologists (Das, 1995; Holcomb-McCoy & Myers, 1999). In fact, the accrediting organizations for counselors (Council of Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP]) and psychologists (APA) have incorporated cross-cultural issues into their standards for evaluating the accreditation worthiness of training programs (Holcomb-McCoy & Myers, 1999). Both CACREP and APA require graduate training programs to go beyond the “single-course” approach to cross-cultural training (CCT) and ensure adequate representation throughout the training curriculum (APA, 1993; CACREP, 1988). Despite these mandates, many counseling and psychology training programs have been slow in adhering to even the minimal standards set forth by their respective accrediting bodies.

With regard to pedagogy, most counseling and psychology training programs adhere to a generic framework that assumes the universal application of psychological theory to all human beings without regard to culture (Ridley, Mendoza, & Kanitz, 1994). Moreover, the generic or modernist approach operates from a Western, Eurocentric framework for assessing and treating human beings from diverse backgrounds (Akintunde, 1999). Unquestioned by practitioners and trainees alike, the generic approach functions to maintain the status quo. An etic approach is similar to the generic approach, except that a deliberate effort is made to avoid cultural encapsulation and ethnocentrism. In contrast, entic approaches view training goals and outcome criteria as being grounded in the value system, behavioral patterns, and worldview of a given cultural group (Ridley et al., 1994). A review of the multicultural counseling literature indicated that most contemporary training models focus on developing the knowledge, skills, and awareness of trainees. A more recent study conducted by Holcomb-McCoy and Myers (1999) found the knowledge/ skills/awareness model to be inadequate in its ability to represent all the domains of cross-cultural competence. They recommended the inclusion of racial identity and definitions of important multicultural concepts as components contributing to multicultural competence in this area. Many scholars and educators consider racial identity development (i.e., achieving a nonracist White identity) as the most important contribution to CCT technology in the past decade (Helms, 1994; Holcomb-McCoy & Myers, 1999; Kiselica, 1998; Ponterotto, 1988; Richardson & Molinaro, 1996). Since 1990, several texts have been devoted entirely to the subject of race and racial identity in the psychotherapy process (see Carter, 1995; Helms, 1990; Helms & Cook, 1999). This trend provides a glimpse of what the future holds for CCT for counselors and psychologists.

New Directions in Multicultural Counselor Training

Racial Identity Development

Because the majority of cross-cultural counseling situations consist of the White therapist and the global majority person (misnamed “person of color” and “ethnic minority”) dyad, the focus of this discussion will center on the inclusion of White racial identity models in the MCT curriculum. Janet Helms, considered by many to be the mother of White racial identity theory, developed one of the first conceptual frameworks for understanding the process by which Whites come to terms with their “Whiteness” and work toward developing a nonracist identity (Helms, 1990). She postulated that because racism is embedded into the social and cultural milieu of the United States, the racial identity of Whites develops as a sense of superiority relative to other racial groups. Consequently, a goal of White racial identity development training is to assist Whites in developing a nonracist racial identity (Helms, 1990). The White racial identity model posited by Helms (1990) initially consisted of a five-stage cognitive model describing the phases Whites experienced as they moved toward a nonracist identity. She later expanded her model to include six statuses (formerly stages) that delineate the abandonment of racism by Whites (Helms, 1995). The six statuses of White racial identity development are as follows: (a) Contact, (b) Disintegration, (c) Reintegration, (d) Pseudo-Independence, (e) Immersion-Emersion, and (f) Autonomy (see Helms, 1995, for a complete description of the six statuses). According to Helms (1990), the six statuses comprise the following two themes: (a) the abandonment of racism (Contact, Disintegration, and Reintegration) and (b) the development of a positive, nonracist White identity (Pseudo-Independence, Immersion-Emersion, and Autonomy). Research has consistently demonstrated that the racial identity of White trainees benefits (i.e., moves toward a nonracist identity) from MCT (Holcomb-McCoy & Myers, 1999; Parker et al, 1998).

Racism Awareness Training

Racism permeates the social and cultural fabric of the United States and is deeply embedded in the collective psyche of White America. All of society’s social and cultural institutions abound with the mechanism of racism and oppression (Akintunde, 1999). Moreover, according to D’Andrea and Daniels (1991), all members of the dominant (White Anglo) culture have racist tendencies. Given these assertions, it follows that trainees are not immune to the omnipresence of racism and White supremacy. Therefore, MCT instructors are ethically bound to explore issues related to racism and White privilege as part of the MCT experience. To do so, however, requires that the instructors themselves be prepared to address their own racist attitudes and beliefs (Kiselica, 1998). Furthermore, it is essential that MCT instructors create a psychologically safe environment where trainees can confront their racism without the fear of being judged. Trainees who have had an opportunity to examine their tendencies to think, feel, and behave in racist ways will likely be more effective in working with racially and ethnically diverse client populations (Constantine, 1999).

Locke and Kiselica (1999) provided several strategies for teaching about racism in a cross-cultural counseling course. First, the instructor must be willing to relinquish power and move away from the comfort of traditional didactic teaching models. The trainees are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and must actively participate in classroom discussions. The course instructor must be supportive and should not hesitate to model what is expected behavior by sharing personal stories of how he or she has struggled and continues to struggle to confront his or her own racism. Course objectives should be clearly delineated and linked to measurable outcomes related to cross-racial counseling competence. Teaching strategies should be flexible and varied. The course instructor is responsible for keeping students focused on issues related to race and racism or related topics (e.g., White privilege). In our own racism and racial identity course (chronicled later in this chapter), we have noted the tendency by White trainees to prefer discussions of ethnicity, gender, social class, sexual orientation, and so on, over potentially charged discussions related to race and racism. Managing the anxiety and related feelings associated with such a highly volatile subject matter will be challenging, and the course instructor must be diligent in ensuring the psychological safety of the students and self. Furthermore, it would be wise for professors to secure the support and backing of one’s program, department, and school before undertaking the risky but necessary business of confronting racism and White privilege.

Teachers College Training Model

Robert Carter has been teaching a course on racism and racial identity for the past 15 years at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The course, initiated by Samuel Johnson, consists of a didactic component and an experiential lab. All doctoral and master’s students are required to take the course sequence, and failure to obtain a passing grade results in having to repeat the course. The racism and racial identity course is intended to increase trainees’ awareness of the role of racial and social factors in the psychotherapy relationship and process (Carter, 1995).

Conceptually, Carter’s racism and racial identity course sequence (i.e., didactic lecture and experiential lab) is grounded in the race-based approach to the racially inclusive model of psychotherapy (Carter, 1995). The race-based approach asserts that sociopolitical history and intergroup power dynamics are central to understanding the culture and worldview of global majority peoples. Moreover, race-based theorists posit that variations in culture occur as a result of the sociopolitical racial categories assigned to individuals who are phenotypically distinct from White Anglo-Americans. A core assumption of the race-based approach to CCT, though controversial, is that membership in a devalued racial group is the most defining experience for an individual living in the United States. It also assumes that White trainees are the beneficiaries of undeserved privileges associated with belonging to the dominant social and cultural group (Carter, 1995). Typically, White trainees functioning in the contact status of racial identity are oblivious to the privileges received because of their race-group membership (Helms, 1990). Therefore, it is incumbent on MCT instructors to employ race-based approaches to CCT in an effort to raise trainees’ consciousness regarding racism and factors relating to racial identity development (Carter, 1995).

As previously mentioned, the Teachers College racism and racial identity course sequence is delivered in the form of a didactic course and experiential lab. The didactic course provides a theoretical foundation for understanding racism, racial identity, and related concepts (e.g., White privilege, oppression, “isms,” etc.) in the psychotherapy process (Carter, 1995). The racial-cultural counseling lab, as it is referred to at Teachers College, consists of group discussions, lectures, and skill-building sessions. In the small-group experience, trainees are engaged in discussion (through the use of a structured interview protocol) regarding the salience of their group identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, etc.). Trainees are given feedback concerning their progress in developing racial-cultural competencies throughout the lab experience. The criterion for demonstrating racial-cultural counseling competence is the ability to integrate one’s understanding of issues related to reference group factors into counseling interactions, skill sessions, and at a personal level (Carter, 1995).

A Model for Teaching Racism Awareness and Racial Identity

Overall Course Philosophy and Rationale

White power and privilege pervade the training atmosphere in a myriad of ways such that the trauma of racism and the eventual recovery process are avoided. For example, MCT is typically understood in a conventional context. That is, courses are often constructed and instructed according to a survey paradigm with emphasis on student presentation of a chosen culture. Diversity is often conceptualized by counting practicum clients who were of a different racial and ethnic heritage than the counselor’s own. These perspectives discourage introspection, and students, in conjunction with their supervisors and faculty, do not look within to their own cognitive schema to be responsible for their racism and its transformation. It is infinitely easier to maintain this privileged stance than it is to confront one’s own participation in institutionalized racism. It is also safer to consider the difficulties of European ethnic groups in their struggles to become assimilated—in essence, to have one’s family pain validated. In so doing, the boundaries of White hegemony remain invincible because Whites do not move past internal defenses to the discovery that they may not be special, unique, entitled. The largely unquestioned “White privilege” underpinning to multicultural training is maintained when practitioners do not open to critical examination of their own racial identities.

For these reasons, a course was designed that represented a shift in consciousness in a department of professional psychology in a small, Catholic university in the Northeast, through which students would be introduced to race and racial identity in counseling. In contrast to being conducted in lab format, this course was delivered in didactic style, and a lab was considered as an additional component for future versions of the course. The readings were chosen to normalize anxiety given the unlikelihood that students had previously engaged in guided explorations of race and racial identity in a counseling context. This was an attempt to balance self-observation and inquiry with provocative subject material and class discussions. Although open to all graduate students in professional psychology, the course was required for first-year doctoral students in the Counseling Psychology Program. Moreover, given the racial composition of the student cohort, it was anticipated that the class would be primarily composed of White students. The sections that follow represent the general design of the course, including the opening, and brief overviews of the modules of (a) White privilege, (b) power, (c) history, (d) worldview conceptualizations, and (e) racial identity development theory. Finally, special considerations and implications for training are discussed with particular attention devoted to resistance.

The course was developed and run in fall 1998, and Locke and Kiselica (1999) touched on many of the same points in their article concerning teaching about racism in cross-cultural counseling courses. For example, racism was defined, and the chief responsibility for its transformation was located with Whites. Similarly, privilege was considered along with merit in both courses. We integrated the concepts of privilege and power to further understand the proliferation of institutional racism in addition to the affects of the power-privilege matrix on the counseling relationship. In contrast to Locke and Kiselica, the course we created did not use in-class exercises to more deeply probe beliefs in class; rather, guest speakers and structured class discussions were selected as first-line techniques to trigger initial self-observation. Moreover, given that the entire course was devoted to race and racial identity in counseling, modules highlighting historical foundations of race relations, worldview conceptualizations, and racial identity development were included to complete the course.

Course Content Areas

Opening of the Course

We begin this section in similar fashion to the approach taken in the opening class—by defining racism. At its core, racism is the abuse of power by a privileged group relative to arbitrarily assigned out-groups. In the United States, this distinction is based on skin color in conjunction with other physical characteristics socially constructed to define race, as noted by Helms (1995), whereby Whites enjoy privilege based on physical features as opposed to merit. Because Whites benefit from institutionalized racism, automatically and most often unconsciously, only Whites can be racist, as noted by the National Education Association (1973). Furthermore, we assumed that racism is a matter of degree, rejecting the notion that some Whites are somewhat racist some of the time. Rather, the question we posed to White counselors is, “How are you racist?” in contrast to, “Are you racist?” We constructed parameters as broad and inclusive as these so that White trainees could see their personal collusion in maintaining racism (i.e., White privilege).

This catalyst to self-examination is in marked contrast to definitions that distinguish between forms of racism such as overt, covert, individual, or institutional. In a training context, definitions of racism that locate responsibility for racism and its eradication on Whites are often experienced as attacking and traumatic, as evidenced by shouting, red faces, angry silence, and so on. These definitions directly challenge the privilege that Whites have enjoyed such that they have not had to confront, acknowledge, and work through the pain of racism and their responsibility for its maintenance, hooks (1992) illustrated this phenomenon in describing heated classroom debates during which Whites often react with disbelief, shock, and rage when Black students discuss representations of Whiteness in the Black perspective (e.g., terror, mystery). Often, rage erupts, according to hooks, because the White students believe that ways of examining difference threaten the liberal notion that we are all the same, and sameness equals Whiteness. This pluralistic fantasy, held in place by White privilege and power, is what Whites think will make racism disappear.

White Privilege and Power

The course continued with a discussion of White privilege and power, with a focus on the work of Mclntosh (1989), who suggested that White privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets that Whites are carefully taught not to acknowledge. Mclntosh also noted that this obliviousness is itself oppressive. In a training context, White privilege is exemplified in various ways, such as Whites speaking for themselves as individuals, not as representatives of the White race. In addition, White trainees are often not confronted by their White supervisors concerning their roles in the failures of cross-racial counseling relationships. Failures are most often attributed to the client’s pathology. Moreover, if a White student complains about a Black professor, the White student can most often expect that the person hearing the complaint is White, and his or her success in the program will not be threatened by such action. This is not the case, however, for the Black professor, who would likely be censored in some way. Congruent with Mclntosh’s thoughts on White privilege and socialization, Dobbins and Skillings (2000) proposed that this position of privilege and dominance isolates Whites in such a way that a sense of entitlement and self-centeredness is activated. This then gives rise to an emerging compulsion to eliminate or explain away threats to an illusory sense of a morally superior order. Perhaps, then, these illusory constellations form the fuel for resistance commonly encountered in courses of this kind.

Pinderhughes (1989) offered a paradigm through which the complexities of power dynamics in the context of race and ethnicity may be explored. Most important, this work was chosen because it examines the relationship between power and anxiety, and consequently, students may be able to process thoughts and feelings that may arise in this regard without necessarily relying on automatic defensive reactions. Nevertheless, Pinderhughes’s guide for understanding power, race, and ethnicity in clinical situations is practical and grounded in experience and thus lent itself to this course.

A number of clinician reactions to power and powerlessness may be observed whereby therapeutic effectiveness is hampered. Pinderhughes (1989) made the point that gratification derived from dominant, power-over positions is less easily acknowledged than is the pleasure experienced as the result of competence, and often, individuals in dominant power roles attempt to deny they have power. Thus, ambivalence concerning one’s power can jeopardize clinical efficacy. Another troublesome reaction to power, as noted by Pinderhughes, is guilt, which in clinical work may motivate therapists to overcompensate, thus trapping the client into being less competent and autonomous. Also according to Pinderhughes, Whites, because they are in positions of power reinforced by systemic racism, learn and subsequently teach other Whites that they are entitled and superior. This position is illusory, so, by definition, Whites learn to distort reality. Paradoxically, in training situations, when required to confront their own racism, those in power are vulnerable to feelings of powerlessness. It is not uncommon that they project these feelings onto the instructor or onto students, faculty, or global majority clients, thus managing their anxiety and maintaining a dominant stance. Pinderhughes posited that when one is accustomed to having power, any infringement of it is experienced as severe. Moreover, powerlessness, pain, and vulnerability may be denied. Clearly, then, a desirable objective of counselor training is the examination of the power-powerlessness matrix, taking racial identity into consideration.


Given the current state of race relations, a module concerning the racial history of the United States, in addition to an overview of the history of racism worldwide, was incorporated into the design of this course. Typically, Whites are undereducated and thus removed from the genocidal atrocities of American slavery and the institutionalization of racism. If we were to ask a group of Whites, even a group of White trainees, about the White history of the United States, the question would likely be met with shock and/or confusion. It may even be seen as reverse racism. On the other hand, Whites may understand the question as being related to the immigrant history of Europeans. That is, it would not be seen as racial history, or memory, but one of ethnicity—thus denying the role, at the collective level, that Whites have played in establishing and maintaining racism in this society. Furthermore, reactions to this question would be related to the notion that the unspoken counterpart to White is the word supremacist, or its synonyms. The brutal legacy of American racism is terrifying to consider, particularly for those Whites who construct defensive arrays to protect the “good self.” This terror is then projected onto (or into) others, most notably Blacks. Similarly, hooks (1992) noted that Whiteness is represented in the Black imagination as terror. She suggested that the written histories of the past must be faced, given that the past has been reinvented to make the current illusion of racial harmony more plausible.

Worldview Conceptualizations

The work of Myers (Myers, 1988; Myers et al., 1991) was selected to continue to develop an understanding of the conceptual systems that form the foundations of world-view. Grounded in Afrocentric epistemology, the optimal conceptual system is a holistic paradigm in which connectedness transcends time, space, and external experience. Therefore, by definition, the optimal worldview is spiritual in nature. On the other hand, the suboptimal conceptual system is a fragmented worldview that is essentially externally focused and materialistic. Myers et al. (1991) emphasized that race does not determine one’s underlying conceptual system; rather, it is the degree of adherence to a self-alienating framework that is the salient factor. This point in the course represented a conceptual shift to a more individual understanding of one’s underlying schema and its connection to the wider social environment. The stage is now set to wrap up the course by focusing on the development of one’s own racial identity.

Racial Identity Development

Racial identity development theory was integrated into the course to examine our evolution as racial beings. Although other models of Whiteness exist (e.g., Hardiman, 1982; Ponterotto, 1988), Helms’s (1990, 1995) model was used particularly because racial identity development is understood as being a dynamic process in which Whites develop a sense of Whiteness in the context of “meaningful” interracial contact. There are two superstages—abandoning racism and developing a nonracist White identity, whereby automatic mechanisms for processing race-related stimuli are abandoned in favor of more complex, flexible strategies. Similarly, Cross (1971) developed a model of Black racial identity in which the general developmental issue for Blacks is surmounting internalized racism in its various manifestations. To present a more complete picture of Africanity, we presented a module such that Black identity was not assumed to develop in relation to Whites. Rather, African self-consciousness and the African self-extension orientation (Kambon, 1992) were incorporated into the course design. This model highlights the spiritual-centered worldview that forms the foundation of the African personality, absent the influence of Whites.

Special Considerations and Implications for Training

Addressing the psychological configuration of anxiety, defense, guilt, and shame in a training context poses a number of significant challenges, particularly because Whites are also often in positions of power in professional psychology training programs. As Skillings and Dobbins (1991) noted, even in monoracial situations, feelings of shame and guilt that arise may be intense and difficult to work through. When global majority people are present, an array of reactions may arise. For example, some Whites may be completely unable to confront their racism, whereas others may seek absolution for past (or current) wrongs. In addition, global majority peoples in a mixed-race training context may be set up by the group to speak as authorities for their entire race. Therefore, it may be argued that course content is a secondary consideration to context in terms of departmental politics and support of the course (or lack thereof). In addition, history of MCT in the program, choice and qualifications of facilitators, supervision of the course if applicable, grades, course requirements, and the integration of global majority students and Whites should be well thought out in the design process.

Psychological Defense Mechanisms and Whiteness

Given the defensive posture many students assume in courses of this kind, the work of Thompson and Neville (1999), which outlined a number of ego defenses used by Whites to preserve racism, may be used to identify them in the training context. Denial and selective attention are believed to be the most pervasive and primitive ego defenses used by Whites to avoid the distress associated with race-related anxiety. Denial is characterized by attempts to suppress from one’s consciousness the painful realities of racism. Selective attention, on the other hand, refers to the tendency of Whites to attend to certain realities of racism while ignoring the more harsh and painful truths about racism’s insidiousness. Rationalization or transference of blame occurs when Whites present “reasonable” justifications for the racial inequalities that exist in society. This defensive style often includes placing blame for these inequalities on members of the oppressed groups themselves. The defensive style of intellectualization is characterized by an acknowledgment of racism’s existence but without any affective connection to its deleterious effects on global majority people. Identification or introjection is reflected in the attempts by Whites to identify with or adopt various aspects of the behaviors, attitudes, and cultural practices of global majority people. Last, projection is the psychological process used by Whites to relocate undesirable and despised self-aspects or in-group characteristics onto global majority people. Constantine (1999) echoed these notions, suggesting that denial or minimization of the impact of racism may be used as defenses against both the reality of racism and the benefits derived from White privilege, particularly in earlier stages of racial self-awareness.

Case Study

This section presents a case study of the racism and racial identity course referenced in the prior section. The course is analyzed through racial identity statuses (Helms, 1990, 1995) and uses journal notes from the African American male student in the course. The terms African American, African Caribbean, Asian American, Iranian American, and European American are used to respect the differences in ethnic realities of the individuals in the course. However, when race is salient, the terms Black, White, and Asian are used.

Background Information


There were 10 students in the class, including 1 master’s-level African American male; 1 post-master’s-level African Caribbean female; 4 doctoral European American females, 3 of whom were in the Counseling Psychology Program (CP); 1 doctoral Asian American (CP) female; 1 doctoral Iranian American female (CP); and 2 doctoral European American males (CP).


The course, which had been defunct for numerous years, was listed as “Cross-Cultural Psychology” but taught as “Race and Racial Identity.” Attendance counted for full class participation credit. This requirement sought to lessen the potential discomfort by allowing silence as an outlet and appeared to make the classroom less competitive.

The Experience

Initial Dynamics

The first-year CP students comprised the core of the class, as did the theme of Whiteness among students and professor. Among the White students, a first-year cohort developed. The presence of a first-year cohort also created dynamics with other students due to the cohort and racial coalition salience. This was observable by the seating arrangements in which the three White females in the first year sat next to each other and on the same side with the White female in the clinical program and the Iranian female in the CP cohort. On the other side of the table were the two White males, the professor, the two Black students, and the Asian student.

First Class

The first task was to complete a racial identity scale. However, the professor neglected to have any of the Black Racial Identity Attitude Scales (BRIAS) available; hence, the Asian female and the Black male and female students had to wait while the White students completed the White Racial Identity Attitude Scales (WRIAS). This appeared to foreshadow the focus on attending to the issues that White students present in racial dynamics. Shortly after the White students began completing the WRIAS, the professor handed the BRIAS to the Asian American, African American, and African Caribbean students with an apology. In hindsight, the Asian female may have been offended by having to take a racial identity scale that did not measure Asian identity. However, the turn of events appeared to validate the African American and African Caribbean and Asian students in ways unbeknownst to anyone.

A climax came soon after scale completion. At this point, the professor defined racism and allowed dialogue to ensue. A few of the White students in the first-year cohort immediately became defensive toward the definition. Setting the semester tone, an atmosphere of anxiety led to various outward expressions of hostility, discomfort, and validation seeking from the majority of the White students. The Asian female, the African American male, and the Caribbean American female hesitated to speak while the class discussed racism. To the African American male, this appeared to be an issue for Whites to discuss because their defensiveness could result in backlash (Jackson, 1998) against him through racial/cultural transference.

The White students appeared to be in the Pseudo-Independence status as viewed by the rationalizations against a racist status, which failed to examine the possible veracity of an “all Whites are racist” premise, inherently suggesting that they could not be racist. The defensive posture was predictable due to the students’ naïvete of racism as a function of White skin privilege and a matter of degree. Moreover, the professor’s confrontational approach compounded the defensiveness and forced some White students to examine their Whiteness, consequently inducing a spontaneous Contact experience.

The term racist appeared to cause some students to fight for their self-esteem, which apparently could not coexist with being a racist. Thus, in losing the “good self” position, students sought self-validation through asserting the historical struggles of the respective ethnic groups. However, the denial of self as racist due to Whiteness was also an expression of the discomfort with self as a racial being and the loss of privilege. Conversely, this reaction may not be considered a Contact experience because there was an awareness of race as a construct, but only for “others,” “non-Whites,” or “people of color.”

The idea that only “others” have a race is part and parcel of the universal racist assumption that “Whiteness is Tightness, “ White is norm, or White is culture and other is multiculture. The historic stigmatization of race, compounded by the implications of being compartmentalized and thus limited by categorization—in essence, consumed—makes having a race a bad thing. There appears to be an unconscious understanding that when one becomes part of a group, or race in this case, one is implicitly responsible for the psychohistorical behavior of the group, or race, and the stereotypes that plague and emasculate people.

White students, in feeling that race is negative, tend to deny their race because of its association and potential for guilt. Some of the White students discussed the race of the Black students but dealt with it superficially and did not delve into the deep structure of race’s cultural connection. Hence, the discussion of race became a discussion of color—the most obvious difference between Whites and “others.” In fairness, however, this approach was taken by only a few of the White students. There may have been another reason for attempting to address the Asian and Black students in the class.

Using the case study, it becomes evident that White students in these courses use a myriad of defense mechanisms to protect their nonracist persona. For instance, one of the defense mechanisms asserts validation both aggressively, through the aforementioned defensiveness, and passively, by extending pseudo-power to African Americans via asking questions. However, what appears to be a genuine cross-racial/cultural experience can also be viewed as an exploration of “otherness.”

The false exploration of race is an ostentatious cultural probing that seeks to minimize differences and accentuate similarities for the sake of maintaining the false perception of a nonracist facade. Moreover, the exploration of the Black students was an act of objectification and passive diversion of attention away from self into a dialogue in which White students may be seen as favorable because they can engage in intellectual discussions. Yet true dialogue, according to Freire (1993), can only occur between equals who share profound love, humility, and hope. Indeed, there was no reciprocity throughout the course because the students passively refused to answer any questions asked by the Black students. “I never thought about that” or “That’s a good question,” they retorted in a politically correct, evasive fashion. In this context, there was no dialogue; there was only objectification for self-serving reasons.

The defense mechanisms typify resistance, which can occur through denying racism. Through “other” exploration, pseudo-validation, and de facto objectification of the Black students, there was an attempt to minimize the presence and power of the White professor, the definition of racism, and the confrontation with self as a racial being. Exemplary of this subtle, passive resistance is the statement “I have a Black friend, client, etc.,” which is supposed to reflect diversity. For example, in a later class, one of the more defensive, outspoken White females argued her family’s status as nonracist by noting that her father delivered Thanksgiving turkeys to a Black church.

The notions of charity and philanthropy have historically been used to assuage the White guilt of unintentional racists; “giving to minorities” allows one to reduce the guilt of historic racism. (Notice that the reduction was in guilt, not racism.) This process fulfills the Eurocentric style of helping in which symptoms are attended to as opposed to attention toward the causal relationships between oppressor and oppressed. Reduction in racism needs to occur at the systemic level because racism is a systemic phenomenon (Utsey, Bolden, & Brown, 2001). Throughout the class, the student was more willing to explore how she was not racist than to discuss how she was racist.

Another example of more aggressive objectification and “other” exploration in the class occurred when White students probed the African American for information from a Black perspective. Using the African American male student’s journal notes, the incident occurred as follows:

One student remarked that he “didn’t mean to put me on the spot.” Another male student affirmed, “Yeah. I figure it’s just better if I hear it from the horse’s mouth.” I had to laugh at that. Laughter is an example of a sophisticated defense mechanism that Cross (1991) suggests develops in the Internalization stage.

This passage lends itself to an analysis of the African and Asian students in the class.

The Semester

The global majority students appeared to be at different statuses throughout the duration of the semester. The African American male suggested through journal notes that he made a conscious effort to be at the Internalization status (for a review of Black racial identity development, see Cross, 1991; Helms, 1990). He affirmed this by noting that discussions of race often turn polemical, and in an academic setting, the notion of rationality often gives way to resistance through emotionally charged discussions that maintain racism:

The Internalization stage would also allow me to use defense tactics that keep “the focus on racism as a form of human evil, rather than on the demonization of White people (Cross, 1991, p. 216).” … Within the Internalization stage, I had the freedom to recycle the previous statuses dependent upon the stimuli (Cross, 1991).

The African Caribbean student appeared to be somewhat naive about racism’s impact on Blacks. This may have been due to her African Caribbean status and lack of academic and personal exploration of race. The Asian female appeared to also be in the Preencounter status due to her ambiguity toward the topic of race (for a review of Black racial identity development, see Cross, 1991; Helms, 1990). However, it appeared that race was not a salient theme for her; cultural validation appeared to be more of a concern for her as the class progressed. Bonds based on experiential similarity relative to the course formed between the Asian and Black male and the two Black students.

During class discussions, it became evident that some of the students were not reading. Students’ comments and behavior reflected lower levels of racial development according to the readings. For instance, the discussions of power (Pinderhughes, 1989) turned into discussions about how the White students did not have power through the virtue of their ethnicity. Thus, there was a process of de-identifying with the self as a White racial being to preserve the nonracist identity in the ethnic being status. In addition, students did not appear to focus on the notion of privilege as discussed in Mclntosh (1989). Some students were not processing what their “knapsack of privilege” contained. Subsequently, the levels of conversation fostered neither growth nor alliance with the White students; the conversations for the African, Asian, and Iranian students necessitated different issues.

Another climactic moment in class revealed yet another form of resistance—the “conspiracy of silence” or the “silent protest.” One of the White males used aggressive defensiveness, which became offensive during a class discussion in which an African American professor presented African personality development (Kambon, 1992). Disinterested in the topic, some White students used silence as a form of protest. The ensuing silence was replete with composure and lack of eye contact, which could have been maintained for the duration of the class. However, the silence was broken when the African American professor spoke of a “vibe” existing in the class. In traditional T-Group form, he suggested that the students process their feelings. The professor noted that he was not interested in abusing power as a professor of their future courses. Finally, after the immediacy of processing, a group spokesperson emerged and broke the silence.

Using the power of cohort cohesion, one White male agreed that the professor could not abuse power. Following his statement, he discussed student power by noting how a student contingent redressing concerns with the dean and provost could be capable of causing trouble for the professor. The student detailed a potential plan and suggested that it would be easy to execute. No other student spoke in disagreement at that point, suggesting that (a) he was the identified spokesperson and (b) other students in the cohort were in support of his contention. Although speculative, the lack of objection suggests that the CP cohort dynamics were volatile enough to allow open hostility and threaten the professor’s stability, possibly tenure. This is the “conspiracy of silence,” in which unassuming racists support racism by not confronting racism. Confronting racism would lead to a loss of privilege for outspoken Whites.

In the following class, the peculiar responses to the professor’s presence continued. During a review of the previous class, there were outward manifestations of resistance. In fact, the responses appeared to be of a psychosomatic nature. One of the more defensive White females began to gag and excused herself from the room during the peak of the discussion. One White male suddenly caught a back spasm and stood up to stretch. He informed the class of his back problems; however, it is the timing of the spasms that is relevant to this discussion. In fact, the two disturbances served as a precursor to a 10-minute class break. A third occurrence, for which no student was responsible, happened in a sort of metaphysical resistance—a shelved book fell. Indeed, the tension in the room was rank with resistance.

Conversely, the Asian student and the Black students identified with the professor. In fact, by this point in class, these students were more vocal in their disagreement and questioning of the status quo in the course and in psychology. Clearly, the Asian student felt validated, as evidenced by voicing her desire to finish her education in the United States and return to Asia to practice psychotherapy. The African Caribbean student voiced her concerns over the lack of culturally aware or sensitive therapy as seen in the students and in psychology in general. There was one brief end to the tension in the class near the end of the semester.

Final Class

A White professor prominent in the field of White racial identity guest lectured in the class. His approach gave focus to the career and professional benefits of diversity training. He spoke of how the White students could become more marketable with diversity training. In addition, he gave the White students a much-needed ego validation by asserting that all Whites were not racist, which he justified by saying that many Whites are able to purge themselves of racism. After that statement, there appeared to be a collective sense of ease among the oppositional White students. They were validated by a “giant” in the field, and thus the “traitor” White professor and the provocative, “agenda-wielding” African American professor were thereby invalidated in the eyes of the resistant White students.

This final sense of validation proved to be the most critical point in the class. The resistant White students were allowed to maintain their ego status and, unfortunately, their racism. The Asian student and two students of African descent appeared to be surprised that the resistant students would hold onto their racist conviction and defensive posture for the entire semester. There was no assessment of the guest lecturer’s timing, but it was clear that the theme of White skin privilege remained through the professor’s affirmations of the White students’ attitudes.

The guest professor’s approach appeared to undo the tension in the room and the potential gains made during the entire class with the resistant students, which reflects a recycled identity. A collective sigh of relief released the tension after the professor spoke. The silence that followed was a relatively healthy silence that begged for the end of the semester. The guest professor’s approach caused the African American male to question his motivations. However, as Glausser (1999) noted, “It is a struggle to move beyond ethnocentric views, but it is also a challenge that provides an opportunity for growth. The rewards are an escape from cultural encapsulation and a bigger, better worldview” (p. 64).


In this chapter, we argued implicitly that multiculturalism has limited use as an approach to raising racial consciousness in White counseling and psychology trainees. Given the salience of race in this society, accentuating less relevant, though not irrelevant, demographic variables (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc.) in relation to the mental health functioning of oppressed groups, as multiculturalism does, maintains the status quo. We are advocating that counseling and psychology training programs develop a separate course that focuses on the dynamics of race in a race-conscious society, encourages White trainees to examine the meaning of their Whiteness in relation to the self (i.e., ego), and increases their awareness with regard to the insidious nature of White racism. Global majority trainees would benefit from a separate course geared toward exploring their own racial identity development and how it affects their work with same- and different-race clients. More important, concepts of race, racial identity development, and racism awareness should be infused into the curriculum of training programs and not be isolated to one course, as has historically been the case with multicultural counseling.

Focusing on issues related to race, racial identity, and racism awareness is a relatively new endeavor in counseling and professional psychology training programs. Despite its relatively brief history, race, racial identity, and racism awareness training has received a great deal of attention in the counseling and psychology literature. A consensus among scholars conducting research in this area is that increased racial consciousness on the part of White trainees is a precursor to becoming cross-culturally competent (Brown et al., 1996; Carter, 1995; Pack-Brown, 1999; Parker et al., 1998; Richardson & Molinaro, 1996). Given the importance of race, racial identity, and racism awareness training in the repertoire of cross-counseling skills for trainees, it behooves training directors to develop courses (plural) that address these topics. We hope that this chapter will provide counselor educators and psychology training directors with the vision, rationale, and technology to develop courses that address racial factors in counseling and psychotherapy.