Developing a Multicultural Ideology

Study by:
Moin Syed - University of Minnesota
Mary Joyce D. Juan - University of Minnesota
Linda P. Juang - San Francisco State University
In the U.S., as well as many other countries around the world, there is a debate about the optimal ideological setting in which to structure a culturally diverse society.  On the one hand, there is the colorblind ideology, wherein racial and ethnic group differences are minimized. On the other, there is the multicultural ideology, in which group differences are both recognized and celebrated. Ideological debates notwithstanding, the empirical data clearly indicate that multicultural ideology is associated with greater benefits and positive life experiences for racial/ethnic minorities, White Americans, and society at large.
Given the societal value associated with multiculturalism, it is vital to understand how individuals come to reject colorblindness and adopt a multicultural worldview. Fostering the appreciation of others' cultural traditions and working to increase pride in one's own cultural traditions are the primary goals of cultural diversity education. However, most programs that focus on developing cultural awareness tend to emphasize intergroup relations, without the concomitant need for developing the individuals' connection to their own ethnic background. These programs have met with short-term gains immediately following the program, such as reduced stereotyping, out-groups bias, and improved perspective-taking. The short-term program effects, however, have generally not been associated with long-term changes in attitudes and behaviors.
All in all, existing programs targeting cultural awareness have met with mixed success, and short-term outcomes do not seem to be associated with long-term gains. Furthermore, the programs are both costly and time-intensive for participants, facilitators, and organizers. Important questions to ask, then, may be: what is the sufficient condition under which consciousness can be raised, and what is the appropriate means for doing so? It may be the case that the effectiveness of teaching about ethnic diversity and how it is relevant to the self, which is a relatively passive activity for the learner, does not produce the desired outcome. Rather, deep, personal reflection on the topic may be required for enduring change. That is, the key to individuals changing attitudes about others may be to change attitudes about how they view themselves.
We are beginning to take up this question by developing and testing identity-based interventions that can increase participants' endorsement of multiculturalism. At this time, we have only published one paper that is indirectly related to the topic (see below), but stay tuned for more to come!
Syed, M., Juan, M. J. D., & Juang, L. P. (2011). Might the survey be the intervention? Participating in ethnicity-related research as a consciousness-raising experience. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 11(4), 289-310