Community Development for Race and Diversity

4296 words (17 pages) Essay in Social Work

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Design or evaluate any practice within the field of Community Development aimed at managing race and diversity.

Introduction: According to the International Federation of Social workers, the definition of social work is given as follows:

“The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work” (from IFSW General meeting, Canada, 2000 in ifsw.org).

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Social work can be theoretically represented as an interrelated system of values that uses a mix of theory and practice to address the communication and transaction of people with their society and environment. Social work and social policies aim to fulfill people’s goals and wishes by helping them to develop their full potential and to either overcome or prevent any kind of dysfunction. Ethics are important as social workers promote equality and work for the oppressed to facilitate their social inclusion (Mullender, 2003). Social work research and practice have provided knowledge and means of evaluation of social work practices, which are specific to situations. Individuals are affected by multiple bio-psycho-social factors in the society, family and environment (Donald et al, 1992). Theories of human development and behaviour help in the analysis of the influences of social and cultural changes on behavior highlighting the injustice and inequality in society. Social workers thus help in affecting changes in societies, families and in people’s lives. Social work and policy is based on the universal humanitarian and democratic ideals promoting Human rights and Social justice. Social workers also respond to crises and emergency situations and also provide counseling and advise to help people overcome their personal, social and long term problems. Thus a social worker is expected to be skilled and should focus on the holistic development of the individual or society. Social work and policies can affect individual psychological processes or can involve planning and development for society at large. Some of the common activities that social worker engage in are counseling, group social work, clinical work, family therapy and treatment, education and advise, and emergency relief work. Social workers are also involved in administration and policy making along with political involvement for economic and social development of the community. Although promoting human rights, justice and equality are universal aims of all social policies, the way social workers engage in community development tend to vary from one place to another depending on cultural, historical and social factors (Arredondo, 1996).

In this essay we will discuss community development considering the perspective of racial diversity and focus on the cooperation between mainstream groups and minority ethnic groups that should be necessary aspect of social work. We discuss inter-racial interaction and community participation as important in social development and promoting more interracial interaction seems to be a crucial practice in social work that can help change attitudes of people towards other ethnic groups.

Race and Community Development

White (2002) challenges the intentional ‘colour-blind’ attitude towards community development, which he says is impractical and masks and at the same time highlights the centrality of race in any community development agenda. White identifies three dimensions of development namely, the material outcomes, the techniques of transformation and the modes of knowing. He emphasizes on an analysis of racial diversity and fluidity between racial groups and citing Omi and Winant’s work suggests that development comprises of racial formation which is made up of a vast range of diverse and contradictory racial projects linking the meaning of ethnic, racial and national identities.

Akdere (2005) suggests that the meaning of race, social class, culture and ethnicity have changed considerably in the last few years and continues to evolve considering the rapid changes in social structure. There has been tremendous growth of diverse populations in neighborhoods and administrative policy changes have forced community leaders to approach organizational engagement with great diversity. Akdere used appreciative inquiry method to achieve a satisfactory participation level among community people to encourage dialogue between participants and promote systematic thinking and practice. The paper supports the use of Appreciative Inquiry method as an appropriate method of systematic practice.

Problems associated with the current empirical measurement of ethnic diversity within economic development have been examined by Okediji (2005). Ethnic diversity variables include race, religion, and the measures on these aspects are compared with other variables on ethnicity. The study cites related results to suggest that disparities and differences in ethnic diversity among countries are not as great as assumed generally. Okediji suggests that a comprehensive and accurate measure of ethnic diversity is not just related only to a linguistic measurement that defines ethnicity butt there are other factors as well.

Diversity and race differences are closely related as a proper understanding of racial variations sometimes serve as the basis of both racial classifications and also ethnic diversity. Barbujani (2005) suggests that all humans belong to a few biological types or races and evolved in isolation although modern genetics have not been able to find any significant differences in the genetic structures of humans belonging to different racial types. Thus racial labels have not been associated with clear genetic structures. Most scientists however still insist that racial classifications have a genetic and scientific basis and this fact may be even indispensable in epidemiology. However all classifications of race based on the smallest genetic evidence have been useless or controversial and there is still no proper consensus on the number or definitions of different human races. The author highlights that there is a geographic structure in human genome diversity and it is also possible to infer the continent of origin of a particular race from an individual’s genotype although any clear genetic boundaries necessary to recognize relatively isolated mating units or races have not yet been identified. Barbujani points out that allele frequencies and synthetic descriptors of genetic variation are distributed over different gradients across the planets suggesting a sort of gene flow rather than isolation of different mating groups. Interracial mixing seems to shape human genome diversity although the paper clearly states that a better understanding of the patterns of human diversity can be understood by examining the evolutionary processes that is absolutely important for the development of diagnostic and therapeutic tools of individual genotypes rather than race specific genotypes which is not yet clearly defined or identified.

Shaw and Barrett-Power (2005) emphasize that diversity is a crucial factor in organizational life as all organizations, whether professional or social are becoming increasingly diversified in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age, nationality, origin and personality patterns of members of the group. There have been very few studies giving the exact impact of diversity on group or organizational culture or on small group processes or performances. Some influences of diversity on organizational culture are definitely positive although effects may be negative while in certain situations, there may be no effects at all. The developments and influences of diversity in a group may be explained by using the group-development model that helps in examining the impact of diversity on group processes and performance. This model is based on concepts of Jackson et al (1995) and Milliken and Martin (1996) (in Shaw et al, 2005), and shows that diversity does have considerable influence on group development and performance. The aspects and concepts considered in the model are personal attributes of group members which are detectable and underlying as well as cognitive paradigm dissimilarities, costs and rewards, diversity management skills, cognitive performance resources and integration of group behaviour. The components of the model are discussed and the specific hypothesis is that social group performance may be positively or negatively affected by diversity.

Several research studies have tried to understand the exact equation between racial characteristics, neighbourhood contexts and development. Marschall and Stolle (2004) argue that socioeconomic and racial characteristics of an individual’s environment not only influences group consciousness and solidarity but also views of the society towards minority and majority ethnic groups. The paper points out that context, social interaction and inter-racial experiences combine to shape general psychological orientations. The authors conduct a neighbourhood level analysis examining race, racial attitudes, social interactions and residential patterns to study the attitudes towards ethnicity and race issues. Marschall and Stolle emphasize that the neighbourhood context plays an important role in shaping civic orientations although diversity and interracial interaction and settings o promote such interaction seems to be crucial to develop a generalised inter-racial trust for the development of the community.

Increased sensitivity towards diversity and interracial interaction is important to promote social and community development. This is also true in college campuses and in a study by Chang et al (2004) national longitudinal data from a set of college students was used to examine the educational relevance of cross racial interaction and the way the campuses can best utilise such opportunities. The results of most similar studies suggest that cross racial interaction has positive effects on students intellectual, social psychological and civic development. Chang and colleagues suggested that a large proportion of students of colour should be enrolled in institutions and students should be offered more opportunities to live and work on campus. The paper suggests that white students definitely gain in psychological and social experiences when they interact with students from the ethnic minority although cross racial interaction may not be completely advantageous for students of colour. However, despite these differences, cross racial interaction remains an important component for development of attitudes of tolerance and this is an essential aspect of social development of the community in general.

More on the relationship of adult learning, especially in universities with ethnic and cultural diversity has been studied by Osler and Starkey (2000). This study focused on distance learning students of French language and culture highlighting the political importance of language learning within the European context. All foreign language learning policies are meant to have an impact on the development of democratic participation and citizenship rights. Few students are asked to give opinions on questions of identity and treatment of racism or different races suggesting the links between racism and discourses on modernity and identity. Language learning has been considered as a reflexive process and through learning, students gain their own perspectives on their own culture as well as other foreign cultures. Students are encouraged to present their own views and actively participate in understanding foreign cultures to promote diversity in study situations. However the authors argue that ‘positive representations of multiculturalism within language learning courses are likely to prove inadequate in enabling students to identify the barriers to democratic participation’. The different themes that are considered here are immigration, integration and identity although the structural barriers of participation are also identified. The paper stressed on the need to encourage students to deepen their understanding of race, modernity and identities in their own society.

In another relevant and similar study, Shields (2000) argue how curriculum development in school is closely related to the portrayal of the school as communities. Shields suggests that in the modern complex and heterogeneous public schools, where all types of students with different ethnic and racial backgrounds interact, the notion of schools as complete homogeneous communities with shared beliefs, norms and values seem inadequate. Ethnic and racial differences must be used as a resource, according to the author and ideas of feminism, multiculturalism and inclusive education have to be used to develop the concept of school communities. The advantages of multicultural and racial diversity are highlighted here and the major advantages are that increased interaction between racial groups whereas the disadvantage is that there are possibilities of increased fragmentation and polarisation as well. However on a positive note as pointed out in the paper the differences can be used as basis or foundation for community development so that marginalisation of others can lead to barriers. Shields points out that, ‘Explicitly embracing the need to identify and respect difference, being open to new ideas without taking an exclusionary position, and committing to ongoing participation in dialogical processes may help schools to develop as more authentic communities of difference’(Shields, 2000, p.275). Thus communities of difference can still be communities that can live and work together learning from and respecting each other and this co-existing culture should be promoted in climates of turbulent educational culture and new reforms based on tolerance and co-existence can help restructure schools to ensure that all students regardless of race have the same opportunities and quality of instruction.

Some of the proposals of improving interaction in student community and improving the status of schools as communities involve modifying leadership in the community and government structures, as well as overcoming existing power bases, developing mechanisms of accountability, enhancing professionalism and coordinating for adequate distribution of community resources. Citing Barth 1990, Fuller 1993, Shields suggest that the focus on schools as organizations should change to recognize schools as communities by themselves, given the diversity of students enrolled. However as argued there is very little understanding of the concept of community and what it looks and how the concept of community can be implemented in a school setting and what has to be done about it. Theories of schools as communities have been drawn from Tonnies’ concept of gemeinschaft which however is based more on a romanticised view of the past than on improving education in modern dynamic, complex and heterogeneous schools which can be seen as communities (Shields cites Beck and Kratzer, 1994). Several other writers cited by Shields are Fine (1997) and Furman (1998) and they have also advanced notions of communities, of racial coexistence as well a cultures of differences of otherness among different ethnic groups. Many authors have suggested that rather than considering schools as communities because of its affiliation to established norms, values or traditions, schools should be considered as communities by virtue of its racial and ethnic diversity. A school community in which differences are highlighted can add to community development and mutual sharing of values and ideals only when there is a common core principle established to negotiate and iron out differences and disparities in beliefs and values as participants would learn to respect and listen to each other. Bonds and boundaries among school students of different racial backgrounds are constructed, not forcefully but via respect and open communication.

Shields, as other many researchers have worked with many schools to address the needs of diverse student bodies and have become increasingly aware of the limitations of the concept of community which is described with an emphasis on shared values, norms, beliefs and highlight a question by Barth (1990): ‘How can we make conscious, deliberate use of differences in social class, gender, age, ability, race, and interest as resources for learning?’ (p. 514). Shields points out that gender, race and ability are the three elements of differences that can define or help understand an educational community. As the author points out , both theory and practice should be used to suggest how the implications of reflections on theory and practice can help to reconceptualise and improve social policy making, community development and social work practice. Shields paper aims to give an analysis of schools as communities of difference as well as communities of diversity. Differences and diversity are both dealt with from the perspective of changes in society although there may be many problems inherent in such inter-racial coexistence. The use of diversity as a means of thinking about or defining community makes differences an essential part of an interactive society and social workers seem to have an important role in promoting unity and interaction in diversity and difference.

Evidence of Racial Diversity

Racial diversity and cultural differences are issues not just in schools and smaller communities but also in many workplaces, hospitals and clinical settings. Racial diversity is part of women’s social issues, in technical work groups, in developing leadership qualities and management programs. Several practices to manage racial diversity within the community aims at improving intercultural relations, along with promoting improved communication and interaction among different ethnic groups (Rutherford, 1990). This in turn improves leadership and management skills of people and serves the greater goal of community development.

Feminist theories and perspectives are in focus when we discuss workplace differences and many scholars realize that to increase potentialities and opportunities for women in the workplace gender awareness has to be replaced by multicultural awareness. Betters-Reed and Moore (1995) emphasize the need to explain the current management development paradigm that does not recognize diversity among women. They suggest a new all-inclusive paradigm for establishing a successful multicultural organization where opinions of all women as well as members of ethnic communities could be brought to light. The initial stages of individual and organizational awareness of understanding yet reconciling with differences is followed by the recognition that women also need to be treated equally in the field of management. There is a growing need to shift new approaches, attitudes and paradigms that recognizes women’s roles to replace older values in existing management development practices.

Case Study: For our case study we conducted interviews on 150 social members, all British citizens from the northern part of Yorkshire in the UK. Among the 150 community members 50, were from the Muslim faith of Arabic origin, 50 from Christian community within Europe, and the remaining 50 from Asian Hindu faith. The attitudes of all community towards members of other communities were studied using a questionnaire and a five-point scale. The questionnaire consisted of 100 questions and the answers ranged from strongly agree to agree, to neutral to disagree and strongly disagree. The questions were targeted to find out about the attitudes, whether positive or negative towards other different racial, ethnic or religious groups. All the responses were taken on a five-point scale and scores were then put through statistical analysis to get the results. Questions ranged from ‘you feel comfortable in the presence of members of other religious groups’ to ‘you are completely against inter-racial or inter-religious marriage or relationships of any kind’. Following statistical analysis of the results we aim to promote inter-racial interaction by designing community programs that would necessitate or encourage participation of all ethnic, racial and religious groups.

Our inter-cultural and inter-racial interaction program is thus aimed at promoting social harmony and friendship and positive relations among different ethnic and religious groups within the particular region of northern Yorkshire in Britain. As we have seen from all the research evidence discussed, greater and more central role of women, developing leadership and management perspectives as well as an open racial policy in schools and hospitals can actually help in leading a community towards improved community development and evolved inter-racial relations. Our social work practice community program was based on the following features:

  1. Promoting inter-racial group activities
  2. Promoting and encouraging inter-racial and inter-cultural programs
  3. Encouraging women to take initiative in community development
  4. Developing active leadership programs
  5. Inter-racial culture and interactive associations to be promoted ion community centers, clubs, hospitals, libraries, workplaces, schools and religious institutions.

Considering these features and results from our initial study which suggested that there are huge cultural differences in how other communities are perceived by ethnic or racial groups, we suggest that promotion of a ‘dialogue culture’ and greater interaction among community members in all walks of life is essential for promotion of diversity and cultural unity.

Conclusion

In this essay we highlighted several studies that have emphasized on the need for promoting an interracial culture to encourage diversity in all aspects of life. A case study discussed here shows the differences in opinions of different cultural and racial groups in their perception of other ethnic groups. Following the initial study, we mentioned the importance of women’s role, leadership, management goals, and focus on group discussion and interracial participation in cultural and social programs as important in promoting diversity and racial sensitivity. We stressed on the need for ‘interaction’ and suggested that a practice of group discussions, organized community work, and regular meetings of different community members promoted by social workers can go a long way in changing a society of differences and diversity, into a society of unity, sharing and intercultural dialogue.

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