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Cross-cultural knowledge imperative to working with minority groups

This is an excerpt from Cultural Sport Psychology eBook by Robert J. Schinke & Stephanie J. Hanrahan.

General Characteristics of Specific Minority Groups

The following sections provide a brief introduction to five racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, American Indians, and Arab Americans. The use of general cross-cultural knowledge is important for working with racial and ethnic minority groups. This information, however, must be applied in a flexible approach wherein the focus is on the individual rather than the group.

African Americans

African Americans face evolving cultural challenges and environments (Cross, 1995). Age and gender affect African American cultural identity in the United States, particularly in urban areas. Young, urban, African American males tend to feel alienated and face numerous psychosocial stressors (Evans & Evans, 1995; Patton, 1995). Their feelings can be attributed, in part, to constant encounters with violence and limited educational and employment opportunities (Lee & Bailey, 1997). Not surprisingly, many African American males view sport, especially basketball and American football, as a means to escape this cycle. These athletes carry with them the skepticism, survival skills, and coping strategies that helped them succeed in a challenging environment outside sport (Lee & Bailey, 1997). Some of their views and strategies can subsequently be incorporated into positive sport psychology skills (e.g., approaches to adversity and challenge; see Brooks, Haskins, & Kehe, 2004). n general, African American culture values kinship, commitment, and spirituality. Family values and a sense of commitment are instilled in young African Americans via strong female role models because direct male role models are limited (Lee & Bailey, 1997). As a result, some African American males may seek a father like relationship with a male sport psychology professional. The incorporation of religion and spirituality into sport psychology work with African American athletes may further enhance resiliency. As with each of the groups discussed in this chapter, regional differences and rural or urban location play key roles in the expression of African American culture. Regional racial and ethnic subgroups of African Americans such as Creole Blacks (of West African and French ancestry) and Caribbean Blacks have created unique regional variations in African American culture and identity (Watkins-Duncan, 1992). For example, Creole and Caribbean Blacks might speak patois (a language that incorporates English and African words), practice religion that combines Christianity with West African spiritual beliefs, and eat foods that include French, Spanish, and African influences.


Latinos comprise numerous racial and ethnic subgroups (e.g., Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans) from the Americas, and differences among the groups must be considered in any sport psychology work. From a geographical perspective, Mexican Americans tend to be concentrated in California and Texas, Puerto Ricans in the Northeast, and Cuban Americans in Florida. (See Kontos and Arguello [2005] for a review of cultural differences related to sport psychology services for Latin American athletes and a caveat for generalizing across specific subgroups.) Among the shared cultural characteristics for Latinos are familismo (i.e., family), machismo (i.e., masculinity), personalimso (i.e., personal interactions), and simpatia (i.e., being easygoing). Familismo is the dominant cultural theme among Latinos and can extend into a general sense of community (Marín & Marín, 1991). Central to this concept are honor, cooperation, and affiliation, which lead to a strong support system for Latino athletes.

However, if Latino athletes are geographically isolated from this extended support system, they may encounter adjustment and coping problems. Machismo affects the expectations for behavior and pride among Latino males and females (Casas & Pytluk, 1995). These expectations can manifest in sport and must be considered as an explanation for masculine behaviors such as aggression. Similarly, as a result of hembrismo (i.e., femaleness), Latinas may exhibit behaviors such as withdrawal from sport to fulfill roles at home (Comas-Díaz, 1989). In both cases, the sport psychology professional must be careful not to stereotype the client's behaviors. Personalimso and simpatia are interrelated and reflect the importance of establishing personal relationships using an easygoing and likable manner (Gloria, Ruiz, & Castillo, 2004). These characteristics may result in an athlete wanting to develop a personal relationship with a sport psychology professional through invitations to personal or family events. Regardless of whether practitioners agree to such an invitation, it is important to respect the offer so as not to offend the athlete.

Asian Americans

In contrast to the prevalent stereotypes of other racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States, Asian Americans are often viewed as successful, hardworking, disciplined, and educated (Morrissey, 1997). Their perceived social, economic, and educational success has led to the misconception that Asian Americans are accepted by dominant White culture and not discriminated against (Sue & Sue, 1999). The depiction of Asian Americans as the model minority in the United States has led other minority groups to chastise them because they believe that Asian Americans are advantaged (Sue & Sue, 1999). Much of Asian American culture is centered on family and religion. The importance of family may open the door to a family systems approach to sport psychology. Religion in Asian culture, which ranges from animism to Zen Buddhism, is diverse and cannot be properly summarized in this chapter. Nonetheless, religion plays a significant role in the cultural beliefs and practices of many Asian Americans, and it may also play a role in performance enhancement (Chung et al., 1997). A unique, though not universal, aspect of Asian American culture is neurasthenia, or the reporting of somatic manifestations (i.e., symptoms) of psychological distress (Chung & Kagawa-Singer, 1996). For example, a self-referred Vietnamese American golfer with whom I worked presented with complaints about frequent illnesses and body pains with no apparent medical cause. During the intake session, it became apparent that his symptoms were somatic manifestations of anxiety associated with qualifying for a competition. The athlete at first denied the connection, but after some challenging, he indicated that being physically sick was more acceptable in his family and culture than having psychological problems. In cases such as this one, there is a concomitant expectation for quick resolution of these somatic symptoms (Chung et al., 1997), which may lead to greater acceptance of cognitive-behavioral sport psychology techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, biofeedback, and imagery. However, this expectation may also lead to frustration in the absence of symptom resolution or progress. For instance, the Vietnamese American golfer was receptive to cognitive restructuring, relaxation, and breathing techniques, but he expected them to fix his situation immediately. I focused on immediate changes such as the athlete feeling better and less nervous, and I indicated that just as with physical practice, mental strategies require practice and consistency to have the greatest effect on performance.

American Indians

Key cultural issues for American Indians include Indianess, tribal affiliation, location, and acculturative stress (Kontos & Breland-Noble, 2002). Indianess is represented in external displays of tribal beliefs and practices (Red Horse, 1982). Tribal affiliation and location (urban or rural) affect one's Indianess. For example, the Indianess of Cherokee Indians living in the reservation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, may be more overt than among those living in Oklahoma City. American Indians who live in urban environments away from the reservation are susceptible to acculturative stress resulting from the constant identity clash between their Indian culture and the dominant White culture (Kontos & Breland-Noble, 2002). The recent explosion of tribal casinos in the United States has resulted in further debate and confusion regarding Indianess across tribal groups (tribal groups use blood quanta ranging from 1/16 to 1/2 as minimum requirements for tribal registration). Tribal cultural differences are vast and generalizations across tribes should be avoided. The practitioner should instead focus on specific tribal awareness or regional similarities (e.g., Southwest Indians, such as Navaho, Hopi, and Apache). In spite of regional and tribal differences, American Indians tend to share underlying cultural values, including a holistic approach to health, emphasis on cooperation over individual success, and respect for family and elders (Sage, 1997). Cultural beliefs and practices vary considerably among the 542 recognized American Indian tribal groups in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). Consequently, American Indian athletes' approaches to sport psychology will vary based on regional geography, intergenerational issues, urban and reservation locations, cultural understanding of health, and other challenges (Sage, 1997).

Arab Americans

Although Arab Americans represent a fairly small ethnic group in the United States at 1.2 million or .42% of the population, (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001), they are among the fastest growing groups in the United States at an increase of 40% in 10 years. Arab Americans include a heterogeneous group of people who speak Arabic and have ethnic origins primarily in North Africa and the Middle East. Family and religion are foremost among the cultural influences of Arab Americans that sport psychology professionals should consider. Traditionally, family unity with a strong chronological patriarchal hierarchy forms the foundation of Arab American culture (Jackson, 1997). The other pillar in Arab American culture is religion, whether it is Islam or Christianity. Arab Americans who are Christian tend to acculturate more easily than those who are Muslim (Jackson, 1997). The practice of Islam among Arab Americans is tied to family loyalty and piety (i.e., religious devotion and spirituality) (Nydell, 1987). Unfortunately, the unfamiliarity with and vilification of Islamic culture and Arab Americans in general following September 11, 2001, has resulted in widespread intolerance in the United States (Erickson & Al-Timimi, 2004). This general hostility may lead Arab American athletes to be suspicious of mainstream sport psychology professionals and take a guarded approach to sport psychology (see Cultural Awareness).