How Culture’s Structures May Affect Intervention Strategies for Addressing Oppression, Alienation, Marginalization, and Privilege
A culture’s structures refer to the social, physical, and psychological institutions, stratifications, and other patterns which support relations between individuals and groups in the society (Lindsay, 2009). The development of a culture depends greatly on the constant creation of new structures to embody new values, ideas and vision for the society. According to Romich et al. (2007), structures are not only protective and supportive of the society, but can also be restrictive and a limiting factor in social work interventions. One way through which structures affect intervention strategies is by propping oppression.
Oppression is a sociological concept that describes a relationship in which one group of people benefits from systematic injustices and exploitation perpetrated against other groups. Usually, the oppressed group gets deprived of freedom and basic rights (Despard & Chowa, 2010). Oppression happens when cultural structures favor the dominant group to the extent of depriving the subordinate group its rightful power and privileges. The subordinate group lacks the necessary resources and means to defend itself against oppression. The dominant group exploits the subordinate group’s lack of resources to oppress it further, which creates a vicious cycle of oppression (Dewees, 2006). Oppression can hinder effective intervention in that oppressed people seeking help from the oppressors may meet obstacles such as rejection of their pleas. For instance, cultural structures did not favor Izzie because she was from a less dominant group (migrant Latino). Because the vice of oppression is deeply ingrained in the American culture’s structures, interventions to help her may hit a dead end.
Marginalization is a systematic process by which members of certain groups are subjugated to the periphery of economic systems, political processes, and social negotiation. Across the world, marginalized groups tend to belong to the less dominant cultures such as migrants and ethnic and racial minorities (Dewees, 2006). Additionally, individuals from lower socioeconomic status and the unemployed are more likely to be marginalized. Izzie and her family were marginalized because of her family’s class, racial origin, and social status. She could not get a decent employment, meaning that it was difficult to move up the social class. While in the Family House, she had no say over her situation and that of her family. Where marginalization is deeply entrenched in a culture’s structures, it can be difficult to implement intervention strategies due to lack of social and institutional support.
Alienation describes a state of isolation and low integration within the society. Alienation makes individuals feel powerless, helpless and incapable of integrating with the society (Despard & Chowa, 2010). The concept of alienation is rife in the case study in that Izzie is alienated from her family. Under the strict rules of the court and the Family House, she cannot meet her husband or spend time with her children as she pleases. This makes her experience strong feelings of powerlessness. Izzie’s case shows that the society’s cultures structures favor strict laws, which are responsible for the apparent alienation experienced by Izzie and her family. Because the rules have to be followed as stipulated, any intervention to help her is doomed to fail. Thus, alienation is a major factor why social work interventions fail to produce desired effects.
Privilege refers to the unearned rights, benefits or advantages granted to the individuals who fit a particular social group. Society accords various privileges to people based on their social identities. These identities include race, language, gender, employment status, religion and geographical location among others. Often privileges are products of social constructs and are normalized through social structures. This means that privileges are institutionalized and became influencers of social norms. Common types of privileges include white privilege and racial privileges. These privileges can have a profound impact on the ability of a social worker to implement effective intervention strategies (Despard & Chowa, 2010).
In Izzie’s case, the issue of privilege is clearly shown by the fact that Izzie is not born into the majority racial group in the United States. As such, she and her family are victims of racial privilege. Because Izzie lacks the privileges enjoyed by the majority group, she is isolated from the society and subjected to oppression and marginalization. A social worker who is from the privileged group may have biases when helping a client to implement intervention strategies (Parker & Bradley, 2003). For example, an American social worker may hold some stereotypical values about Latino immigrants. The social worker may not understand fully how being from the unprivileged group affects the vales and attitudes of the client.
Alternatives to the House Family Administrator’s Hard-Line Position
Although the administrator of the Family House was justified in denying Izzie an opportunity to leave the facility before the stipulated time, there are alternatives to this position. Considering that the husband is set to be released from jail in a few days, it is in the interest of her family for her to be allowed to reunite with the husband and the children. In this regard, the most important alternative is to evaluate Izzie’s situation on a case by case basis to determine whether her continued to stay at the facility will be at the best interest of her family. If the evaluation reveals that Izzie has made good progress in her treatment program and has observed all rules of the facility, the findings can be presented to the court to review its verdict and allow her out of the Family House. Hopefully, the court will be reasonable enough to respond positively to the plea.
Another alternative is for Izzie and her husband and all children to be allowed to meet regularly under the supervision of the Family House. Because these meetings are likely to be emotional, counseling services should be offered to the family to help them adjust to the continued separation. Ramon should be given special counseling to help him adjust to the life outside prison and to be able to take care of the family as the breadwinner. When Izzie is finally allowed out of the family, the family may consider going back to their home country to escape the perceived marginalization in the United States. This decision should be considered carefully to ensure that it does not result in more troubles for the family.
How Class, Race and Gender Affected Izzie’s and her Family’s Interaction
Class, race and gender played a big role in influencing Izzie and her family’s interactions with various institutions such as the Family House, police, the shelter the housing authority and the CPS. Being a Latino, Izzie was a nonwhite, meaning that she belonged to one of the minority groups in the United States. Moreover, she was a woman and from a poor background. A combination of the three factors made Izzie and her family a soft target for exploitation by the authorities. For example, the police officers seized her house and even accused her falsely of engaging in drug trafficking. Since she had no resources to defend herself against these false accusations, it was easier for the police to fabricate and prefer charges against her.
The Child Protective Service was very strict on Izzie because of her status. The CPS believed that because she was from a poor background, she lacked the means of providing for her family. Izzie could not object to the CPS decision because she lacked the necessary resources. Similarly, the shelter and the Family House had set stringent rules based on misconceptions about immigrant families. For example, the shelter held the view that Izzie’s eldest son was a threat to the rest of the people staying at the shelter. Therefore, they separated him from his mother, which unfortunately worked to the family’s detriment. At the housing authority, Izzie was not able to secure a house because the authority kept on frustrating his efforts. At some point, the authority changed requirements to ensure that Izzie and her family did not qualify for a house because of her class.
Cultural, Gender, and Class Issues That May Arise Within the Family When It Is Completely Reunited
Currently, reunification is the most important concern for the family. Having been separated for several years, everybody is eager to be reunited with each other and start a new chapter in life. Owing to the challenges that the family has endured ever since the husband was arrested and put under detention, a number of cultural, gender and class issues are likely to arise when the family is reunited. Being an ex-convict, Ramon will find it difficult to get a job. Most companies in the US have a strict policy of not employing anyone who has been convicted (Lindsay, 2009). This is especially challenging for Ramon because he was suspected of drug trafficking, which is a very big crime in the United States. If Ramon does not get a job, the family will remain poor which is a major class issue.
Ever since Ramon was incarcerated, a lot has happened, and the family’s setup has changed dramatically. Izzie has a job but is still undergoing treatment, meaning that she will not have enough time to bond with the family. For the time being, the family is going to depend on Izzie as the sole provider. This will be a major gender and cultural issue because, in both the American and Mexican cultures, men are expected to be the providers for their families. Unfortunately, Ramon will not be able to provide for his family. It may take Ramon a long time to adjust to this reality, and as long as he is not able to get a job, the situation may get worse.
This paper has highlighted some of the most common challenges that minorities experience under the social structures of dominant cultures. As explained, oppression, marginalization, alienation and privilege are common challenges facing members of minority groups. It is the responsibility of social workers to offer intervention to individuals like Izzie and their families to enable them alleviate problems and overcome challenges. Through interventions, such families and individuals can acquire vital skills for coping with dramatic life situations and difficult transitions. Because values and biases may affect the effectiveness of interventions, it s imperative that social workers think carefully about their attitudes and how they may impact their services.
Birkenmaier, J. & Curley, J. (2009). Financial credit: Social work's role in empowering low-income families. Journal of Community Practice, 17(3), 251-268
Despard, M. & Chowa, G. A. N. (2010). Social workers' interest in building individuals' financial capabilities. Journal of Financial Therapy, 1(1), 23–41.
Dewees, M. (2006). Contemporary Social Work Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lindsay, T. (2009). Social Work Intervention. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Parker, J. & Bradley, G. (2003). Social Work Practice: Assessment, Planning, Intervention and Review. London: Learning Matters Ltd.
Romich, J. L. Simmelink, J. & Holt, S. D. (2007). When working harder does not pay: Low-income working families, tax liabilities, and benefit reductions. Families in Society, 88(3), 418–426
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