Support Communication in Culturally Diverse Families: The Role of Stigma

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Ethnic minority groups are societally defined groups that exist as psychological and/or numerical minorities, and whose members presumably share biological and/or cultural heritage (Markus, 2008). Although religious and national minority groups clearly are defined by culture, racial minority groups (which psychologists have tended to regard as defined by biology; Fairchild, Yee, Wyatt, & Weizmann, 1995;Yee, Fairchild, Weizmann, & Wyatt, 1993) similarly are defined by culture (Jones, 1997). In turn, culturally diverse families are defined by the presence of one or more family members who are members of racial, religious, or national minority groups within a given society (Gaines, 1997). According to Erving Goffman (1963), stigmatization toward members of ethnic minority groups not only can affect those individuals but also can affect the individuals' families. Within the U.S.A. and other Western nations, majority group members as well as minority group members in interracial marriages often are acutely aware of the transmission of stigmatization throughout entire families (Gaines & Ickes, 2000). However, the transmission of stigmatization can occur in all families in which one or more members belong to racial, religious, or national minority groups (Gaines, 2001). In the present chapter, we draw upon Goffman's (1959, 1963) symbolic interactionist theory in examining support communication within culturally diverse families. We pay particular attention to Goffman's (1963) concept of stigma as applied to members of ethnic minority groups and as applied to their families. Moreover, we focus on specific forms of support communication (following Mickelson & Williams, 2008; Williams & Mickelson, 2008) that members of ethnic minority groups may use to obtain social support from family members and, thus, counteract the potentially negative effects of stigmatization. In addition, we consider the utility of Claude Steele's (1997) concept of stereotype threat in explaining the potential lack of generalizability of support communication processes across ethnic (and especially racial) groups.