Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Bitter Irony is Finally Realized. (The Social Contact Theory) By Traci

From the day I was born, I was already at an advantage. I was Caucasian, brought home to the suburbs and raised in an upper class family. My home was in a safe neighborhood, I had the luxury of education opportunities, I was kept safe and secure by my family (away from anyone and anything different) and lived in a beautiful bubble with people just like me until my early twenties. I never knew any different way of living and really did not know very many people who were not like me. Now I understand that these so called advantages have actually put me at a disadvantage in life. At forty years old I am paying the price for the so called advantages of living with privilege. Never having the chance to have social contacts with diverse groups of people has made me less knowledgeable about these groups and people and probably has lead to me having some prejudicial preconceived notions. "A person's beliefs can be modified by that person coming into contact with a category member and subsequently modifying or elaborating the beliefs about the category as a whole" (Schiapp, Gregg, & Hewes, 2005).

The social contact theory "...particularly its principles and the conditions it sees as necessary for reducing prejudice and segregation, contributes important insights to the culturally grounded approach." (Marsiglia & Kulis, 2009, p. 72). I had never given this theory much thought until Dr. Rodenborg asked our class to keep track of all of our social contacts for a few days and make notes about the individuals we encountered. After looking over my three days of contacts with individuals, I was shocked. I only had contact with someone else different from me while I was at my internship or dealing with utilitarian contacts. Outside of those areas, my contact with different types of people were limited. The survey made it apparent that the people whom I shared the most contact were basically just like me. We all had been apart of the elite advantaged group because of our race, social class, educational opportunities, and sexual orientation. Sadly, this sheltered group that I am a member, will always be at the real disadvantage. None of us will have the true understanding of others without attached preconceived notions and stigma.

What this survey showed me was how limited my life is with regard to having diverse people in my life. Did the so called advantaged world that I grew up in really offer me the best life scenarios? The survey assignment enlightened me to the fact that my social contact with different social circles only happens at my internship, truly making me the person with the disadvantage. I have lost out on opportunities to meet people who were not like me throughout my life. These different people could have broadened my life experiences, beliefs, and offered me the chance to learn about others. Isn't it ironic that the world in some ways considers me to be the one with the advantages and yet I feel like those advantages have allowed me to "follow a principle of homophily" and "...develop social bonds with people that look and act like themselves" (Marsiglia & Kulis, 2009, p. 72). All of the advantages that others are envious about, I question about the damage they have caused.

Many of my classmates at Augsburg have a diverse group of friends and seem to have social contacts with different types of people. These people all have an advantage compared to me. They will have cultural knowledge and experience to make them well rounded individuals who are comfortable with diversity. Our classmates in Mexico are having the opportunity to create new social contacts with people in a different country to help strengthen their cultural awareness. I am jealous of these life experiences these people are receiving, and am sad that my only chance to engage in diverse social circles happens on Mondays and Fridays while I am at my internship. Wait, maybe I am wrong, I do need get gas tonight.

Schiapp, E., Gregg, P. B., & Hewes, D. E. (2005). The parasocial contact hypothesis. Commincation Monographs, 72(1), 92-115.

Marsiglia, F. F., & Kulis, S. (2009). Diversity, oppression and change: Culturally grounded social work. Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books, Inc.


  1. I can definitely relate to your experiences. Almost all of my friends are white (like me), and I would agree that this is a disadvantage. The Marsiglia and Kulis book has inspired me to branch out to people who are different from me.

    I am currently in Mexico, and I am really looking forward to the upcoming urban homestays. I am eager to develop connections with my host family and to learn from our cultural differences. Back home, however, I attend St. Olaf, where the majority of students are white. I guess I should make an extra effort to attend diversity events and challenge myself to seek out contacts with people who dont necessarily have a lot in common with me. Although the majority of St. Olaf students are white, there are of course students who belong to other racial-ethnic groups, and I must remember not to negate or discount their experiences simply because they are the minority.

  2. Being that I am an African American student, my reaction is a little different. I do not necessarily branch out to others who look differently than me, I am forced. I am not saying that it is bad because most people that I encounter are very welcoming and love to integrate with a woman such as myself, but this world is made for non-colored people and unfortunately it is something I have to face almost on a daily basis. Although I do face this, I do have friends that I can still hang out with that look like me. It is more for comfort and almost used as a time out for me in the "real world." But as I have come to find out, like Lisa, I am also in México right now and doing the things that I have done has made me more aware of how my culture. Although I am black, there are many differences from my culture to the Mexican culture and I have come to find out that I am still very privileged because I am having the opportunity to gain an education and am an American. After seeing a different culture, I realized how naive I am and that there are things that I still need to learn. What I had been focusing on was how awful I felt, being that I am better off then some, but what I need to do is channel that feeling on what I can do to help. Being part of a minority ethnic group has really taught me some things and have put me in different experiences than others, but again I need to try harder to think outside the box

  3. I have had a very similar situation like you. I am Caucasian and have grown up in a town with the majority population being Caucasian and most my social contacts are Caucasian. You make a great point that although being white is seen as a privilege, we are at a disadvantage at the same time.
    Having social contact with different types of people in Mexico has been a great advantage for my better understanding of race, class and gender and has taught me a lot about the Mexican culture. It is also sad to say that it took me to study abroad in Mexico to get a real understanding of this.
    Mexico has been a great advantage for me. Coming here I have experienced what it feels like to be a minority. I also have experienced my privilege in a more obvious way. Just last weekend in Cuernavaca my Caucasian friends and I went to a club with my Mexican friend. After sitting at the table for a while my friend who is Mexican with darker skin was asked to leave our table unless he buys a bottle of alcohol (my Caucasian friends and I were never asked to do that). Let me just say, I am never going there again…

    Chelsea Crivello

  4. Traci,

    As a white, middle-class, male, I often forget about my privilege and lack of contact with persons from different ethnicities, social classes, and even gender. What I especially like is that you underscored the point that as social workers, our racial microaggressions are reinforced by contact with different minorities groups in client-participant relationships. This is especially important for me to keep in mind. I had never thought about this before reading the literature in our SWK 280 course. In the end, you're right, I'm the one that will be at a disadvantage as a person and as a social worker if I only have contact with minorities in a client-social worker relationship.

    Thanks for highlighting some key points and taking risks in sharing your own personal life story.

    -Billy Hamilton

  5. Traci,

    Like you, I was born into a white middle class family. However, I had a rather unique upbringing. I was raised overseas in China and Saudi Arabia. Given my upbringing, being the only person like me in a social setting is something that I never took notice of unless others brought it to my attention. I can see why the lack of diversity in your upbringing and current life can be disheartening...and even serve as a disadvantage in the social work field. That being said, middle class whites are not the only ones who lack diversity in their social circles. To this day, I continue to surround myself with people that come from a wide range of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. While I wouldnt chose my social circle in any other way, when I place myself in certain social settings I am often remind of the "rich white girl" status that has been bestowed upon me by society. The fact of the matter is that we all, yes regardless of where we come from, need to break out of our own cultural cliques to rid ourselves of the preconceived notions we create. At Augsburg you have a wealth of opportunities to do so. I suggest attending some of the many cultural events hosted on campus. I find the cultural events here to be a welcoming, fun, and interactive way to educate yourself on cultures other than your own!


  6. In a way people of privilege can feel like they have disadvantages but it is a good thing (sort of). This is because they can learn from these disadvantages, just like people without privilege. It’s very interesting because I haven’t never really thought about my social contact or people. I grew up in a minority family and I find myself hanging with people who are like me more than majority people. In addition, I hope that you’ll get more experiences and engagement in the diverse social circles.


  7. I have a similar mentality to you in that I also grew up with social contacts who were relatively uniform to myself and I agree that it sometimes can seem like a disadvantage when it comes to cultural competence.
    I want to encourage you, however, to remember that you cannot blame yourself for what you had no awareness of. I can't be sure, but I'm assuming that you weren't very aware of the fact that your social contacts were mostly all homogenous to you. It's something that people don't really think about without prompting (in this case, from class). Now that you do know, it will be interesting to see if you decide to stretch yourself and make an effort to diversify and learn more about others' experiences.

  8. Traci,

    Your post is one that opens my eyes to a world that I live in everyday. When I was asked to track my social contacts for a few days I thought to myself "Yeah, I can do that now. White, middle to upperclass, mostly females, educated, and privledged." I feel that your post is one that relates to most of us in our class on a daily basis. I grew up in Rochester, MN, with having Mayo Clinic almost in my backyard. With this, I was brought up surrounded by very well educated, white,and middle to upperclass families. I never trully new anything different until my twenties when I moved to the cities.

    I feel as though I have been short handed for the way that I was raised in seeing how the world truly is. I never new that there were other religions and cultures that are so vastly different from myself. This has shown me that I want to raise my children being so well rounded in the world that they don't see others just for a status or some label that society has placed on them. I would like to see the world for the people that are in it-- not just the differences that are within ourselves.


  9. Traci,

    It becomes more and more apparent as time travels by that the old saying ignorance is bliss reveals itself more and more. I grew up in a relatively small community surrounded by people like me. As I aged I traveled to many different spots and lived in a number of inner city areas and became a minority. Some days I wish I could rid myself of the awareness I have gained of inequality and social constructs. It has added to a great deal of confusion as to who I am and what my identity as an individual is. Without any level of professionalism I come in contact each day with situations that are heartbreaking and have insight as to the struggles that exist. It may sound strange but I wish I could go back to the life of ignorance because it is easier to not know then it is to know and be powerless. However I have been placed in a position to have the opportunity to gain awareness and chance to bridge gaps in society and culture.