Journal of Rural Community Psychology                                                                                            Volume E14 (1)



Multicultural Competence and Color Blind Racial Attitudes among Undergraduate and Graduate Counseling Majors


Keelon Hinton and Malissa Lowe

Marshall University





The study in question sought to explore the relations of multicultural competency,

Appalachian ethnic identity, and color blind racial attitudes among seventy-two Caucasian

undergraduate and graduate counseling majors. Correlational analysis revealed significant positive

 correlations between multicultural awareness and multicultural knowledge, multicultural awareness

 and multicultural competency, multicultural knowledge and multicultural competency and multicultural awareness and Appalachian Identity.  Negative significant correlations were revealed between the

Appalachian Identity and the color blind racial attitudes and color blind racial attitudes and multicultural awareness, multicultural knowledge, and multicultural competency.  Regression analyses revealed both multicultural competency and Appalachian identity as significant predictors of color blind racial attitudes. Implications for assessment, treatment, and future research are discussed.





“As we sell the idea of America being a multicultural society, lets be sure as to not

confuse our living in a multiethnic society with multiculturalism.  While we have many

 ethnic backgrounds present, only one culture truly dominates.”


As American society becomes increasingly more multiethnic in nature, the need for counselors, therapists, courses, and training that adequately address the cultural incongruences experienced by people of color has become paramount.  Inability to properly address these differences which exist between cultures of color and mainstream society generally have lead to bad assessment, misdiagnoses, and improper treatment (Sue and Sue, 2003), leading white counselors  to view the goals, values, beliefs, and behaviors of some people of color as deviant (Constantine, Gushue, and Sciarra, 2008; Sue and Sue, 2003). As the body of literature which highlights these deleterious effects slowly expands, preverbal lines have been drawn in the sand, not only by clients of color, but also by a counseling community which recognizes the potentially unethical nature of providing a service to communities in which they may not have the proper tools (Remley & Herlihy, 2005; Watson, Herlihy, and Pierce, 2006).  From this growing acknowledgement and awareness of the role cultural differences between white counselors and their clients of color play, the multicultural competence movement was born. 


Multicultural Competency


The knowledge and techniques used to aid, assess, diagnose, and treat clients of color are referred to as multicultural competency (Constantine & Ladany, 2000; Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992).  A vast array of



models, paradigms, and instruments have surfaced throughout the 80’s and 90’s (Constantine and Ladany, 2001; Sue, Bernier, Durran, Feinberg, Pedersen, Smith, & Vasquez-Nuttall, 1982; Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992) in an effort to define the construct of competency and what components it entails.  Among the myriad of components explored, a consensus has been drawn that cultural awareness and cultural knowledge are the two main pieces which give it structure (Pope-Davis, Reynolds, Dings, and Nielson, 1995).  


Awareness is believed to be the antecedent and most important piece to the development of multicultural competency (Pedersen, 2000).  It has been defined as the ability to recognize and identify one’s biases about race and give integrity to how those biases may affect our thoughts, feelings, and responses to people of color (Arredondo, 1999; McRae & Johnson, 1991; Sue et al., 1992).  Research performed in this area has explored the importance of increased cultural awareness among white therapist, how increasing awareness may affect clinical skill (Davis-Russel, Forbes, Bascuas, & Duran, 1992; McRae & Johnson, 1991), and most importantly, the positive relationship between awareness and various forms of multicultural training (i.e. seminars, courses, training, etc…) (Case, 2001; Keim, Warring, & Ran, 2001; Melendez, 2007; Parker, Moore, & Lonsdale, 2006). Continued exploration on awareness and the role it plays in the development of multicultural competency is crucial in our efforts to provide people of color with culturally appropriate counseling.


Cultural knowledge, while not widely studied like awareness, refers to the level of knowledge one may have about the worldviews, values, socio-history, and family structures of people of color (Sue et al., 1982).  Research in this area has generally placed its focus on and emphasized the positive relationship between multicultural knowledge and increased multicultural training (i.e. seminars, courses, training, etc…).  The more counselors and therapists learn and are exposed to information about other cultural perspectives, the more sensitive and competent they report they feel (Mendez, 2007; Chaos, 2006; Murphy, Park, & Lonsdale, 2006; Salvador, 1998). While both components in isolation have yielded promising results in regards to expanding our knowledge of competency, instruments which combine both awareness and knowledge during assessment tend to yield the most accurate and comprehensive assessment we have to date. But the quest to resolve the issue of cultural incongruence in counseling is larger and more complex than issues of knowledge, awareness, and competency, combined or in isolation, can answer. Views on race and its overarching role in our society (colorblindness) and identity have both been identified as factors that can potentially promote or hinder proper treatment of clients of color. 


Color-Blind Racial Attitudes


In examining factors that potentially facilitate or impede cross cultural counseling interactions, color blind racial attitudes are an obstacle which should be given consideration. Color blind racial attitudes refers to the denial of racism and the role they potentially play in the lived experiences of people of color (i.e. race should not and does not matter) (Neville, Lilly, Duran, Lee, and Browne, 2000).  It is important to note that such attitudes do not always imply feelings of racial superiority but can simply be an expression of one’s unawareness of racial dynamics.  Attitudes of colorblindness exist on both a structural level (denial of racism as a major racial ideology) and an individual level (cognitive framework for understanding racial stimuli). Neville et al., (2000) outlined four major tents of color blind racial attitudes. The first tent states that the denial associated with color blind racial attitudes, while distinctly different from blatant racism, is still just as potent and can be used to inadvertently justify, promote, and rationalize racial discrimination. The second tenet states that color blind racial attitudes make up cognitive schemas which influence how people use information related to race, and that these schemas carry along with them emotional and visceral responses. Schemas built on the notion that race doesn’t matter, combined with feelings of discomfort, fear and/or anxiety may lead one to reject the impact race could have played in a situation. The third tenant states that feelings of color-blindness are multidimensional and complex, containing belief systems that reflect color evasion (a denial of White superiority by insisting all people are the same) and power evasion (belief that all people have the same opportunities to succeed). The final tenant states that color blind attitudes have different implications and are expressed differently by Europeans American and people of color.  For white people, denying the role of race protects white privilege and fosters the perspective that any disparities which may exist are solely due to minority inadequacies.  For people of color, denying race as a factor when discriminatory acts take place absolves the person from finding a way to cope with racism, leading to further oppression. 


Using these tenants, along with other theoretical literature, Neville et al. (2000) developed a three component scale to assess color blind racial attitudes. The three factor solutions revealed are: 1) racial privilege, which refers to the denial of white privilege; 2) institutional discrimination, which refers to a limited awareness of institutional discrimination, and 3) Blatant racial issues, which refer to the denial of general and pervasive racial discrimination. Theoretically, Neville et al. (2001) assert that knowledge about color blind racial attitudes is key to the development of cultural competency in counselors and therapist. There contention is that counselors who highly endorse color blind attitudes will be less likely to give integrity to clients who feel race is a contributing factor to their problems, and less likely to process and verbally express race related information in counseling sessions  (p. 281). Empirically, color blind racial attitudes have been positively associated with higher symptom severity for blacks than whites (Gushue, 2004), higher fear of other races in whites (Spanierman and Heppner, 2004), and negative affirmative action attitudes (Awad, Cokley, & Ravitch, 2005). Hence, the theoretical and empirical evidence warrants the exploration of color blind racial attitudes and there potential impact on the cross cultural counseling process. 


Identity Development


To date, the vast majority of research exploring identity and its impact on cross cultural counseling has placed its focus specifically on white racial identity development. How white people view themselves as racial beings is crucial and influential in how they interact with others and the world around them (Cumming-McCann & Accordino, 2005).  There have been a number of white racial identity models developed (Hardiman, 1982; Helms, 1990; Rowe, Bennet, & Atkinson, 1994). Of these, Helms (1990) model has been the most frequently used when assessing the relationship between white racial identity and cultural competency.

According to Helms (1990), healthy white racial identity development occurs when whites relinquish attitudes of superiority and move toward a nonracist identity. She described white identity development as involving five components: 1) contact, those that may be unaware of how they benefit from cultural and institutional racism; 2) disintegration, characterized by increase awareness of their own racial group and some ambivalence about their whiteness because they now notice white privilege; 3) reintegration, idealization of the white race by distorting information to white privilege; 4) pseudo-independence, those who have an understanding of racism and the roles they may play to perpetuate it, and 5) autonomy, is characterized by the development of an appreciation of racial differences and similarities.  Studies that have explored white identity and multicultural competency (Constantine, Juby, & Liang, 2001; Ladany, Brittan-Powell, & Pannu, 1997; Pope-Davis, & Dings, 1994; Sabnani, Ponterotto, & Borodovsky, 1991) have consistently revealed that both pseudo-independence and autonomy identities were both significantly correlated with higher levels of self perceived cultural competency.  Thus, giving some validity to the notion that racial identity development can affect the way counselors and therapist approach and provide service to clients of color (Carter & Helms, 1992).  The problem with using racial identity in assessing the role identity development may play in multicultural counseling and competence is that it only gives consideration to feelings about race.  Ethnic identity, one’s set of ideals, values, behaviors, and sense of belonging to a particular ethnic group, may yield a more holistic perspective on identity and its influence on cross cultural counseling.  Ethnic identity’s broad scope enables it to “tap into” cultural congruency (the sharing of or having goals, values, and beliefs in common with someone of another race), a factor which hasn’t been explored much, but may help facilitate cross cultural identification, understanding, and empathy.  While many have investigated links between white racial identity and multicultural competency, efforts exploring ethnic identity’s roll are scarce. Furthermore, no study, theses, or dissertation, to date, has explored the Appalachian culture and the unique cultural characteristics they (Appalachians) share with people of color (i.e. communalistic ways of living, high religiosity, strong family orientation, etc…).       


Purpose of the Study


The study in question sought to explore the relations of multicultural competency, Appalachian ethnic identity, and color blind racial attitudes among white undergraduate and graduate counseling majors. 







Participants consist of seventy two (N = 72) Caucasian undergraduate and graduate college student volunteers who all self identified as being Appalachian (having been reared in the West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio areas).  There were 23 undergraduates and 49 graduate students, with ages ranging from 18-51 years of age¸ all attending a mid-size Mid-Atlantic public university. Participants were recruited on a volunteer basis via announcements given by researchers and professors in various counseling courses offered on campus.  




Multicultural Counseling Knowledge and Awareness Scale (MCKAS; Ponterotto, Gretchen, Utsey, Riger, & Austin, 2002). It is a 32 Item, 7 point Likert-type scale which seeks to assess self reported multicultural counseling knowledge and awareness. Comprised of two subscales, knowledge and awareness subscales, scoring is calculated by adding all the items to receive an assessment for the full scale while subscale scores can be retrieved by adding the items in each subsection. Higher scores are indicative of more multicultural competence, knowledge about culture, and cultural awareness for the full scale, knowledge subscale, and awareness subscale respectively.  Ponterotto et al. (2002) reported a Cronbach’s Alpha of .85 for both knowledge and awareness subscales. While subscale sores will be assessed in preliminary data analyses, primary analysis will only use full scale scores.


Color Blind Racial Attitude Scale (CoBRAS; Neville et al., 2000). It is a 20 item, 6 point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree), which is designed to reflect the cognitive attitudes and perspectives which, deny and or minimize the existence and importance of race.  The CoBRAS includes blindness to three areas: blatant racism (measures blindness to general and pervasive racial discrimination), racial privilege (measures blindness to the existence of white privilege), and institutional discrimination (measures unawareness of the implications of institutional racism, discrimination, and exclusion). Higher scores on subscales and full scale reflect greater levels of blindness and unawareness of the role which race may play in the lived experiences of people of color. Neville et al. (2000) reported a Cronbach alpha of .91 for the full scale. For our current purpose, only full scale scores will be used during preliminary and primary analyses.


Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM; Phinney, 1992). Appalachian identity was assessed using the MEIM. The MEIM is a 20 items, 4 point Likert-type scale (1= strongly disagree to 4 = strongly agree), which is designed to assess a sense of ethnic belonging and commitment to one’s ethnic heritage. The MEIM includes two subscales: Ethnic Identity subscale (which assess ethnic identity achievement, a sense of cultural affirmation and belonging, and adherence to cultural practices) and Other Group orientation scale (which assess attitudes toward interaction with those of other races and ethnic backgrounds. Four of the 20 items are negatively worded to control for response bias. These items are reversed scored when items are summeHigher scores on subscales and full scale reflect a greater sense of belonging, commitment, and involvement with one’s ethnic heritage.  The Ethnic identity and Other Group subscales yield Cronbach alphas of .86 and .69 respectively.  In our assessment and analysis of Appalachian identity, only full scale scores were used during preliminary and primary analyses.    




Institutional Review Board representatives from the participating institution were contacted regarding approval and intent to conduct the research in question.  Upon approval, contacts were made at the institution for study implementation.  Students were invited to participate in the study via handouts as well as announcements made by their professors and researchers.  Data was gathered at specific times as well as places allotted by the institution and researchers. Those choosing to participate were  given a general overview of the study in question by the researcher as well as given information, orally and written, concerning the confidential nature of their responses and there right to withdraw from the study at any time they so choose.  During the study overview, researchers were very deliberate in explaining our interest in Appalachian identity and that any questions which refer to culture refer to their Appalachian heritage.  After


answering any questions participants had, they received a packet containing an anonymous consent form and the following questionnaires: Multicultural Counseling Knowledge and Awareness Scale (MCKAS; Ponterotto, Gretchen, Utsey, Riger, & Austin, 2002), Color Blind Racial Attitude Scale (CoBRAS; Neville et al., 2000), and the Multigroup Ethnic identity measure (MEIM; Phinney, 1992).  When questionnaires were complete, participants were debriefed and allowed to ask and air any concerns or general questions they may have had about the study or surveys in question.  Professors/instructors who aided in making announcements about the study in question were instructed to tell any of the participants who may have questions later to contact the principle investigator if any concerns with the study were to later surface. 




Table 1 provides the means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations of all primary variables of interest. Prior to primary analysis, a multivariate analysis of variance was conducted to determine if participants differed significantly in regards to sex or educational classification (undergraduate or graduate student). No significant differences were found for any of the variables in question. Pearson Product Moment Correlational Analysis revealed significant positive correlations between multicultural awareness and multicultural knowledge (r = .21, p < .01), multicultural awareness and MCKAS full scale (r = .60, p < .01), multicultural knowledge and MCKAS full scale (r = .92, p < .01) and multicultural awareness and MEIM (r = .13, p < .05).  Negative significant correlations were revealed between the MEIM and the CoBRAS (r = -.25, p < .01) and the CoBRAS (full-scale) and multicultural awareness (r = -.45, p < .01), multicultural knowledge (r = -.19, p < .05), and MCKAS full scale (r = -.39, p < .01).           


Table 1

Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations of all primary variables of interest

 Variables                       Mean            SD                    1                    2                    3                      4                     5 


    Awareness                  65.10            8.99                1

    Knowledge                  97.83           17.29             .21**              1       

    Full-scale                     162.54         18.26             .60**             .92**             1

CoBRAS (Full-scale)       56.35           11.76             -.45**           -.19*             -.39**              1

MEIM                               53.85             5.21              .13*               .10                 .11               -.25**               1

*p<.05; **p<.01.


Giving further examination to the dynamic relationships which exists between the variables in question, a series of regression analyses were employed to ascertain the unique affects and predictability ethnic identity and multicultural competency may have on color blind racial attitudes. Using MEIM and MCKAS (full scale) scores as predictor variables and CoBRAS scores as the dependant variable, regression analysis reveal both MCKAS (full scale) (beta = -.343 , p < .01 )and MEIM (beta = -.323 , p < .01 ) as significant predictors of color blind racial views. See Table 2.      


Table 2

Linear Regression Analysis of MCKAS and MEIM regressed on CoBRAS

Variable                                B                StError                   Beta                   t                     Sig.

MCKAS (Full scale)         -.976                 .253                        -.343              7.050                0.00

MEIM                                -.737                 .202                       -.3.06              3.733               0.00



Once identified as predictors, a second series of additional linear regressions was performed to assess each variable’s individual contributions to the variability found in color blind attitudes (CoBRAS). Secondary analyses revealed that MCKAS and MEIM both contributed 14.2% (R – squared  = .142, p < .01) and  9.8% (R – squared  = .098, p = .01) respectively.





While there has been a growing interest and dialogue regarding the dynamic roles multicultural competence and race related attitudes play in the counseling process, the current study’s unique focus on identity, specifically Appalachian identity, represents a novel and potentially significant contribution to the multicultural counseling literature.  Significant associations and variance contributions (using correlation and regression analyses) were revealed between both Appalachian identity and color blind racial attitudes and multicultural competency and color blind racial attitudes.  The current study’s findings have several implications for counselor training and practice that will be discussed below.


Multicultural competency, as measured by the MCKAS full scale, was found to predict and be significantly negatively correlated with color blind racial attitude scores.  These findings imply that the more knowledge, contact, and awareness one has with race and racial differences, the least likely one is to believe that we should and do live in a color blind society in which race doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.  The position that increased racial competency aids counselors  in giving proper integrity to the unique role race potentially plays in the lived experiences of some has been supported by others (Chao, 2006; Constantine, 2002; Constantine, 2001;Spanierman, Poteat, Wang, and Oh, 2008) interested in improving the counseling experience for people of color.  Counselors who harbor racist attitudes or a colorblind perspective may be less aware of cultural issues which may arise during a counseling session (Constantine, 2001), potentially placing them in a position to not be as effective as they should if serving a diverse population. Furthermore, these results further illustrate the need for and importance of multicultural counseling courses and training in the help professions.  


Perhaps one of the more compelling and unique discoveries uncovered during our analyses involve the dynamics between color blind racial attitudes and Appalachian identification.  Appalachian identity, as measured by the MEIM full scale, was also found to predict and be significantly negatively correlated with color blind racial attitude scores. These findings suggest that a greater sense of belonging and commitment to Appalachian culture: (a.) decrease the chance of the adoption of a color blind perspective and (b.) increase one’s ability to identify and acknowledge cultural differences which could positively influence assessment, diagnoses, and treatment.   While correlations between identity and multicultural awareness have been previously explored and discovered (Chao, 2006), interpretation of those associations have been mainly attributed to a strong sense of belonging,  leading to self awareness, which inturn  fosters awareness of other groups. Our findings, while in support of this perspective, must also highlight and give integrity to the unique similarities which exist between Appalachian culture and many cultures of color (i.e. high religiosity, communalistic style of living, and a strong family orientation), similarities which we feel foster and perpetuate the strong negative association and predictive nature between Appalachian identity and color blind attitudes. These congruencies and similarities in culture between white Appalachians and people of color give these therapist, counselors, and educators a unique ability to connect readily identify with their clients of color.


While our main analyses and focus was to use the MCKAS full scale in our exploration, it is noteworthy to address and give interpretation to results yielded between the subscales of the MCKAS and the MEIM. Question: How could significance be found between the Awareness subscale of the MCKAS and Appalachian identity without yielding significance between the Knowledge subscale or the MCKAS full scale and Appalachian identity? While a strong Appalachian identity may make one more readily available to identity similarities between Appalachian culture and cultures of color (awareness), the knowledge of how those cultural tools and differences affect these communities may not be present (competence).  While awareness is the first step to counselor sensitivity and the giving of cultural integrity, more exposure to diverse populations, multicultural courses, and diversity training is needed to help counselors who notice these differences understand how they “play out” and affect the lives of those from other cultures.   


The question now remains, in our efforts to prepare and mold our future educators, counselors, and therapist of tomorrow into “professionals”, do we support and encourage them to hold on to there Appalachian heritage? Are they encouraged and told that there is nothing shameful about living in or coming from a “holler” but it will infact help you understand themes of communalism which run through other cultures. It is an asset and tool to be used to help you identify with and heal not only those that look like you but also those who come from communities of diverse backgrounds. Finding like these, we feel, are the first of many steps which can shed light on the advantages Appalachian tools givers potentially have over others in regards to the helping and healing of those from diverse backgrounds. 





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