Co-cultural Communication Theory is defined by (Mark Orb and Regina Spellers, 2005) as tools that help us understand the lived experiences of marginalized groups and how they function in dominant societal structures. The marginalized co-cultural group includes people of color, women, persons with disabilities, gays/lesbians/bisexuals, as well as those from the lower socioeconomic background. Among some of the challenges often faced by the minority groups are racial, religious, sexual orientation, and class discrimination. Co-Cultural Communication Theory is often discussed from the perspective of non-dominant groups and helps us understand how they communicate in their everyday lives.
This article explores ways in which Co-Cultural Communications Theory can be applied to get rid of or lessen discrimination and oppression among dominant and non-dominant groups in society. In this paper, discrimination is determined as the denial of opportunities, rights and or freedoms to one or more groups that other groups in the society enjoy.
Being a Co-Cultural competent community is vital, especially in a country with a continuous influx of immigrants each year from all over the world. Immigrants come here from diverse faiths, languages, economic, ethnic and ethnic groups. This vast cultural diversity has appropriated such terms as ‘a nation of immigrants’ and the ‘melting pot’ to describe the construct of the United States. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that some of the social and cultural conflicts that we confront today are not related solely to immigrants. Some of the most disadvantaged population are citizens of this country. For instance, black people are among one of the most marginalized groups in America. A large segment of the population has been living under a systematic cycle of oppressed conditions one generation to the next for over 400 years. Unemployment and underemployment are common in predominantly segregated black communities. Crime rates and incarceration are high, so is a lack of quality education and equal employment opportunities. Black people on a broad scale are stereotyped as lazy, intellectually inferior, criminalized and ranked on the lowest ethnic hierarchy in society despite one’s achievement. This is a minuscule list of the plethora of destructive stereotypes that has marked the lived experiences of a segment of the black population in the United States. A solid case can be established that the devastating history of blacks in America has contributed to continued systematic racial discrimination.
Mark Orb and Regina Spellers, (2005) From the Margins to the Center: Utilizing Co-Cultural Theory in Diverse Context, discussed five epistemological assumptions in which Co-Cultural Theory is rooted, and the relational conflicts that may arise among society’s dominant and marginalized groups.
1) Hierarchy exists in each society that gives privilege to certain groups of people, resulting in an unfair and unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities for those deemed society’s prominent class. For example, in comparing the lived experiences of blacks to white people, the social, educational, political, and financial status explicitly reveals that white people enjoy privileges that are not given to blacks. Many researchers believe that the ‘better than’ mindset and attitudes of the dominant group (whites) towards the marginalized class (black), contributes to the creation of many of the social conflicts that we face today. For example, a large segment of the black population feels like an outsider disadvantaged and oppressed in America.
2) The privileged group adopts the spatial relation of power, and use that power to influence societal norms and shape the way society communicates. The pervasive representation of black adult males as criminals and drug dealers in print and media is a gross illustration of how the dominant narrative perpetuates negative stereotypes. The negative story applied to the entire group has seeped into the psyche of our culture and deem as factual.
3) The dominant communication structures, directly and indirectly, obstruct the forward movement of the underrepresented people.
4) Even though co-cultural group members’ experiences may vary, many shares similar societal positions that render them marginalized and underrepresented within dominant societal structures.
5) Co-cultural members often devise various communicative strategies to counteract the oppressive power of the primary structure. The dominant culture whose language has been deemed the norm also uses their ability to diminish the language of the co-cultural group. In this epistemology, it would be hard-pressed to argue that blacks have a communication style that is distinct to the community, and which the dominant group has linked with lack of education and low intelligence.
It is because of social problems like these that living in a co-cultural competent society is not merely necessary; it is critical to our outcome. Geertz, 1973, 49) Geertz, C. (1973) wrote, “. . . There is no such thing as human nature independent of culture.”
Living in a diverse society, it’s important that we understand that culture shapes our lives in many ways. It determines the efficiency with which we navigate through life, learn about the world, our attitude, and how we relate to others. Some of the people we encounter in our daily life may have different fundamental philosophies, different worldviews, and belief patterns, but they have a right to their point of views, the same way we have a right to ours. Co-Cultural Communication Theory teaches us to respect other people’s differences even if they are not congruent with ours.
Orbe, M., and Spellers, R. E. (2005). From the margins to the center: utilizing co-cultural theory in diverse contexts. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 173–191). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.