Open Mind


Open Mind


Offie Wortham


Trans-Cultural Awareness Institute

Telephone Counseling Nationwide

by appointment only

Offie C. Wortham, MA, PhD

is a certified member of the Associated Psychotherapists of Vermont

Previously faculty member at Rutgers, Antioch, Marist, Johnson State and Temple University teaching psychology, urban anthropology, career planning, and criminal justice.

Special Consultant for two years with the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy, Quantico, Va., designing curriculum for the first FBI classes in Psychological Profiling, Serial Murders, and Crime Scene Analysis, (Now called CSI).


Offie C. Wortham

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A Transcultural Awareness Experience


          Why, some may ask, is there a need for another discussion or workshop on ethnicity or race? What ever happened to Integration? Wasn’t that what we were fighting for during the Civil Rights Movement? Why can’t we just accept and celebrate the new world of Ethnocentrism and Multiculturalism, and the ethnically separate graduations, dorms, dining halls, and even classrooms?

The Transcultural Awareness Institute is part of a process created by Offie Wortham and Pete Seeger for a series of dialogues at the Howland Center for Cultural Exchange in Beacon, NY in 2001. The purpose was to promote dialogue and the exchange of information and understanding between individuals from different socio-economic classes, ethnic/racial groups, and various ethical or religious groups.

What is Transcultural Awareness? How is it different from Multiculturalism?

We propose transcultural dialogue in distinction to mere intercultural dialogue. This points to the capability of transcending (and, thereby, transforming) one’s own horizon of understanding towards other forms of cultural self-realization, rather than just relating and comparing abstract contents of one’s own cultural environment to another. In the process our own cultural awareness is shaped by the interaction with other cultures, and it reaches a level beyond its original setup.

This approach, versus one with a Euro centric orientation, is one of dialogue on the cultural, level. Based on a concept of culture as "a system of interconnected values, perceptions, and modes of interaction" this approach requires a new doctrine of public education which should make understandable the values and world views of other civilizations, doing away with any form of cultural exclusivism, tribalism, or ethnocentrism.

Multicultural training focuses on cultural differences which limits a persons’ ability to apply acquired cultural knowledge in providing culturally appropriate interventions to culturally diverse individuals. Culture-specific knowledge about racial-ethnic groups may be unintentionally misused and become stereotyped generalizations. Similarly, the use of culture-general knowledge may also overlook important nuances necessary in making culturally appropriate judgments. The ability to develop appropriate intervention strategies and techniques are dependent on the ability to acquire and utilize cultural awareness, and cultural knowledge.


Cultural Knowledge is at the core of Transcultural Awareness.


Limited cultural knowledge results in a reliance on stereotyped generalizations about racial-cultural groups that increases the likelihood of inappropriate decision-making. Research has proven direct ongoing cross-cultural interactions facilitated cultural knowledge and cultural empathy, enabling helping individuals to connect with cultural diverse others to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of their daily lives, and to recognize universal commonalities that exists between them. Inherent in this level of knowledge is a better understanding of the social and political context in which other individuals live their lives.

A major difference between this experience and others is that it does not use the buzzwords "multiculturalism" or "diversity training." It also does not assume that the major social problem in the world is racism. Of course it acknowledges that racism does exist, but the Institute believes that the larger problem is one where conflicts and misperceptions about life-styles must be examined and discussed.

The educational system in any given cultural environment must reach beyond the exclusive interpretation of that very culture’s specific traditions that, in turn, shaped the very understanding (self-comprehension) of that culture. This has to be transcended towards the inclusion of other (genuinely different) traditions that have been shaped independently of one’s own culture into the cultural understanding of any given community (civilization). We must have an understanding of the other, of that which is different from ourselves. This implies a more profound awareness of our own culture; it allows us to define ourselves more adequately in distinction from the other(s).

The consequences in the field of education are obvious: Our educational curricula should not only include the teaching of Greco-Roman and Christian traditions but should also convey the knowledge of non-European traditions and religions such as Islam and Buddhism. Total Euro centric ignorance of other cultural environments that have been shaped outside of Europe and the United States has been the main breeding ground of cultural chauvinism and the root cause of imperialist aggression over the centuries.

Transcultural Awareness requires a reorientation of the information and media sector in regard to the stereotyping of other civilizations (the most drastic example being the present stereotyping of the Islamic civilization by the West).

On the level of international relations, this approach towards cultural self-comprehension requires a new method of cultural diplomacy, abandoning the propaganda-style presentation of one’s own civilization and promoting genuine transcultural encounters. The traditional crusader spirit has to be overcome in transcultural encounters, and the hegemony of Euro centric worldviews and life-styles in the international media and entertainment sector has to be counterbalanced by the unbiased presentation of other lifestyles.

          Each of our events is designed to bring people together to discuss a subject of common interest. By placing individuals in discussion groups with others from differing backgrounds we hope to broaden the perceptions we have of others, and to reduce the number of stereotypes we all have of people we normally never socialize with as peers. (We have put on similar events in New Jersey, New York and in Atlanta, Georgia.)     

          Transcultural Awareness is not limited to racial or ethnic awareness. This approach can be used to sensitize individuals from different nations, different classes, different age groups (the "Generation Gap"), or between male and female. It would be especially useful for individuals who must work in tense situations with others who are products of an entirely different, and often conflicting, lifestyle or subculture.

Multiculturalism, on the other hand, was conceptualized within the historical and sociopolitical context of the United States, and referred only to race, ethnicity, and culture.  

Policymakers and planners, government officials, teachers, law enforcement personnel, employers, supervisors and others in important positions of authority and power would greatly benefit from non-threatening encounters between themselves and the recipients of their decisions and actions. Transcending the horizon of one’s own tradition is the precondition for a better understanding of that particular cultural tradition.


This experience can open up opportunities for acquiring a set of personal attitudes, social sensitivities, and intellectual skills that are rarely, if ever, realized in regular workshops. 

This experience is designed to improve your awareness and knowledge of transcultural communication in preparation for working and socializing with individuals from a different lifestyle. We will use a participatory and active-learning approach which will emphasize an appreciation of cultural values, similarities and differences.

The attributes of cultural competence have been identified as using a tripartite model:


1.     awareness of one’s own personal beliefs, values, biases, and attitudes,

2.     awareness and knowledge of the worldview of culturally diverse individuals and groups, and

3.     utilization of culturally appropriate intervention skills and strategies


Assisting individuals to become self-aware and to examine their cultural attitudes/beliefs is an important attribute in developing cultural competence and increasing individual effectiveness with culturally diverse clients.


Innovative approaches to cultural competency-based training seek to move trainees to a level by which they are better able to consider differing worldviews and engage in critical reflective thinking in making judgments about situations that may differ from their own.


We have to learn to ‘see’ a situation from multiple perspectives and, if necessary, to reconcile them. It is about developing multiple potential interpretations and using critical reflective thinking to

choose which alternatives are most likely to provide effective strategies.


In meeting the needs of a diverse nation and advancing global understanding, there is a demand for finding people who are culturally aware, culturally sensitive, and have specific cultural knowledge about individuals representing cultural groups who may live in the United States and around the world.

In 1940, transculturalism was originally defined by Fernando Ortiz. He defined transculturalism as the synthesis of two phases occurring simultaneously, one being a deculturalization of the past with the present, which meant "reinventing a new common culture". Such reinvention of a new common culture is based on the meeting and intermingling of the different peoples and cultures and the formation of a new form of humanism based on the idea of relinquishing the strong traditional identities and cultures which were products of imperialistic empires interspersed with dogmatic religious values. He also stated that transculturalism is based on the breaking down of boundaries, contrary to multiculturalism which reinforces boundaries based on past cultural heritages.

Transculturalism is rooted in the pursuit to define shared interests and common values across cultural and national borders. It can be tested by means of thinking "outside the box” of one's cultural upbringing, and by seeing many sides of every question without abandoning conviction, analogous to the way a chameleon is able to scan the environment in two directions at once without losing one's cultural center.

For those who are concerned about the future of the human race, a universal dialogue of civilizations is of crucial importance for the future of mankind, because such a dialogue is a basic condition of peace and stability on both the national and the transnational level. As stated by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in 1974: "No nation, however large or powerful, can escape from the fundamental reality of our interdependence."

A Transcultural Awareness Experience

Unitarian Church, Montpelier, VT

Fall, 2017

(We search for a Common Ground)

Led by Offie C. Wortham, Ph. D.

(Contact @ if interested in attending the program in the Fall of 2017)

Does Lifestyle Matter more than Race?


          Is a person’s lifestyle more important than their ethnicity or race in determining how successful they will be in achieving some form of happiness and success in their life? Too many people are failing to consider this important question because they cannot see or understand society beyond racial terms.

There are certain standards and patterns of behavior in our society that are admired and respected. There are others that are not. These patterns cut across lines of socio-economic class and education. Even among the least educated and less affluent there is an awareness of when a person “has no class.” The lifestyle of an individual is a more accurate indicator of the values, morals, ethics of an individual than their race or ethnicity.

The past Obama phenomena can be understood better if we view his acceptance as an acceptance of a preferred lifestyle. Highly educated, financially successful, articulate, clean-cut and “nice looking,” moderate in his politics, somewhat religious, and a good family man. This is the perfect image America wants to project to the world, and to itself. Obama transcended the racial issue by having the perfect lifestyle that we all desire! This far over-shadowed his mixed ancestry.


Conforming to the lifestyle of the group in power usually assures individuals of more acceptance and less discrimination. People like to associate with people who are as much like them as possible. We feel more comfortable with those who share a common language, religion, culture, and worldview. On the one hand we preach diversity, but in reality, we want to be with people who are just like us. This could be intellectually, spiritually, or who dress as we do, like the same past-times or hobbies, sports, or music. 

          Adults in the past were miss-educated to believe that various ethnic groups were either inferior or superior intellectually and morally. This is what we call racism. Certain aspects of a group’s culture; their music, their diet, their religion, their speech, their dress, the way they walked, and even their art, were deemed inferior and sometimes almost sub-human. 

We reject or accept certain groups or individuals because of their speech, their mannerisms, their behavior, their interest in education, and their appearance. The amount of money they make does not move them up one notch in social acceptance, as long as they continue to act and look like immoral and ignorant clowns. We have always discriminated by lifestyle throughout history. Only recently have we become confused and introduced race or ethnicity as primary factors in determining acceptance of human behavior, and forgot that lifestyle is really much more important than race.

If we could look at race, lifestyle and class as completely separate factors, then that would make the subject of this article easier to understand. However, the reality is that there is no way to completely untangle the interrelationship between lifestyle, race and class.

Your personal perspective reflects your racial lens and bias. Consider this: all things being equal, the less-educated of all racial groups will naturally end up at the bottom of the economic totem pole. Whites being in the majority of the population should outnumber blacks and other minorities at that level, and they do. However, past generations of under-educated whites have benefited the most from the  discrimination/exclusion of blacks and other people-of-color which resulted in most of them getting and keeping jobs and other benefits that they did not merit. This artificially suppressed the progress and advancement potential of generations of bright and talented minorities that became ensnared in poverty and despair. The greatest obstacle to a class based struggle in the United States has always been the racism of poor and working class whites. They would much rather cling to the lie and myth of white supremacy, even at the expense of their own economic advantage. This helps one to better understand the victory of Donald Trump. Lower class whites are also ill-treated in such an economy as the recent financial recession proved, but they are continually invited to vote against their own economic interest and against those 'others' who are taking their jobs, their education, their neighborhoods, and their country.


Some people think that it is social class alone which is the single most important factor that determines how ready a child is to learn when they start kindergarten. According to Kay S. Hymowitz at the Manhattan Institute, she writes that poor white kids score considerably lower in reading and math skills than middle-class white kids. Add race to the mix, and class still remains the Great Divide when it comes to school readiness. The educational achievement gap is now almost two times higher between lower and higher income students than it is between black and white students. “Since 1970 the class gap has grown by 30 to 40 percent, and has become the most potent predictor of school success,” says Stanford University’s Sean Reardon.


While single parent families are far more common among African-Americans than whites, less educated whites — who also tend to be lower income — are seeing an unprecedented dissolution of their families. Seventy percent of whites without a high school degree were part of an intact nuclear family in 1972; that number plummeted to 36 percent by 2008. (The comparable numbers for blacks were 54 percent and 21 percent.) This bodes ill for both populations, as father absence and family breakdown are strongly associated with poor outcomes for children, especially for boys.


The high demand for adult use of narcotics today also tells a very sad story. Polemics around poverty being tied to race are being diluted by this fact and the situation is very dire for this underclass as well as the societal impact this will have over the next 50 years. The scope of the problem is expanding to very large proportions and it cuts across racial lines. We may indeed be moving toward equality between ethnic groups in this country, but not through raising people up, but by dropping more people into the cellar, because the majority of Americans regardless of race are falling behind.


 It is very clear that people at a higher socio-economic level can afford more of the comforts of life and can live better and therefore have fewer worries. They also associate with people with similar positive accomplishments. (Went to a dinner party last week where the educational level of the doctors, professors, lawyers and artists around the table averaged around seven years beyond high school.)

          The research on educational gap shows that the income gap is increasingly widening in last decades and the bigger income gap is related to bigger educational achievement gap. Ask any teacher who teaches in an elementary school with significant economic diversity and they will tell you that the children of wealthier families come to school not only better prepared; but also with higher IQs. Once a family has acquired a level of higher education, (regardless of race) they make sure they pass that asset on to their offspring. Social skills or the lack thereof presently account for a good part of class disparities. However, a working class background is not always the reason for poorer reading and math scores.  

Pete Seeger Tribute

I first met Pete Seeger when I moved to Beacon, NY in 1999. On the first Friday of every month he held a meeting at his Sloop Club in Beacon. The Sloop Club was an offshoot of the Clearwater, which Pete had formed to clean up the pollution in the Hudson River. I made up my mind to meet Pete, and within a year I was the treasurer of the Sloop Club and even lived with my family in Pete’s original small house right next to his home at the top of a private mountain.

I enjoyed accompanying him on the train, or driving him to visits to his doctor in Manhattan or to visit friends. It was amazing to see the crowds of people that gravitated to him in Grand Central Station, or walking down the street wherever we went.

Pete was so humble and kind to everyone he met, inviting some of us to Thanksgiving Dinner with his family. Mickey and I spent weekends with Pete and Toshie and their daughter Tinya. The guest room was on the top floor of the barn that Pete had built himself. It was crowded with boxes of letters, instruments, awards and photographs which were eventually heading to the Smithsonian. There were instructions written on the walls of the bathroom in magic marker on how to flush the toilet and turn on the shower. Mickey was horrified when Pete showed us to the small room, and then expected us to sit down and sing with him. He introduced us to a new song, “God’s counting on You”, and the three of us sang the 8 verses together for the next hour. 

It is still difficult to comprehend that Pete and Toshie are no longer physically with us. Their partnership, their vision for a just and clean planet, and his music and her drive, affected the world for the better, and we will never forget them.

Read More Columns by Offie Wortham OPEN MIND SEASON 1 in the Archive.