American History X: A Portrait Term Paper

235) by organizing them into groups throughout the film, the movie helped dispel stereotypes by showing the multiculturally diverse struggling with the same problems in the same area.

Although they lived in the same are and struggled with many of the same social problems, the film certainly allowed viewers to see the communication barriers that developed between members of different races. This is especially important for the counselor who wishes to work with the multiculturally diverse. The primary communication barrier was erected between blacks and whites. First, viewers can see this in the school between two educated members of these races. Mr. Murry, Danny’s history teacher and a white Jew, confronts African-American principal Dr. Sweeney about the Mein Kampf paper that Danny has written. Mr. Murry is highly offended by the attitudes in the paper, while Dr. Sweeney wants to give Danny another chance. The two have difficulty coming to understand or empathize with the other’s decision. Furthermore, communication barriers between blacks and whites are noticed in the teenage environment. A group of black boys beat up a white boy and mumble something about cheating. Danny blows smoke in one of the black boys’ faces and insults him, only to be insulted back. Here, a culture of violence is honed. Instead of communicating, all of the boys resorted to blows. Finally, evidence of communication barriers is evident within Derek’s white family on the topic of racism. Clearly, Derek did not share his father’s view about African-Americans when he first encountered the issue, but instead of talking about it, he let the eventual tragedy that would wrack the family, his father’s death, memorialize and expand the views.

Indeed, this event can be categorized as a critical incident in Derek’s life. Sitting at his father’s table, Derek is speaking about his own multicultural awareness, when his father shoots it down, saying he does not agree with being multiculturally aware. If Derek had been counseled using Collins and Pieterse’s (2007) Critical Incident Analysis-Based Training, he may have been able to analyze the event in a way that would not have taken him down the road to racism. Derek’s exposure to Mr. Sweeney and Native Son has started him down a journey to multicultural awareness. This would be supported by Collins and Pieterse, who define multicultural awareness as “ongoing engagement in grappling honestly and openly with the multicultural realities of daily life experiences” (17). Derek, however, is unable to complete that ongoing process because of his inability to reconcile the event with his father’s opinion. Critical Incident Analysis has four steps that would have greatly benefited Derek in his attempt to analyze what happened between father and son — Acknowledgement, Confrontation, Reflection, and Commitment. These steps would have encouraged Derek to admit that “something of significance” just occurred, confront his family about it, think about the experience, and “a commitment to maintain a stance of openness around racial/cultural experiences” (Collins and Pieterse 2007, p.19). Had Derek, a young teenager, been counseled to think about that crucial moment within the realm of Critical Incident Analysis, he might not have turned to violence. Thus it is important for counselors to understand the gravity of racist attitudes, especially in young people.

While it may have been the most critical, Derek’s experience with his father was not his only critical incident. Instead, he had many more critical incidents that actually furthered his attitude toward multiculturalism and his own multicultural awareness. These incidents include his work with Lamott in the prison laundry, his meetings with Dr. Sweeney, his realization that members of his white power prison gang were dealing drugs with Hispanics, and his rape. Because he did change his thinking about multiculturalism, it is possible that Dr. Sweeney helped him to change his mind using these incidents and some form of Critical Incident Analysis.

In fact, Derek’s critical incidents, and perhaps critical incident analysis, certainly helped him change. At the beginning of the movie Derek’s worldview was shaped by tragedy. His multicultural orientation was white, an Arian brother, and a proponent of white power. Like his father, he not only believed that equality was wrong, but that it needed to be changed through violence. His racial identity development started with his father’s comments and was fostered through his father’s death. After blaming another ethnic group for his father’s death, Derek adopted the worldview that only whites were entitled, and other ethnic groups were a plague on society. This can be seen very clearly as he discusses his views at the dinner table. Furthermore, Derek portrays the manifestation of privilege and oppression by living out his views, terrorizing blacks, frightening them from using public places, and vandalizing stores that are not owned by Americans. By the end of the film, however, Derek is not only willing to admit he was wrong, but is willing to do so in front of his former gang, putting his life in danger. Thus, Derek’s critical incidents changed him throughout the course of the film.

Personal Impact

Personally, this movie made me realize that there is still a long way to go in the world of multicultural awareness. I had been convinced that problems like those depicted in American History X were things of the past. Instead, this film convinced me that they are alive, well, and must be dealt with. Furthermore, the film impacted me because of its portrayal of how racism is formed. The violence depicted in the movie is sickening, but each act of violence was learned from a father, brother, mother, sister, or friend. Although the viewer wanted to blame the violent offender, he or she could not help but feel sorry for the person who was raised in such hatred.

In conclusion, American History X is an excellent movie in that it shows the plights of several different ethnic groups, suggests how racism is formed, and also shows how it can be overcome. For the counselor of the multicultrually diverse, the movie is important because of its discussion of white privilege and other prejudices. In addition, it allows the clinical worker to see the spectrum of racial ideas that might be presented by a client. Finally, it shows the effectiveness of critical incidents and their analysis. Similarly, the film can help counselors identify how differences in worldview affect communication. This is especially relevant to counselors as Ibrahim (1991) notes that “worldview has been identified as a critical variable that can ease or obstruct the process of counseling or communication” (14). Thus, counselors of the multiculturally diverse should view this movie in order to grasp an understanding of the interplay among races.


Collins, Noah M. And Pieterse, Alex L. (2007). Critical Incident Analysis-Based Training:

An Approach for Developing Active Racial/Cultural Awareness. Journal of Counseling and Development. 85, 14-23.

Ibrahim, Farah a. (1991). Contribution of Cultural Worldview to Generic Counseling and Development. Journal of Counseling and Development 70, 13-19.

Kaye, Tony (Director). (1998). American History X. videotape.

McIntosh, Peggy. (1990). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. White Privilege 49(2), npag.

Sue, Derald Wing…

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