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Abstract

This paper examines non-profit human service agency workers' discussions of their work with diverse clients. These conversations are understood within the competing social agendas of multiculturalism and assimilation, and they suggest how service providers may resist or perpetuate the social control of people of color. Findings revealed that people of color were often excluded from providers' notions of American identity. It was common for providers, both whites and people of color, to both wittingly and unwittingly describe pressures to assimilate their clients. Providers disagreed on the merits and consequences of these assimilation pressures, with some seeing harm done to themselves as well as their clients, and others defending the practice as in their clients' best interest. Other providers resisted pressures to assimilate clients into a white Northern European norm by breaking agency rules that were considered culturally insensitive or by engaging in self-reflection and adjustment-making in their own expectations and behaviors instead of changing their clients' ways.

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