Our VoiceCulture

So Tired of the Cultural Competency Talk

Guest Blogger • Aug 17, 2008

By Marjorie Nemes

Yeah, I think it’s important, but I feel myself getting tired. I am tired of the cultural profiles. I am tired of the people who think they have all the answers. I am tired of the people who don’t think it matters. I am tired of organizations that make superficial attempts to diversify and become more inclusive. Did I mention I was tired?

In any case, I was asked to put together trainings and educational information regarding cultural competency for service providers here in the U.S. and abroad, and decided why not torment more minds, and share some questions regarding cultural competency more widely.

I put together some basic questions to get people to think beyond the cultural profiles that some organizations like to put together for them. You know, mandatory readings for your job that tell you that Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, that the Chinese culture is collectivist… is any of this ringing a bell? These profiles are somehow supposed to engender effective inter-cultural contact and/or understanding, and I’m not buying one lick of it. So, if you care at all or are interested in inter-cultural understanding… knock yourself out!

If you’re wondering what cultural competency is, the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University adapted a popular definition developed by Cross et al. (1989), which states the following.

Cultural competence is a developmental process that evolves over an extended period. Both individuals and organizations are at various levels of awareness, knowledge and skills along a cultural competence continuum.

I like to frame it as this:

(1) An understanding that people see the world differently, they have the right to see the world differently, and deserve your respect regardless of their world view; (2) The development of communication and analytic skills that require knowledge of self and others, and engaging in unfamiliar cultural experiences in order to be able interact with people effectively who are not from your culture.

Things to Ask Yourself

If someone asked you, what is “culture,” what would you say?

Would you say that people from the same culture behave the same way? If so, is this limited to particular circumstances or when juxtaposed with another cultural group?
What would you say if I were to tell you that studying and comparing different cultures (cross-cultural research) has found that there is more different types of  behavior within cultural groups than across…?

How similar is your behavior and the decisions you make to that of people from your racial/ethnic/cultural group?

How do you know someone has done something because of their culture, personality, religious beliefs, life experience or circumstance?

Some people do not agree with the term “cultural competence.” They do not believe you can learn enough about another culture to be considered “competent.” Some of these people argue that all you can do is be sensitive to the ideas, beliefs, and values of people from other cultures.
•    Would you agree or disagree?
•    Do you know everything there is to know about your own culture?
•    How much would you say you need to learn about another culture to be considered “culturally competent”?

What are some of the things that are commonly believed (stereotypes) about the group(s) you identify with or the group(s) others believe you belong to?

What is a racial/ethnic/cultural group that is seen in a negative light here in the U.S. or even on a global scale? Why do you think some groups are portrayed in a negative light while others are portrayed in a positive light? Have you taken the time to do research to understand why?

Can you think of a time when you found yourself challenging negative ideas or beliefs someone expressed to you about a particular ethnic/racial/sub-cultural group?

Where were you educated or trained to provide the services you provide? Have you found that you have had to adapt what you were taught to treat or provide information to certain clients?

What steps have you taken to improve your knowledge and understanding of your clients that are from a different ethnic/racial/cultural/religious group than your own?

What steps has the organization you work for taken to ensure that you are knowledgeable about the clients you serve that are of a different ethnic/racial/cultural/religious group than your own?

*Image gratefully borrowed from Mallas’ photostream on flickr.com/creative commons.

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