Colorblind: “the social faux pas”

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In today’s society the idea of diversity and inclusion is often followed with rhetoric of “colorblindness” or cultural sensitivity. The idea that we are all the same and used race to separate us.  And while the social construction of race has been used as a divisive tool for grouping and categorizing our neighbor, the idea of being colorblind, to me, is almost as offensive as calling me a derogatory word. How boring would it be to look out into nature and see all the flowers the same color because they are flowers?  You would miss raging red roses, dancing daffodils, and ostentatious orchids.  This same concept goes for the human race. I don’t need to be sensitive to my beautifully-sun-kissed skin.  I don’t need  your approval of my culture or my heritage.  Don’t be sensitive or tolerant of my blackness, respect it.

Becoming a Senior Diversity Specialist has come with the unique task of creating a Cultural Competency Training Module.  It’s required research abound and rewrites a plenty.  The many documents, journals, studies, and presentations on the subject has made one salient idea clear; no one knows it all.  There are many theories on how to teach people to simply “interact”.  Popular ones are “Cultural Sensitivity Training”, “Cultural Competency Training”, “Diversity Training”, “Multicultural Training”, etc.  Below are examples of a few:

Cultural Sensitivity is being aware that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value- positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong” (Dabbah http://redshoemovement.com/what-is-cultural-sensitivity/)

This theory sounds like tolerance.  If in a world of beautifully diverse people we can only deem ourselves “tolerant” will we each reach inclusivity. “Don’t be sensitive to my Black, respect it”.  Sensitivity training conveys the message that you need to coddle those different than you.  It allows for an undertone of hierarchy because it gives each individual the ability to play “Cultural God”.  In essesnce to be conscious of others but “don’t play favorites”.  It is inaccurate and would inevitably cause cognitive dissonance.  Autonomy and value systems afford us the right to decide if we do or do not like something.  Discrimination, to treat differently, is the ultimate “faux paus”.  Prejudice, preconceived opinion, even worse than the former because you’ve assigned judgment or guilt without knowledge or upon biased opinion.

So then what’s next?

Cultural competence involves understanding and appropriately responding to the unique combination of cultural variables—including ability, age, beliefs, ethnicity, experience, gender, gender identity, linguistic background, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status—that the professional and client/patient bring to interactions.” (http://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Professional-Issues/Cultural-Competence/)

There is not concrete-all-encompassing definition for the word “Cultural Competency”.  Many trainings take place across America, and even the world, and there is no centralized definition for the word.  Each institution gets to ascribe their own précising definition to the term.  Also, since there is not standard on which the training must be built, and they are all different, how then could anyone be certified as being “culturally competent”?  If you take a training at a Alabama State University and leave to work for Arkansas State University your “Cultural Competency Training” does not follow you.  No one person can deem anyone fully competent.  It is not transferable like a degree or scholastic certification.  So, how can effectiveness be measured?

The word competence is defined as “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently”. In a world as vast as ours, how would anyone ever train or teach someone to respond “appropriately responding to the unique combination of cultural variables”.  It would be a never ending task and learning process.  One would need to spend so much time learning everything about everyone the practice of the learning would never take place.

Over the course of my research the concept of which I’ve fallen most enamored is Cultural Humility.

Cultural humility is the “ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented (or open to the other) in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the [person].[1]” Cultural humility is different from other culturally-based training ideals because it focuses on self-humility rather than achieving a state of knowledge or awareness. “ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_humility)

The concept of this theory or training is simply. “I bow to you.  I acknowledge I do not know everything about you or your culture and I am will to learn”. It is an openness to understanding “the other”.

Cultural humility was formed in the physical healthcare field and adapted for therapists and social workers to increase the quality of their interactions with clients and community members.”  This idea not only allows for objectivity but enlightenment.  There is no certificate to be received upon completion or adoption of this principle, only the reassurance that you are headed in the correct direction and respect of your fellow man.

The charge here is simple.  In a culture shaped by divisive rhetoric and distain for “the other”, take time to acknowledge change first starts within.  Make efforts to push past your own biases.

  1. Utilize tools to help with this such as the Harvard Implict Bias test. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
  2. Take Action. Seek people who run counter to stereotypic views, increase contact with people outside your own demographics, and try to think of things from the perspective of others.
  3. Be Accountable. When confronted with bias, take the time to examine your actions or beliefs. Think of how you would explicitly justify them to other people.

 

(http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/implicit-bias-2016.pdf)

 

Remember that silence is collusion. If you hear something you know to be wrong and you do not address it, you are complicit in the act. Elie Weisel said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Do not be colorblind.  Do not see us all the same.  Examine the beauty and the depth of each individual person and culture.  Look past the primary dimensions of diversity and be willing to be culturally humbled at the creatively crafted cornucopia that is the human race.

D.R. Daughters

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