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8. The Death of DEI
  • Writer's pictureAntonio Da Veiga Rocha

Cultural Competency! Are We Asking Too Much?

I have often struggled with cultural competency practice in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion field. Not so much because it is not needed, more so that it is a study that occupies a heavy print in the field of psychology, and therefore requires multi-layered approaches that have not yet been proven out. It is not a practice one can master through a one-hour presentation. Yet it has become somewhat the norm to provide such presentations and workshops as one-offs.

A Set of Combinations

I am what some might call an intercultural savant. This is not in large part because I have read quite a bit about culture and am quite fond of cultural studies as an academic practice. It is more so because I have lived in many different cultures, speak five languages and learning a sixth, an educator and with incredible appetite for the learning sciences of different cultures. I am an avid traveler, a diversity practitioner (an inviter of differences) and cherish one of my main character make-ups, that of being a self-titled ethically empathetical person. What a description right?

This combination of traits ticks many of the characteristics studied by psychologists in the field. Traits like astuteness, cultural savviness, adaptability, appreciation, and others. I feel like I hold many of them, and strongly, but mostly through the combination of innate, environmental, academic, and professional interests mentioned above. Yet, I may not be the one that teaches you about cultural competency. But something needs to be done right? It is part of DEI practices, correct? Well… maybe it shouldn’t be! At least not as a competence most can achieve.

Struggles Towards Competence

Social work sites are becoming more diverse. Multi-cultural, Inter-cultural, Cross-cultural realities are being played out daily in our social-working environments, and with them, tensions, anxieties, conflicts, etc. Individuals and groups are saying that they don’t know what to do. That the task of knowing someone else’s culture and how they need to behave with such cultures is too much to ask; this, on top of an already busy work life.

‘Can’t we just go back to a simpler time.’ I’ve heard this on many occasions. (The immediate answer to that question is NO, but I will get back to that later.) The struggles in understanding - and creating practice from - cultural competence presentation and workshops is almost mute to someone that is stuck in the self-preservation mode. So, then the question remains, what do we do about increasing someone’s appreciation and admiration of cultures?

Separating the Majority from the Minority

The reality is that there are few individuals that see their roles as simply one of doing a job. With such individuals it is up to the institution to decide what kind of influence such workers hold (how important are they to the company)?

For most other workers, this is not the case. Most of us want to participate in culture awareness work and give it our respect, and efforts, but we want to do this we as little change to our daily makeup as possible, and, of course, herein lies the contradiction. This just can’t be the case, so aiming for competency may be an unconvincing idea. We suggest pairing down the ask into three areas of concentration: Admiration, Appreciation, and Aptitude.

The 3 As (Admiration, Appreciation, Aptitude)

How can we use the 3 As to affect change in the individual? First by identifying the admiration they hold for the differences that are in, and around, their more intimate lives. For example, food is a cultural identifier that carries incredible weight, and it is both intimate and social. I recall working in a company that invited culturally themed catered events monthly into the workspace. The novelty in this was not necessarily the culturally themed buffet, but representatives from that culture that along with presenting the food also provided historical backdrops of/for the dishes. The girth of information was the gateway to admiration.

Second, we need to raise the appreciation level for those differences. Appreciation in the activity mentioned above came by way of well-thought-out presentations by culture representatives. Their ability to communicate their appreciation for their culture and link their cultural practices to frameworks of respect meant that commonalities were identified throughout the event.

And finally, third, we need to provide schematics of how those admirations and appreciations come to be. The aptitude comes by way of the logical information we can study to frame the content through our own understandings. Creating a newsletter, prior to and after the event, with further information, links, and culturally aligned references, would have raised aptitude, which then would continue to build admiration, which would have led to further appreciation, and so on, and so on...

It's What We Do

At KinSite we support inter-cultural, cross-cultural, multi-cultural awareness by encouraging and promoting the use of these 3 As. We feel it’s quite difficult to reach competency unless you hold certain types of backgrounds, experiences, and come from certain conditions. But attending to the 3 As can allow most of us to reach higher and stronger appreciation standings in this ever increasing, ever more interesting, and ever more mixed, diverse world – one that is surely not ‘going back to a simpler time’!


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