Deviating from destructiveness

Becoming a more culturally competent generation

February 22, 2018

In a land not so far away, Ann Arbor to be exact, live a group of students that is much more culturally woke than one would expect from Generation Z.

We met up with this band of thinkers for a cultural exchange where we talked about issues that we have in our schools and how to combat the cultural destructiveness that we see on a day-to-day basis.

Last year, Uncaged found that with a school population of 553 total students, 503 self-identify as white. Because of these homogeneous statistics, we sought out this group of students for help with becoming more knowledgeable in our understandings of culture.

But, to become more culturally competent, we must first ask “What is culture?” This may seem like a pretty simple question, but the answer is much more complex than we may think.

When we hear the word culture, our minds often only drift to thinking of different ethnicities. Our ignorance is not always our bliss, though, because the world is full of so many other cultural groups than just those referring to our ethnic backgrounds.

Cultural competence is loosely defined as the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own according to the American Psychological Association.

There are a few key aspects that everyone should be aware of when it comes to being culturally competent: awareness, attitude, knowledge and skills.

Awareness

Awareness is the first step in becoming culturally competent.

We as a young society need to first be aware that other cultures exist, and that people outside of our culturally homogeneous town practice different beliefs and come from backgrounds than our own.

“I think the first step is to respect everyone,” Huron High School senior Gena Harris said. “I understand that’s a hard thing to do, but it’s the golden rule: Treat everyone the way you want to be treated. It’s easier said than done. It’s not going to happen just like that, but just respect other people starting today by trying to point out to other people why doing and saying those types of things is wrong.”

Attitude

The significance of attitude in cultural competence is to delineate the difference between just being aware of cultural differences and actively analyzing your own internal belief systems and developing awareness, according to Human Services Edu.

“At our school, I feel like at first, going from freshman to senior year, there might have been a lot of ignorance,” Huron High School senior David Bogan II said. “What I have seen, personally, is that it wasn’t ignorance, it’s just that they don’t care. You can try to explain something to somebody, but they’re just like ‘okay, but why can’t I say it?’”

Cultural tolerance is what Bogan is describing. Meaning, people acknowledge one’s race, but refuse to respect and accept it.

Bogan went on to say that “For me, I feel like, one, you should have enough respect for my culture to not say something to me like that, and if I say I’m uncomfortable with it, don’t do it around me. But then some people are like, ‘well, it’s just a word,’ or try to make an excuse for it, totally dismissing what I just said.”

Knowledge

Research into human behavior has shown that our values and beliefs about equality may not line up with our actual behaviors and, further, we often are ignorant as to the degree of difference between our beliefs and our actions, according to Human Services Edu. It has been shown that people who may test well in regard to having low prejudices may in fact act with great prejudice when actually interacting with other cultures.

Huron High School in Ann Arbor has clubs specifically dedicated to different ethnicities and identities, such as the Asian Pacific Educational Exchange, the Black Student Union, Chinese Club, French Club, German Club, Latino Student Union, Muslim Student Union, Queer Straight Alliance, Student Advocates of Gender Equality and many more.

“I feel like it’s more like celebrating the culture of that ethnicity,” Huron High School junior George White said. “Anyone can come to these meetings, and it really helps them learn about other cultures and gives everyone [the ability] to feel safe and talk about any issues they may be facing.”

Knowledge is a key aspect of furthering one’s cultural competence, according to Harris. A friend of hers at school told her that she “acted white,” and so it provoked her to ask herself this question: What does it mean to act white or black?

“People would say, ‘You act white,’ or ‘You act black.’ What does it mean to act a certain race?” Harris asked. “What does it mean to wear Burkes? I have a pair of Burkes. I don’t wear Hunter’s, I can wear whatever. I don’t mean to act a certain race or anything. What does it mean? Just because I talk proper doesn’t mean I act a certain way on purpose. It’s who I am as an individual. When I go around my black family that all lives in Detroit, and I wear my Burkes around them, they were like, ‘Those are those Jesus sandals. Why do you have them?’ But, I think that it’s just a lack of knowledge. I think that’s where the root is: It’s knowledge and unawareness.”

Skills

This component is about actually taking practices of cultural competency and repeating them until they become integrated into one’s daily behaviors, according to Human Services Edu. The most important aspect of the skills component is having an excellent grasp on effective and respectful communication whether within an organization or between individuals.

Readers: Ask yourself where you fall on the spectrum. Try the quiz. How culturally competent are you and your peers?

The cultural competence continuum

Local senior Cameron Flynn, who self-identifies as biracial, thinks that on the cultural competence continuum, our high school falls on the destructive end of the scale, leaning towards the “Incapacity” section, due to all the demeaning comments he has heard.

“It’s definitely more of an ignorance thing where [students] know it’s there, but just refuse to fully acknowledge it, and that’s why a lot of people are really insensitive. They don’t want to think about something that’s different than what they’ve been used to their entire life.”

In order for our school to become culturally transformed, Flynn recommends interaction with different ethnicities outside of the high school setting.

“I think within the next year or so, a lot of the seniors are going to see when they go into college, they’re going to interact with other ethnicities and that’s going to help. I think that’s the best way to do it, honestly, just to have real-world experience with other people.”

What it is like living behind a cultural label?

Coming from Sault Ste. Marie, a mostly white and Native American school, Huron High School senior Nathan Davis would rather people ask what race he is than guess.

“You have a lot of weird conceptions about you,” Davis said. “People either assume I know nothing about my culture or everything about my culture. I also had a lot of people assume I was Native American. Granted, where I lived, there were a lot of Native American people, so it was a little more understandable. It’s just no one ever thought of Korean. I can’t blame them because they didn’t know. I’m sure that most of them didn’t even know what Korea was. So, it’s just weird because people would always want to make these guesses about who I was just because of me being slightly tan.”

Not only do people assume about different cultures, but also create judgements based on those false assumptions.

These assumptions affect both cultures and identities because they create an unwarranted fear, when openness can create a positive transformation.

“People in the school are very judgemental because people here tend to be closed-minded and aren’t used to being around those in the LGBTQIA community, and so sometimes it makes them uncomfortable,” local freshman Melanie Eskew said.

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