"My hometown was so white I didn't even meet a non-Catholic until I was 15." "I grew up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest where there was only one Black person. He shined shoes."
These were parts of the life-trajectories that brought two people to a Personal Communicating and Racial Equity workshop I'm facilitating. Several others reported that they'd led similarly sheltered lives. It might sound unbelievable to those raised in a large city, but this kind of limited experience with cultural Others is a fact of life for many U.S. whites who really want to be multiculturally competent.
Growing up on a farm, ranch, or town of 250 in Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, Kansas, or another rural location can offer solitude, independence, a tight family, and a strong appreciation for hard work. As the U.S. becomes increasingly diverse, though, it can also mean that there are an unusually large number of strangers in your life--people you're uncomfortable around.
So how can you overcome your fear of Blacks, your discomfort around people in the LGBTQ community, your resentfulness at the Latina who got the job you wanted? How can you bring more value-added to your work group by being more multiculturally competent? How can you be part of the solution instead of part of one of this country's most serious problems?
As Personal As Possible
Over 90% of the difficulties that occur between people with cultural differences are due to some form of stereotyping. "No white person understands the discrimination I have to live with every day." "Gays reject family values!" Or as Dylan Roof put it, Blacks are "raping our women and taking over our country." People can only make these claims if they're unfairly generalizing about all people in a group, that is, stereotyping.
Those who've read my work know that I urge people to deal with difficult cultural differences by helping make their communicating "as personal as possible." This does not mean wearing your heart on your sleeve or prying into another person's private life. It just means the opposite of stereotyping. It means learning to "Take In" and "Give Out" relevant aspects of 4 qualities that help make you and the other individual persons: your choices, emotions-spirit-personality (ESP), reflections, and mindfulness. When you do, you help part of your uniqueness meet part of your conversation partner's. Personal communicating happens when uniquenesses meet, not generalizations. And when your communicating is as personal as possible, it is highly likely to be productive and fruitful, whether you agree or disagree. (https://he.kendallhunt.com/product/personal-communicating-and-racial-equity)
Stereotyping is the opposite. It happens when people don't recognize individual differences. It's based on incomplete understanding. It's like believing that all pickup drivers have gun racks and fly Confederate flags. Or that all male athletes disrespect women.
Friendship and Racial Equity
One sure way to eliminate your particular stereotypes is to get to know more individuals who belong to the groups you like or dislike.
It can be helpful to read, for example, about the histories of Chinese and Japanese people in the U.S., that "more than 500 treaties have been made between the government and Indian tribes and all were broken, nulllified or amended" (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/11/21/1345986/), or that living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life (http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/personalfinance/living-).
It can be helpful to learn about the iceberg theory of culture (https://www.languageandculture.com/cultural-iceberg) and white privilege (www.huffingtonpost.com/news/white-privilege/). It can help to learn from such films as "13th," "12 Years a Slave," and "Race: The Power of an Illusion." It can help to participate in a book group discussing Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, or Ta-Nehisi Coate's Between the World and Me.
And ultimately, if you really want to improve your multicultural competence, you need to make friends with several people who are different from you. If you're white, you need to find ways to hang out with Blacks and Latinx. To get to know some of "them" as individuals. To include them in your social media networks, exchange texts, learn about their families, share food, or, as one racial equity teacher put it, "go bowling together" (Vincent Bacote, "The Dream We Need to Keep Alive," MLK Breakfast, Dubuque, IA 1/16/17).
Coping With Challenges
Regardless of your cultural identity, it can be difficult to make these friends. Most of us prefer to talk with people who agree with our views and to hang out with people who look and act like we do. In addition, few people of color want to serve as racial tutors to sheltered whites. The project of helping "change hearts and minds" is made difficult by decades of well-founded mistrust. So what can you do proactively to culturally broaden your circle of friends?
First, reflect on your own cultural identities. If you're white, learn about white privilege (see http://www.debbyirving.com/the-book/ and especially about microaggressions https://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/racial-microagressions. Do some research on cultural humility and evaluate your own ability to hold your cultural commitments lightly, rather than with white knuckles (http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2013/08/cultural-humility.aspx). Check out what it means to be a cultural ally (https://prezi.com/4oa1z7s4db-i/becoming-a-cultural-ally/). After you've prepared yourself in one or more of these ways, you can be ready to step out in public.
- Join the diversity or equity council at work
- Join the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) or NAACP as an ally
- Volunteer to work on the political campaign of a candidate of color, or in the office of an elected official different from you (city council person, state representative, school board member)
- Attend meetings of the social justice committee of your church or local service club
- Have coffee or tea with a person of color at work
- Volunteer for a local nonprofit that works with immigrants, homeless people, or disadvantaged groups
- Offer to help serve as an advisor to your local university's Black Student Union or similar group
- Volunteer for the local group that sponsors Hispanic Heritage Month, events honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Juneteenth, or Dia De Los Muertos.
- Offer to work with a high school's LGBTQ support group
I'm sure you can add ideas to this list. The point is, after getting to know your own cultural self and adopting a stance of cultural humility, take the risk to connect with individual Others.
After I'd finished my 2016 book, Personal Communicating and Racial Equity, I sat down to write the Acknowledgements pages. I was able to remember 42 people who helped me learn specifically about equity, and 36 of them were people culturally different from me. Twenty nine are people of a color other than white. All are more than acquaintences; many are friends. I am incredibly grateful for all they've helped me learn.
Want to enhance your multicultural competence? Take a chance; make a new friend.