Making a Case for Cultural Humility

Being good ancestors

Making a Case for Cultural Humility

For many of us, this year has been a period of intense vulnerability and deep reflection. The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on all aspects of life, including intensifying health, economic, racial, gender, and social inequities. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has greater impacts on people already experiencing a number of intersecting inequities. Amidst the pandemic is a long overdue awakening to the realities of systemic racism. Although the pandemic seems unmanageable, the systemic racism that gives rise to and perpetuates inequities can be addressed so that the impacts of such crises are not exacerbated. We must find a way to be good ancestors, otherwise the devastating and deadly impacts of systemic racism and discrimination will continue perpetually and will be exacerbated during crises.

Abolishing systemic racism and discrimination requires us to increase our individual and collective awareness of bias, including implicit bias, its effects, and how to address it. Each of us interprets everything we see and experience through a unique worldview shaped by many factors. These interpretations influence and shape how we perceive others, favourably or unfavourably, and result in conscious and unconscious (implicit) biases. We are often unaware of how implicit biases impact our understanding, views, decisions, and actions. This lack of awareness coupled with the pervasive nature of implicit bias makes it a significant contributor to systemic racism and discrimination. However, biases can be unlearned through ongoing reflection, increased self-awareness, curiosity, and respectful dialogue. This, in essence, is the practice of cultural humility.

We must move beyond more familiar concepts, such as cultural competence, and reject the idea that we can master or achieve competence in any culture other than our own. Cultural competence refers to a set of skills and attitudes for working effectively and respectfully with people of diverse backgrounds, assuming we can achieve fluency. The practice of cultural humility is a more nuanced and reflective approach to uncovering and addressing implicit biases. Cultural humility requires commitment to lifelong learning about self and others through genuine and respectful curiosity and dialogue, and willingness to abandon harmful views and assumptions.

The practice of cultural humility calls on us to remain curious and self-aware, to avoid assumptions, keep biases in check, and make necessary changes. This practice requires us to closely examine our views, decisions, and actions, as well as our contributions to the systems that perpetuate inequities. Curiosity and respectful dialogue are the cornerstones of cultural humility. Curiosity about one’s self is necessary to examine and challenge our beliefs. Curiosity also means learning about others with openness, including learning about the ongoing legacies of their historical and present-day realities.

As we consider a practice of humility when engaging with one another, it behooves us to also consider a practice of humility when engaging with the natural world and the species with whom we share a home. This practice would require us to step back, slow down and realize that we are not competent in the cultures of the natural world. The pandemic induced changes to the ways we interact with the natural world have resulted in observable changes, including reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the return of bird and mammal species to locations unvisited for years. As we reengage, we need to be curious about our biases and be willing to adjust our expectations and behaviours.

The practice of humility, and in particular cultural humility, can help us become good ancestors, reducing inequities and creating a more sustainable world for future generations.

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