Saturday, September 24, 2016

Privilege - A New Perspective

Privilege is a word that seems to raise quite a bit of defensiveness and is wielded as almost a weapon. Yet it is something many struggle to understand; particularly those who experience it.

To be clear, people have no more control over whether they are born into a group of privilege then they do of being born in a target group.

The trick is, however, it’s much harder to see, feel, or understand from inside privilege. 

I am of white-passing privilege. I understand my white privilege from a unique perspective that you can read more about here.

As a result of that experience, I have thought A LOT about that experience and my responsibility as a person who experiences white privilege.

I have come to understand privilege as a lack of contrast

Let me give you a very visual explanation of what I mean.

It is as if we are all born with a blue sheet of paper. This is our birthright – pure potential, unadulterated by social conditioning, constructs, or their prejudice and discrimination. 

The more blue, the more there is an experience of easy access, ample opportunity, inherent safety, and a general positive life experience. Who you are, what your name is, how you look, how you talk, how you walk, who you love, how you define the World...  All of these things are accepted as typical when all of those things reside in the blue.

As life unfolds, however, certain contrasts arise. They come in the form of differences, things that stand out from what is accepted as "normal." They become oppressions - things that limit access to pure potential.

These differences begin to compromise the blue sheet; create a different appearance, a different experience. The blue sheet doesn't change, mind you. The differences are overlays. The blue sheet remains intact behind the differences.

Perhaps you were born into our country as a person of color.

Where's the blue now? It is still behind that yellow triangle. But what happened to the experience of that yellow? What happened to the privilege?

It got smaller. Being born a person of color in our country removes privilege; the experience changes that corner from one of blue to one of yellow. It is now different. It is changed in appearance and experience.

Those who aren't of color don't notice. Their privlege isn't impacted. Their blue sheet still looks like this.

They have no experience of the yellow. White people don't feel it, can't see the yellow contrast. White people are literally, in this example, colored blind to that yellow.

Consider a person born into poverty.

Again, the blue is reduced; the privilege is compromised.

What happens if you experience both; you arrive as a person of color who experiences poverty.

Pretty intense, right? There's even less blue, even less privilege.

Now consider many of the other target classes.

Maybe you’re a woman or identify as something other than male.

Or are non-Christian.


Do you see how the access to the blue has changed? How it has grown smaller?  The access to privilege has decreased.

But the blue sheet is unchanged. It's sitting behind all the yellow, orange, red and green. Because it is behind it all, experiencing none of the color, it remains clueless! It's not unlike standing behind speakers - you can't hear what's being projected.

Remember, that blue sheet is privilege. And now it is smaller! And it got smaller by adding more and more colors, more and more contrast, more and more difference, more and more diversity!

Imagine if the things within our culture that are identified as “less than," those people who experience oppression, were all in one person’s experience; those things based on age, ability, appearance, birth status, family of origin, first language, continent of citizenship…
It could look like this.

 Or this. 

Where is the blue now?

Remember, it's still there. Privilege doesn't go away. It's just that not all people have access to it.

And those who have access to more (or all) don't even notice. They can't. They are color-blind. They have to actively walk in front of the picture to see it; they have to engage with those who experience the differences.

When they do, they need to remember they are blind to the contrast. They need to stand ready to hear, even when it's hard. We must do it without discounting the experience; without trying to understand it through the blue sheet.

Because we can't.

We are blind to the experience of oppressions we do not ourselves experience.

Ironically, if the diversity of all these differences were embraced, it would look more like this:

This represents the integration of diversity, equal access and recognition - from the blue across the spectrum.

Give you something to think about? I hope so.

Privilege as contrast.

No shame.

No blame.

But certainly responsibility......        I will leave that for another day, however.

Look forward to your thoughts.

With Respect,
Leah R. Kyaio

Monday, September 5, 2016

Outside the Box Definitions – Cultural Competence

One of those buzz words: cultural competence. Google search shows over 10 million results. 

Ten. Million.

Quite the buzz word!

But what is it; what IS cultural competence.

Historically, as a diversity trainer, I have come to understand cultural competence as the skills and tools needed to successfully interact with cultures not my own. It requires an awareness of my own culture and how others might differ. Skills that seem to be related include: 
  • Communication 
  • Conflict  
  • Leadership

The recommendations for how to make oneself more culturally competent include things like: 
  • Learn about yourself. 
  • Learn about other cultures. 
  • Take opportunities to engage with diverse groups.

It has often been a checklist; a series of boxes checked as skills are “taught,” usually in drive-by professional development.

However, many of those skills are framed within the idea of “understanding” or behavior. There doesn't seem to be a universal measurement of that understanding, however.

Yes, there are standards of cultural competence that have been developed by many industries. Their measurement is determined almost exclusively by behavior. 

Consider how one might measure the following mandates for individuals and organizations (from the National Center for Cultural Competence):

  1. value diversity and similarities among all peoples;
  2. understand and effectively respond to cultural differences;
  3. engage in cultural self-assessment at the individual and organizational levels;
  4. make adaptations to the delivery of services and enabling supports; and
  5. institutionalize cultural knowledge.
Most of the skills defined by those standards are considered “soft skills.” Soft skills are those skills identified as people skills, social skills, or interpersonal skills. In industries where soft skills are key – social work and education, for example – it makes sense that these values would be important.

What is fascinating, then, is that when money gets tight, cultural competency programs are one of the first things cut. More on that in a later post!

Cultural competence: the skills of knowing the culture of oneself, the culture of others, and being able to successfully interact with others utilizing people skills. This would make one Culturally Competent.

When we look at the definition of competent we find it means “adequate, not exceptional.”

What we are really looking for, then, is cultural adequacy. 


Leads to another interesting question.

Cultural Adequacy. Is it enough?

What do you think?

With Respect,