By J Wilberg
This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post. You see, the post was going to be about gardening – about how some people are good gardeners because they can commit to consistent effort and other people are, well, like me. But I write about what I’m thinking about and what I’m thinking about is race.
So. Cultural competence. Does it go both ways? If I am the only white person in a training program or a job or a school, do people worry about dealing with me in a culturally competent way? And if they did (worry, that is), what would that mean? What would be done differently? In what ways would people take my white origins into account and how would they, or would they, modify their language or behavior? Can a white person wonder if something is culturally competent for him or herself? Does the concept have validity for a white person in an African American world, say?
Of course, the issue of cultural competence is very difficult, made more complex by institutional racism and the pervasiveness and persistence of white privilege. Thinking historically, it would be nonsensical to assume that the need for cultural competence runs both ways for that very reason — the embeddedness of racism in American society. But what about in in a day to day sense, in the sense of a white teenager, who because of a variety of factors, is plucked from her family in a white environment and placed in an African American home, school, and neighborhood?
Is it safe to assume that this kid will be well-received and that any feelings of fear or apartness or differentness will be quickly abated by people’s kindness? That’s what I’m hoping. And that years from now when she recounts the experience she had living in the African American community, it will be with pride and fond memories. I want to believe that she won’t feel judged or marginalized and that her entire cultural identity won’t be comprised of stereotypes about white people.
I don’t have any answers and I’m not judging anybody. I’m just wondering, that’s all – mostly because I know this kid and really care about her, but also because I think it’s an interesting and challenging set of questions to ponder.
And the picture? It’s the product of one of the two days a year that I garden. Day one is when I go to Stein’s and buy a bunch of plants. Day two is when I find the machete and clear out the garden on the side of our house which looks spectacular at the moment…..although I have notoriously low standards in this field of endeavor.