I have long maintained that teaching cultural competence through the use of fact-learning about specific populations is deeply flawed and limits thinking. You know, those books with the special sections on “African Americans,” “Asian Americans” and “Hispanic Americans.”
There are times when I think some facts about specific cultures are useful. For example, I think it’s helpful to know that some people don’t wear shoes inside the house. But you wouldn’t need to know that little factoid if you were an observant sort. And even if you were not, you could simply gracefully remove your shoes when asked.
I used to naively believe that educated people were less racist. Instead I found they are simply representative of the population at large. In fact, sometimes they are more racist simply because power and privilege blind them. Similarly, cultural competence has little to do with formal education. I used to think that cultural competence has to do with exposure, but now I don’t believe that either.
This article is about a UCF professor who was allegedly terminated because she objected to the stereotypes in a book about culturally competent care. The authors of the text defended their work, saying as follows:
Paulanka said she believes the statements mostly hold true to new immigrants and their native culture, and said she can see how others who have lived in the U.S. for a long time would take offense to the material.
“I can see it because if I was totally Americanized and I grew up in a very American neighborhood and people were saying this is what I thought, I would find that offensive,” Paulanka told Reuters. “But it’s true if you go back to the native culture.” She added that the material was written by either an expert of the culture or a native of the group.
Purnell, the book’s co-author and a faculty member of the University of Delaware’s nursing department echoed Paulanka’s defense of the material, telling Reuters, “Culture is very sensitive. The statement may be true but that doesn’t mean they like it. It’s true for the group, not for the individual.”
Ooookay. In addition, the book won an award in 2005! The American Association of Colleges of Nursing uses part of the text! And of course, it’s a best seller! Because everybody knows the majority endorses anti-racism and cultural competence. Uh huh.
Edited to add: You can read some of the text excerpts here (pdf link).