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California State University, Long Beach
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A Culturally Proficient Ally

Cultural proficiency is not an end state, but an ongoing process. A culturally proficient person acknowledges both individual and group differences. She or he does not walk around wondering or complaining, “Why can’t they be more like us.” Rather people striving toward cultural proficiency welcome and embrace opportunities to understand themselves as individuals, while at the same time embracing the opportunity to learn. Think of the process of striving toward cultural proficiency as being along the following continuum.

Cultural Destructiveness
the elimination of other people’s culture, either on an individual level or on a group level. Extremes include genocide and enslavement. Yet English-only policies or “renaming” a student because you cannot pronounce his or her name is culturally destructive.

“This is America, and everyone speaks English.”

Cultural Incapacity
the belief in the superiority of one’s own culture and behavior such that it disempowers another’s culture. Restrictive immigration laws, overt biases, and discriminatory hiring practices are culturally incapacitating.

“I didn’t know she was Mexican. She doesn’t look Mexican to me.”

Cultural Blindness
acting as if the cultural differences one sees do not matter, or not recognizing that there are differences among and between cultures.

“When a student walks in, I don’t see color or ability or gender. I only see a student.”

Cultural Pre-competence
an awareness of the limitations of one’s own skills or an organization’s practices when interacting with other cultural groups. This can happen when underrepresented groups are recruited to a campus/company/organization, but no support is extended, nor is there an effort made to learn more about the differences between groups.

“We need a Korean vice principal to help us with the Korean students.”

“During Black History month, we have 'soul food' day.”

Cultural Competence
interacting with other cultural groups using the following:
  • Acceptance and respect for differences
  • Ongoing reflection on one’s own culture and cultural beliefs
  • Model culturally inclusive behaviors (i.e. using Spanish pronunciations)
  • Adapt one’s values and practices to acknowledge culture

"Let’s really look at how this school event might impact handicapped persons, immigrants, gay men and lesbians, and those students with no group representation.”

Cultural Proficiency
the culturally proficient person…
  • Values diversity
  • Assesses one’ own culture, and the impact of one’s culture on others
  • Manages the dynamics of difference through effective conflict resolution styles
  • Incorporates and integrates cultural knowledge into one’s practices, and educates others on the damage created by stereotypes, prejudices, and cultural ineptitude
  • Adapts to diversity by developing cross-cultural skills and striving to understand the dynamics of cross-cultural differences

Adapted from Lindsey, R.B., Nuri-Robbins, K., & Terrel, R.D. (1998). Constructing culturally proficient educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press and “Becoming an Ally”, Safe Zone Training, CSULB